Saturday, May 26, 2007

The HPTTJ Awards

Sometimes, you just want to give something back. This urge may come over you when regarding the news, when looking at something on the tube (right now, SuperWife is working her way through BUFFY Season 6 on DVD, so I'm feeling it reasonably regularly whenever I'm reminded once again of just how badly Joss Whedon screwed this particular pooch, beloved of so many, lo these many years ago), while you're at work dealing with the vagueries of management and/or customers, while you're out cruising the Interweb, or simply whenever you contemplate the various happenings and occurrences of day to day life in general.

But if you're anything like me, you will often, perhaps even frequently, on such occasions find the sudden, near overwhelming impulse to Give Something Back rising, nay, I say, boiling up in you, threatening to choke you beneath its pulsing crimson weight, building up pressure until it cannot, it will not, it must not be denied.

Thus, and so, The Hard Punch To The Jaw Awards, which will be given out on an occasional and random basis whenever the hell I feel like typing up a few more:

A Hard Punch To The Jaw is hereby awarded to each and every elected U.S. government representative who recently voted to continue funding the ongoing atrocity and abomination we pleasantly refer to as "the War In Iraq". Had Congress grown a collctive pair and managed to pass a funding bill for the war that included firm timetables for withdrawal, I would still have awarded them all a punch in the jaw, but I would at least have had the delivery fellow pull it a little at the last second. Congress should, if it had a moral atom anywhere in its collective mass, simply cut off all funding for this ongoing act of mass terrorism against an innocent populace, and they should have done it the day they were sworn in. But this latest nonsense is a travesty beyond travesties. Assholes, you're in the majority now, and Bush has an approval rating of 30%. If you won't stand up to him now, you won't stand up to him ever, and it's time to start seriously thinking about voting for Ralph again.

A Hard Punch To The Jaw of Cole Moore Odell, who runs the normally fabulous blog Mountain of Judgment, but who has, in this post, forbidden the remainder of humanity from using a particular word because, apparently, he doesn't like that particular word, or, at least, he doesn't like it when people other than he employ it.

Here in America, Mister Odell, we can use any goddam word we want any goddam where we like at any goddam time we so choose. Shenanigans, shenanigans, shenanigans.

A Hard Punch To The Jaw to WizKids, for about half screwing up the new AVENGERS set, from what we've seen to date, for completely screwing up Ultra Boy's dial, and for not hiring me as their HeroClix game designer some time last year.

A Hard Punch To The Jaw every minute of every day yea, unto eternity itself for Brian Michael Bendis, Grant Morrison, Chris Claremont, Mark Millar, John Byrne, Marv Wolfman, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Jamie Delano, Tim Truman, Ron Marz, Gerry Conway, Jim Owsley, Keith Giffen, Paul Levitz, and every other crappy writer who has ever crapped up a comic book title that otherwise would have been cool and interesting if it had been written by, I don't know, Geoff Johns or Alan Moore or Neil Gaiman or Greg Rucka or Cary Bates or Gail Simone or Steve Englehart or Steve Gerber or somebody else who could actually, you know, frickin' write.

And I could type these up all day long, but now we have to go see my oldest stepdaughter graduate, an occasion for which I wish no hard punches to the jaw of anyone, as I am bursting with parental pride.

But I'm sure I'll do more of these later. In today's world, there is unfortunately no end of Jaws that merit Hard Punches, and the nice thing about delivering them cybernetically is that you don't jack up your knuckles, or need to rub linament on your biceps afterward.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Heroic ending

I’d planned on buying the Season 1 DVD set of Heroes as soon as it hit the market (currently, it's set to release in August). But our household economy has seen a few bumps lately, and there's no money for things like that at the moment, and I think I’m glad. It will probably be best to let Season 1 meld and simmer in imperfect memory until it becomes a garish but somewhat vague mythology, a lengthy flashback of a classic origin sequence in a comic that came out before I was born and that is now so valuable I’ve never managed to actually read it.

This way, I’ll pretty much know how the team that will inevitably come together in Season 2 got its start, and who the characters are, and what their interrelationships are like, but if I never go back and actually watch the old episodes again, the healing hand of time may well spare me the pain of re-experiencing all the goddam idiotic plot flaws, which exist by the bushel basketful.

If Nikki becomes just a superstrong asskicker with no mean, amoral killer of a split personality that she needs to manifest to tap into her powers, though, she’s going to be a VERY boring character.

Peter should be dead, simply because he’s way too powerful. Had he not been around, the writers might have given us a climactic battle in which all the other heroes had to somehow work cooperatively to mesh their powers in some way that would overcome the far more puissant Sylar. As it was, they all showed up, and Sylar glared at them, and they all wilted like dandelions. It was depressing, and pretty stupid, too.

And, I’m sorry, Sylar is too good a villain to lose. He shouldn’t be in every story, no. But he’s integral to the origin of The Inevitable Superteam, and should be their Recurring Arch Enemy, and whenever he does show up, he should scare the living shit out everybody.

Linderman should come back, too, but we should shouldn’t know about it until the end of the second season, when he’s revealed as the secret mastermind behind The Inevitable Superteam.

