Monday, November 30, 2009

My Favorite Movies of the Noughties: A Study in Mainstreamyness

My friend Carlos assures me we are NOT approaching the end of the decade. As there was no calendar year "0", the year 2001 was the REAL start of the new millennium. Therefore, 2011 will be the start of the second decade of the millennium.
But I am FAR more interested in being able to refer to the actual decades of my life as 'the seventies', 'the eighties', and 'the nineties' etc. Because that's what everybody else does.
Sorry, Science! And Carlos.
Therefore, as my lovely wife suggested, I'll do a bunch of posts this month summarizing my impressions of the pop culture of the Nifty Noughties. My favorite movies, comics, TV shows, books, cartoons, and songs.
Why 'Favorite' and not 'The Best'? Because I don't have to justify the word favorite. I also see no reason to justify things that are probably already covered earlier in this very blog.
So today I'll forgo my list of Andrew W.K.'s most soothing lullabies and get right to:


Why eight? That's how many fingers I have left over with both thumbs up!

8. Watchmen- You bet! My only regret is that I saw it just once. Of course, there's every possibility that over time it will slide down the list, past Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Lilo & Stitch, Shrek and its sequel, Clerks II, Titan A.E. and so on, spiraling down into obscurity. I like to believe it has staying power, but, well, time makes fools of us all (as Phillip Fry once commented when a hat full of curdled milk was discovered in his locker).

7. Serenity- There are so many things wrong with Joss Whedon's Firefly being cancelled half a season in and Dollhouse getting two seasons! Grreh! I can't let it stick in my craw forever, because at least I got some resolution to the series in this splendid effects-laden adventure romp. I loved these characters. I loved this story. Yes, even more than Lord of the Rings. Because at least my wife will watch this with me again.

6. Shaun of the Dead- Comedy trumps effects. Who knew? And a horror outweighs a sci-fi? Who would believe it? But it's true, this movie can't die. I love it to death. It shambles in to the number six spot, forcing me to wonder if I wouldn't have been better off with a standard Top 10 list. Well, too late now...

5. Spider-Man 2- Marvel dominated the celluloid decade as far as I was concerned. You can keep your Batmans and your terrfyingly ill-considered Supermans Returnses and just keep trying to give me superhero movies that are more like this. Also, develop a way to make every movie my first date with the love of my life. Is that too tall an order?

4. The Incredibles- Not even Marvel could make my favorite super-hero flick in the last ten yar. Because Pixar made it already.

3. Revenge of the Sith- It's not your regular wall-to-wall special effects prequel space opera tragedy. That's how I justify my atypical abilty to love a movie with an unhappy ending. However, technically, this movie only makes the happy ending of Return of the Jedi happier!
So there. The circle is now complete. If watching 'Fanboys' with my friend Anthony this weekend taught me anything, love for Star Wars is the strongest love of all.

2. Star Trek- Except for Star Trek.

1. WALL-E- Utterly unable to quantify whether I was more enamored in the long term of Star Trek or Star Wars, I picked a neutral party to top the list and quell the roiling confusion in my soul. (Also, it's just a bunch of movies. Of course my love for MY WIFE is the strongest love of all. Right, hon? Right? Aw...)That's correct. That's Mike's favorite movie of the Noughties. Unless you ask me point blank sometime when I haven't given it any thought and I blurt out something else even more honest, surprising me as much as it does you.
And if I feel any shame that they are all mainstream American genre blockbusters without a single obscure low-budget wristslitter I sure as hell won't tell you lot. The word Favorite means never having to justify your pedestrian choices. Yea, bo!

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Gorn Blinks! HE BLINKS!

I have been a nerd for a very long time. Face of Boe long. I am beginning to worry that one day I will no longer have the ability to be surprised or impressed by science fiction. That, in essence, I have seen all there is to see.
The V-make didn't grab me. I don't have much patience with Smallville. Dollhouse, Lost, Fringe and Heroes barely seem to qualify as science fiction. I think the Stargate has dialed out as much as it can for now and my beloved Doctor Who isn't on again till Christmas... it seems like 100 Trillion years away!
Thank the near-sighted geek gods-among-men and their tiny light pens over at CBS back in 2005! Thank them as I do for Star Trek: Remastered, now airing on the Space Channel.
For 3 minutes each weekday, I can watch new special effects inserted into the old Star Trek! And isn't that what man has dreamt of since first he ventured blinking from his cave?
Now, when the Enterprise warps back in time around the sun, you SEE the thing.
Each strange new world IS looking a little strange, and a LOT less like Basketball (a peaceful planet).
Fleets of ships aren't just in the dialogue and the imagination, landing gear retracts on shuttlecraft, space cities stretch to the horizon instead of the edge of the matte painting.
Is this what's known as Gilding the Lily? I mean, Star Trek was, let's face it, just fine the way it was. If the stories were good (and they usually were), then who needs new-fangled FX?
(Breathe, Mike, breathe, just breathe. Where's my medication? )
I love what Lucas did to Star Wars. Jar Jar and Greedo shooting first and everything. Well, shooting at the same time was actually my favorite. Why? Because it's FUN! New effects are PART of the fun, but mostly it's SEEING SOMETHING NEW!
What I mean to say is, if I can still get jazzed when a 40 year old rubbery lizard blinks at me in a brand new way from his 40 year old show, then the V-make should've been a whole lot better, and IT HAS NO EXCUSE. You have budget, decades of experience & hindsight, and you are literally making something SOMEBODY ALREADY MADE! Why is it so damn slow? Not to mention irrelevant, tedious, and shallow. Why has nobody stated what the Vs are after, and most importantly, EAT THE DAMN GUINEA PIGS OR GET OFF THE SCREEN!
Oh, it's not me that's jaded, brother. Not yet!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Favorite Characters: The Greatest Hero You Never Heard Of

