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February 19, 2005

Something to spend a little of your money on

If you've been following along for a while, you know I'm besotted with Hitherby Dragons. Rebecca Borgstrom -- one of the most brilliant RPG writers and designers... well, ever (her Nobilis brings a level of brilliance to the field of Roleplaying that I don't think has been equalled since) and a woman who channels a kind of brilliant insanity -- has created a truly remarkable collection of vignettes and short stories -- a form she has so redefined that I refer to stories of that length and kind as 'hitherbys' now.

Well, today Borgstrom announced Hitherby Dragons over at Lulu.com, which is the most writer-friendly of the Print on Demand self-publishers. I've been curious about the quality of Lulu's work, and I know the quality of Borgstrom's work, so I've ordered. I'll let you know about the quality of the book when I get it.

As for the stories? I recommend them wholeheartedly. Go give Borgstrom some money. She deserves it.

January 15, 2005

Still, I miss Lucifer. And Cassiopia. And Lorne Greene. And the faux Egyptian thing. DAMN THEM!

So, this is something of a television review, because like many of my fellow geeks, last night I watched the series premiere of Battlestar Galactica.

I had watched the miniseries, and was somewhat underwhelmed. See, I was a young nipper when the original came on, and the disconnect between the original -- which was cheesy but also had style, and mythology and grandeur and a cowboy dimension and an epic scope -- and the new one, which seemed to want to do "American Realistic Military SF" with a few nods to the source material, was significant. Oh, the show itself was okay, back in the miniseries. As good, in its way, as Space: Above and Beyond, which itself was a pretty good SF show. But it wasn't anything exciting -- not like the Richard Hatch planned updating of the original would have been. It felt... generic.

Well, last night the first episode of the new series came on.

It'd be easier on me if it were named something else. Anything else, really. Because I still have certain associations with the words "Battlestar" and "Galactica." And so I resent it just slightly, because I still want to bitch and complain about the changes, and that's going to be hard to do while obsessively watching every second of this series.

This was exceptionally good. The characterization was brilliant, the execution of the two episodes (these were two episodes mashed into one, right down to them having two different names -- "33" and "Water." They were laden with style. Everything was tone, setting an honest feel of fatigue, of desperation, of despair barely being fought off. The first episode, "33," refers to the Cylons, who attack every thirty three minutes on the dot, no matter where or how the fleet jumps away. It has been five days of cylon attacks. Five days since anyone on the Galactica or Colonial One has slept. They're exhausted and horrified and don't have any way of escaping. The second episode, "Water," opens with Boomer opening her eyes in a strange place, soaked to the bone. The reason why highlights the scarcity of resources -- and the incredible odds against the humans -- in the setting.

One thing that stands as a triumph is a whiteboard. An absolutely normal whiteboard, like you have in your own office or take down phone messages. It's on Colonial One, where the President and her staff keep track of just how many human beings are left. As "33" progresses, the number slowly goes down. First over 50,000, then dropping below, then lower... lower... a number that constantly says "this is how many human beings are left alive. When this number gets too low, it's all over."

Only there are other human beings left behind. In a wholly unexpected and brilliant stroke, the series cuts back over to Caprica, the largest of the colony worlds that the Cylons have conquered. There, Helo -- one of the soldiers from the miniseries, left behind to give Baltar a chance to survive (because Helo figured his brilliance would be needed on the Galactica, not knowing Baltar was the reason the Colonies fell in the first place) is on the run from the Cylons, highlighting a world of humanity under conquest. And highlighting one of the best elements of Cylons who sometimes can look just like humans, all at the same time.

And, out of nowhere, there's something of the Mythic returned to the series. Not the original mythos, for certain... in an odd twist, it's the Cylons who have a sense of spirtuality. Not that the humans can take comfort in it.

This series is totally not Battlestar Galactica as we knew it. And yet, it's incredibly good. Ronald Moore -- the reason Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the best Star Trek series -- has proven exactly what he can do without suits over him telling him what he can and can't do. This series has the potential to equal or even eclipse Babylon 5 in terms of sophisticated science fiction on television, and I'm bloody well excited to see it.

But weirdly, despite the fact that Babylon 5 is vastly better than the original Battlestar Galactica, I don't think the new version exceeds the original. In a lot of ways, it's sold its pedigree for superior -- but far less interesting -- generic SF tropes. They're pushing those tropes beyond all possible thought, but the Terra saga, the idea of Earth as a real hope and goal (instead of a panacea to prevent panic), the clues for the lost tribe, the mysticism, the political aspects, the cowboy aspects... they're all set aside for a very solid world of military SF and passenger liners trying to survive. The primary colors have been washed away in lieu of washed out grey. Hope has been set aside in lieu of defiance in the face of extinction. It's good, but it's not better. I really wish we could have seen what kind of glory an updating of the original premise could have yielded. Having lost that, I'm excited to see where this series is going.

January 11, 2005

Humor! Or something like it.

The break is over, and so Comixpedia is back with their next issue. In this case, it's the Humor issue. And, because I have people who love me this much, I've gotten a couple of concerned letters that Feeding Snarky wasn't in this week's dispatch.

Well, there's a couple of reasons for that. The official reason is the inauguration of Through the Looking Back Glass by Erik Melander. (The Eric Conspiracy continues to gain strength in the virtual world. Mu hu ha ha ha!) This column replaces the monthly roundups that were on 24 hour pixel people, now that the pixel people have moved off to the Grey Havens, and it only makes sense that this column would appear in the first bit of issue, since it's all about the last month.

The unofficial reason is I was desperately late with it and another article I did, this month. Frankly, I'm lucky they don't throw me out. But Erik's new column is spiffy, so read it. And I'll be along by and by.

