Sunday, May 31, 2009

Monster Finish


Before we take leave of my “Month of the Nerd II” and, tomorrow, begin my “Month of Rock!” let us pause to acknowledge that nerdiness and nerdy topics are not necessarily at odds with the spirit of rock n’ roll — witness songs like “Monster Hospital” by one of the coolest bands of this decade, New Wave-influenced Metric.

Speaking of monsters, comparably awesome, albeit admittedly far less hip, is this montage of cool Godzilla moments set to the tune of Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla.” I loved Godzilla even before Star Wars — and dinosaur rock even before New Wave.

Speaking of beloved beasts, late and lamented Seavey family dog Uber sprang to my friend Paul Taylor’s mind recently when he saw a new Pepsi ad that simply says “UberGood” with Pepsi symbols as the o’s. Here’s hoping all the strange monsters in our lives prove as friendly as Uber — and none of them as terrifying as the monster at the end of the book that Grover unconvincingly tried to tell us was only him in that notorious children’s book, after begging us page after page not to turn the next one.

That book remains scarier than anything done to me by all the monster movies I’ve seen and horror stories I’ve read since, something people looking to create powerful new nerd material might want to consider.

One last monstrous-beast note: Be careful what you wish for. Last weekend, mere hours after I posted an entry mentioning my curiosity about what the monster called Swarm — a sentient cloud of bees — would look like in the upcoming Spider-Man stage musical, a game shop near Union Square was reportedly shut down and its workers trapped inside by thousands of swarming bees at its door, not a routine occurrence in Manhattan, and one that required the intervention of the NYPD bee expert, who must not get a lot of calls like that.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cuddle Party, Sigourney Weaver, and Aliens


It was jarring to hear a line on King of the Hill this past Sunday caused by friends of mine — specifically Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski, inventors, for good or ill, of cuddle parties.  In the sequence, Peggy Hill used Hank’s friends as a test of what things were still hip enough for her to talk about if she wanted to be cool, making a list of those things Hank’s friends hadn’t yet heard of.  Bill had heard of frittatas but not cuddle parties, so cuddle parties made the list.  I’m pretty sure this at least makes me hipper than Peggy Hill, for what it’s worth.

And as a hip guy, it’s nearly time I left this “Month of the Nerd II” behind and moved on to the arguably-cooler “Month of Rock!” for June’s blog entries — so tomorrow, a transitional nerd/rock entry.

I won’t forget nerdy things entirely, of course, even after this month has faded into the past.  For one thing, the rest of 2009 still brings such nerd films as the sixth Harry Potter on July 15, the crime-thriller comic book adaptation Whiteout on Sept. 11, the Wachowski-produced and Straczynski-written Ninja Assassin in November, and best of all (I predict) James Cameron’s 3D extraterrestrial war movie Avatar starring Sigourney Weaver in December.  If when all is said and done, 2009 is remembered more as the year of Avatar than the year of Watchmen, Star Trek, or for that matter G.I. Joe, I won’t be at all surprised.  What would be really impressive is if we come to look upon the Alien movies as mere warm-ups for Avatar.  You have to have hope.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Ursa vs. Motti (plus Evil-Lyn, Cat People, and Blade Runner)


Excellent nerd-film romance note: Sarah Douglas (who played Kryptonian villainess Ursa, the woman who slammed Superman in the gut with a thrown manhole cover after saying “Oh, Superman” in a delightfully taunting fashion in Superman II, possibly turning a lot of young nerds into dominatrix fans in the process and maybe inspiring the career of Laurie Anderson to boot) was briefly married to the actor who played Motti, the arrogant, Force-mocking guy who got briefly choked-from-afar by Vader during that meeting on the Death Star. Pretty S&M all around, really (as is this online Japanese videogame mentioned by Memepool, by the way, in which you get to be Victorian ladies having a slapfight — something reminiscent of the great Neal Stephenson novel The Diamond Age about it, or maybe China Mieville, given the S&M).

Sidenote: two years ago while being interviewed by Conan O’Brien, George Lucas claimed that that character is now officially named Admiral Conan Antonio Motti. Good for Conan. That’s right up there with being that guy who was supposed to play a stormtrooper in the first movie (along with his brother) but missed the shoot and got digitally inserted twenty years later for the re-releases.

Maybe trying to be an extra in the upcoming live-action TV series would be a productive use of my time. But if so, I want my name to be something like Viceroy Spiddoon. (I also want lightnunchuks. Has anyone had lightnunchuks yet? NOTE: Ah, it appears no one will be wielding lightnunchuks legally in New York state, thanks in part to Obama’s Supreme Court pick, Sonia Sotomayor.)


Douglas was considered, understandably, for the role of Evil-Lyn in the Masters of the Universe movie (which was heavily influenced by Jack Kirby’s New Gods comics), but the role ended up being played by ubiquitous and eerily grey-eyed actress Meg Foster, who’s played everyone from the original Cagney at the outset of Cagney & Lacey to a brain-energy-sucking muse on Deep Space Nine, not to mention Hester Prynne in a 1979 PBS production of The Scarlet Letter that I recall making me think, “Wow, that lady has eerily grey eyes, kind of like a wolf — cool.”

I’ll take that any day over the violet eyes of Elizabeth Taylor — whose appeal I have never fully understood, though women all seem to think she’s astounding. Is it just because Taylor has a very tiny waist? Women just aren’t qualified to appreciate the full complexities and possibilities of the female form, alas. But then, I admit I’m not fully qualified to understand, for example, why Jimmy Smits is such a big deal. (I don’t think it’s just because he played Leia’s dad, important though that obviously is.)


Likewise, I remember all the girls in my English class in high school failing to understand why Nastassja Kinski was so popular with the fellas, whereas I still regard it as something like a miracle that regular broadcast Channel 38 out of Boston used to show Cat People with the nudity intact in the scene where Kinski is strapped to the bed. The 80s was really a lot more permissive in many ways than the 00s.

If I ever claim not to understand why Nastassja Kinski is considered attractive, treat me as if I’ve just failed a Voight-Kampff Test and act appropriately. Even stoics and sociopaths should be able to pass a Voight-Kampff Test, after all. (Come to think of it, aren’t spam filters basically a daily exercise in applied Turing Tests?) Oddly enough, the Voight-Kampff Test, which ought to be a rather cold procedure, supplied us with perhaps the sexiest line in sci-fi history: Sean Young saying “Are these questions testing whether I’m a replicant or a lesbian, Mr. Deckard?” As neo-noir interrogation scenes go, right up there with the intense psycho-turnabout in Basic Instinct. The real lesson in all this: beware robotic bisexual women with no emotional reaction to roadkill.

P.S. In other nerd-film couple news, the site Newsarama noted that if Scarlett Johansson plays superheroine Black Widow in next year’s Iron Man sequel as planned, she’ll be half a Marvel-assassin household because her husband’s the guy who played Deadpool in Wolverine. That’s cool, and it’ll be even cooler if the Iron Man sequel doesn’t suck.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

DEBATE AT LOLITA BAR: Is Zionism Racism?


No, Lolita Bar isn’t becoming the U.N. for a night (that’s up in the East 40s, we’re on the Lower East Side), but next week we are broaching one of the most controversial geopolitical questions, “Is Zionism Racism?”:

Wednesday, June 3 (8pm):

Blogger at SaifHouse Saif Ammous argues yes.

Blogger at Commentary Abe Greenwald argues no.

Hosted by Todd Seavey and moderated by Michel Evanchik.

Free admission, cash bar.  Basement level of Lolita Bar at 266 Broome St. at the corner of Allen St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, one block south and three west of the Delancey St. F, J, M, Z subway stop.

The debate should be made extra-interesting by the participation of Saif and Abe (who, in addition to having debated other topics at Lolita, also used to attend the Manhattan Project social gatherings I host, noted in my right margin).  They are not mere left-vs.-right stereotypes.  Abe’s got too decent a sense of humor for that, and Palestinian-American blogger Saif is a libertarian not so unlike myself — though my vague moderate-conservative impulse has always been to lean Israel-ward on this issue.  Saif notes, though, that one of the most influential libertarians of all, Murray Rothbard, took the anti-Israel position, as he explained in this essay.  (Despite being called a Rothbardian a couple times, I don’t always agree with him, though — and I’ll stay neutral during the debate.)

Meanwhile, in keeping with this blog’s “Month of the Nerd II” theme, I must note that Saif’s pal Richard Spencer (who’ll be one of our July debaters on a different topic, as it happens) compares Star Trek’s Vulcans to the Jews in a new article for TakiMag, of which he’s managing editor.  (I wrote an article contrasting Star Trek’s U.N.-like streak with Star Wars’s more rebellious tone myself in Liberty back in the mid-90s, suggesting as a nice compromise the show Babylon 5 — about a space station that was called humanity’s “last, best hope” in the show’s opening narration.)