If Peter is dead, Nathan could come back, which would be cool; of all the regular characters, he's the one who has undergone the most interesting arc this season. Which is another reason Peter SHOULD be dead; otherwise, all the other ‘Heroes’ are pretty much redundant. Especially a guy whose only power is flight.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hate the player, not the game

So, for the first time in I honestly could not tell you how long, I had new people over last night to set up characters for my RPG.

SuperWife did her usual fabulous job as hostess, preparing delicious snacks in sufficient quantities to feed the entire Red Army. I had a reasonably good time advising my three new players on setting up their initial characters, in between mouthfuls of chips, fruit, cheese, pepperoni, and pizza squares. Everyone seemed interested (in both the food and the characters they were sloooooooowly generating with my tediously complex rules system) and when they all said they'd definitely be back for the next session, well, I was inclined to believe them... although it's my experience (and my experience in this area is unfortunately extensive) that nobody ever tells you in advance that they aren't planning on ever showing up again. They just don't show up. So that's definitely a matter of 'time will tell'... but, still, they seemed reasonably enthusiastic.

Which is more enthusiasm than I actually have for one of the three, although I tried to carefully conceal my lack of warmth for this fellow from all concerned.

Unfortunately, this guy is the one who called me initially in response to some posters SuperWife and I put up months ago at a local geek store, and the other two people are his friends whom he roped in, so if he goes, I have a feeling the other two will go with him. Which is irksome, but, well, that's just how it goes sometimes.

Why do I dislike this guy? Well, 'dislike' may be a stronger word than I need here; right now, I'd say that he and I haven't exactly clicked yet, and there are several aspects of his personality and behavior that I find rather irritating. And really bizarre occurrences seem to occur around him with some regularity, too... but, well, I'll get to that.

The first thing I found generally troubling about him is that his voice is very harsh. That's petty, I know, but so far I've had to talk to this guy like half a dozen times on the telephone, and every time, I feel like I'm listening to Terminator with an oddly southern accent.

Past this, and much much more exasperating to me, this guy also seems to have pretty much no sense of humor at all... various jokes built into my RPG rules (like characters being able to take 'Dead' as a Negative Attribute) he was baffled by (the write up is as follows: Dead - You are. This causes large minuses to all roll-offs, but on the other hand, is easily roleplayed.). Now I happen to think that's pretty clearly a joke, but, as I say, this guy was rather perplexed about it, and when I advised him, dryly, that it was indeed a joke, he got a little pissy and said "You're killin' me with these jokes. I thought it would be cool to play an Undead."

To put it mildly, anyone who responds to my jokes with an irritated "you're killin' me" is probably someone I'm not going to get along swimmingly with.

Beyond all that, though, well... he's whiney. To date, I've had to listen to the following tirades from him (and bear in mind, he hasn't even played in the game yet, all he's done is set up a character):

* * * He's very concerned that female characters in my game get plusses to their Willpower and Constitution. He called me specifically to advise me of this, once he'd taken a good look at my rules, prior to setting up his own character. He told me this with a clearly discernible tone of outrage. He had, it seems, never played in a game, or heard of a game, where female characters could take more damage than male characters.

He didn't come out and say it, but I got the impression that he very much expected me to act on his complaint immediately, and reassure him that I would instantly modify my system rules in whatever way was necessary to mollify his umbrage. This in and of itself irritated me; that kind of inherent sense of unwarranted entitlement always chews my ass badly. Here's the facts, Jack -- you don't like the RPG I'm running, you don't have to play in it. Demanding modifications to a rules system you haven't even played in yet ain't the way to make friends and influence me, it truly, truly ain't.

What irritates me further is that, well, he simply doesn't know what he's talking about. Female characters get certain advantages in my RPG for two reasons -- first, I tend to think that one could make an argument that in many ways, women are more strong willed than men, and they certainly seem to generally have more stamina and endurance than men do, on average. More importantly, though, women are definitely (in general) physically weaker and smaller than men, and that fact is reflected in the system, where they get minuses to those rolls (something he didn't comment on, although I'd be willing to be he noted it, nodded in satisfaction at it, and moved on), and in my experience, a great many participants like to roleplay female player characters (regardless of their actual gender). So in my system, men are (on average) bigger and stronger, women are (again, in general) tougher, both physically and emotionally. It balances out.

* * * Then, today, I got a phone call from him in which I was told, in no uncertain terms, that he didn't know how much fun he could have, roleplaying in a game in which his character might very well die during any given run. This guy informed me that players got attached to their characters, and the reason people roleplay is to have fun, and it just wouldn't be very much fun to lose a character you'd worked on, and played for a lengthy period and formed a bond with.

What he suggested (very, very strongly) was that I adopt a system whereby any time a player character would otherwise die, that player character could have its Luck statistic reduced permanently by 1 instead, and then fall unconscious ("or something") rather than actually expiring.

I was trying to be as diplomatic as I could to him, but in all honesty, roleplaying in a game in which one's player character cannot die under any circustances strikes me as being much like playing DOOM with cheat codes. If you've ever done this, you know it's wildly exciting for the first fifteen minutes, tedious at minute 16, and lethally boring beyond minute 20... and at least in my experience, it kills your interest in the game for months if not years afterward.