(It scares me anyone even notices I wasn't in the first week, to be honest.)

Anyhow, in addition to Erik's new column, I'll mention that T. Campbell has a spiffy Humor Roundtable, with many of the people I think are demonstrably superior to other life on Earth talking about what they thing is The Funny what can be Brought. This includes R. Milholland, M. Campos, D. Wright, J. Troutman, B. Guigar, and R. North, all of whom are people whose 'things' I read every day they put them out. Which to me means "yay." And, the Incontestable Wednesday White returns with a Review of Questionable Content, which makes it a review of a strip I like by the finest mind in Webcomics Commentary. This, to me, is cake. Sweet sweet cake.

I should mention the new site design. I should, but it seems kindest not to. Though it seems to be in evolution, so I have hopes. (I especially have hopes that the links will become the same size as the body text, in Firefox.)

Finally, going back to the Tuesday Morning Update, there's a mention that the Dumbrella folks -- particularly Jeff Rowland, Rich Stevens, John Allison and Jon Rosenberg -- will be in Northampton, Massachusetts on Thursday night. Now, that's... hrm. 3 or so hours from where I sit, which is a significant jaunt. On the other hand, while it's certainly conceivable I'll get a chance to meet some of these folks, John Allison has elected to live in an entirely different country across a great heap of water, and it seems like I should see him in the flesh before I die. If I make this trek, it'll be to sit in the back of the room and not be noticed, since... well, this isn't my event, and besides, no one wants to see me in a coffee shop. I figure it's even odds I wouldn't even say hello to most of the artist types. (Because... well, I'm shy and they're mighty. Also, Jeff Rowland possesses spider powers, whereas I possess a cat.) Well, except for Jon Rosenberg, but that's because I would need to buy him a beverage that adults enjoy.

We'll see. In the meantime, Comixpedia. Go. Enjoy.

January 03, 2005

It's like a shout out, only it's not

One of David Letterman's running jokes of the night is his love of the word "Snarky."

Do you have any idea how weird it is to hear that from David Letterman, over and over and over? It's not like the word is mine in any way -- it's just I don't expect him to use it.

Snarky. It's just fun to say.

January 02, 2005

A music thing

Can someone tell me why the incredible, complex, musical, sophisticated and somewhat angry Nellie McKay is considered "Pop?" Pop these days makes me think of Britney Spears and her demon brood. McKay doesn't seem to fall into that so much as "twenty-five years from now we will fucking revere her as a genius in an age of vapidity."

Or am I missing something?

December 18, 2004

Another snark about Identity Crisis. Because clearly, I am a nerd.

This is going to get into spoiler territory. If I were a better person than I am, I'd rig up some kind of "click here if you want to know how it all comes out" thing for this, but I'm not going to because... well, because. So, if you don't want to know the shock ending and various plot points on Identity Crisis, I'd just stop reading.

Still here? Cool.

It was a lie. It was all a lie. Every bit of it was a lie. The premise of this series, the execution of this series... and most importantly, the stated goal of this series, was based on falsity.

I don't mean the actual in-comics plot points. Those were just there. Gratuitous at times, and deceptive at times, but still. Those are the breaks.

No, it's the metacommentary... the reasons this story was done in the first place. Even the name of this story.

Identity Crisis.

The point was supposed to be "it's wrong and bad for super heroes to reveal their secret identities. If they do, it's their loved ones who suffer." Thus, the murder of Sue Dibny and the willful destruction of one of the rarest of rarities in comic books: an actual, happy marriage between a superhero and a nonsuperhero, with the "normal" half of the marriage an equal partner in the crime fighting adventures. They solved mysteries and bantered and legitimately loved each other and were happy. And Ralph didn't take super heroing that seriously and neither did Sue -- she was an heiress, and they just liked being with each other.

But Ralph didn't have a secret identity, so Sue had to die, because that's what happens, isn't it? That's why secret identities are necessary.

Only... Sue wasn't killed out of revenge. Sue wasn't killed to hurt Ralph or super heroes. Sue wasn't killed by a Super Villain.

Sue was killed by Jean Loring, who apparently went psychotic after the poor performance of Power of the Atom. She was trying to throw a scare into the super heroes, in a bid to win Ray Palmer -- the Atom -- back. It wasn't the criminal fraternity looking for revenge. It was just Jean acting out a bad movie of the week plot.

The whole rape scene? Utterly unrelated to the plot. The Justice League mindwiping Doctor Light and conditioning him to be a buffoon (wow... just like the Squadron Supreme miniseries, only stupider!), and then going on to mindwipe Batman, tarnishing the League and raising the specter of their inappropriateness to use the power they have been given? Irrelevant to the murder mystery. The fact that Ralph and Sue Dibny were publicly known? Irrelevant to Sue's murder. Unless you believe that Ralph should have hidden his identity from the Atom, lest the Atom's wife decide to go walking in Sue's brain.

I didn't put these pieces together, mind. I was trolling the web and came across this post on the "Comics Should Be Good" blog. It was expressing some good old fashioned outrage at the rape of the wife of the fucking Elongated Man as a red herring. I read through the comments afterward, and it gelled for me. It really did.

This is absurd. This is obscene. And the much ballyhooed "darkening of the DC Universe" that will follow this (because Christ knows we need to make mainstream comics less fun these days) is being predicated on an essential lie.

Secrets versus public identities? Had nothing to do with the plot of this story.

You want to fuck around with the cultural mythology of the last sixty years? Go right ahead. But don't lie about it in the metacommentary.