Richard might have added that there is an interesting (whether planned or not) generational divide between the self-descriptions of old-Spock and young-Spock in the new Trek movie.  When the Vulcans appear doomed, Nimoy says: I have been a witness to genocide.  Zachary Quinto, playing the young Spock, says: I am a member of an endangered species.  I imagine some folks at our last debate, on animal welfare, would find the latter more alarming, though I think most of us were more moved by Nimoy’s line.

In any case, we will resolve all outstanding conflicts related to these matters to everyone’s satisfaction, bringing about en era of unending peace, next Wednesday, so you have to be there.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Megan Fox


Brian Austin Green (from the late, lamented Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles) reportedly wanted to play superhero Green Lantern in the movie due out in mid-2011, and he’s producing the movie Fathom (also based on comics) starring his ex Megan Fox as an aquatic superhero who…well, something involving lots of shots of her in a bikini, anyway. I forget the details.

Fox is also playing the zombie in the Diablo Cody-written Jennifer’s Body movie this year, and I assume she’s in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen next month. (I assume that song by Cody’s fellow ex-stripper Courtney Love inspired the Jennifer’s Body title, and if they use the song in the film, that’s cool. It will bring back memories of seeing Love throw Barbie dolls into the audience when I saw her perform at the Stone Pony in the mid-90s.)

I’m not a big fan of the generic-seeming Fox (or countless other generic hot chicks Hollywood briefly exalts), but here, I admit, is a good argument for having cast her in yet another comics-based movie next year, the cowboy saga Jonah Hex. Much the way people who’ve been involved in politics and TV news (myself included, perhaps) start sounding and looking generic to appeal to the broadest possible spectrum, it’s a movie hot chick’s job to appeal at least a little to all of us, not to be any one fan’s quirky dreamgirl, especially with about $200 million worth of computer-animated giant robots invested in a project. C’est la vie.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Watchmen vs. Bazooka Joe


When Watchmen came out a couple months ago, opinion was divided — some people, like me, loved it, but some people I respect also considered it overly complicated or pretentious, or felt that the classic original comic book was not meant to be adapted to film in the first place, at least not like this.

For anyone who thinks Watchmen was overreaching, though, I have encouraging news. Hollywood is now poised to adapt a comics character who should not present excessive plot or conceptual complexity: Bazooka Joe. That’s right, the guy in the brief but terrible jokes from the gum wrappers. I pity the scriptwriter who has to figure out which “story arc” to use for the film. Perhaps they’ll take a Bazooka Begins approach and explain how Joe acquired his eye patch. Presumably in a bazooka accident, right? Don’t stand behind that thing! “I lost an eye, but now I see the comedy in everyday events…” Etc.

(I should confess I actually have a Bazooka Joe comic magnetized to my freezer door, since it’s the best one I’ve ever seen. Joe loses a bet with his friend Pesty about whether the Earth is round or flat, so Joe’s dad good-naturedly offers to pay the bet for him, asking how much the bet was, to which Joe says: “A million dollars!” That’s as good as Bazooka Joe gets, I’m afraid. To cover weird scratches that were on my freezer, which came with the apartment, I’ve stuck pretty much any old magnetic thing I had or got for free recently up there, with the result being that it’s now somewhat disturbingly festooned with magnets depicting a tyrannosaurus rex, a polar bear, a tiger, the Red Dress Ink “chick lit” logo, Winnie the Pooh, Curious George in a spacesuit, and Arkansas State Rep. Dan Greenberg. Now there’s a fan fiction crossover premise for you.)

The Bazooka Joe idea comes to us thanks to Michael Eisner, the studio exec who, back when he was running ABC a decade ago and I was a cog there, wanted to revitalize that network with retooled shows such as Mod Squad: Hawaii — and not in the kitschy way that Quentin Tarantino and McG might mean that, I fear. (If they had done the show, I hope they would have cast Peggy Lipton from the original 1970s series, still looking good at sixty-two today and seen here six years ago.)


Anyone who thought Watchmen was overreaching is unlikely to be mollified by my observation that the film had a few overt Stanley Kubrick homages (that’d probably just make matters worse): From the distinctly Kubrickesque slow-push-in-with-room-tone on the “3001″ number on the Comedian’s door in the first scene to a similar push-in on Rorschach talking to the psychiatrist, the pan across monitors in the prison, and the Strangelovean war room. If memory serves, I saw the movie four times. No regrets.

And despite it making a bit less money than hoped (not enough to inspire any lunatic exec to demand a sequel, which is for the best), keep in mind it did make about as much as Slumdog Millionaire, the Liam Neeson action hit Taken, Gran Torino, and Fast & Furious, each of those at about $140 million — and again, the fan fiction crossover writes itself.

If Hollywood benefits from having hits that size with budgets far smaller than Watchmen’s you’d think they’d try really hard to get good scripts and lay off the special effects. You’d think. And that’d be fine even with geeks like me. But until then, July brings the sixth Harry Potter movie, which will probably be fine. Here’s hoping it makes guys who kinda look like Draco Malfoy all the rage.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Capt. America, V for Very Authoritarian, and Some Comics Wisdom


It’s Memorial Day, a fine time to remember brave soldiers and some important political lessons, to wit:

•It’s interesting that (at the moment) Steve Rogers, who was Captain America for decades, is dead, while his old World War II sidekick Bucky, believed for sixty years to be the only comic book character to stay dead, is now alive and carrying on the role of Captain America. Let that be inspiration to anyone trying to rebuild a career after being frozen in ice for a half-century.

•A remake of the anti-authoritarian miniseries V, about an alien invasion that offers the Earth’s populace so many goodies that they just keep looking the other way while their liberties erode (even forming enthusiastic youth cadres to celebrate our new alien overlords), comes to ABC in the fall.  Here you can see a teaser clip featuring the lovely Morena Baccarin (from Firefly) in a role similar to that played by the more badass Jane Badler in the original series.  Baccarin turns thirty on June 2, by the way, so consider getting her something nice.  She offers you courtesan services and advanced technology, after all.

•TV and comics writer (and Brown alum) Christos Gage imparts some important, basic political wisdom, I think, in answering an interview question about why the umbrella organization called the Avengers Initiative continues to exist in the Marvel Universe despite widely being known to be corrupt:

What keeps any big, corrupt organization rolling? It’s benefiting the people in charge. I think we’ve all seen that many large agencies, whatever purpose they might have been founded to serve, often come to a point where the real agenda is perpetuating itself so as to benefit those in power. Obviously, someone highly placed — i.e. Norman Osborn — sees a major upside. And think about it–what better way to fleece people than pretending to protect them? If you’re the local crooked sheriff, you can soak a community for all it’s worth if you’re smart about it. Of course, it helps if the locals think you’re helping them, and if they see you take down a burglar or two every now and then. And there’s the rub. How will these, shall we say, “self-interested” individuals react to having to put their lives on the line to save Joe Sixpack from Galactus? (Just to pull out a name–Galactus is not showing up any time soon!)

Healthy anarchist skepticism — and superheroes.  Always a good combo.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Tintin vs. Tom Swift

tintin.jpg tom-swift.jpg

As noted yesterday, I don’t know if 2011 will bring Skynet’s destruction of civilization. I do know that it will bring a pair of computer-animated/motion-capture Tintin films co-directed by Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg. Some fans of the original comic books (anti-communist comics, I must note) may already be nervous, but this is a perfect example of something I try to keep in mind: Given how hard it is to get any decent Hollywood project off the ground at all, one really shouldn’t complain too much about Jackson and Spielberg, in the grand scheme of things. They’ll probably do something halfway decent, even if it’s not what you had in mind. I’m sure it’ll at least feature a plucky young reporter and his thinking dog Snowy (not talking dog, mind you — I’ve been corrected about that before).

There was also talk not long ago of a possible Tom Swift movie in the style of Jimmy Neutron — featuring “green technology,” alas, whereas in the books Tom was an unabashed user of oil, nukes, and whatever else impressed commie-fighting capitalist boy tech whizzes in the 1950s. If he goes all eco-hippie, this will not be the blonde, buzzcut, bourgeois, nuclear-family-possessing (in multiple senses), crime-fighting, science-loving, all-American youth who was my inspiration around age four (a couple decades after his creation and a good half-century after the books about his dad, who tended to use mere canoes and such). But again, things could be worse. For example…

The only actor to play Tom Swift in a live-action production so far, Willie Aames (also of Eight Is Enough and Charles in Charge) — in The Tom Swift and Linda Craig Mystery Hour (which apparently existed in 1983 without me ever hearing of it before) — went on to become an alcoholic and drug addict, then born-again Christian starring in obscure Bibleman videos, then a divorcee and attempted suicide who went bankrupt and made the news not long ago for having a garage sale to try and make ends meet. Has Swift Industries come to this? Sounds like Tom Swift and the Brutal Fist of Reality.