It's my 47th post, which also happens to be my favorite number. So I'll bypass my list of the Top 5 Great Apes to bring you a post about my favorite DC comics superhero. Booster Gold.
Michael J. Carter is always a delight to read about and I'm glad he has his own comic these days. Created by Dan Jurgens in the mid '8os, Booster embodies the most venial, greedy, self-serving qualities of that decade (and today). And yet... well, that's why I like the guy.
He appeared out of nowhere, all style, no substance, and instantly turned himself into a celebrity. Then, just as quickly, into a complete sell-out. The people of Metropolis jumped on the Booster Bandwagon and then quickly off again when they realized he was less a hero than a man out for fame, chicks and bucks.
Booster's big secret, known only to his robot, Skeets, is that he was not exactly a self-made man. He wasn't born with powers like the Kryptonian. He didn't hone himself or build his strengths like the Bat. Booster had everything it took to be a great hero, but that was only because he'd STOLEN it.
In the year 2462, Carter had been a twenty-year old failure working museum security. His shining Gotham City high school football career had tanked when he was caught betting on his own games. His future was looking like total crap... but his PAST, mind you... THAT was wide open.
Booster stole a museum time machine and headed for a history when no one would know his reputation. In the 'primitive and gullible' 20th century, his museum-piece costume and artificial powers would enable him to become a famous, and fabulously wealthy man. He even stole Skeets to be his stooge... er, sidekick.
In the Silver Age, that origin story would have made him a Green Lantern villain in 60 seconds.
And the morally upright Justice League DID see right through him. Superman even took his cape away, telling the bounder that he 'just wasn't ready'.
So Booster ended up in the B-grade Justice League later known as the Supperbuddies, with the other misfits, making a best friend in Ted "The Blue Beetle" Kord. Well, best friend and dubious partner in various get-rich quick schemes.
With Skeets forever urging caution and propriety, and Booster forever ignoring him, it was a swell time for all. And even if they never got rich, they never ran out of Oreos.
And then most of the Supperbuddies died. Especially Ted. (Poor bastard!)
Booster's sometimes almost creepily literal whoring himself out hadn't made him enough cash to save his pal's life. For once Booster's complete lack of knowledge about history wasn't even a little bit funny. He dragged himself home to the future in despair.
Then, over the last few years, he began using time travel for good.
He's even saved the universe a time or two, and most importantly: he doesn't insist on taking credit for it. Much.
The world at large thinks Booster Gold is still the toothpaste-selling, car-hawking, soda-poster smile-with-a-tan jerk he always was, and only a select few know the truth. He battles evil throughout the timestream, intervening in historical DC events, becoming the hero he always pretended to be. Perhaps the change in Michael is another victory for Ted Kord, who has racked up rather a lot of them posthumously.
Maybe Booster's sense of greed and entitlement will never go away completely. It certainly makes it easy to relate to him. But there's plenty to admire, too. Loyalty, spirit, an easy smile, periodic self-sacrifice (especially if there's a cute girl involved), and MUCH less cowardice than one might imagine.
Here's to everything the future holds for Booster Gold... everything that isn't nailed down.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why Are We Deprived of Such Glories?

There are a million wonderful things in this world. Two million. At least.
Like my friends Mark and Kathleen have a new baby girl, Kara. (Yea!)
Like Doctor Who had another t.v. special (Space channel will play it on December 19.)
Oh, fill in the blank! Let's face it, I am NOT deprived...
Where, my buddy Ron might ask, is 'Maverick'?
Why, Daryl has queried, is 'Night Court' coming out on DVD so slowly?
And, where the f@#k is 'Rockula'?
(That one was for Kirk and Kayla.)
But this is my forum and my grievances. Thus...


8. Farscape- I lied. This one IS out. FINALLY. The complete series. Why the hezmana would you release a series 2 or 4 episodes at a time? That's just farbotzd. Oh, and BOOM Studios makes a really world-class comic book based on this. Like the man said, it's sex and drugs and muppets in space. What's not to love? Zitch, that's what.

7. Doctor Who 'The Happiness Patrol'- Under that link is an image of a killer cyborg made of candy from a corrupt civilization where being miserable is a terminal offence. Kandy Man scared the dickens out of me in the '80s. Is he still scary? Well, thanks to YouTube I know how much I still want to own this one on DVD. A lot.

6. Rockula- My friends really deserve this, don't they? C'mon, Universe. Surely my whining will help somehow...

5. Space Precinct- The Brits really know their stuff. Thanks to Ron I saw one of these for the first time in 13 years. It's a precinct... in space. And, no offence to CSI but that's EXACTLY my cup of tea. Why have a boring old police procedural if you can have the Thunderbirds guy giving you flying cars and three-eyed psychics versus squishy green mobsters? I don't think I even need to dignify that rhetorical question with a response.

4. Reboot- Where TRON left off, the first and best CG adventure cartoon of the nineties began. So, Canada rocks and all, which goes without saying, but why isn't it on is? But... just one episode at a time? Not season by season? That sounds like an impossibly expensive and time-consuming way to have to track down a series... I guess I MEANT to say:
4. Deadly Games- Was there some sort of curse on 1995? Why all these short-lived-but-awesome genre shows that never made it to my digital media player? I not only want Gus Lloyd's antimatter escapees from a video game in my hot little hands, but an actual revival of this series. You just know after the V-make tanks they'll have to start on the 1990s.

3. ALF the Animated Series- My old flame from the eighties, the mirthful, matted, Melmacian got his just desserts 3 years ago when they put out NINE of his 26 cartoon episodes. Just the first nine! Grrr. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'll take 'em. I bought 'em. WHERE'S THE REST?