This is not the kind of game I want to participate in, whether I'm playing or refereeing. I did my best to make that clear to him. He wasn't at ALL happy with me, but advised, after a few seconds silence, that he and his other buddies would 'give me a try'. Big of him.

Gotta tell you right now -- if a post-session phone call bitching about some aspect of the rules, or my policies as a GM, is going to be standard practice with this guy, he's going to have a brief career as a gamer in my RPG.

And then, there's the weird stuff that seems to happen around him, too. Well, only one weird thing has happened so far, but, it was genuinely odd. When he arrived yesterday evening, he presented me with a bag of McDonald's double cheeseburgers. I figured at first that he was just offering me some food, and as SuperWife and I had just finished dinner, I demurred. He then insisted I'd asked him to bring me four double cheeseburgers. I thought maybe he was kidding (assuming he must, maybe, have a sense of humor after all, it was just a really strange and not particularly amusing one) and demurred again, and he insisted once more that he'd called me and asked if I wanted him to bring any food, and I'd said "Oh yeah, that would be great, I'm really hungry", and then asked for four double cheeseburgers.

Well, he hadn't talked to ME and I hadn't asked for any food, and it's a good thing SuperWife was there as a witness, or I think he'd have gotten really pissed at me. AS it was, he hauled out his cell phone and checked the number he had for me, and it turned out, he was one digit off. So somebody out there got a call from someone they didn't know offering to bring food over, agreed enthusiastically to the offer, and then, never got their food.

Honestly, I'm still scratching my head over that one.

As things stand, we're supposed to see these guys again for an actual gaming session in a couple of weeks (we can't play when the kids are here, so sessions have to be scheduled two weeks apart, at a minimum), but they're supposed to call to firm that up once they know their schedules better, and at this point, I'm not at all sure they're going to.

And, well, I'm not at all sure I'll mind if they don't, either.

In other gaming notes, I've created a spread sheet and looking at the most recent version of a HeroClix price guide I could find, it would seem I have around $2100 in plastic... and that's only counting the figures that were worth at least $2. I imagine I'd have at least few hundred more bucks if I totalled up all the stuff worth like 75 cents or $1.25 or so, but I figured there probably wasn't much of a market for that, whereas anything worth $2 and up, I could probably find a buyer for.

I still haven't made a decision as to whether I want to actually sell off my clix or not, but, well, it seems wildly unlikely I'm ever going to get to play a game again, and if I'm not playing, then I'm just collecting little plastic knick-knacks that serve no purpose. This puts me half a step away from being the guy with the Spock-With-A-Beard bust on top of my CPU, and I really don't want to go there.

And we could really use $2100 right now.

So... I'm thinking about it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

There can be only... nine, or ten, or maybe a dozen, I dunno...

5/17/2007 -- Now UPDATED with yet more nonsense nobody will read or respond to, at the bottom!

More or less random reactions to last night's Heroes ep:

* Credit where due -- last week, or maybe two weeks ago, I can't remember, Superwife turned to me as we watched this show and said "Linderman is going to use Micah to control the electronic voting machines and throw the election to Nathan."

* More credit where due -- months and months ago I advised that the only way various story elements in this show could ever make sense would be if it turned out that Linderman was part of some conspiracy to track and covertly control superhumans. That's the only way things like Nathan fathering Claire on yet another superhuman, and Nikki and DL getting married and having their own super-child, could feasibly be explained. At least one other, much higher profile than me, blogger pooh-poohed the idea, but, well, here we are.

Mind you, I wanted a 'mind controlling Machiavelli' who was jerking everyone's chains, and it turns out, Linderman simply employs the most old fashioned forms of mind control known to man -- threats and/or bribery.

Nonetheless, I will say this -- I wish Tim Kring would stop stealing ideas from me and just offer me a job. Or, if that's impractical, then at least cut me a check.

* "Is this the only way to get out of the city?" winsome, perky cheerleader Claire asks her Uncle Peter as they find themselves stuck in Manhattan gridlock.

"No, but it's the fastest," Peter says, grimly. (Peter says nearly everything grimly. I guess that's what happens when your hot black fuck buddy gets shot by her junkie ex boyfriend while you're leaping invisibly around the room taunting him.)

Well, here's a thought -- when you're trying to get somewhere FAST, and you have the ability to fly at supersonic velocities while carrying someone else --

But, no. Best dawdle. Otherwise, you might not be around when the seemingly inevitable nuclear blast that you know is coming Real Soon Now renders the entire city around you into radioactive goo.

* The big cliffhanger -- Will Sylar Blow Up New York City, Now That He Has Ted's Powers? After 2.7 picoseconds of thought, I realized: Well, no, because he still hasn't managed to get Claire's ability to regenerate himself, which would mean he won't survive any nuclear explosion he initiates.

* Not that I believe anyone, even with Claire's powers, can actually regenerate after being at the center of a nuclear explosion.

* Nathan is down by 5 percent in the exit polls, and suddenly takes 64% of the vote? You'd think a control freak like Linderman would have given Micah and/or Princess Projectra more intelligent, explicit instructions than this.

* There is a tremendous lapse of internal logic in the presumption that nobody can prevent one particular event that hasn't occurred yet, but once that event DOES occur, a wise elite can then exert near total control over how the future unfolds from that point on. I'm not saying Linderman wouldn't argue this way, because he's a a douchebag and it's expected of him, but someone as intelligent as Nathan should see through this dumbass scam in a heartbeat.