The financial crisis must be severe indeed, and the commies of all parties should just get out of the way now and let a million Tom Swifts bloom.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ten Excessively Nerdy Things to Fear


Nerd culture isn’t just something that happens in imaginary lands, of course, so it’s worth noting, during this “Month of the Nerd II,” ten real-world (more or less) manifestation I’ve recently noticed:

•On the beautiful Saturday one week ago, in a rather strange combination of events, I walked from my place on the Upper East Side down to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan (my willingness to do that will help in coping with subway fare hikes), walked along Wall Street and saw the big bull statue, stopped in Battery Park to read a novel about a parasitic brain fungus causing people to form a collectivist utopia (about which, more in my October Book Selections entry) while gazing upon the Statue of Liberty and a performer in a convincing-looking movie-grade Spider-Man costume greeting people in the park for some reason, and then had a drink with some conservatives nearby and went on to party in the Village with Lisa Levy’s more liberal and arty friends. It was all very New York — and Spider-Man’s presence certainly helped.

(Yesterday wasn’t too shabby either, including my unplanned walk through a free Green Day concert in Central Park on the way to work, a live reading of a great new Lynn Rosen play called Puddy Tat inspired by that guy in the Bronx who kept a tiger and an alligator in his apartment, and seeing Terminator Salvation, which I thought rocked but was more enthused about than my companions. It wisely elided the issue of whether Judgment Day is supposed to have occurred in 2004 [per Terminator: The Rise of the Machines] or potentially 2011 [per the TV show] at this point. It clearly didn’t happen in 1997, anyway, as I think we can all agree. Unless we’re in the Matrix now. Or an alternate timeline, of course. Let’s move on, shall we?)

•Spider-Man (and theatre) reminds me that Julie Taymor, the director behind the visually-striking Titus, the stage Lion King, and Across the Universe (who is this year directing Helen Mirren in a gender-switched version of The Tempest), is going to direct a Spider-Man Broadway musical with songs by U2. This is one of those cases that suggests someone is my kind of nerd but not a case where multiple elements that I’d find cool in other contexts would necessarily fit together well (remember that entry about fan fiction I posted yesterday). Similarly, I am opposed to the spaghetti-covered pizza my mother once ordered out of perverse curiosity at a restaurant — and even more so opposed to the Domino’s Oreo Dessert Pizza.

(And I should confess, especially to younger readers who may not have my patience for U2, that they’ve basically sucked for nearly two decades now, whereas in my mind their astounding circa-1980s stuff will always loom unimaginably larger than anything they did afterwards, redeeming all else — but more thoughts along those lines during June, this blog’s “Month of Rock!”)

We’ll see. They say the costumes will be spectacular, and I’m curious how they’ll (reportedly) do the character Swarm, who’s a man-shaped cloud of bees. (As for Helen Mirren, not only has she played Ayn Rand and a gender-switched Prospero, she used to love cocaine, she readily admits. Come to think of it, I was at a party she attended once — as was playwright David Lodge. I wonder if she was on anything. As the linked article notes, she gave up coke to fight Nazis, though.)

•You may have read those news stories about a man killing a couple others in a swordfight last month. Is the country becoming a giant Society for Creative Anachronism event now?

•There’s a long tradition of changing the real world through political novels, but I question whether dystopian superhero novels by Las Vegas libertarian columnist Vin Suprynowicz such as The Black Arrow: A Tale of the Resistance will get the job done (sorry).

•There is a Wii game featuring the beloved, hilarious, moderately evil online cartoon character Strong Bad (called Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People), and I love the fact that one phase of the game is called “Dangeresque 3: The Criminal Projective.” Here, by the way, is a picture of Missy Palmer, voice of Marzipan and wife of Mike Chapman, less-vocal half of the brothers behind Strong Bad and friends.

•In some ways, the culture seems to keep getting more “intense” (celebrating Ice Road Truckers and all, as well we should). All nerds who admire the ideal of non-nerdiness, then, should be pleased there’s a TV series dedicated to determining, across history and fighting styles, who would be The Deadliest Warrior (which might also help with Dave Kasten’s zombie-ninja-pirate conundrum). This investigation was also the original idea, more or less, behind “ultimate fighting” (a.k.a. Mixed Martial Arts, illegal in New York thanks in part to a crusade against it by John McCain). MMA has quickly evolved into all grapplers, so aside from the death part, maybe we have our answer.

•How the real world will treat the increasing number of real-life amateur superheroes, such as the Shadow Hare, pointed out to me by Bretigne Shaffer, remains to be seen.

•It’s sort of cutely hyper-nerdy that one of my co-workers recently wrote an article that used scientific notation even while talking about amounts of money, without even stopping to think about whether that’s unusual. It didn’t seem to bother the Brits who published her article, either, but I edited it to just use the standard “$1 billion,” etc. format when reprinting it on our site.

•It’s far less cute that Sen. Chuck Schumer intervened to end an experiment in metering broadband use in New York, on some sort of ostensibly pro-consumer but anti-capitalist grounds, recently. Wouldn’t want the market rationally allocating things, after all, when we could limp along with the usual method of charging everyone the same high price and then having government complain about it and impose regulations. And you wonder why we don’t have rocket packs and robot butlers yet.

•Speaking of political economy, this comedy piece, combining science and econ, may be the nerdiest of the many brilliant (and recently InstaPundit-linked) items on the Op-Toons site a friend of mine (who shall remain anonymous) creates. We need it (and at ACSH, my co-workers recently noted this wonderful cartoon, which perfectly sums up what my job is about fighting every single day, for those who still don’t understand what we’re up against and why everything you believe is probably wrong).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Terminator vs. Matrix vs. the Ultimate Fan Fiction

It’s been just over ten years since the first Matrix movie came out, and though it doesn’t at first appear to have a direct connection to the Terminator movies, there was a fascinating charge that both franchises had been ripped off from the same source. I mentioned the lawsuit on this blog exactly one year ago tomorrow but should have added that it was dismissed — and probably wisely so, since the ostensibly ripped-off work, Sophia Stewart’s sci-fi novel The Third Eye, was written around 1986, two years after The Terminator came out.

Nonetheless, it is easy to imagine the two franchises fitting together into one story, with Sarah Connor effectively giving birth to Neo and him leading the post-apocalyptic fight against the Terminators. I’m hoping the movie out today will be more straightforward than all the mother-son-destiny-time-travel stuff we’ve seen from prior iterations of Terminator and will just, at long last, show humans and machines at war.

But sometimes fans do want ornate complexity, and if they can’t get it from their favorite franchises, they make stuff up — perhaps writing online fan fiction pitting Star Wars characters against Star Trek characters or something. (It’s not hard to imagine Vulcans taking an interest in studying the Force — and, after the events in the new Trek movie, time travel — and next thing you know they’re in a galaxy far, far away at odds with the Sith and working with the Jedi, the Enterprise is battling the Death Star, and, well, you get the idea.)


Anyway, I don’t write fan fiction (it’s bad enough I routinely blog without getting paid for it), but I did once ask myself, as a stunt, what would be the simplest plausible device by which I could concoct a piece of fan fiction uniting numerous sci-fi-type franchises that don’t normally (and indeed should not) have anything to do with each other and could not co-exist without prohibitively complicated legal arrangements being drawn up.

I swear I only spent a couple minutes thinking about it. What I came up with was the premise that numerous prominent references to “the matrix” in different genre works are in fact referring to the same sentient electrical force, which appears in different forms in different stories — and leads to all the characters coming together.

The Wikipedia disambiguation page for “matrix” gives you some idea just how many nerd characters could thereby be unified — including Transformers (Optimus Prime calls the Autobot power source the Matrix), Doctor Who (it was revealed decades ago that the Timelords store their vast knowledge in a computer-generated artificial reality called the Matrix), an old Canadian supernatural-thriller TV series called Matrix co-starring Carrie Ann Moss of all people and involving a city in Limbo, and even the Arnold Schwarzenegger action film Commando (in which he plays John Matrix — who we can pretend is a rogue Terminator, obviously). And the Wikipedia page didn’t even mention Unimatrix One, which, fittingly, is the shared collective dreamscape of the Borg hivemind in Star Trek.

Then you climax the whole story with some ludicrous Rube Goldbergian stunt like Seven of Nine driving Optimus Prime full-throttle into the TARDIS or something. Synergy achieved — and so elegantly, don’t you think?


Meanwhile, back in the real world, some bits of Terminator trivia:

•I notice that due to a sweepstakes contest, there are ads online saying “Terminator Salvation Only at Pizza Hut” — which is a really strange confluence of words, when you think about it.

•A couple amusing Summer Glau quotes from an interview with her about the likely-ended Terminator TV series:

“You know, when you do drama you try different things. Not my character, because I play a robot, but you come in and try to deliver from your gut…”

“Comedy is definitely harder. Just give me a gun, let me run around and wrestle people. I’d choose that any day of the week.”

•Here’s a clip of an exoskeleton suit — from Cyberdine, no less — that may set you on the road to being the cyborg you’ve long wanted to be (this was pointed out to me by Reid Mihalko, who has himself been likened to a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Macaulay Culkin, in a passage in the book Ivy League Stripper by Heidi Mattson).