2. Droids the Animated Series- I loved this show. Recent YouTube viewing convinced me I still do. And if no one corrects Wikipedia, I will. This series was NOT aka BUTTS! Geez! That really grinds my crankcase, Artoo.

1. Earth Star Voyager- When I was 12 the world was rad. I guess my wife would agree that nowadays I would call it splendid. But my uncle and cousin, thanks to my multiple repeat viewings of this VHS tape at their place know that 1988 was Disneyriffic. Only available in the UK, I guess, or so amazon might have me believe. It certainly deserved better. It deserved to be a series. It probably cost somebody a jillion dollars and their jobs and minds. But the 'usual bureaucratic boondoggles' resulted in a gritty (for Disney) improvement on 'The Black Hole' and a darn sight better flick than 'The Black Cauldron', too. I STILL want to know if 'the good ship kindergarten' evaded the cyborg slaves of the Outlaw Technology Zone and made their generation-long round trip to find those pollution-bedeviled Earthlings a new home on Demeter. We better hope they did. It didn't work out for those poor saps on 'Earth 2' or 'Virtuality' either.
Celebrate Green Week by recycling sci-fi plots and use the tailings to make me my DVDs!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Favorite Use of Music in Movies

Further pursuant to ideas about musical lists from Music Listography by Lisa Nola of, here's some now!


8. The final shot of 'High Fidelity' is punctuated forever in my memory as Rob Gordon begins making a 'perfect playlist mixtape' and the end credits run with Stevie Wonder's '(I Believe) When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever'. It's listy genius for people who love and people who list.

7. Enya adds the right dreamlike, magic quility to the movie 'L.A. Story'.

6. Danny Elfman has scored basically every movie I have ever liked, probably. At random I choose the opening credits to 'Mars Attacks!' because I just love it, damnit. Box office failure, indeed. Retro saucers whirl and theremin wails, it's visually and musically awesome. Thanks, Danny, for this and about 80 billion other songs.

5. James Horner probably needs his own list, too. I've given a tie to the soundtrack for Bicentennial Man and the Klingon battle theme from Star Trek III, apparently because marauding aliens make for great percussive music. I like me my drums!

4. I can't begin to defend my affection for 'The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension'. That movie is a wonderful, glorious, splendid mess. And the end credits with the cast striding purposefully over Michael Boddicker's synths is firmly 1980's rad.

3. Star Trek (2009)- It's all terrific, thrilling, and tantalizing. Specifically, when George Kirk is just about to die saving his wife, child, and crew, Michael Giacchino's musical strains add the Cry Frosting on that little Moment Cake. Every time!

2. WALL-E- Thomas Newman's score brings the characters to life, providing their 'voices' like an old timey silent film. Michael Crawford's 'Put On Your Sunday Clothes' from the musical "Hello, Dolly" has excellent, appropriate lyrics for WALL-E's pursuit of 'the world out there' as well. Peter Gabriel's end credits 'Down To Earth' should be a hymn for the new millennium. I just keep on harping, but this movie keeps being SO good!

1. The Fifth Element- I may have say the whole frelling thing. Beginning to end. The soundtrack is sweet, melodious, and ass-kicking. Eric Serra rocks. The pulse-pounding taxicab chase music is not on the soundtrack and it's called 'Alech Taadi' by Khaled from his album N'ssi N'ssi. Apparently. The Diva Plavalaguna's pop-opera or "Pop'ra" as the kids will surely call it in The Future is sublime. 'Little Light of Love' is end credit heaven. Also, perhaps especially, my wife loves it, too. She may not be an alien, but the way she sings makes my heart soar.
Yeah, yeah. I'm sappy. Get over it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Favorite Characters: A Martian Paisan

J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5 was a brilliant and beloved piece of television writing, and picking one favorite character took a bit of thought, since I liked just about everyone on that show. Today, I bring you Michael Garibaldi, station security chief. Jerry Doyle seemed like kind of a Bruce Willis type actor, (I also bet he gets sick of hearing that comparison) in that he's the ideal Ordinary Joe caught up in a difficult situation. His Garibaldi was just right. He's from twenty-third century Mars, but in every way that matters he's an Italian guy from the Bronx. I think Garibaldi wanted to be eveybody's friend, and the universe just kept screwing him over to the point where he developed a crust of paranoia and mistrust. Hands down the easiest human character to like on sight, I just responded to his fierce loyalty, snide sense of humor, and especially his hobbies. He once claimed watching a Duck Dodgers cartoon was his second favorite thing in the universe, and whether he meant TV and popcorn, cartoons, Daffy Duck specifically, or parent company Warner Brothers in general, I find myself in total agreement!
Like everyone on Babylon 5, he endured a lot of crap in the turmoil of his life: betrayal, becoming the betrayer, physical anguish, emotional heartache, yadda yadda bing bing blah. But I never felt like it was overwrought or false. The drama was REAL to me then. I could empathize and relate. Garibaldi wasn't perfect, but he was a hard worker doing a dangerous job in space. He knew how to put in his hours every day, find the right lady, and maybe build a motorcycle for a joyride in the hallways.
I admired him as a joker, a buddy cop, a force for good and justice, and a teetotaller. I was miserable with him when he fell off the wagon. And I was as surprised by how his life story turned out as he would have been. Michael Garibaldi: prime example of the triumph of the human spirit now and in the distant futures of the imagination.
Damn, but I want to watch that series again!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Nerd-A-Long: The Romulan War