December 17, 2004

On Superman, Batman, and Stunt Casting Writers

So, in the brief snark about my lack of snarking, yesterday, I expressed a brief, negative opinion about Identity Crisis. I felt the plot was TV Movie, not Super Hero. I felt it committed cheap thrills instead of real character evolution. And I felt that the story was the last nail in the coffin for the idea of Super Heroes -- of the Justice League -- as something meant for teenagers. This was a story meant for adults, and this was also a story meant to guide the forward evolution of the DC Universe, or whatever we're calling it this week.

And, I referred to the hiring of Brad Meltzer -- author of The Millionaires, Zero Sum, The Tenth Justice and other novels, as well as the creator of Jack and Bobby on television -- to write the series as stunt casting. Take a successful writer in another field -- one with some bearing and relation (The Tenth Justice is a Young Adult book, for example, and Jack and Bobby had science fiction elements to it), hire them to write for the comics and hope that the publicity pulls in new readers.

Well, this wasn't Meltzer's first comic book series (he did a run on Green Arrow that's now been collected into The Archer's Quest), but certainly DC has leveraged his non-comics credentials hard in promoting Identity Crisis. Which irks me at best -- it's like they're trying to convince readers that no, really, it's okay to read this comic. It's not being written by one of those hacks like Peter David or Roger Stern. It's being written by a real writer. One you like!

I despise that. I despised that when Kevin Smith was put on both Daredevil and Green Arrow. I despised that when J. Michael StraczynskiĘtook over on Spider-Man, too. And to be blunt, that annoyance is unfair to the writers.

It honestly is. It's unfair to Smith, who wrote a Green Arrow series with tremendous affection and understanding of who Green Arrow was in the 70's, who he became in the 90's, and who he would have to be in the 21st Century. (I don't know enough about Smith's run on Daredevil to speak to it intelligently.) It's unfair to Straczynski, who's been a journeyman on Spider-Man for years now, who wrote the beautiful Midnight Nation before that (Rising Stars never interested me. I can't tell you why), who writes one of the few comics I've actually bought in the last several years (Supreme Power) -- and who's been let into the lodge officially as of this latest Spider-Man arc, because no one's trashing him mercilessly because he's a Hollywood Writer writing Spider-Man. They're trashing him mercilessly because they can't stand what he's done to the legend of Gwen Stacey and they expected better of him than that.

(I use "they" instead of "we" because I've never been enough of a Spider-Man fan to care about Gwen Stacy. So it just sounds like an interesting story to me, not an affront to Man or God. My point, however, is that it's not Straczynski's background that's fueling the anger -- it's the actual story. Which means he's officially accepted as "Comics Folk" by the community.)

Well, I honestly do believe that Meltzer was put on this incredibly controversial story to drum up even more interest, get some mainstream attention and some publicity... to "hotshot the angle," to use a wrestling reference. I think that's evident from the way DC has handled this.

But this morning, I got an e-mail from someone who knows Meltzer, somewhat. Someone who is good friends with one of Meltzer's best friends, in fact, and who has gotten some inside story. That person didn't disagree with me on my impression of the story (he couldn't in fact speak to the merits of the story, because he hadn't read it), but there was one thing he was absolutely certain of: Brad Meltzer didn't consider this stunt casting. Brad Meltzer loves comics. Brad Meltzer has always loved comics. And Brad Meltzer knows comics, and was excited and enthusiastic to write this -- not as a job, but as a fan.

And thinking back over the story I read... I have to concede that he's right. It shows. There's too many touches... too many details that reveals that Meltzer is deep into this stuff. He knows who Jean Loring is. (Well, he knows her name and role, anyhow.) He knows from Zatanna, and Doctor Light, and Captain Boomerang and the Flash Rogues Gallery.

Going back to The Archer's Quest tells us even more. This was... a travelogue, in effect, of the DC Silver Age. This wasn't a story written by a duffer given the keys to the kingdom because he wrote a few thrillers. This is a comic fan.

The elemental difference between what Kevin Smith has done in comics and what Brad Meltzer has done is Kevin Smith's Green Arrow run was pretty much liked by everyone, so he got a bye. The difference between J. Michael Straczynski and Brad Meltzer is Straczynski put in enough years before the incredibly controversial story that people are now hating Straczynski the way they hate John Byrne. Which in its own, sad way is a compliment.

Well, Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis was certainly a commercial success, but not a critical one. I'm not the only commentator who was caught between sadness and offense by it, and I'm not the only one who feels it represents bad things for DC ahead. So the real elemental difference between Meltzer, Smith and Straczynski is Meltzer's huge project is seen as an artistic failure instead of a success. It's seen as a mishandling of the characters, a tarnishing of them, not an exalting of them. Certainly, it's how I see it.

And so Meltzer is seen as a novelist and screenwriter who got stuntcast into writing comics and didn't get it. He's seen the way the literary novelists who decide they want to write a science fiction novel, because they think no one's ever really written literary science fiction (because they don't know anything about science fiction other than Buck Rogers and Star Wars), are seen by the SF community -- as a poseur and a hack who doesn't have enough experience with what's been done a thousand times before to not end up looking like an idiot.

And it's unfair to Meltzer. Because clearly, he's got the background, and the love. He's done the research and taken the time to learn. That e-mail I got today made me think long and hard about what I wrote yesterday.

Identity Crisis is a sad moment in comic books. And DC hired Meltzer to do it because they wanted the publicity. Those are both true things, as I see them.

But Brad Meltzer himself is trying. He understands the responsibility. He knows the history. It's not stunt casting to him.

And I shouldn't imply that it is.

November 14, 2004

Oh yeah, that's funny. Let me riposte your light humor with a lovely joke where I ram a spike in your colon from the front. Hah hah hah hah! Isn't that a laugh?