•I caught a moment of the May 8 episode of gossip show TMZ in which host Harvey Levin was briefly embarrassed when he reacted with glee to an underling’s report of spotting Sam Worthington (who plays a Terminator in the new movie) but then had to admit that, being a fifty-seven-year-old, he was thinking of Cal Worthington, a famed and flamboyant West Coast used car dealer known for advertising on TV with his dog Spot, more or less. It was an endearingly unhip moment. And anyway, I’m sure Sam and Cal can be tied together in the fan fiction epic.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Remake, Remodel, Read Riverworld


With Wolverine, Star Trek, and (tomorrow) Terminator all sort of getting rebooted this month, it’s worth noting that this spring/summer is also a fantastic time to get in on the print relaunches of numerous DC Comics characters, if for some strange reason you want to transform yourself into a comics collector.

DC relaunches (not really planned as part of a simultaneous new era or anything) all taking place in mid-2009, give or take a couple months, include the following (all starting with an issue #1 unless otherwise noted):

•Batwoman (the lesbian takes the lead as of Detective #854)
•Batman #687 (new guy replaces the dead/time-displaced Bruce Wayne)
•Batman and Robin (the former nice and the latter nasty, in contrast to the formula in the simultaneous All Star Batman and Robin series)
•Red Robin
•Captain Atom (as a back-up feature starting in Action #879)
•Red Circle (the non-comedic Archie superheroes)
•Doom Patrol
•Justice League (adding a miniseries called Justice League: Cry for Justice alongside the regular ongoing series’ diminished team)
•Justice Society (reunited in issue #27 and guided by new writers after some dissension in the ranks)
•Legion of Super-Heroes and Superboy (in the new Adventure)
•multiple Lantern Corps(es) in the “Blackest Night” multi-series event starring Green Lantern
•Flash, Flash, Flash, and Kid Flash (they’d damn well better change their names by the end of the miniseries — I suggest Golden Flash, Silver Flash, Bronze Flash, and Dark Flash)
•Superman: Secret Origin
•Power Girl

As with the aforementioned movie franchises: I’m happy to stop my own participation here, though, in part because I’m satisfied just to see things in good enough shape to be fun for those who come after me — sort of like watching birds depart the nest.  (This summer also brings a beautiful-looking experiment from DC Comics called Wednesday Comics, a weekly newspaper-sized anthology of meticulously-drawn, accessible stories that sort of brings the artistic standards of Prince Valiant to Flash, Green Lantern, et al.)

One has to get off the renewal/remake merry go round at some point, though, otherwise you end up being suckered into watching rejiggered versions of things you just saw (and didn’t care too deeply about) sixteen years ago, like Cliffhanger with Sylvester Stallone (now they’re not even observing the wait-twenty-years rule that seemed to be in place for a while).  By contrast, there’s nothing wrong with a long-awaited first attempt at adaptation, and it sounds like Riverworld, about everyone who ever lived on Earth finding themselves waking up together on another planet, is set to become a movie.  I hope it’s great — and that they film all its book sequels before considering remaking it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

666th Blog Entry (Really): Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God"

hal.jpg Book Selection of the Month (May 2009, Month of the Nerd II): Arthur C. Clarke’s short stories, in particular “The Nine Billion Names of God”

While nostalgia or the desire to master arcana may draw many nerds to sci-fi, the thing that keeps hope alive — despite perpetual disappointment — in the hearts of some nerds is a genuine desire to see something completely unexpected that genuinely blows your mind or changes the way you see the world. That doesn’t happen often.

One reason the Matrix sequels, even if they’d been better executed, would have been hard pressed to match the first film is that the big revelation — that the world we know is an illusion — had already been dispensed with, leaving us with only a fantasy realm suitable for kung fu fights and car chases. Fight Club is in some sense better sci-fi (even without technically being sci-fi), since it at least starts out with a simple but plausible premise and extrapolates to show us how the sociological ramifications transform the world, which is the sort of thing good sci-fi should do.

Thanks to a reporter acquaintance at the Wall Street Journal, I received an anthology of all of Arthur C. Clarke’s short stories as a birthday gift one year, and it’s great evidence that well-done sci-fi can change perceptions and change the world — a vindication of the nerd culture celebrated all this month on this blog.

I’ll give away just one short story (and it is short) in the massive volume as an example: In “The Nine Billion Names of God,” computer scientists are hired by Buddhist monks to run a program that will generate every possible name, the idea being to make faster progress on their spiritual goal of discovering every one of God’s names. The scientists note in passing, and with some amusement, that there’s an ancient belief that if all of God’s names are ever spelled out, God will have no further need for the universe, since the discovery of his many names is the true purpose of Creation. The scientists discuss the idea outside at night as the computer program finishes its work, and they look up to see the stars begin quietly blinking out of existence.

Again, I hope to greatly enjoy Terminator Salvation in a few days — and it may well bear a closer resemblance to our actual fate than the Clarke story I’ve described — but wouldn’t it be wonderful to walk out of the theatre once in a while as awed as the reader is upon finishing that Clarke story instead of just excited? It was a joy to hear the voice of the late Majel Barrett-Roddenberry as the ship’s computer one last time in the Star Trek movie, but as a culture we probably need HAL 9000 more.

In addition to thanking the already-mentioned Journal reporter for getting me to read the Clarke stories, I’m also grateful for the nudge I received from Skeptical Inquirer and the great Harlan Ellison piece they ran about Clarke recently. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, Ellison, with whom I spoke very, very briefly back when I worked as an editorial assistant at St. Martin’s Press, has reportedly sued two of the three sci-fi franchises rebooting this month, Trek for mangling and reusing elements of the time travel episode — featuring Guardian and the tragic Edith Keeler (played by Joan Collins) — he wrote back in the 60s, and Terminator for borrowing story elements for which you’ll notice he is now thanked in the credits of the first film, in what is obviously a thank-you inserted after the original theatrical release, in a slightly different font.

In a less-amazing act of time travel, at this month’s Debate at Lolita Bar about animal welfare, I read the following amusing and harsh passage from a century-old book, Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers by John Burroughs:

In form and movement the woodchuck is not captivating. His body is heavy and flabby. Indeed, such a flaccid, fluid, pouchy carcass I have never before seen. It has absolutely no muscular tension or rigidity, but is as baggy and shaky as a skin filled with water. The legs of the woodchuck are short and stout, and made for digging rather than running. The latter operation he performs by short leaps, his belly scarcely clearing the ground. For a short distance he can make very good time, but he seldom trusts himself far from his hole, and, when surprised in that predicament, makes little effort to escape, but, grating his teeth, looks danger squarely in the face…Dig one out during hibernation (Audubon did so), and you find it a mere inanimate ball, that suffers itself to be moved and rolled about without showing signs of wakening. But bring it by the fire, and it presently unrolls and opens its eyes, and crawls feebly about, and if left to itself will seek some dark hole or corner, roll itself up again, and resume its former condition.

And speaking of science and nature, as I write this at least, you can scroll down to the “Little Crop of Horrors” clip on The Daily Show’s front page to see the May 14, 2009 appearance on that show of my organic-food-criticizing co-worker Jeff Stier from the American Council on Science and Health.

Or if you’re just a little tired of hearing about science at this point, join us tonight at the monthly Manhattan Project bar gathering I host for libertarians and conservatives (6:30pm at Merchants NY East, 62nd and First) and tell me that spirituality and tradition are what matter. I can take it, and I’m sure Clarke would have been fascinated.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Nerds on the Moon


I’d say the 1990s was the time of the geek takeover of culture: Tarantino (who loves comics and referencing older films), the 1997 Star Wars rereleases (which did more to generate good will than the prequels did a couple years later), and then the Matrix films as confirmation geek stuff can also be hip, even philosophical.  And Buffy didn’t hurt either.

One of the most respectable geeks for decades now has been Alan Moore, who says the following geekily-enthusiastic words in an interview about his upcoming new installment in the comic book adventures of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen:

[I]n this final book, in the text story in the back, we are tying together [bits of fiction] from all over everywhere.  We’ve got references to The Story of O, we’ve got references to every piece of lunar fiction ever written, from Lucian onwards, right up to things like 2001, all the pulp stories about races to the moon, and H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and Georges Melies.

That desire to “collect them all” is familiar to any systematizing geek — and in this case a reminder that certain ideas, like getting to the Moon (and battling its monkey inhabitants) or finding life on Mars (and singing about it, if you’re David Bowie), unite geeks into a sort of tradition, even across centuries.  And speaking of 2001: more on Arthur C. Clarke in tomorrow’s blasphemous 666th blog entry, which is also my Book Selection of the Month.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Old Lame Things vs. New Lame Things (plus Pooh vs. Wanted)


It simply is not the case that newer = better, and civilization would save a lot of time if the youth got that through their heads — but old forms of naivete are undeniably easier for us to spot than our own forms of naivete, so while (some) contemporary sci-fi and comics-derived media are almost respectable, I can’t blame people for laughing at the old stuff.