I finished reading Star Trek: Enterprise: The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor's Wing by Michael A. Martin this weekend. Therefore, you should expect a post from Gushy McFanboy. But I just can't muster one.
From the unwieldy title there are three colons, perhaps appropriate to the length of, and patience required to, digest this work.
From the first year of this decade I had looked forward to what the TV series Enterprise might tell me about the enigmatic Earth-Romulan War. The conflict hinted at since 1966's Star Trek episode Balance of Terror had been a topic of much ballyhoo among the nerdlingers of my high school crowd.
When was it? Who was involved? Where did it take place?
This novel answers many of these questions. But with very little in the way of thrills along the way.
It does not have a beginning, per se. I guess you need to have read Martin's 'Kobiyashi Maru'.
It does not have an end, per se. The Romulan War, fans have long believed, lasted four years and this novel covers only summer 2155 to 2156. Although it is rather long and dry, so you might not say 'ONLY' by the end of it.
Again, 'Kobiyashi Maru' may have covered this, but why on God's Grey Earth would ANYONE recruit Trip Tucker as a covert agent? I love Trip, don't get me wrong. But why go to the trouble of faking his death, surgically altering him into a Romulan and inserting his butt behind enemy lines? Weren't there any number of Vulcans or at least TRAINED SOCIOLOGISTS or any one of a million people NOT needed in the war SHIPBUILDING effort? Or, as my friend Kirk suggested, a linguist like Hoshi? With Trip's accent and natural gift for languages he must surely have been noticed seconds into his visit to the capital city of Romulus, strolling down Dartha Avenue snapping holophotos, grinning at everyone, and asking in loud American English whether anyone had any grilled catfish.
And somehow Travis Mayweather survives three starship crashes in this book but anyone with the last name Stiles is apparently under a Romulan curse! Three Stileses are killed in this, the first year of the war. One can only conclude that in Romulan (or Rihannsu, as the case may be) Stiles is the most insulting thing you can say to a guy.
It is not a bad book. I must stress this. Trekkies like myself, especially with a touch of OCD, will not be able to stop appreciating the sheer volume of planet and character name-checks from the various TV series, alien society continuity, series cameo appearances, and date-by-date run down of the progress of interstellar war. With front-line journalists and behind the scenes political intrigue, it seemed like any minute it was going to get exciting.
And I must admit, I loved the character of the 18th Dalai Lama. She seemed to be the only one in the book thinking rationally. But she's only on three pages.
I really, really, REALLY wanted to love this book.
At least I have the Star Wars: The Clone Wars cartoon. When THAT seems simplistic and repetitive I can comfort myself with the 'pchoo-pchoo' sounds and brightly flashing lights.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Favorite Characters: A Lovelorn Loadlifter

This week my subject is the titular character of Disney-Pixar's Wall-E. Quickly rising to the top 10 of my favorite films and remaining there with excellent staying power on many repeat viewings, I cannot gush enough about this movie and Wall-E himself.
I have always been fascinated by fictional robots, and particularly those robots who are eccentric or broken, robots whose initial programming is not their primary focus. It's all very well to have a well-programmed machine that does exactly what its designers intended. In fact, in real life, I think that's probably for the best. Far too many robots who supersede their instructions proceed to run amok on deadly killing sprees. (I'm looking at you, Skynet)
But some robots have wormed their way into my heart by choosing different paths than those they were built to follow. A small, rusting, 700-year-old garbage mashing robot on the environmentally ravaged Earth of 2805, Wall-E is one such beloved character.
He is generally practical, efficient, methodical. He's performed his repetitive task well beyond his design limits (the other Waste Allocation Load Lifters of the Earth class have succumbed to time)
He's steadfast, even brave in his lonely job. He's uncomplaining in his mission to clear the debris of the culture who created and abandoned him. But he's long past the single-mindedness of his early centuries. Like myself, he enjoys collecting and surrounding himself with junk and trinkets. He likes musicals, as I do, or possibly just one musical, I'm not sure. Certainly he likes to dance.
And when the opportunity arises, and a sleek, young, driven new model robot, EVE, arrives in his life he pursues her with the same sense of purpose he had previously poured into his work.
I admire a robot who knows what he wants and goes after it. (again, not talking about you, Skynet).
EVE does not have eyes for WALL-E at first, she is devoted to her own directive, plant detection. But our hero is determined, he does not give up, and, as you may imagine, their purposes intertwine and robot affection is born as a new hope for the planet is kindled.
Golly gosh, oh gee. I swear to God, I'm a real sap sometimes.
Wall-E is a robot short on words, but long on matters of the heart, and I love him, just as I love his ancestors.

If our robots can be kind and loving when they break away from our programming, perhaps our world will be in good pincers when we leave it behind. Or perhaps if we continue in our douchbaggery, they'll just sing over our graves. Either way, I'm glad SOMEONE will be cheerful.
(Thanks to my wife for the picture of Number 5.)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Lyrics I Live By

At the bookstore where I work we're gearing up for Christmas, and many of us are bracing for the arrival of Christmas MUSIC, which has a 50/50 chance of driving somebody into a clock tower before the season is through. Be that as it may, I am VERY grateful for the ipod my lovely wife gave me, and the 361 songs I have loaded into it. Nothing makes the hours go faster than a personalized list of my favorite stuff, screwball novelty songs being a personal preference.
So, tangentially related, at my work, I spotted a cool book called Music Listography by Lisa Nola of .
It contains many ways to make short playlists of songs you enjoy, more off the beaten path ideas, not simply a rote list of best to worst, or what-have-you.
Thanks to Ms. Nola, I present a topic I enjoyed thinking about, and a list by no means complete:


8. 'Take on the situation but not the torment. You know it's not as bad as it seems.'
- Fleetwood Mac, 'Think About It'