EDIT: See the next entry for an update. Boing Boing quickly responded to rectify. So they get props for that.

So, I like Boing Boing. They are, after all, a directory of wonderful things. And I've seen many, many cool sites off of links they've posted.

Tonight, they posted a link to an "eeire possible ghost sighting" on their site. They recommend turning the sound up to hear the sigh, and the whispering, and describe a mist effect.

Now, if it were April 1, or Halloween, I'd take it with a grain of salt. But it isn't. And it's Boing Boing. I trust Boing Boing. So I go into it with a certain amount of faith.

For those who don't know? I have a heart condition. It's under control, but among other things, I try to minimize shocks. When they happen, and when they're intense enough, I have to take medication. Medication which produces pretty nasty side effects in me when it's taken in heavy doses.

So, I now expect that instead of having a productive writing day tomorrow, I instead am going to have difficulty keeping my eyes open and spend a lot of time lying on my back wishing I were dead because I'm so fucking naseous.

Oh yeah, fucking funny, guys. Laugh riot. See if I ever, ever trust a link you put out again.

Boing Boing: Signs of a ghost in TV commercial? leads to their entry on the thing. Know going into it that it doesn't lead to what they claim it does. If you like that kind of thing, enjoy.

If you're pissed because I spoiled the joke? Sorry. I was wondering about five minutes ago if I had to go to the Emergency room. Makes me selfish.

November 06, 2004

Twenty-one Word Movie Review

I beg you, in the name of all that remains being good in this world, go see The Incredibles. Right now.

October 22, 2004

Meanwhile, back in commerce territory....

(From Goats. Well, from its store. Which is much the same thing. Click on the thumbnail for a chance to spend money on fabulous automated simian corsairness!)

Remember my ruminations on cliches in webcomics? Well, seriously cool musician E. A. Rowe commented that Goats -- the very webcomic that I was referring to, because of their artistic use of ninjas, themselves made fun of the phenomenon earlier, with the announcement of the Robot Monkey Pirate tee shirt. It was used in a strip as an example of the ridiculous crap that webcomics could get their fans to buy. Needless to say, they then started selling the shirts. And God help me, I want one.

Naturally, a Zombie Ninja with Cleavage tee shirt has to follow, now....

October 11, 2004

In Memorium: Christopher Reeve

Christopher Reeve was an avowed Atheist. But, as he once said (or so I've been told), "Even though I don't personally believe in the Lord, I try to behave as though He was watching." It's a good philosophy. One I can get behind.

Tomorrow, there will be an innumerable number of editorial cartoons showing Christopher Reeve entering the gates of a Heaven he didn't believe in, the same as when George Harrison died. He'll be wearing a Superman costume in most of them. And flying in many of them.

If there is an afterlife -- and I'm open on the subject -- and if there's any justice in the world, he won't be flying. He'll be walking. He always said he would walk again, and that's how I choose to imagine him now. One foot in front of the other, the way most of us take for granted.

But I understand why the cartoonists will put him in that costume and fly him through the air. Because I was a child when I saw him in that movie. And I believed. Just like the tagline said. I believed a man could fly.

I believed that man could fly.

There has never been anyone so perfectly suited to play Superman. Dean Cain comes close, but he lacks that certain wry sense of humor. George Reeves had the wry sense of humor, but lacked the utterly, complete lack of guile Reeve brought to the part. And besides, Christopher Reeve looked the way Curt swan drew. It's really kind of astounding.

I happened to watch Superman: The Movie about three months ago. Tivo caught it. It held up astoundingly well. And it proved conclusively that you don't need digital enhancement or redone special effects even in such a special-effects laden movie. Because when Clark Kent buckled his uniform's belt for that first time, in the Fortress of Solitude, stepped off into the air, and swept forth into the sky, he was really flying. I know that to be true. I saw it.

Christopher Reeve was never ashamed of the material. He treated Clark Kent and Clark's alter ego as a sacred trust. Even appearing on the Muppet Show he maintained a sense of respect for the material. That's more than the "Stars of Star Wars" could claim. He was always genial. A gentleman.

And then he had his accident. And we learned that when the worst adversity on Earth happened to Christopher Reeve, he maintained that geniality through it all... and proved once and for all that Superman was, if anything, typecasting. Because he believed, with all his heart, that he would walk again. As fervently as I believed he could fly. And he was gaining strength. Getting back feeling. He was working hard and exploring all options and advocating hard for the research that would set him free.

I think he would have made it. It was dumb luck that caused him to get an infection. And his weakened body couldn't take that infection well. He slipped into cardiac arrest, and then a coma, and then slipped away.

My hopes and thoughts are with his family. And with all of us -- his children, who believed he could fly. We have a responsibility to live our lives well -- to live up to his example. To live as if Christopher Reeve -- and God -- were watching, even if we don't believe in God or life after death. We have a responsibility to take up his causes and fight his fights. And we have a responsibility to face up to our own adversities with geniality and compassion.

It's a tall order. But he managed to it. Now it's our turn.

And most of all... we have to believe.

Because if we believe hard enough... we too can fly.

EDIT: Please give generously to The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation.

October 07, 2004

Okay, we're flirting with respectability and... yes! Back to square one! Whew, that was close!

Whitney Matheson writes a Pop Culture thingy for USA Today. And she was sent to cover SPX, and decided to file a webcomic for her reactions. It was pretty damn good -- Keith Carter did the art, and it honestly made some efforts. Okay, it had a stupid Flash interface, but eh. If I sobbed every time I had to use Flash to read a comic that needs nothing but HTML, I'd have no tears left for the pathetic shell that is my life.