Take this latest installment in Michael Malice’s collection of goofy old comics panels, for example (including that hilariously schizophrenic-sounding one about the perils of space travel and Asian politics, not to mention the poignant line “I really did want to be with you, but I left you because I’d suddenly remembered I had an appointment to interview a famous king of the hobos”).

(Another stupid comics trivia note, regarding a member of the old-school team of urban sidekicks known as the Newsboy Legion: according to Wikipedia, “[the character named] Big Words’ favorite expression of surprise is ‘I’ll be superamalgamated!’ This phrase was originally used by the similarly polysyllabic William Harper Littlejohn in Doc Savage.”)

And who among us can deny that this week’s hip, new Terminator Salvation is likely to be a slightly more satisfying tale of man-vs.-machine than the 1980s Emilio Estevez, uh, vehicle Maximum Overdrive, about possessed trucks trapping people in a gas station? (Nonetheless, it did give us this cool AC/DC song, “Who Made Who.”)


Not everyone falls for the latest version of things, though — take Kyle Smith’s full-length review of the new Star Trek (which I overlooked a week ago), with the barrage of angry responses from Trekkies he generated. I don’t agree with Kyle’s negative assessment, but I can certainly attest that he’s not just being negative to garner attention (as at least one shocked Trekkie asserts). Almost the first thing he said when we got out of the theatre was that he hates Trek in all its forms and that this movie seemed to be nothing more than a Trek veneer on lots of borrowed, banal moments from other action films, just as he says in the review.

I wouldn’t seriously argue that any non-fan should feel obliged to take great pleasure in Star Trek — or for that matter Wolverine — but I remain hopeful that the aforementioned Terminator movie will end up being the summer thing that reaches out to and thrills even the uninitiated. We’ll see.

Incidentally, Roberto Orci co-wrote the screenplays of Watchmen, Star Trek, AND the upcoming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. He must have more money than, well, Ozymandias. And in weirder multi-movie-writing news, it appears that the sequel to the brutal and ridiculous (and comics-based) action movie Wanted will be written by the writer of the Heffalump Movie featuring Winnie the Pooh (perhaps initiates to the assassins guild will have to do “stoutness exercises” this time). I’ve literally said on several occasions that I wonder sometimes if I would be a better person if I’d cared more about heartwarming characters like Winnie the Pooh in my childhood and less about vicious, gun-toting comic book characters. Oddly, it turns out they all now appear to flow from the same pen.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Marvel vs. DC


•My friend Dan Greenberg once compared the comic book companies DC and Marvel to the Republicans and Democrats, the former in each pair being (ostensibly) old-timey traditionalists with values seemingly harkening back to the early twentieth century and the latter in each pair ostensibly being in love with the new but mired in a brief 1960s boom in creativity and relevance that has since degenerated into coarse, flashy, culture-undermining superficiality.

When he rendered that judgment a few years ago, it may have been true, but one interesting recent source of disanalogy is the fact that DC has lately been downplaying the fact that its core characters have been largely unchanged for seven decades (avoiding explicit “70th anniversary” banners and that sort of thing), while Marvel is putting out commemorative comics. Then again, maybe the political parties have changed enough recently to make the comics company analogies still hold: the Republicans are now conducting “listening tours” and looking desperate to rebrand themselves and start anew, while the Democrats are the ones harkening back to the days of FDR (when, indeed, the first wave of superheroes arose).

•Complicating all this, I should admit, is the fact that DC is apparently going to incorporate the pulpy heroes known as the Spirit and Doc Savage — neither created by DC — into its main universe’s continuity and have them interact with the WWII heroes called the Blackhawks. DC has also recently incorporated characters from the Milestone and Archie Comics universes, adding them to a main universe that was already, since 1985, a composite of characters from DC, Quality, Charlton, and Fawcett comics.

In addition to that core universe, there is a DC multiverse, fifty-two universes in all (more or less), where some of the aforementioned characters’ doppelgangers have Earths unto themselves — and it sounds like writer Grant Morrison is finally — finally! — combining his interest in metafiction with the half-century-old founding conceit of the DC multiverse, as I’ve long thought he should: the idea that each universe is “fictional” from the next’s perspective, that is, people on Earth-2 get read about as if they are mere comic book characters by the inhabitants of Earth-1 (sounds like Morrison’s Multiversity series next year will visit Earths 4, 5, 10, 20, a 1990s-style one, and Prime, for those keeping track — Earth-Prime supposedly being the “real” world). Linked here is a description of a rare case where I think the tangles of repeatedly-altered DC continuity produce a really pleasing, interesting mess, by the way.

•On an even more old-timey note, there are plans afoot to make a big budget movie out of the French character Fantomas, for a century now depicted as a villainous master of disguise — yet an influence on the characters Batman and (I strongly suspect) Phantom Stranger (the latter of whom was once the subject of a very thorough website maintained by Jacob Levy). From the photo in that linked story, you’d think Fantomas was also a member of the Blue Man Group, committing horrible crimes against art.

•Finally: T.M. Maple died of a heart attack when he was only about my age(!), just as the Web was beginning to replace his chosen medium — comic books’ fan-letters sections — as the complaints/praise venue of choice. Nice to see he rates a Wikipedia page. The reports of his prolific achievements are surely more accurate than those about that mathematically-impossible girl reportedly prone to sending 300,000 text messages per month (as noted on Drudge a couple weeks ago). Do the math, reporters, do the math. No one is sending 300,000 individualized text messages a month, and those stories you hear once in a while about people who’ve supposedly had 10,000 sex partners are also false. Again, just do the math. Or at least it’d be no great heroic feat — more like a very implausible factory job.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Superheroes, Ayn Rand on "The Simpsons," and Madness


•Thursday, the night of the Smallville season finale, Channel 11 News described “men and women who have pledged to do good and fight evil,” who “take to the streets of Gotham” as “part of a movement gaining momentum” around the world — so-called Real Life Superheroes who are just that, costumed folk acting as neighborhood crime watches and outreach to the homeless, with the New York contingent using names like Dark Guardian, Phantom Zero (perhaps influenced by the Phantom Stranger, about whom more tomorrow), and (the Green Hornet-inspired) Life.

•They actually looked more badass than some stuff coming out of Marvel Comics, such as an upcoming miniseries featuring the Pet Avengers, a team composed of previously-depicted animal adventurers such as the teleporting dog from the moon named Lockjaw (pictured above, looking a bit mopey), the X-Men’s pet dragon Lockheed, druggily-name superhero Speedball’s cat Hairball, the Falcon’s falcon Redwing, and of course a frog who wields the mystical thunder-hammer of the Norse god Thor.

•Speaking of weird ancient gods, it sounded at one point as if Guillermo del Toro (the right man for the job) might direct Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness (creepiness under Antarctica, inspiring many imitators), but now it’s sounding more likely that Ron frickin’ Howard will do a Beautiful Mind-style biopic about Lovecraft that juxtaposes his life, his insane family, and his nightmarish imaginings.  It probably won’t suck, but I’d rather just see them tell one of his stories (as has been done a few times but not quite right yet).  It had better be at least as disturbing as this image.

•On a related note, if you’ve ever been alarmed by the fact that every year it seems as though some mediocre new film is declared the biggest box office success of all time, you might be reassured to know that those declarations usually don’t involve adjusting the box office results for inflation, whereas this list, which does adjust all-time box office champions’ results for inflation, seems to include the movies you’d truly expect to see on an all-time-biggest list, mostly nerd/genre films, sweeping historical epics, and Disney.  The one movie on the list that, to my mind, does not fit any of those big, obvious categories is — ta-da — The Graduate.  Make of that what you will.  Good writing is one way to avoid needing an immense budget, as Hollywood must be dimly aware.

The Fountainhead, with Gary Cooper, is not on that list, but The Simpsons did a fairly respectful parody of it recently (my thanks to Diana Fleischman for pointing it out), and those who regard that book as defining heroism will not to be too disappointed with the depiction of “Maggie Roark.”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Charlie's Angels, Josie's Pussycats, Babes' Lightsabers


Odd Cheryl Ladd factoids:

•She was not only one of Charlie’s Angels…

•she was the singing voice of one of Josie’s Pussycats (airheaded Melody) and, yes…

•she was on an episode of Fantastic Journey, the time travel series I still vaguely remember from childhood that lasted only a few episodes (people from multiple time periods found themselves thrown together in an alternate dimension via the Bermuda Triangle).

•Ladd also recorded the original version of “[I know] I’ll Never Love This Way Again,” made a hit a year later by the somewhat more soulful Dionne Warwick.

•Total number of (original, non-space) episodes of Josie, by the way: 16.

•Total number of (subsequent, space-based) episodes of Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space: 17.

•Impact on popular culture: incalculable.