7. 'Here's hoping all the days ahead won't be as bitter as the ones behind you. Be an optimist instead, and somehow happiness will find you.'
- The Kinks, 'Better Things'

6. 'Baby, you should know I am really quite a sweet guy: When I buy you bathroom tissue I always get the two-ply.'
- Weird Al Yankovic, 'Whatever You Like'

5. 'Say what you Mean, Mean what you Think, and Think Anything. WHY NOT?'
- Cat Stevens, 'Can't Keep It In'

4. 'It's time to create. Time to grow if you feel right. The world, yea, she's changing, don't it make you feel alive?'
-The All-American Rejects, 'The Future Has Arrived'

3. 'Three Hams will kill him. Three Hams will kill him. You must not feed him three hams.'
-Thundercles to Brak (instructions on goldfish feeding Brak fails to heed.) 'The Brak Show'

2. 'I'm a little lost, let me find my way. I'm a little dead, let me live. I've been living in the past, let me rise today. Led a selfish life, let me give.'
-Lindsay Buckingham, 'The Right Place To Fade'

1. 'When push comes to shove, you gotta do what you love; even if it's not a good idea.'
- Hermes Conrad, 'How Hermes Got His Groove Back', Futurama

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Final Sacrifice

No, not the Mystery Science Theatre 3000-reviewed Canadian film travesty. We will not be talking about the Ziox today. Just a title for my last Legion of Super-Heroes post (this week) to close out my Klordny week.
It's a fun comic, lots of flying about and kissing and fighting. But, the thing is, you don't get to live in a Utopia, (well, probably at all) but certainly not without work, strife, and loss.
And the L.O.S.H. has always understood sacrifice.It's corny of me to admit how moved I was by the willingness of ALL the Legionnaires to risk their own deaths by unproven lightning rod mysticism in an attempt to resurrect their friend Lightning Lad. It's so desperate, so illogical, and so beautifully human.
That image from this '60's story is iconic to the Legion, and it still gets play today.
Pain, Death and Resurrection are constant themes in all superhero comics, and LOSH is no exception.
War between Braal and Imsk left psychological scars on Salu Digby and Rokk Krinn when they were drafted and forced to turn on each other. Color Kid was blinded by the speciesist Justice League of the year 3008. Kid Psycho died in the first Crisis. Lightning Lad tends to lose his arm, the first time to a space whale in a reversal of the Moby Dick story, urging the value of forgiveness over obsession and revenge. Triplicate Girl's extra bodies leave the trauma of their passing on her psyche when they perish.
They wouldn't be heroes if they didn't suffer and die. And (most of the time) unlike other superheroes, they don't come back.


5. Condo 'Chemical King' Arlik- Fate touches all of us, even those with the power to enhance chemical reactions. Thanks to time travel, the reader saw Chemical King's death monument before they saw him join the Legion in the sixties. And sure enough, in a Paul Levitz 1977 comic he perished to stop World War VII, just as his gravestone had said. It didn't matter to me that he was essentially a characterless Star Trek redshirt. That's just chilling, like those poor cyclopses in Krull.

4. Rond 'Green Lantern' Vidar- Son of the villainous world conqueror Universo, Rond was the last Green Lantern of his era. Never a major character, to be sure, but a very noble death from Geoff Johns and George Perez. Died while helping his teammates escape the Legion of Super-Villains, when the petulant Superboy-Prime snapped his neck. Yeeuurrghh. Grisly.

3. Candi 'Monstress' Pyponte-Le Parc III- Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning's 'Legion Lost' storyline saw some of the team stranded in distant space. It also cast poor Element Lad back to the dawn of time, which drove him mad primarily from loneliness as he lived all those eons, becoming a tyrant god to an evolving alien culture. Sweet and physically Hulk-like Candi bore the brunt of his wrath, vaporized for no sane reason, leaving only her forlorn shoe.

2. R.J. Brande- Take Uncle Scroouge McDuck and make him richer on a galactic scale, generous backer of the teens who saved his life, and a jovial shapeshifter trapped by illness in human form. There you have long-term financeer, builder of planets, democratic supporter of the United Planets, (and secret father of Chameleon Boy) R.J. Brande. And now we don't. But his assassination on the senate floor in Perez and Johns' 'Legion of Three Worlds' with 'Don't ever quit' and 'Long Live the Legion' on his lips as they reverted in death to the alien body he'd been denied so long in life... Damn. I still can't believe it. I was overcome. And he's a DRAWING! That's damn good writing, right there. That's the power of fantasy to really draw me in.

1. Andrew 'Ferro Lad' Nolan- Although Lightning Lad may have been the first to die, Ferro Lad's was the first death to stick. Andrew was very shy, a mutant with an inhuman face and the ability to turn into living metal (a decade before X-Men's Colossus. The Legion, folks... only the Pulps did it before they did!) It is always easy to be overlooked in a group as big as the LOSH and it must have come as a shock to the readers, as it was a brilliant surprise to me, when Ferro Lad suddenly clocked a weakened Superboy from behind, and took his place on a suicide mission. He carried the bomb into the heart of the Sun-Eater (it's just what it sounds like) and died activating it. He saved Earth and everything else that would have been eaten (i.e. suns.)

It's all a fiction. It's all a lie. But when the lie is told so well... I am still touched. The deaths can be made to seem real to me.
They make me want to embrace my own life, my own WIFE, and eventually (WAY after the year 3000!) face my own death with that kind of courage.

Like Grig said of the fallen in 'The Last Starfighter' "I prefer to think of them as battling evil... in another dimension."