But it was thoughtful. It mentioned that there weren't a lot of people in funny costumes (because you can't admit going to a comic book oriented production without mentioning people in funny costumes. Because, you know, we're a pack of geeks. Not cool people like Football fans. For the record, even Evan Dworkin's fans don't wear cheese on their heads) so that had her more comfortable, and it talked about all the ways that comics and cartoon art are beginning to emerge from the Superheroes Only club to embrace other forms. I was pretty pleased, all told.

And then, right at the end, there was this week's pop question of the week. "If you could have a superpower? What would it be? E-mail your answer to....

Thanks, Matheson. Thanks a whole heap.

October 06, 2004

Now this is an icon for Nanowrimo. A pity A) I don't own it and B) it has nothing to do with Nanowrimo

From Obsidian Wings.

Moe Lane is deranged. But in a good way. He's a long time fan writer in In Nomine, which is my own RPG drug of choice, but he's also totally bent. I mean, totally, totally bent. He created Ronald, the Demon Prince of Cows, for example.

Well, he's also a conservative. Which admittedly isn't my political leaning at all (I'm apparently getting more liberal with every passing day). However, when he founded his own political blog, he recruited people from all over the political spectrum to write for it. The result is Obsidian Wings. ("This is the Voice of Moderation. I wouldn't go so far as to say we've actually SEIZED the radio station . . . ") The picture adorning this entry is their mascot, and God help me I think it's brilliant.

I'm pretty burnt out on politics, but I still like Obsidian Wings. I read it at first for Moe, who doesn't agree with me politically but is a good guy nonetheless, as well as a smart and funny writer. I kept with it because the people I do agree with politically are also good guys (and girls), smart and funny. Maybe you can't imagine reading anything having to do with politics (especially a site guaranteed to post something you won't automatically agree with) right now, and I respect that. But if you're in the mood for some smart punditry in convenient blog-form, you could do a Hell of a lot worse.

And damn it, I want a blog mascot just as warped as that one.

October 01, 2004

Because I don't need to sell you on the content, here's some chatting about technique

So, in case you don't know, BBC's Radio 4 is broadcasting a third series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That's All I've Got To Say covered the wheres and whys nicely, so I won't retread Chris's ground.

If you find yourself excited by the prospect of new Hitchhikers radio goodness, you won't need me to tell you why. If you're not excited by that prospect, there's little I could say to make you so. So, with your kind indulgence, we'll have the recommendation as read and go on to something I think is interesting: technique.

How does someone take a decades old radio show and make a sequel to it?

For those of you who came in with the books, please understand that the radio show came first. In fact, it contained a considerable amount of additional material and a substantially different ending (including a bit on how Zaphod Beeblebrox was directly responsible for the destruction of the Earth, if I remember correctly), as well as the only time that Rula Lenska did anything other than Alberto VO-5 commercials in my experience) than the book series did. The television series (which I'm geeky enough to own on special edition DVD) was a condensed version of the radio show with some bookish flourishes thrown in, and of course, there are many too many books in the Hitchhiker's Guide Trilogy to actually call it a Trilogy, but that's just part of the fun.

However, to do a new radio series, they've actually chosen to adapt the fourth book in the series, more or less, with some of the third book thrown in, and are completely ignoring where the radio series left off. Which, if one looks at the later Hitchhiker's books, is absolutely apropos.

They absolutely nailed the "old school feel," however. In part because they brought back the theme music, theramins and all. Not a remixed version of the theme music, a la the various Doctor Who revivals, but the exact same music that heralded the start of the radio episodes and the television show. And, although Peter Jones has passed on, they used his voice as the voice of the book in the beginning, retelling the famous opening prologue of... well, almost every version, but distorted it as if the speakers on the Book were failing. Then they gradually sampled in the new actor's voice, along with an explanation that as part of the ongoing upgrades to the Book, one could now have a variable voice, though it wasn't quite working right at the moment.

As a result, the old school fan had a perfect introduction to the series, and therefore was willing to accept that Trillian hadn't even been in the second series.

Plus, it's free to listen to online. I mean, how cool is that?

September 30, 2004

For the record....

...even as we speak, a debate that might well decide the election in America is going on, carried live on most television stations and on NPR.

I, correspondingly, have gone to a cybercafe that's playing a jazz CD, surrounded by other people who are desperately hiding from open media sources. This might make me a bad person. If so, I revel.

November can't come soon enough....

September 23, 2004

On the revision of past success, or how to ride the pony a little longer


(From PvP, Casey and Andy, and Penny Arcade, respectively. You can click on the thumbnails and see the full sized strips in their natural, unLucased habitats.)

Okay, this is about the Star Wars DVD collection "controversy." Which isn't. You know. Controversial. I mean, if he'd called these things "Director's Cuts" everyone would be fine with it. Except, you know, the totally insane people. But that's not the point here. Because I couldn't care less. I'm not going to buy the DVD sets, because I don't buy DVD sets of that nature. I buy Complete Television Seasons On DVDô, because I love archives. Everything else, I let the Tivo slurp up when they become available on my extended tier Dish Network thing. I have a DVD burner built into it, so if I really want to keep them, I can. The only "Special Edition" movie exceptions have been the Lord of the Rings movies, which a friend has given me for Christmas the last couple of years, and which I really love. But I wouldn't have bought them for myself. Because Hell, Fellowship was on Encore already.

But you don't care about that. You want to know about the webcomics I'm referencing.

This is a big deal in the geek community, and so we've had a lot of Webcomics reference it. There've been a lot more references than just these three. The community's in upheaval, so people are making note of it. It's what they do. And these three strips between them surround the whole issue, to my mind.