Michael Malice likes to remind people that Charlie’s Angels was at one point Ayn Rand’s favorite TV show because, she said, it is about beautiful women doing impossible things instead of the retard child who lives in the gutter. And speaking of beautiful women doing impossible things, here’s a beer ad parody featuring hot chicks fighting with lightsabers, which I link in honor of tomorrow’s celebration of Armed Forces Day.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Superman, Guns N' Roses, and Florence King


Tonight is the Smallville eighth-season finale, essentially the TV adaptation of the 1992 story in which the monster called Doomsday killed Clark Kent (who was later resurrected — forgive me if I’m sort of giving away the likely season-ending cliffhanger, but the word was out seventeen years ago).

Although circa-1980s comics are the ones I know best, I sort of liked how much one Smallville episode this season (though I rarely watch the show) evoked the quirky, caper-like plots of the circa-1960s “Silver Age” of comics: In the episode, magician Zatanna grants multiple characters one wish (while trying to resurrect her father, magician Zatara), with effects such as a jealous Chloe transforming into Lois Lane.

The magic spells in the episode also caused Clark to temporarily forget that he’s a superhuman with vast responsibilities, leading to dorky Silver Age-like moments like Chloe-as-played-by-Lois-actress trying to bean Clark with a metal pole to remind him who he really is.

The actress playing Lois did a surprisingly good job of subtly acting like Chloe, if I can speak for students of vocal inflection and body language.  Any good acting on Smallville is a pleasant surprise, since they seem to cast solely based on looks and have recently even run an online open casting call on comics sites noting that no prior acting experience is necessary.

The guy who played Lex Luthor on Smallville may literally be better than all the other actors on the show combined, which isn’t saying much, but here are three sentences from his Wiki. entry hinting at the true extent of his good taste:

His favorite band is Guns N’ Roses.  His favorite animal is a wolf.  In an episode of MTV Cribs, Rosenbaum shows his love of singing, karaoke, exercising, and Captain Crunch.

Also fond of G N’ R: several of my friends, including Chris Nugent and Christine Caldwell Ames, who, like me, wrote to conservative writer Florence King back around the time of Use Your Illusion (about a year before Superman’s death) and mentioned G N’ R, since King had just been photographed with a gun and roses.  According to somewhat younger conservative writer Helen Rittelmeyer, King mentions in a more recent essay being surprised to hear from readers about G N’ R back in the day.  Is she referring to us?  Perhaps thousands of people mentioned the band to her — or perhaps we’ve made another small mark on history.

P.S. On another apocalyptic Superman note, Jacob Levy points out that a recent interview reveals that the writers of the popular comic book miniseries Kingdom Come, a vision of a dark DC Comics future that ends with only Superman and a handful of heroes surviving, had a climax that was somewhat muddled by the fact that its writers disagreed on whether all the superheroes should die — making Superman a failure — or whether all the superheroes should live, since Superman always saves the day.  The result was a compromise, perhaps detracting from the story’s impact.  Sort of like killing Clark Kent but then resurrecting him — but we’ll let them get away with that stunt once, since it’s Superman, who’s sort of like Jesus.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Doom, Politics, Pluck, Burgers


•Today, as I make my way back from DC, let us contemplate a moment on Family Guy that captured both politics and nerd culture quite nicely: Lois briefly becomes mayor and realizes that scaring voters is an easy way to get them to approve spending.  So, after doing things like answering questions by simply saying “9/11,” she gets a tax hike approved by saying spontaneously at a press conference (in her heavy Rhode Island accent), “Uh, we have evidence that…the Legion of Doom…is conspiring with…Adolf Hitler…to assassinate Jesus.”

The public gives her their full support — and because Family Guy never stops while things are remotely subtle, they quickly cut to a ten-second bit starting with a deep-voiced narrator saying “Meanwhile, at the headquarters of the Legion of Doom,” followed by Luthor asking “How did she learn of our plans?” and an ashamed-looking Solomon Grundy saying “Me, Solomon Grundy, kind of drop ball on that one” with no further reference to the team.

•For a more serious intersection of comics and politics, there is the highly acclaimed (I swear) comic book series (now on issue #42 and scheduled to last through issue 50) called Ex Machina.  The world in it looks almost exactly like ours until around the millennium, when the world’s first superhero appears — an armor-clad (Iron Man-like) techno-hero called the Great Machine.  On Sept. 11, 2001, he prevents the collapse of the Southern tower of the World Trade Center and is shortly thereafter elected mayor of New York City, struggling to balance his current political and mostly-past superheroic lives in the years thereafter.

•In a reminder that people in the media weren’t always quite as gullible about our vaunted leaders in FDR’s day as they are in the reign of Leader Obama, Brian Doherty recently wrote for Reason about how Little Orphan Annie strips, back in the day, were actually testaments to capitalist pluck and suspicion of FDR and even organized charity.  Around the same time, New York unions drove the Superman-animating Fleischer brothers to Florida, where the tone of their work changed in interesting ways, as a recent Newsarama article describes.  (I should really finish writing another comic book script myself very soon.)

•In other political news, I yesterday griped about the Republicans eating pizza instead of promulgating a free-market philosophy (though some people, like David Brooks in his column Tuesday last week, think the Republicans are already too pro-freedom and too pro-individualism).  Empty as that pizza outing seemed, I wonder if it’s mere coincidence that the world’s two most powerful Democrats responded within days with a burger outing?  Politicians do very little by accident.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Greenberg, DC, DC, and the Sea


Today and part of tomorrow, I’m in DC with the Phillips Foundation.  With Democrats contributing to our economic woes (like FDR before them, merely getting us deeper in doodoo, with their doodoo economics, as it were) and Republicans coming up with vacuous responses like going out for pizza (when they should simply adopt the popular Tea Party protest cause of opposing government spending, always), where can the populace turn?

Luckily, there is at least one heroic nerd legislator, Arkansas State Representative Dan Greenberg, who still remembers the issue numbers of Justice League stories from his childhood (having once skateboarded around his school in a cape or something like that, as I recall), yet is also sane enough to realize that building a high-tech floating artificial island as a means of founding a free nation may not be the shortest route to liberty, a position for which he has taken some heat from pro-artificial-island Patri Friedman in a Cato online debate.

If Dan really wanted to show his nerd colors, of course, his comeback to Friedman should be: Haven’t the villainous efforts of Black Manta taught us the folly of trying to live in the ocean as a political protest?  More about the Legion of Doom tomorrow.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jonny Quest vs. John Carter


Ah, a quick trip to Norwich, CT inevitably reminds me of youth — when my image of the world and my place in it was pretty much like this series of clips from the old Jonny Quest cartoon, about a decade before my time but (like Tom Swift novels) very attuned to my tastes: a world big and weird enough to warrant bold exploration, with science and a sense of justice the best means of navigating it. If you don’t like those Jonny Quest clips, well, different strokes for different folks, but you suck and I hate you.

Imagine my horror, then, when I learned recently from an article by Greg Boucher that even though there’s a Jonny Quest movie in the works, they may change his name — seemingly defeating the whole point of adapting him, branding-wise (goodbye, built-in fanbase, who needs ya).

And why? Because the (completely unrelated but also 60s-animation-inspired) Speed Racer movie did badly at the box office (but was awesome, I should note — I saw it twice, and my companion the second time, who’s done voiceovers for anime herself, got an actual mild seizure from all the flashing colors in it, a sure sign of cinematic quality).

So by Warner Bros.’ reasoning, if Iron Man 2 does badly next year, they should still go ahead and release Green Lantern a few months later, but they should change its name so people won’t know it’s based on the comic book character (“Spaceguy” maybe? “Emerald Knight”? “Lensman”?). Bizarre.


Speaking of Warner Bros. and branding: You heard it here first — if, as sounds likely, a Deadpool (a.k.a. Wade Wilson) movie gets spun off of Wolverine, watch for Warner to sue Marvel for ripping off their similar assassin character Deathstroke (a.k.a. Slade Wilson) — I’m just guessing. Might sort of balance the scales for Watchmen getting sued (both by Fox and a coffee company who felt their can design was used without permission, oddly enough). I wouldn’t want my company’s economic fate hanging on whether a jury concluded artist Rob Liefeld is capable of originality.


The frustration of possibly not getting to see a real Jonny Quest movie is not as great as the frustration I feel reading about the following film delay, though: Had the studio not caused the project to fall apart by trying to make it a comedy, the Looney Tunes animators apparently would have beaten Disney to the punch with the first full-length animated film — John Carter, Warlord of Mars — with Edgard Rice Burroughs still alive at the time and advising them (but we’ll finally get Carter — from the Wall-E guy and Disney, as it happens — in 2012, exactly 100 freaking years after the first book came out). Not only would that in all likelihood have been amazing, but American animation would have been profoundly influenced by nine-foot-tall green warrior men with names like Tars Tarkas instead of by whistling dwarfs with names like Dopey. Ah, what might have been.

Similarly, I wish there had been a Star Wars prequel trilogy. I do not recall a Star Wars prequel trilogy ever being made. I do not.