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Love In the Year 3000

As the B-52's put it so well: We're in the spandex spiral vortex now.
I wracked my brains for things that make the Legion of Super-Heroes different, unique or special. And I came up with something I found kind of fascinating. Let's hope you do, too.
There are so many successful romantic pairings among the L.O.S.H. that I'm certain it holds the record for super-groups finding romance in the workplace.
The Justice League? Green Arrow and Black Canary, John Stewart and Vixen. Anyone know any others? I'm gonna say 2 couples.
The Fantastic Four? One couple.
Gen13? One couple. Unless Roxy and Grunge split up or somebody else got together. I haven't read any this century. Gail Simone's writing it... it's probably really good. Ahem. Off-topic.
The Avengers? Zero. Hank and Jan were a disaster. And Wanda and the Vision... oh, dear, no.
The X-Men? Zero. Sure, there's a million hook-ups and break-ups, but nothing sticks. Scott and Jean are hardly a success, nor, sadly, Kitty and Colossus who cannot seem to stay alive at the same time long enough to lock in...
No, sirree, hands down it is the Legion that is the clear winner here. In half an hour of mulling while I should've been working I tabulated 16 couples. And if I bothered to research it I guarantee you I'd find more. So here then,


7. Drake 'Wildfire' Burroughs & Dawnstar- So he's a bodiless energy plasma kept in in human form only by a containment suit. So she's a winged Native American from space who may or may not be gay. Who says they can't make it work? Well, they never exactly have, but damn, if I don't keep rooting for them! It's a freebie, really, as they're constantly together but they're probably not a couple... yet. I'm looking at you, Paul Levitz. By the by, thanks for coming back!

6. Chuck 'Bouncing Boy' Taine & Luornu 'Duo Damsel' Durgo- Every fat guy who fantasizes about the good kind of three-way can see why this (couple? trio?) is here... Yes, (sigh), he's a beach ball and she splits in two, but I first met them as marrieds in Levitz's original run and that's always what they'll be to me. I think they're sweet, not just freaky-deaky.

5. Gim 'Colossal Boy' Allon & Yera 'Chameleon Girl' Allon- Unlike Johnny Storm, this guy knows a good shapeshifter when he marries one, and he knows not to let her get away. Of course, it probably helps that he is 'Colossal Boy'. Nudge, nudge. Say no more.

4. Shvaughn Erin & Jan 'Element Lad' Arrah- The reason I like them so much is a massive spoiler from L.O.S.H. #31, 1992, from Giffen and the Bierbaums. The spoiler is in the last paragraph here. For everybody else, it's a desperate love between a human and the last Trommian, and most importantly it stands the test of time. And maybe even dimensional reboots.

3. Thom 'Star Boy' Kallor & Nura 'Dream Girl' Nal- The bland Superboy rip-off from Xanthu and the flaky precognitive gal from Naltor dated, married, divorced, and, for all I know, got back together before a bad trip (through time) left him stranded and schizophrenic in the twenty-first century. Now, the addled but wonderful Star 'Man' of the Justice Society is on a quest that could well take him back to the future. Does his Dream Girl yet wait for him? Tell us, Geoff Johns!

2. Garth 'Lightning Lad' Ranzz & Imra 'Saturn Girl' Ardeen Ranzz- They rank highly for me because in at least one dimension they married AND reproduced. That's a hell of a feat in comics, as Peter and MJ Parker of the MC2 Universe may attest. Everybody knows you can't keep secrets from your telepathic wife, but there was a secret (spoiled in the sixth paragraph of the link at the end of this sentence) about Garth's long-ago resurrection which sure was an eye-opening surprise to me... Still, I don't mind if SHE doesn't mind. Oh, Proty. And there's a whole other tragedy (and spolier) in what Darkseid did with one of their twin babies...

1. Querl 'Brainiac 5' Dox & Kara 'Supergirl' Zor-El-
The last daughter of Krypton and the descendant of the monster with a hand in destroying it. IS there a better coupling for symbolic happy endings? Well, they're still free agents in most dimensions. But I like them together. Not least because this pairing made possible what I still vote as the best Legion appearance on TV, in 2006's Paul Dini-penned episode of Justice League Unlimited: 'Far From Home'. There have been other Legion cartoons, but so far, that one had the most heart.
L.O.S.H. isn't really a romance comic. There's a lot more attention devoted to prison breaks on planet Takron-Galtos or robot swarm invasions, but when it comes down to it the Legion looks more like a love-in than anywhere else in the capes-and-tights scene. And I'm enough of a softie (or Big Girl's Blouse as it is known overseas) to enjoy that sort of thing more than the fistfights.
As Steven Moffat would have it on 'Doctor Who', there's a whole lot of 'dancing' to be done in this big, wide cosmos of ours.
Or, to put it yet another way using the crudest of sweet sentiments from Kevin Smith, in his deeply romantic Clerks II; "It's called Interspecies Erotica, F@#ko."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Favorite Characters: The Biter from Bismoll