* So Princess Projectra (Candice) is really very fat? I understand that fat people can be very bitter about how the world treats them, but honestly, I think this motivation for her behavior is childishly oversimplified.

* I enjoyed the opening, where all the various diverse 'heroes' found themselves coming together for the first time in one place, to meet and interact and form alliances. It's a classic vibe from superhero comics, reminiscent of, say, the Avengers and Defenders getting together to talk through their differences in Defenders #10, or all those fabulous Avengers/JLA social gatherings we saw in JLA/Avengers #3 (which now, presumably, never actually happened, if 'actually happened' means anything in fictional metaverses).

* It occurs to me that Season One of Heroes could, essentially, be seen as a very protracted, 22 chapter long origin sequence for whatever more 'organized' heroic force or structured superhuman 'society' will emerge sometime in Season 2. Foundation stones seem to be being laid for this in Claire's brief conversation with Peter about 'when all this is finished, I may go on patrol... jumping in front of bullets, hauling people out of burning buildings', in response to which, Peter scoffs at the notion of wearing a cape, or zipping around with his underwear on over his pants.

* Rene Sofer really deserves a bigger part in a better show than this. Or, barring that, some super powers of her own.

* Kirby Plaza? A swordmaker named Claremont? Cute stuff. They should have named Linderman 'Mr. Byrne'.

* Hiro's father is a superhero! His codename should have 'Dragon' in it somewhere.

* It's worth noting that nobody can have any clear idea just how long Hiro actually spent being trained by his father in that classic cinematic empowerment montage. Hiro's dad advises that Hiro has 'come a long way in a short time', but in point of fact, we've seen Hiro's control of time occur without him being consciously aware of it prior to this (when he saved his life by shoving a bullet back into a gun without being aware he'd done so). Hiro's subconscious might very well have created a bubble of distorted entropy around himself and his father, and they might have been in there months, or even years, especially if their own metabolic processes were somehow effected by Hiro's powers as well. In the intensely focused state both of them were in, they would have had no conscious awareness of the passage of time.

* Hiro's confrontation with Nathan is as good a set up as I've ever seen for Nathan to have a last minute change of heart leading to a heroic redemption of himself. Someone on some blog somewhere predicted that Nathan would grab whatever it was that was about to explode and carry it off at supersonic speed, which would be as good a heroic note to end the first season on as any.

* Where did Ando get thousands of dollars to buy a functional samurai sword with? And wouldn't it have been smarter for him to buy a gun?

* It's absolutely beautiful that Nathan's campaign theme song is Roxy Music's "All Right Now". One presumes that whoever djs for him has specific instructions to only ever play the chorus, and never let the crowd hear the rest of the lyrics, which detail how a slick hustler works his seductive wiles on an initially wary but later compliant target: I took her home to my place/watching every move on her face / she said Look, what's your game? / Are you trying to put me in shame? / I said Slow! Don't go so fast! Don't you think that love can last? / She said Love? Lord above! Now he's tryin to trick me with love!

* Was it good for you when Horned Rimmed Glasses guy blew Eric Roberts' head off? "What am I thinking now, Parkman?" "Your last thought --" BLAM-BLAM! Fuck, that rocked. But I'm left wondering -- Roberts knew Parkman was there with H.R.G., and presumably, he knew which one of them was the most dangerous. You know all that, and you turn a corner and you don't see the really dangerous one, how smart are you to get right up close to the one who can read your mind? When you could just shoot him from thirty feet down the hall and then continue searching for the other guy? I suppose I can see making that kind of mistake -- I mean, I sure would -- but I'm not a veteran spook who supposedly sees every angle, either.

* I straight out don't believe Linderman was ever going to let Micah go. That kid is waaaaaaay too useful. And with Princess Projectra under his thumb, he could pretty much make Micah believe anything, anyway.

* If Linderman can heal himself, he could also heal DL. I can't see any reason why he'd do the latter, but I merely point out, the potential is there, so I wouldn't necessarily write off either of them just yet. Linderman is much too good a long range villain to just drop him, unless Malcolm MacDowell doesn't want to continue with the part.

* People may not believe in miracles, but they would certainly believe that Nathan's wife had been arduously pursuing rigorous physical therapy in private for the last several months and they had waited until the night of his election to announce her full recovery. There's no way she has to stay in that wheelchair.

* I'm disappointed that Parkman didn't recognize the little girl he rescued from Sylar -- not that he had a lot of chance to, before Mohinder knocked him out. Still, I was looking forward to that scene, where the two of them saw each other for the second time ever.

I'm also somewhat annoyed that Parkman's powers only work when the plot requires them to -- he can hear Eric Roberts planning to shoot H.R.G., but he can't hear Mohinder hiding behind a door with a lug wrench. But that's been such a thing in this show to date that at this point, I merely shrug and say it's no longer a problem, it's a feature.

Update, 5/17/07

From a comment thread at Jim Henley's blog, selectively edited, of course, to make myself look as good as possible:


Comment by Doc Nebula —
May 15, 2007 @ 2:27 pm

For what little they’re worth (exactly zero, by the latest market reports, actually) my rather disjointed comments on this latest episode are here.[there was a link buried there back to this very blog entry -- wow! confusing time dilation stuff!]