Scott Kurtz has the sanest take -- the take that most needs to be said, in my opinion. Yes, he's putting it in Brent's mouth. Brent is his designated "guy who can say crap we all wish we could say but most of us never dare" character. Still. It's a clear bucket of cold water being thrown on people, and I'm glad to see it. Yes, it's a remix. Yes, the changes weaken the movies they're allegedly celebrating. Yes, Jesus, Han shot first and Hayden Christensen's damn face is in Jedi. Who the Hell cares? If you like the movies, you're still going to like the movies on DVD. If you can't for the life of you let this crap go, then you're going to buy the movies and enjoy being outraged, because clearly that's the kind of thing you like to do. There's nothing wrong with that, either. Also, Kurtz gets bonus points for shading the light on Cole's Vader helmet so it looks like one of /usr/bin/w00t's asshats. Subtle, but there it is. Tell me I'm wrong. (And for the record, I really wish Chaobell wasn't on break, because her take on this 'controversy' would rock.)

Penny Arcade takes the opposite tack. Their strip tells the opposite side, as well as anything I've seen does. Lucas is doing this for cash, and he's clearly lost any vision he once had for the movies. And, more to the point, they include a phrase I think should be locked into the lexicon of all fans everywhere.

That phrase? "Accidential Masterpiece."

George Lucas just isn't a top flight director. He's no worse -- and no better -- than Leonard Nimoy was, to be honest. If there had been no Star Wars, he'd still be known for American Graffiti, which was good but doesn't exactly make top ten lists. (AFI listed it as #77. They listed Star Wars as #15.) As a Producer, his only truly great work has been attached to other people -- Steven Spielberg had a lot more to do with the success of Indiana Jones as a franchise than George Lucas did. (Spielberg is a top flight director, of course.) Lucas happened to hit 00 on the roulette wheel with Star Wars. It was great. Truly great. Utterly wonderful. A triumph of casting, of timing, of story. No wonder he keeps trying to go back to that well -- nothing he's ever done has ever come close to it. The Prequel Trilogy -- which I actually enjoy, I would add -- are good popcorn entertainment, but they're nothing compared to Lord of the Rings. Same with Return of the Jedi. Empire Strikes Back is actually my favorite of the movies, but it's not as good as Star Wars was, and besides, he didn't direct it.

Lucas has to remind himself that he's great, so he keeps going back to the movie that was great. It's pathetic, but there it is.

Finally, we have Casey and Andy, which is by far the best satire of the 3. In fact, it's fall down hilarious. It hits all the high points of the controversy, and makes its point perfectly.

And more to the point, it highlights how utterly useless Lucas's efforts to 'improve' the movies are. No matter what he does to tinker with them, the simple fact is with flat effects and a true bastard owning the Millennium Falcon, Lucas accidentally created a pop culture phenomenon that literally exceeded Star Trek. Nothing he does now can possibly recapture that lightning in a bottle. It can't actually hurt the original movie (and the day he dies his estate will sell the original versions of the trilogy on whatever they're using for DVD that week, and will reap another ton of cash). It's just silliness.

I don't suppose there's any chance that these strips will cover the Cat Stevens denial of entry tomorrow, is there?

September 21, 2004

This brings the Cute, damn it!

gerbnskull.jpgAnd here we are, my two favorite tchotchkes from webcomics: my plush Skull, from PvP, and my Gerbil, from Narbonic. I have no idea if Shaenon Garrity and Scott Kurtz like each other, hate each other, are indifferent to each other or "other," but on my desk these two get along in perfect peace and harmony.

The gerbil is handmade, in the best sense of the word. It's clearly excellently put together, with a scosh of craftswork in it. It's soft and adorable and sits very nicely, and is the best packaged thingy I've ever received. Oh, it showed up in a Priority Mail box full of packing foam, but what a box. See, I'm addicted to commissioned/original artwork. If I could, I'd wallpaper my apartment in bristol board dirtied with Sharpies. And the box the Gerbil came in had three Garrity original drawn gerbils on it (one on each of three sides) and a drawn picture of Shaenon Garrity herself on the front, a bold finger (not that finger) thrust upward as she declares "I BRING THE GERBIL!" This to me epitomizes going the extra mile.

Skull, in contrast, is machine made, in the best sense of those words. Well stitched, bean stuffed and amazingly soft, I'd gladly get Skull for any stuffed animal lover -- especially children. Skull was meant to be adored by a child. As for packaging... well, it got dumped into a secure mailer envelope and sent on its way. I was a bit torqued about that -- what if it got crushed? -- until it hit me that Skull is essentially stuffed with the same stuff you'd use to pack Skull in anyhow, so the chances that harm would come to him were negligible. (The gerbil, on the other hand, has a rigid spine, and so could be harmed in transit if care were not taken -- but of course, care was taken.)

So, I'm grooving on them both. This was a good day.

(Oh, the picture in front? More proof I'm not an artist.)

And Jesus, do we really need to see "Apprentice" promos before a movie? Don't they know Trump is totally last season?

(From Too Much Coffee Man. Click on the thumbnail for full sized constructive feedback.)

Dear God does this strip speak the truth. It's worse now than it ever was, and it makes me progressively more frightened for the future. See, way back when you would go to the movies and the following things would happen. First, the curtain would open up on the screen. Then, two or three previews of coming attractions would be shown. Then, there might be an advertisement for the refreshment stand or an injunction to use the exits at the far side of the room if the building caught fire. And then you would see the movie.

Then, the number of previews increased.

Then, the commercial for the refreshment stand grew more elaborate.

Then, commercials began to run, before the previews. Commercials for Coke, for Hollywood.com, for jeans. At first, they were distinctive commercials made for the movie screen. Then, they were the same crap we watch on television.

Then, they started showing a short film about the Jimmy Fund. I have no argument with this one.