This week being Legion of Super-Heroes week, I'm going to showcase my all-time favorite Legionnaire- Matter-Eater Lad.
I know, I know, but the thing of it is there seems to be an army of M-E Lad fans. Par example, this guy has a fantastic post in support of Tenzil Kem: the 30th Century's answer to Jughead Jones in space. I doubt Jerry Siegel and John Forte suspected what they had unleashed when they added him to the Legion's roster in 1962.
Thanks to a deadly microbe that poisoned the food of planet Bismoll, the inhabitants either evolved over eons or were bioengineered within a thousand years (depending on which reality you prefer) to eat ANYTHING. If it is solid and he can fit it between his harder-than-diamond teeth into his acidic digestive system, Tenzil Kem can devour it. In seemingly limitless quantities.
He apparently takes a lot of flak from people who think this is patently ludicrous.
Which it is.
See how he battled Atlanteans on holiday in Tom & Mary Bierbaum & Adam Hughes' 1993 story:
Tenzil Kem emerged from fevered Silver Age brains and chomped his merry way right into my heart. In a good way.
It is not easy to take Matter-Eater Lad seriously. And, this is critically important: you're not SUPPOSED to.
But what are the objections, after all? His power isn't that good? Frankly, eating ANYTHING is the BEST survival trait of all history. Ask the dinosaurs. Why else be afraid of a T-Rex?
You don't think it's so good on the offense? Ohhh, it's Offensive, all right.
And just think how much money you'd save on groceries if a handful of gravel was as palatable as popcorn!
Plus he can eat Kryptonite. Nuff said.
But really, I just love this guy's attitude. Fun-loving, masticating, skirt-chasing (o.k. so he's not exactly like Jughead) he's the funniest LOSHer and one of the best for morale. He brightened up the generally lackluster LOSH cartoon series for me immeasurably just by being there.
My utter favorite issue for Tenzil is LOSH#11, September 1990, by the Bierbaums, Keith Giffen, and Craig Brasfield. This occurs during a period where things are as bleak for the Legion and their realm as it ever got. Following a terrible interplanetary civil war (where two Legionnaires even fought each other on different sides of a brutal jungle skirmish) Earth's government has grown bloated and fascist, with the caste-obsessed alien Dominators behind the scenes conducting grisly human experiments. The Legion is wounded and scattered. The innocent Tornado Twins are publically executed. There is no hope in sight and month after month every issue was revealing how dark and depraved the future utopia had become.
Along comes Tenzil and he really gets to shine. He's been drafted into his government, hating every minute, and has funnelled his wealth and popularity into what could best be termed an 'Enhanced Reality Show' staring himself in outlandish adventures, as an archeologist, private eye, and well, action-lawyer.

His old Legion buddy Brek 'Polar Boy' Bannin has languished in prison for two years on charges of conspiracy, and Kem gets to free him with his greatest weapon: his mouth. Pleading diplomatic immunity, he becomes Brek's public defender and FILIBUSTERS his way to victory, improvising an air-tight case mostly by accident.
A single life saved, in the middle of all those horrors, and I don't think any other character would have been better suited to RULE that moment. Kem simply flabbergasts everyone and walks out with his friend. When any overt action would've called down swift and terrible reprisals, Matter-Eater Lad bests a lumbering beaurocracy at its own twisted game, at least partly by being Completely Unexpected.
I've read Mark Waid suggesting that one of the best things about being a LOSH fan is feeling like you found a character NO one else knows about. 'No one else loves Shrinking Violet or Element Lad but me.' Or so you get to think.
So for me and all the other M-E Lad fans, wherever you're hiding... ugh, this stuff I'm drinking tastes like old crankcase oil. Is it too much to ask for a pot of FRESH crankcase oil?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happy Klordny!

I hope everyone's enjoying the festive Klordny season, I know I am! In fact, looking at my last post I think I might've had too much kono juice. That post took HOURS, and that was just to READ it! My ravings require a certain brevity I've never learned to cultivate, otherwise my week of praising the Legion of Super-Heroes will create more wordage than the 5 decades of the comic book itself.
So without further meandering preamble, I give you the
How do you make a fantasy book into sci-fi? Add garnishes that sound like science. And the Legion excells at this, updating the pseudo-science to match the times. Here's my five favorites:

5. INTERLAC- It's a universal language from a thousand years in the future that caught on better than Esperanto- spoken on the many alien worlds of this comic. Written Interlac is a simple English cipher so if you have more free time than friends (or you just love puzzles) you can work out futuristic signage which often contains in-jokes from the artist. I love this. Impress and terrify your Hero Clix buds by learning it today!

4. TRANS-SUITS- Love to show off your snazzy cape and gloves ensemble but you don't want to explode in the vaccuum of space? How about the trans-suit? It's a nearly invisible layer of impervious saran-wrap that gives you protection from the elements while still keeping your togs on display. Who wants to see Phantom Girl covered up in an Apollo-style moon suit? Nobody, that's who.
3. TELEPATHIC EARPLUGS- Most of you speak Interlac and your native tongues, but who's going to hear you inside your trans-suit? Just pop in a telepathic earplug and tune in the right mental frequency: your surface thoughts become vocal for your teammates. Just don't think too hard about Phantom Girl if her super-strong boyfriend Ultra Boy is around.

2. EVOLUTION = SUPERPOWER- The Superman writers created the concept that moving someone from under a red sun to a under a yellow sun would give them new abilities. And the Legion writers ran with this AND HOW! Invent a bizarre environment or a color of solar radiation and, hey, BAZINGO!... you have the basis for a human colony that have gained a super-power. Such as Braal: it's a planet rich in heavy metals populated by a race of Magnetos (only less crazy by volume, and also Cosmic Boy and his 'magnetic eyes' existed 5 years before the X-Men's foe.) Or how rays from the rings of Saturn gave telepathy to the colonists on its moon, Titan. Hey presto- Saturn Girl and her foe, Saturn Queen. The triple suns of Cargg gave Luorno Durgo the powers of Triplicate Girl. On Winath nearly everyone is born a twin. Planet Daxam is populated by a Kryptonian offshoot people immune to Kryptonite but for whom lead is a deadly poison. And so on. Plenty of Legionaires got their powers in one-off accidents or mutations as well, but the environmental change for a whole race remains a good concept.