As I’ve pointed out there, not only can Sylar not shapeshift yet, but he also can’t regenerate yet, so I really doubt that he’s going to blow up New York City prior to stealing Claire’s brain.


Comment by Alex Knapp —
May 15, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

As I’ve pointed out there, not only can Sylar not shapeshift yet, but he also can’t regenerate yet, so I really doubt that he’s going to blow up New York City prior to stealing Claire’s brain.

Well, I’m still not convinced that he NEEDS to regenerate. Ted seemed to be able to handle the effects of his powers without any side effects to himself, so it’s not completely unbelievable that he could set off “the bomb” without any harm to himself. Remember, what sets Sylar apart from Peter is that Sylar seems to instantly understand other people’s powers and how they work.


Comment by Gary Farber —
May 15, 2007 @ 8:21 pm

“As I’ve pointed out there, not only can Sylar not shapeshift yet, but he also can’t regenerate yet, so I really doubt that he’s going to blow up New York City prior to stealing Claire’s brain.”

I wasn’t entirely clear that he wasn’t now psycho enough to care whether it was suicide or not, but again, maybe that’s just an error on my part.

“Ted seemed to be able to handle the effects of his powers without any side effects to himself, so it’s not completely unbelievable that he could set off ‘the bomb’ without any harm to himself.”

That, too.

Comment by Doc Nebula —
May 16, 2007 @ 3:07 pm

Um… well… er… okay, my presumption had been that Sylar would need to have some power that would allow him to survive being at ground zero of a 10 meg nuclear explosion, before the explosion took place.

But, no, that’s silly. While it’s ridiculous that ANY power short of Silver Age Superman style invulnerability would let anyone survive an atomic detonation they set off themselves millimeters from their fingertips, this show is nothing if not ridiculous.

Certainly, the audience to date has demonstrated no inability to swallow nonsense; presumably, should NYC blow sky high, and then Sylar should stroll out of the ruins whistling cheerfully with his hands in his pockets, the script won’t even have to provide an explanation, because endless viewers will be perfectly ready to step up and opine weightily on how Ted seemed to be able to handle the effects of his powers without any side effects to himself, so it’s not completely unbelievable that somehow or another Sylar can not only blithely shrug off the heat and secondary radiation of a nuclear blast, but can just as casually ignore the kinetic energy that should have rendered him into goo and spread him in a thin film across several hundred square miles of irradiated terrain.

So, yeah, I concur… they’ve established enough mindbending stupidity in this series in the past that they could go for this one, too.

I’d been thinking that Sylar needed to have other pieces of the Dark Future in place before he detonates, too… like possessing DL’s phasing abilities, and Candice’s illusion projection / shapeshifting… but I guess it’s not necessary that he have those powers prior to blowing up New York, he could get them afterwards, as well… and if not from DL and Candice, then from other superhumans we don’t necessarily ever have to see onscreen.

And I’d also been assuming that Sylar would replace Nathan very soon after the bomb went off, but that’s not necessary, either. He might not kill Nathan and take his place until years later, after Nathan has become President.

My prediction, for what it’s worth — the ‘Heroes’ will prevent the detonation, and therefore, the Dark Future itself, and the second season of this show will follow the formation of a hyperrealistic, grim n’ gritty superhero tv show equivalent of a superhero team. No melodramatic codenames (for team or ‘heroes’) and no costumes, but Claire, Peter, Parkman, and Hiro, at the very least, will form some kind of cohesive unit that, backed by either the government or a wealthy individual, will exist to deal with threats like Sylar.

I can see DL and Micah being team members, too. Nikki/Jessica doesn’t strike me as a character well suited to a team, but I could be wrong. Nathan I have pegged for a heroic sacrifice/redemption next episode. And then in addition we’ll have whatever new character emerges from the ORIGINS spin off six parter this summer.

I’m presuming this because HEROES is a huge success as it is, and as it is, it’s a show set in our world, but with covert superhumans existing among us. If they let the bomb go off and the Dark Future take shape, this turns into a science fiction show set in a very different reality than ours, and as such, a very different series than it has been to date.

That might not be bad, but I find it wildly unlikely that any network bigwig anywhere would renew a hit show if that show was going to abruptly deviate so much from the proven formula in its second season.

To all this, I would only add belatedly that I can easily envision Candice, the woman with the illusion powers, being a member of the second season super-team, as well. And, if he actually does regenerate himself, I could even see Linderman backing such a team... although it would have to be for his own shadowy reasons.

Yes, of course I realize no one is reading this, or, at the very least, offering much in the way of comments on it, but, hey, if that stopped me from ranting and raving at great and tedious length, the Internet would be short several million words of ranting and raving right now.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

These little wonders

Things are stressful right now. There's stuff SuperWife and I aren't blogging about... not life, nor even marriage, threatening stuff, but, still... we're going through some things right now, and these things are undoubtedly my responsibility and my fault, and due to that, there have been many distinct moments lately when I've been disappointed in myself, when I've felt that SuperWife and the SuperKids were disappointed in me, when I've felt inadequate and full of doubt and unsure and a little bit depressed.