Then, they began running slides before even showing the commercials, for when you first arrived at the theater. They had rebuses any developmentally disabled four year old could guess (when they actually have four or more letters on the screen, it's not a rebus any more, it's the work of a confused calligrapher who thinks a picture of a light socket is part of the English Language.) They had "trivia" that proved conclusively that the word derives from "trivial." And they had local commercials. The Portsmouth movie house we go to typically had slides advertising the York County hospital, just over the border. Generally, it advertised it with a giant picture of a baby, which makes me think I can drive to York County and pick up a small child for all my small child needs.

And now? Now?

The Twenty.

That's right, the slideshow encouraged people to ignore the ads and engage in conversation before the damn movie. We can't have that. So now we have twenty minutes of faux "behind the scenes" coverage of your 'favorite' shows from NBC and TNT, plus full out commericals. It's horrible, and it's offensive.

That's right, offensive. If I pay someone eight bucks to see a movie, I don't want to see commercials for FUCKING TNT. I have TNT and I never, ever watch it! And now they've driven me to block it from my Tivo list, so that I never even see it! Tivo can't even record shows off of TNT as suggestions any more! THIS IS WHAT THEY HAVE WROUGHT!

We have gotten some fun out of it, though. Part of my ritual for buying a ticket now includes my desperately asking the ticket taker if we get to see The Twenty before the movie. It's become clear the staff of the movie theater hates it as much as we do.

Probably more, actually. Most theaters have taken to playing it in the lobby. I'd think that would be grounds for an unsafe work environment lawsuit.

September 14, 2004

Proving I'm a bleeding heart liberal at heart....

I spend a certain amount of each paycheck on webcomics, in one sense or another. Not a huge amount, typically -- five bucks to a tipjar here, a subscription there. I seem to be a sucker for cute plush -- my Skull plushie is theoretically waiting for me to get enough time at work (which won't be this week) to walk over to the mailroom and get it, and I dropped money last paycheck on a Narbonic brand plush gerbil. And I get compilations every now and again.

This paycheck, however, my money went to support the art form as a whole. I dropped some change on a membership at the Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco. Not a high level membership (I don't have that much money), but enough.

The perks that come with membership... won't matter that much to me. I live in New Hampshire -- being able to walk into a San Francisco museum won't pay for itself, even if I manage to get there when I hit Baycon next year. I doubt I'll have much opportunity to use a discount at the museum store. I won't be at any of the receptions they hold, unless a miracle occurs. I doubt the newsletter will have much I don't already know.

But that's not why you give money to a museum.

It matters, guys. Art matters. Segar and Shultz and Capp and Gould matter. Abrams and Crosby and Krahulik and Kurtz matter. The hundreds... the thousands of webcartoonists and print cartoonists worldwide matter.

Art matters. So they get my money. Simple as that.

September 13, 2004

By "later," I meant "way, way later." And XPlay has some hope.

After barely sleeping last night and a notebook computer passing day of sheer adrenalin and discussing the merits of Berry Rubble versus Princess Ariel on the comment boards, I got home, settled in for an evening of snarking and cheer....

...and fell asleep. I'm going to go back to sleep momentarily. I only woke up at all because my cat demanded attention, and she has claws. Painful, painful claws.

While I pet her, XPlay came on the Tivo. Their new set (they moved from San Francisco, which is a cool place to be a TV show, to Los Angeles, which is... very standard) is incredibly busy and full of worthless tchotchkes... and the show itself is back to its low budget glory. Adam and Morgan wandered the new set and snarked about how utterly worthless it is for a show about video game reviews to have a set with egg chairs and fluorescent checker sets. It's back to being video taped, the higher production values only having lasted until they could take the time to go to Ikea... and walk around behind it, to where the Swedes take powerful drugs before designing furniture. And the voiceovers are back.

I am content.

September 12, 2004

I'd be more impressed if it was the special unrated edition with pharasees gone wild

I just saw a commercial for The Passion of the Christ on DVD. With "special bonus features."

I would pay two hundred dollars for a copy if one of the features was a Thermian language track like on Galaxy Quest. This thing is screaming for something surreal.

September 08, 2004

Excuse me? I thought when you made this you'd use milk -- not crap

XPlay has always had a kind of "cable access charm." It's total lack of production values and snarky sense of humor (there's that word again) made it fun. Great fun. The kind of fun that... well, every G4 show has failed to have.

Now, their San Francisco studio has been closed, their staff has been fired, and Adam and Morgan are down at G4TechTV's Los Angeles studios. Yesterday's show showed promise -- declaring that their studios hadn't been built yet, they filmed it out of Adam's apartment with all the 'graphics' being sharpie-on-cardboard. It was fun, in an Xplayish kind of way.

Today... they're doing riffs on movies. Filmed. With clear money being spent. Costuming, effects, writing. Production values. A significant bump in everything they do.

Dear God this show sucks now. I mean, sucks. All the charm has been bled out, leaving bad jokes and stale references. Even the reviews seem overproduced now, though they remain the strongest points of the show.

Tell you what. Give Judgment Day the budget. That show already sucked, so some influx of new ideas might do it some good. Let XPlay be XPlay. Right down to video tape, bad wigs and stupid jokes.

Alternately, do bikini shots of Morgan. I mean, if you're going to pander, pander.

August 29, 2004

Serving the casual reader by not reviewing anything he's looking for

So, Joey Manley, the guy behind Modern Tales and the hoster of American Elf -- and a guy who gets money from me every month, I'm glad to say -- is publishing a new literary journal entitled The Graphic Novel Review. His stated goal is to create a book review that is for the casual graphic novel fan what the New York Times Book Review is for the casual book lover.