One more old-timey note: the relationships between the people in the photo may have changed, but this somewhat dated glimpse of Dawn Eden as Dale Arden (along with Kyle Smith and Jamie Foehl as themselves) from Halloween 2002 may be worth linking just so you can see me as Flash Gordon.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Wars (and Other Wars): Phantom Realism


A few strange examples of reality imitating sci-fi or vice versa:

•The movie I Love You Phillip Morris is not, as it sounds, a pro-smoking movie but rather a reportedly graphic gay love story starring Ewan McGregor and Jim Carrey, which may be unlikely to receive U.S. distribution due to the surprisingly explicit sex scenes — despite winning praise in Europe.

This film, then, should be a dream come true for the sort of young women — and I’m not naming any names — who write the subgenre of fan fiction called “slash fiction,” in which sci-fi characters, often of the same gender, have sex.  What is I Love You Phillip Morris, after all, if not a movie featuring Obi-Wan doin’ it with the Mask?

•Meanwhile, in space: real gaseous structures that look a bit like the giant hand sometimes depicted in DC Comics cradling the newly-made universe.  Blasphemously, as that story goes, the alien scientist character Krona dreamt of stealing the knowledge that went into the act of creation.  I also used Krona in one of the stories I wrote for DC, and the three remaining issues of the weekly comic book Trinity, on sale this month, depict the conclusion of his quest, which leads him to tear the Earth into pieces.

It strikes me that the narration in the preceding issue, describing what will happen if Krona drains the magic and passion from the world, probably sounds about like my own philosophy as seen by my conservative girlfriend — the one I’m visiting Tuesday in DC (the city, not the comic book company): “Hope fades to reason.  Courage becomes calculation.  Drive becomes mere pragmatism.”  I admit Krona is a bit like a combination of apple-biting Adam and Victor Frankenstein — but then, so was Nietzsche, and he was pretty passionate.  We’ve all got a bit of Kirk and a bit of Spock in us (especially in some slash fiction).

•Geoff Johns has stopped writing the comic book Justice Society of America (and is rumored to be planning to eventually write Justice League of America, which of course is a whole different ballgame).  There’s a post-Johns JSA miniseries, though, that’s being described as drawing parallels between the villainous terrorist organization Kobra and al Qaeda.  But with the series coming out the same summer as the G.I. Joe movie, even though DC Comics has been depicting Kobra for several decades, isn’t the truly striking parallel between Kobra and…Cobra?

•Speaking of the Middle East situation, though, Henry Rollins rants a bit about Iraq and Afghanistan at the beginning and end of this half-hour monologue, but that’s not why Andrew Corsello pointed it out to me — he did that because most of the monologue is Rollins’ riveting account of how he met William Shatner through Ben Folds — not to mention King Crimson’s Adrian Belew (if this isn’t evidence that the same sort of person who might, say, do a “Month of the Nerd” on his blog might also want to do a “Month of Rock,” I don’t know what is — and Rollins even talks a bit about Dungeons & Dragons in the same monologue).

The whole experience was part of recording the same album that produced that Leno show segment with Folds, Shatner, and Joe Jackson performing Pulp’s song “Common People,” perhaps the most postmodern moment in TV history.

All that, and Rollins even works in a bit about Shatner’s love of scallops, something he shares with my father, who I’m visiting this weekend, along with Grandma and, as befits today, Mom.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Star Trek: Inappropriate Contact


I think J.J. Abrams has done a fine job, much like the makers of the most recent Batman, James Bond, and Wolverine movies (and perhaps we’ll soon be saying Terminator as well), of breathing new life into a franchise while remaining true to its past (Kyle Smith, who didn’t do a full-length review of it, does not [CORRECTION: full-length Kyle review here, with many angry dissents from Trekkies]). I have less to say about the Star Trek-themed porn explicitly advertised (I’M WARNING YOU) at this link, which Reid Mihalko, a known member of the prevert community, pointed out to his friends. One friend of mine predicted the porn would be closer to the original series in spirit than the J.J. Abrams movie is.

On a slightly more respectable note, Jacob Levy points out some ludicrous Star Trek novelty merchandising now on sale, including red-shirted-ensign-themed cologne. (There was a red-shirted-ensign homage in the Abrams film, incidentally, handled with a weird sort of big-thrills subtlety.)

Much as I hate to continue the nerd/erotica theme, I cannot resist noting that in the same 60s episode in which Kirk is entranced by a primitive Kahn-ut-tu healer-woman (explicitly likened to an inhabitant of Eden), “A Private Little War,” we find this memorable sequence (as described by the Trek site Memory-Alpha):

In sickbay, Spock partially arises from his hypnosis. He calls to nurse Chapel and asks her to strike him. At first she refuses, but does so to appease his request. Her first strokes are barely felt by Spock, forcing him to ask her to hit him harder. He explains that the pain will help him return to consciousness. She begins to hit him quite hard.

Scotty enters the room and, noticing that Spock is under attack, restrains nurse Chapel. Dr. M’Benga runs into the room pulling Spock into the seated position. With great swings he slaps him in the face. After several strikes, Spock catches his hand and explains that he is sufficiently revived.

Witnessing this bizarre ritual, Scotty questions the practice. Spock and M’Benga tell him that it is a natural Vulcan response to self-healing.

Compared to that, the hint of Vulcan sexual activity in the new film is tame indeed.

On a more serious note: I was a bit nervous about whether the new Trek movie would be good, but I’m now inclined to feel enough time has passed since the last iteration of Trek that we can have this new version without necessarily “doing harm” to the original. Hollywood’s current push to remake everything the moment it turns twenty years old, by contrast, is annoying. We don’t need a new RoboCop, Total Recall, or Hellraiser (to take just three examples reportedly in the works, all arriving like clockwork two decades after the originals now, it seems). But future generations should have their own Star Trek, and the Abrams movie is good enough to make it likely they will.

Friday, May 8, 2009

ACSH on Stossel, Animals on Our Minds


I hope you’ll forgive me for delaying the comment on Star Trek porn until tomorrow, but I have a more important media note: One of my ACSH colleagues, nutrition expert Dr. Ruth Kava, will be on John Stossel’s 20/20 special episode, You Can’t Even Talk About It, tonight at 10pm Eastern, 9 Central. She’ll be talking about the advantages of irradiating food to make it safer to eat, but Stossel will cover several taboo topics — including the argument that eating endangered species is a good way to ensure their survival (by making their continued existence profitable).

That’s an argument that probably wouldn’t sit well with the winning side in our debate two nights ago on the question “Should Humans Radically Decrease Their Exploitation of Animals?” They voted yes by about 2 to 1.

•I suspect they also wouldn’t be happy with these business cards “made from meat and lasers” that my taxidermist/writer girlfriend Helen pointed out to me.

•They probably also aren’t happy that PETA-praised celebrity Oprah Winfrey is (sort of) giving people free KFC chicken, as Diana Fleischman points out to me. (ACSH is more upset Oprah’s giving Jenny McCarthy airtime and blogging space to spread anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.)

•Finally, the pro-animal faction won’t like stories like this one about kids supposedly made ill by veganism.

Nonetheless, any decent person is moved by animal suffering — whether it’s the limping of an oddly-deformed dog I see near the ACSH offices who has one extra-long, bendy leg or the occasional seizures of my parents’ dog Jaycie, who’ll I’ll see while in New England over the next two days (along with my Grandmother), before a Tuesday night trip to DC (so don’t be alarmed if I’m hard to reach).

And you can help an animal — and ACSH — if you like (and if someone else hasn’t already done so) by giving a nice home to Tiki, the big, chubby, grey tiger tabby (in the photo above) belonging to ACSH second in command Dr. Gil Ross and his family, who have moved into new, less Tiki-appropriate apartments. You can reach Ross at ross[at] if you’re in NYC and want to meet Tiki (and should assume that by the end of May, the situation is resolved).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fan Myopia vs. Real-Life Funnies


About that complicated and extra-nerdy blog entry on Monday: that was just a perfectly psychologically-healthy combination, you understand, of a man’s natural love of the Legion of Super-Heroes and hair-splitting desire to make sense of DC’s time-altering Crisis events.  Really, you see things like that all the time on the DC Comics official site’s message boards.

It’s interesting (to me), by the way, how different the tones of the users on different channels of the DCBoards are, with the Crisis ones sounding like Seavey-esque continuity nitpickers or systematizers of some sort (and often complete idiots, of course) but, for instance, the Legion channel often being positively playful/juvenile and instead of asking questions like “What was Didio thinking saying Countdown to Final Crisis was better than 52?!” asking questions like “Which version of Sun Boy would you most like to date?” or “Who has the wackiest costume ever?”

Or that’s my impression anyway — which may be partly a function of the Legion having young animation fans and the Crises and other epic events, by contrast, attracting embittered old loons who’ve been trying to FIT THE GODDAM PIECES TOGETHER FOR THIRTY YEARS NOW EVEN THOUGH NASA NEVER RETURNS MY LETTERS.  Pardon me.  I’m stopping all this next month, remember.