And then SuperWife is going through my 7 year old stepdaughter's school backpack to make sure all her homework is done before school tomorrow, and she kind of chuckles and hands me something:

We'll get through it.

Everything will be fine.

(The Baby's actual signature blurred and pseudonym provided by me, to protect the innocent.)

Friday, May 11, 2007

More clix nonsense!! AUGH!!!

So, my buddy Bane (yes, he's seven feet tall) came by last night and gave me a bag full of all his old HeroClix, because he isn't going to play any more. Most of it was stuff I already had, but there were a few gems in there that I didn't, like, two different Unique Superman figures (the Son of Darkseid Superman, and the Worlds At War Superman with the Black 'S' symbol), a Vet Superman and a Vet Batman from Hypertime (I'll never play them, but it's nice to have them in my JLA line up) and an Experienced Logan from Clobberin' Time.

I also got two more rookie Doombots, a rookie Vampire Lackey, and an Experienced Dr. Doom from Clobberin' Time, all of which I find to be fine and worthy additions to my burgeoning collection.

And, I picked up a few Uniques and some other stuff that I already had, meaning I can now add to my trade list, as follows:

Darkseid (Unique, Hypertime)
Silver Swan
Thanos (IC)
Wolverine LE (IC, gold and brown costume)
Wolverine LE (purple ring, FCBD giveaway last year)

I had to do some light superglue repairwork on a few figs (the flightstand was broken off one of the Superman Uniques, Darkseid had snapped off his base) but both were quick fixes. I'm keeping the glued Darkseid for my personal collection; the one I'm offering for trade is the unbroken one I had previously been displaying.

And, jesus, you're already nodding off. Well, that's okay, if my only purpose in life is to help you get some badly needed sleep, well, that foot is me.

Continuing to orate into an auditorium echoing with snores: I find that, while I'm wildly enthusiastic about the upcoming AVENGERS set, it seems to be a sort of generalized eagerness at this point. Every figure that WK has shown us so far from the set -- and I grant you, it's only three to date -- has been disappointing to me for some reason or another. The new Red Skull is deeply flawed; some interesting ideas, but overall, for a guy who is supposed to be ominipotent, he's pretty much a doorknob. The newest Spider-Man figure represents a period in the Marvel Universe that I loathe to a depth and with an intensity that cannot clearly be articulated with mere mortal words... which is kind of annoying to me, since he's got a really useful dial, with that special Double Incapacitate power (combined on two slots with Flurry!) all that Shape Shift, very acceptable numbers (an 18 Defense, with Super Senses! I swoon!)... that opening click with Leap/Climb, Super Strength, Invulnerability, and Outwit is a rocker, although I'd trade the Invulnerability for a higher Defense Value and Willpower, to preserve that slot a little longer.

Sorry, sorry. Anyway, I hate the actual character that the figure represents, which means, it's very aggravating to me that (a) it's a Spider-Man figure, of which I have all to date, so I'll have to try to get this one, even though I loathe it, and (b) the goddam thing is useful, too.

I dunno. Maybe I'll actually throw together a Bendis Avengers team, with this Spider-Man and the SINISTER Daredevil and Sentry and a that horrible Jewel figure and some other dreadful pieces of plastic and have them get thoroughly trounced by a Geoff Johns Justice Society. Or a classic Defenders line up! That might make me feel better.

As to the new Mandarin figure... well, I like his dial very much, but, hey, TWO Mandarins now, and still no classic Silver Age sculpt? How many Chinese masterminds in sissy looking green and yellow dresses do we really need?

Of course, it's early, and the set could still redeem itself. A new Black Panther, hopefully a Vet, that is no rarer than an Uncommon and that is at least as useful as an Experienced Hypertime Batman would be a fabulous addition to the game. A Golden Age Human Torch would be good. Bucky, well, if Seth doesn't screw up his dial too bad, Mr. Barnes, Boy Sidekick will be a welcome figure. Toro should be decent, although I truly fear his best Attack Value may well be an 8, which will make me cry like a little girl.

And then there's the classic Jack Kirby Giant-Man we know is included in this set... oooh, I get shivers. If Seth is only smart enough to put at least one click of Outwit on his dial, I'll be a happy camper indeed.

Still, right now, I am not impressed. WK is going to have to show me a lot more flash for my cash before I get anywhere close to pleased with this set.

Moving on to the upcoming LEGION starter set -- at this point we've seen all seven figures and dials, and, well, I'm pretty disappointed. This is the debut of the new 'white powers' whereby specific characters can be given very specific powers that otherwise could not be simply put on a pre-programmed dial, and this new flexibility in power definition has been given to only two of the new Legionnaires, Phantom Girl and Saturn Girl.

On the other hand, it's very pleasant to see Legionnaire figures with real Legionnaire names, as opposed to crapola like Umbra and Live Wire.

Ultra Boy presents a special challenge in dial design, as he has pretty much every super power that the standard 'superman' model allows -- Super Strength, Super Speed, Invulnerability, various types of Super Vision, and Flight, cutesily renamed with 'Ultra' instead of 'Super' in each particular power title -- but he can only activate one power at a time. Like all Legionnaires, he has a Flight Ring, so he doesn't ever have to actually activate that power, and can, in fact, fly while using another power... but he absolutely can not, just for one example, be ultra-strong and invulnerable at the same time.