I can get behind this idea. I think something that brings graphic novels closer to the mainstream and develops critical scrutiny for them is a good, good thing.

It's a pity they've elected to be dumbasses about it.

We hope to review books featuring corporate-owned properties (e.g. non-creator-owned books) almost as rarely as the NYT Book Review covers Harlequin Romances, or any other prose book put together on an assembly line by creative workers with no long-term stake in the economic life of the work they have done. Which is to say: hardly ever. Our assumption is that such economic conditions will almost always lead to sub par work, even when the creative workers themselves are capable of great things. Since the vast majority of superhero GNs coming out are corporate properties, the genre may get fairly scant coverage on GNR. This is not a slight against the genre, so much as against the method of production. Creator-owned superhero books will have a much better shot at garnering a review.

Okay. So.

Under this system, Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing wouldn't have a home here. Or a collection of Superman stories that includes the single finest Superhero story I've ever read: Moore and Gibbons's "For The Man Who Has Everything." Or The Dark Knight Returns. Matt Wagner is only good when he's doing Grendel or Mage. Drop him into Sandman Mystery Theater and he's got no reason to bring his A game, obviously.

And anyone who's working on Batman or Green Lantern or Spider Man? Sub-par work. They have no economic stake, so they're just phoning it in, clearly. Always. Almost no exceptions. Because... because. They have no reason to really try, do they? (Setting aside the paycheck they're receiving.)

Guys? The New York Times Review of Books doesn't review romance novels. You're right. But they do review potboilers. And Stephen King novels. And Harry Potter books. Look, I'd love it if this meant the next Dan Cowles book got to sell ten times what the last one did. But it won't do that if the 'casual graphic novel reader' doesn't buy Graphic Novel Review in the first place. If they're walking through Barnes and Noble, they see a graphic novel section, they pick up your magazine, and see that 95% of the display isn't being covered... they're not going to pay any attention to the other 5%.

If you disdain the masses, you don't get to educate them. If you want them to learn about the gemstones, you have to address the semiprecious stones they already collect. And, most importantly, you have to accept that quality and art can be born from many sources and many directions. You have to accept that sometimes, the wage slave is going to blow away everyone around him because the art is more important to him than anything else. Sometimes, a writer wants to write, to make something glorious, even if he's doing it for hire. Charles Dickens wrote a ton of his stuff on an serialized assembly line as work for hire, but we still think Pickwick Papers is pretty damn spiffy, you know. And a good number of the best -- or at least most celebrated -- writers and artists of graphic novels are on the wage train. Hell, no one's more celebrated right now than Alex Ross, and he does most of his work for the big two.

Superman. Batman. Spider-Man. These are cultural icons, whether we like it or not. To simply dismiss graphic novels that feature them means dismissing the absolute core of American sequential art. That won't elevate the fringe, that will make your magazine part of it. And besides, we have no need to recover Gary Groth's territory. He's already staked it out pretty thoroughly, guys. Have faith he can hold that fort down, and choose your articles on the basis of their merits, even if the subject has been heard of by more than forty people.

August 27, 2004

Celebrating Public Domain Guthrie, One Voice at a time

As a celebration of the discovery of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land's" public domain status, I posted the lyrics to the song. Well, in his own blog That's All I've Got To Say, Chris Meadows does me one better. He actually recorded an MP3 of himself singing the song, a capella, and threw it up for people to listen to. And wrote a new stanza which he included in the song.

We should all do this. We should have an Internet-wide celebration, where we all record ourselves singing a song which, in the end, belongs to us, not to publishers without senses of humor.

Chris started the ball rolling. If I can get the equipment (I think my USB headset is in my office) I'll do one too. You do one too. Get your friends to do one. Let's make this the most covered song on the Internet. It doesn't matter if you sound good doing it -- this song isn't meant to sound perfect. It's meant to be sung, because you want to sing it, period.

We're not trying to piss anyone off. We're just trying to celebrate a sentiment, and the idea that there reaches a point where art becomes all of ours. Let's do it!

THE POWER OF KITTY COMPELS YOU!

Devilskitty.JPG Not really a snark on The Devil's Panties. I just love this graphic. And sentiment. THE KITTY COMPELS YOU!

Man, the more I ref cats in these things, the more pet food Google ads are going to show up in the sidebar. I hope to Christ you people have a lot of livestock to feed.

August 24, 2004

This song belongs to you and me!

So... you know the JibJab parody of "This Land is Your Land?" That one? The one they're being sued over?

The publishers don't even own it.

Woodie Guthrie published it in 1945 and never renewed the copyright. So it expired. In 1973. It's your song, and my song, and everyone's song.

So. Not only can't JibJab be sued over this... the publishers could potentially be sued by anyone who paid them licensing fees to use the song for the past 31 years.

Wow. Bet they wish they'd just had a sense of humor and an understanding about the Satire Fair Use provisos now. As it is, their little hissy fit's costing them. A lot.

In honor of this so-fitting ending, the complete lyrics of the original song. Owned by me! And you! Thanks, Woody!

This land is your land, this land is my land
From the redwood forest to the New York island.
From the snow-capped mountains to the Gulf Stream waters
This land is made for you and me.

As I go walkin' my ribbon of highway
I see all around me my blue blue skyway
Everywhere around me the wind keeps a-whistlin'
This land is made for you and me.

I'm a-chasin' my shadow out across this roadmap
To my wheat fields waving, to my cornfield dancing
As I go walkin' this wind keeps talkin'
This land is made for you and me.

I can see your mailbox, I can see your doorstep
I can feel my wind rock your tip-top treetop
All around your house there my sunbeam whispers
This land is made for you and me.