But comics are capable of more than needlessly-complex sci-fi and superhero plots, I assure you.  Witness this personal, real-life story drawn with Danny Hellman-like skill by Rick Parker and written from personal experience by my pal Michele Carlo, a performance artist and two-time Debater at Lolita Bar who has a cat named Jubilee after a character from the X-Men — speaking of which, last night’s debate went well for both humans and animals.

And speaking of needless complexity and things that environmentalists tend to like, I read the Wikipedia summary of the Dune novels recently, and it was like reading bad, jargon-filled fan fiction — much as I loved the first novel.  I think some of these genres are full of potential, but I’m not suggesting it’s best achieved by piling more imitative crap on the bonfire of human civilization.  Nonetheless, tomorrow: a note about Star Trek-themed porn.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Star Trek vs. Jungle Girl


If you just can’t wait two days to see Star Trek, you might consider picking up the fine four-issue comic book prequel series, set a decade after the prior film, Star Trek: Nemesis, depicting some familiar faces and major events, and leading directly into the opening moments of the new film (remember, there’s time travel). The producers of the comic, the company IDW, do a great job of visually capturing the feel of both space and theatre-going through heavy black backgrounds [UPDATE: And you can check out this article about the new Star Trek movie for which the New York Post, with a little help from me, interviewed and photographed my Trekkie (and professional voiceover actress) friend Hilary Thomas].

By contrast, IDW was not able to convince retailers to buy my friend Janet Harvey’s Jungle Girl comic book a few years ago, a tragedy made all the more annoying by the fact that a completely unrelated character named Jungle Girl is now all the rage. Maybe Janet (who reminds me of Laura Prepon from That 70’s Show, incidentally) should try to write a fill-in issue based on her own stuff — or offer to do a parallel-universe Jungle Girl?

Tonight, though, the place to get your human-vs.-beast action is at our Debate at Lolita Bar (8pm) on animal welfare between Mariann Sullivan and Justin Shubow. Please visit our underground lost civilization.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Central Park Media No More


I’m writing a piece for Reason in which I’ll mention Chinese-born American actress Bai Ling (she’s “Bai Ling-ual” — ha!), who is a mixed blessing symbolic of our era: a capitalist success story but also a bit wacky and a shoplifter.

Speaking of Asia-related entertainment mixed blessings, pivotal anime-distributing operation Central Park Media — the company that dreamt of world peace through shared pop culture but had a little trouble paying the bills — is going out of business, as noted by ComicBookResources and commented upon by former CPM employee Ali Kokmen (now selling Random House manga) on Heidi MacDonald’s blog.

In other Ali news, he’s contributed hypothetical opening lines of a sequel to Kafka’s Metamorphosis to a project called Book: The Sequel that will make a comedy volume out of people’s hypothetical opening lines to sequels to great works of literature.  You can add lines yourself through May 28 (or “Month of the Nerd II, Day 28,” if you prefer — and that is itself rather sequely, I suppose).

In other writing news, I promise yesterday’s blog entry will have been my most inaccessible to the layman.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Time Travel, in Comics, Film, and Life


I get to see an advance screening of the Star Trek movie tonight, thanks to movie reviewer Kyle Smith (who is not really a sci-fi geek — though he has a daughter who turns one this month, named Summer, like the actress from the Terminator franchise, which returns to the big screen later this month). Watch for his review.

I’ll just note that a lot of comic books and genre films lately involve time travel or altered memories, often used as a means of refreshing a franchise, with the most obvious clot being this month’s three major nerd films, Wolverine (revealing his amnesia-obscured origin), Star Trek (using time travel and an aged Leonard Nimoy to introduce us to the new version of the cast), and Terminator Salvation (wisely leaving present-day time travel adventures behind for the post-apocalyptic wastelands while warning us in advance in one of the trailers that this isn’t the same future John Connor expected).

I was torn between two times myself tonight, since, alas, the Star Trek movie is being shown at the same time as the old documentary 1991: The Year Punk Broke, the latter pointed out to me by Dimitri Cavalli and both close to my heart. But I can always revisit 1991 in my mind — the future must be experienced (and four days before the rest of the world experiences it).


As for comics (specifically, DC Comics): despite plans to stop reading them, I’ve long been kept coming back to comics specifically by DC’s “Crisis” events, which appeal to my sci-fi aspirations by depicting alterations in reality and the timestream instead of just Batman stopping bank robbers — but I kept wanting it all to end so I could move on, and with events such as this year’s explicitly “Final” Crisis, I finally can and will.

As if they were trying to fulfill my comics wishlist, 2009 will have seen satisfying finales for the reality-altering characters known as the Monitors, Krona, Gog, Darkseid, and Time Trapper (arguably representing the First through Fifth Worlds of the DC Universe, respectively, more or less — with similarly powerful Monarch bumped off one year ago as well). So there’s little question in my mind that this, at long last, is a good stopping point for my comics-reading. Add to all that a film based on the most highly-acclaimed comic book of all time, The Watchmen, and Wolverine on the big screen solo, and a comics fan has little reason to complain right now. This means I’ll leave the printed superheroic realm behind before I turn forty, sparing me at least some embarrassment (the final issue of Trinity, the series depicting the final battle with Krona, who I used in one of the comics I wrote for DC, comes out May 27, and the final issue of the series depicting the final battle with Time Trapper, Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, comes out June 24).

Of course, next year — though I won’t be reading superhero adventures — I will have to go to the theatre to see the Iron Man sequel and the Green Lantern movie. (An adult should be well-rounded, after all, so I can’t just see the Harry Potter and Narnia films that are due out late next year. That would be juvenile, obviously.)


Earlier on this blog, I said it was a shame DC stopped doing the Crisis on Multiple Earths volumes collecting old Justice League/Justice Society team-ups because they were just about to reprint (even solicited in some venues) a story from 1980 drawn by George Perez that pitted the two Justice teams and the New Gods against Darkseid. Since Perez’s art and these story elements were all part of the Final Crisis of the past year as well, the old tale would be timely again — and luckily, that story will now be in the August Justice League by George Perez Vol. 1 collection (one of the old issues even had a cover by currently hot-again Jim Starlin, as if the whole thing weren’t 2008-presaging enough already).

Speaking of multiple Earths, I see that next year, Grant Morrison (who wrote the main Final Crisis miniseries) will write seven one-shot issues about DC’s multiverse, including (perhaps controversially) a de facto new version of Watchmen using the Earth-4-dwelling old characters on whom the Watchmen were based. (Since Bruce Wayne ended up being zapped into living multiple, horrible versions of his life in different realities at the end of Final Crisis, maybe he should pop up in these multiversal stories before finally, inevitably, making his way back to the main DC universe — sort of like the Batman version of Quantum Leap.)

Morrison plans to depict the once-Objectivist character the Question shifting toward a more postmodern “spiral dynamics” philosophy, meaning he’ll shift paradigms while retaining insights from his prior philosophies — which sounds somewhat healthy and probably makes more sense as an m.o. for a character named “Question” than having all the answers.


Speaking of that Time Trapper vs. Legion comic that’ll serve as my June 24 farewell to comics — it’s a perfect alpha-omega sort of deal for me, since the old Legion series was the first DC Comic I read regularly, partly as a reward for keeping an eye on my maternal grandmother, then suffering from Alzheimer’s. The next DC series I read regularly — and with even greater enthusiasm — was New Teen Titans, drawn by the aforementioned Perez, who’d drawn the multiversal first superhero comic I ever read, Marvel’s Avengers #149, and is now (very slowly) drawing the Trapper/Legion miniseries. It’s hard to believe he drew New Teen Titans monthly back when I was eleven. (Hard to believe I was ever eleven, really, still able to run faster than bullets, able to cloak criminals in my shadowy “soul-self” to render them unconscious, morphing into various green animals, or so it seems in fading memory. Ah, good times.)

After the Legion miniseries, they’re restarting the Superboy/Legion series Adventure, which will probably pick up the Legion’s story where it left off in 1989 before various (partly Time Trapper-caused) manipulations and revisions of their history. That means they’re likely to effectively erase the past twenty years of Legion history to preserve the preceding thirty-one — an interesting measure of how much more iconic the early decades were. Of course, the only truly shafted period, if they’re retaining recent versions (1994-2004 and 2004-2009) as alternate universes, will be the tumultuous, dark, doppleganger-filled, and continuity-bending period of 1989-1994. Farewell, Five Years Later Legion and Batch SW6. Talk about a “five-year gap.”

P.S. If I were in charge, I might well use the Legion miniseries as one more means to tease the “Blackest Night” event I blogged about on Saturday, since the Alan Moore-created character Sodam Yat appears in both, haunted in the future world of the Legion by terrible events that devastated the Green Lantern Corps back in our time. And I’d use the Trinity series, which also ends just as “Blackest Night” begins, to tease the event as well, since it wouldn’t be the first time Krona’s death awakened the menace of the deathgod Nekron. Might as well tie it all together, across the centuries and multiple realities.