WK has been somewhat cognizant of this, giving Ultra Boy battle fury on several of his slots to represent that he can't use his Ultra Vision when using another power. And yet... well... look at his power grid:

I do not understand how Ultra Boy has Super Strength and Impervious on the same slots; he can't use those powers at the same time, and it's obvious Seth knows that from the write up on the card, and, as I've already noted, from the fact that he's using Battle Fury (the orange on the Damage grid) to turn off Ultra Boy's range strike. Yet on the slots where Ultra Boy has a range strike, that's ALL he should have, and on his very first slot, he has Super Strength, Impervious, and a range strike of 6! In fact, for his first three slots he has at least three different powers working at once; it isn't until his fourth and fifth clicks that his powers actually works the way they're supposed to work, with only HyperSonic Speed and Super Senses (which he has, supposedly, due to his UltraSpeed, so those two together make sense) Still, I'm happy to have several new Legionnaires in plastic form, as well as a Lightning Lad who is actually playable.

Then he goes over to Psychic Blast, which is, nonsensically, called 'Penetra Vision' on his power card -- this is just straight up wrong, because Ultra Boy's 'Penetra Vision' is, in fact, X Ray Vision with no weakness against lead, and not an offensive power at all. (Ultra Boy does have a form of Ultra Vision that corresponds to Superboy's heat vision, but it doesn't have any special name that I recall.) And he has it along with Flurry (which he gets from his UltraSpeed) and Toughness, which, honest to God, I cannot see any justification for at all -- he's either Invulnerable or he's not, with nothing in between.

Giving Ultra Boy two or more powers on a slot isn't necessarily bad; in the slots where he has both Psychic Blast and Flurry, well, he can't use those powers together, as one is only usable in Close Combat and the other is strictly a Ranged Attack. So that's fine. And I suppose we can even reason around Super Strength and Impervious on the same slot, since he'll be using Super Strength when he attacks, and Impervious when an opponent attacks. Still, it kind of defeats the underlying principle of Ultra Boy, which is, basically, when he's using an offensive power, he's vulnerable, and when he can't be hurt, he can't hurt anyone else, either.

Mind you, this particular Ultra Boy, at 130 points, is going to see a lot of play on Legion theme teams, as he's very useful, but it always bothers me when a character is designed inconsistently with how they are portrayed in the comics.

On the other hand, it's lovely to have a playable Lightning Lad.

For a look at the more serious math derived realities of WK's new booster set up and distribution system, you'll have to check Mike Norton's masterful analysis, over here.

UPDATE: The ever formidable Orto (almost certainly the only person besides my wife who will ever read this entry all the way through) reminds me in comments that Ultra Boy's version of heat vision is now and always has been known as 'Flash Vision' -- something I should have remembered, but, well, I'm getting old. Thanks for jogging my few remaining gray cells, Mr. Norton.

I'd also meant to mention that Ultra Boy really struck me as one of the characters where the new, power card defined, very specific 'white powers' could have seen real application. The mechanic WizKids has defined in the past for allowing people to use super vision type powers (that can see through walls, etc) has been the Superman Ally or Ultimates TA, which essentially conveys upon its bearer the ability to ignore the effects of Hindering Terrain. Since without Hindering Terrain there is no Stealth, this has worked quite well in the past. A 'white power' could fairly easily have been given to Ultra Boy on alternating dial slots that would have had much (or exactly) the same effect, allowing him to him intermittent access to his actual Penetra Vision powers, instead of simply miscalling his Flash Vision that on the powers card.

Ah, well.

I'd originally planned to lament at length on how badly Timber Wolf has been misused by the times and tides of stupid overwriting. A character who was once a super-agile, superstrong fighting type with a bad temper has turned into some sort of appalling Wolverine clone, without the benefit of admantium bones or claws. Such a devolution probably became inevitable the moment Marvel signed former Legion penciller Dave Cockrum to draw their new X-MEN title. Cockrum had previously redesigned the entire Legion, including Timber Wolf, giving TW a much more lupine facial appearance, with the upraised, pointy tufts of hair at either temple we more commonly associate now with Wolverine. But it was Cockrum who drew Wolverine for the very first time without his mask, and it must have been Cockrum's idea to basically give Wolverine the same general appearance as he had previously awarded to Timber Wolf. (Cockrum was also the first person to draw Wolverine's most common non-costumed wardrobe, with the sheepskin jacket and the narrow cowboy hat.)