1. FLIGHT RINGS- Rings are resonant symbols. School rings, club rings, wedding rings... the one ring to rule them all. The rings of DC's characters are as ubiquitous as their overuse of monkeys. (Yeah, right, like you could over-use monkeys! I kid.) The Legion has a club ring that gives its members the power to fly. Created by Querl 'Brainiac 5' Dox to replace the jet packs and flight belts of earlier times, this anti-gravity metal bestows man's oldest dream on the wearer. Well, the oldest dream not involving Phantom Girl.

Of course, there's plenty of other pseudoscience and even (especially from Abnett and Lanning) cutting edge real science extrapolations. You Geeks (or the geek in your life) will find such things exciting. I didn't want to mention the Miracle Machine, as the guy who invented the Deus Ex Machina invented it first.
And that's it for today, Legion Lovers. Be well and celebrate Klordny according to your own traditions.

Monday, November 2, 2009

How Can I Join the Legion of Super-Heroes?

I enjoy being transported. Happily, not like criminals to Australia. Sadly, not like Dr. McCoy on Star Trek. But transported to an entirely new imaginary realm- especially of the futurey-looking kind. Such as that of the 51-years-young DC comic team: The Legion of Super-Heroes.
It has everything I love in a story; all the 7 'S's: Sci-Fi, Superheroes, Sexiness, Smarts, Surprises, and Sarcasm-Spiced Sweetness. I also adore alliteration, which is neither here nor there.
The LOSH started as a gimmick in a 1958 Superboy comic: what if there was a club for teenage alien super-heroes a thousand years in the future- and they wanted Superboy as a member? He wouldn't have to hide his secret identity from them, he'd finally have a place to belong, and THEY could pal around with their historical idol. So the LOSH kept showing up (in Action Comics, Adventure Comics, and the other Superman family of titles) to help Clark, or invite him along on an adventure in the future, then drop him back in Smallville that same afternoon. Over the years they became more than just a gimmick or deus ex machina, their membership growing to dozens, then dozens more, all from different planets with different powers and backstories. Their future was utopian, weird, and as wild as the strangest imaginations of some very strange DC writers. And it got so detailed, so space-operatic, so darn-right convoluted that it seeemingly alienated new readers. 'What are these pages full of spandez clad weirdies and why should I care?' DC had it re-launched over and over to try to start it fresh. That means there are (not counting the cartoon continuities) 6(?) different versions of the LOSH. There's the Pre-Crisis Legion from Otto Binder to Jim Shooter to Paul Levitz in the 50s through the 70s. The Post-Crisis Legion from Levitz & Keith Giffen and company. The short-lived magic war reality when Mordru and Glorith conquered the universe and changed everyone's histories. The Post-Zero Hour Legion reboot. The Post-Infinite Crisis reboot. And the Present version of the Future (which is possibly the same as the Past Post-Crisis?) Even listing them makes me sound crazier than Brainiac the First, stuffing cities into bottles.
So, assuming you WANT to read such a twisted space-epic, where would you start? My first exposure to the Legion was in an '80's John Byrne Superman comic which was in the process of removing Superboy from the Legion's backstory. They had chosen to erase Superboy altogether, which meant cutting the Legion adrift. It was like Hogwarts without Harry Potter to ground it in reality. I must admit- I had no idea who they were, what was going on, was intimidated by their sheer numbers, and too disinterested in a book labelled 'DC' to seek them out again for years.
Well, I might suggest my OWN jumping on point: the Great Darkness Saga. Late seventies, Paul Levitz writing, and some very cool grife hitting the radioactive fans. It's immediately gripping and it references the past without relying on it. Also, it's the farthest back normal people can afford to buy in single issues, or more recently as a trade.
Then again, it's not too expensive to shell out for the black and white showcase reprints, mostly by Otto Binder, probably. The fifties and sixties can be yours in all their crazy-ass Silver Age glory. Your benefit here if you can stomach the rambling and bizarre atomic age 'science' and goofy 'kiddie' stories is that the poor saps who didn't get their names on these things were CREATIVE with a capital C. New characters seemed to arrive by the handful every month and they're still the ones they use today. I like these, despite their limitations. I like starting at the beginning. The Superman and Flash and Green Lantern I read from this period seem somehow childish, repetitious, or worn out, but the LOSH feels clever and innovative to me. But I'm a guy who finds the Legion of Super-Pets kind of charming.
Or... if you want to jump aboard with no baggage at all, there's Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's 2005 reboot. It's just fantastic. This re-imagining supplies its own world, no backstories required, and benefits from the laser-sharp minds giving new spins to the old concepts. Like: Colossal Boy isn't a guy who can grow huge- he's from a race of giants and can shrink himself to a paltry six feet tall. He wants the others to call him 'Micro Lad'. One of the cooler concepts of this period is the conceit that the Legion is not just a club- it is literally LEGION. It is a rebellion tens of thousands strong, a galactic youth movement away from the overly insular, security and segregation-minded adults of the year 3005.
Mark Waid would've had you start with Jim Shooter's stories in the 60's which are also peachy keen, I suspect.
If none of these starting points appeal to you, the Geoff Johns stuff going on in Action Comics last year and Adventure Comics even as I yammer is typical Johns: that is to say mind-blowing. He makes it all seem brand new yet he never seems to throw the past away. I love his take (and Gary Frank's art) on the seminal moment of LOSH: when the 3 Legion founders (magnetic Cosmic Boy, electric Lightning Lad, and telepath Saturn Girl) meet Clark Kent for the first time.
It's not for everyone. Maybe part of the the fun of it is that all Legion fans 'come in alone' and either get swept up in an elaborate fantasy or give up the first time someone says Bgtzl. So everyone who finds it can feel like they were the first one there. So forget who introduced you, launch your time sphere into the vortex, and start (as the Buzzcocks sang) : 'Surfing on a wave of nostalgia for an age yet to come'.