Given these new visual similarities, and Wolverine's enormous popularity, it was only a matter of time before some LEGION scribe tried to make Timber Wolf more brutish and 'Wolverine-like'. And certainly one could argue that a character named 'Timber Wolf' should actually have something wolfish about his powers and personality. I, however, had always been content with the original depiction of Timber Wolf, screwy as it was... that he had long believed he was an android and thus, not really fit for human company, which was why he originally referred to himself as 'Lone Wolf'; as it turned out, though, he was a human who had gained super powers from some experiments on him by his father, and who had had his human identity stolen by an android also built by his father. Once this was straightened out, the former 'Lone Wolf' was invited to join the Legion and in celebration of his newly socialized status, he changed his name to 'Timber Wolf'. (More problematic with Timber Wolf has always been the subject of his 'unique superpower', something that the Legion often states is a requirement for membership, while studiously looking anywhere and everywhere except at Mon-El, Superboy, and Supergirl. Timber Wolf's 'unique power', with much clearing of throats, has always been stated to be his 'super agility', whatever the hell THAT means, beyond that he seems to be the only Legionnaire who can do a backflip. It should be noted that the 'unique power' has historically only been used to keep unpopular losers that nobody really liked out of the Legion, like Erg-1, or Lightning Lass. This particular regulation made up half of an infamous exclusion equation that worked very well for the Legion for a very long time; the other half, an always subjectively defined "how USEful is your power" standard, was, like the "must have a unique power" requirement, honored far more in the breech than otherwise, as anyone with eyes to see Light Lass, Star Boy, Triplicate Girl, or, for the love of sweet baby jesus, Matter Eater Lad, could clearly discern.)

(Yes, I did leave Bouncing Boy off the Useless Legionnaires list, because Bouncing Boy isn't useless, he's simply funny looking. Funny looking or no, though, he'll kick YOUR ass, and probably, Wolverine's ass, too. So shut up.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I am Jack's appalled disbelief

Just finished watching Fight Club again. It's like, I don't know, my sixth time, I guess.

I first saw Fight Club in the theater. I have no idea what I expected; whatever it was, I didn't get it. Yet you wouldn't own a movie, first on videotape, then on DVD, and watch it five more times after your first theater viewing if it didn't do something for you, and I must admit, there's a lot of meat on Fight Club's bones. Interestingly nuanced performances by Edward Norton, Helena Bonham Carter, Meat Loaf, and, of all people, Brad Pitt. David Fincher's always bizarre, visually garish, near hallucinatory direction. A lot of memorable dialogue. Cool fight scenes. Last, and very much least, a buttload of completely insane sociological commentary that is always as intriguing as it is deeply, deeply sick... when it isn't just stupid, shallow, overly obvious to the point of mental retardation.

FIGHT CLUB has a great many flaws, not least of which is the fact that the central presumption of the film -- that modern males are so disenchanted with contemporary culture that, given a chance to join a secret society in which they beat the shit out of each other in basement bare knuckle brawls several times a week, legions will swarm to the Fight Club banner -- simply doesn't work on any level.

First, it just wouldn't happen; modern males are, as a gender and a class, no more disgruntled by our social matrix than anyone else (we do, after all, have cable TV with several dedicated sports channels and literally hundreds of different kinds of beer to choose from) and second, it won't work even within the weird context of this film, because as we discover towards the end (major spoilers, sports fans) there is no Tyler Durden. No oddly interested male passers-by ever saw Tyler and Jack beating the crap out of each other in a diner parking lot and decided that would be fun, which is the essential seed that inevitably leads to Project: Mayhem.

What passers-by (oddly interested or not) actually saw was Jack beating the living crap out of himself. If we go on to presume that in this bizarrely surreal fictional reality, such a sight could galvanize the formation of a vast secret society of miserable, frustrated males seeking violent outlets for their pent up rage, still, it wouldn't be a Fight Club as the film presents it.

Such an organization would, rather, be a place where dozens of crazed, dick-bedecked idiots got together several times a week and beat their own heads against the walls, floors, and concrete support pillars. If the first and second rules of Fight Club are, indeed, that you do not talk about Fight Club, well, this may be the only rational aspect of the entire enterprise. Tell anyone you go hang out in a basement several times a week hitting yourself in the face over and over again, and you're liable to end up committed.

Moving on past that essential plot flaw, this movie still has a lot to it that I enjoy. But what I'm mostly writing about now is not what I enjoy about this movie, but is, rather, the appalled disbelief I still feel when I reflect that there are many people out there who take FIGHT CLUB, or, rather, the deranged crypto-Nietzschean philosophical bibble babble of Tyler Durden, Jack's psychotic split personality, seriously. Like, for example, this guy. Or the two people whose comments to a previous blog post I am refuting here.

Tyler's anti-consumerism, "fight the system" rantings form a strong subtext for the film, and admittedly, there are points where the toxic nonsense Tyler constantly spews seems to contain raw nuggets of actual wisdom. These are, usually, the bits where he's simply repackaging those same old hoary pop psychology cliches you can get by the barreful every afternoon from Oprah or Dr. Phil -- things like "We don't own our possessions, our possessions own us" and "Just LET GO". Yet context is all important, and even as we recognize some tiny twinkle of truth emitting from the TV speaker while Brad Pitt moves his lips in unison, it's important to place it against its correct backdrop. When Tyler screams "Just LET GO" to Jack, he is referring to the wheel of a car speeding through a rainstorm on a trafficked road with two utterly dependent thralls in the back seat -- and the immediate result of Jack "just LETting GO" is disaster, when the car smashes into another and both wrecks hurtle off the road, nearly killing everyone involved.

Similarly, when Tyler tells us that "Advertisements have us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need", it tastes like bitter truth to us. In point of fact, though, truth is merely an additive to that sentence, and most of it is deeply dumbass bullshit. Advertisements have no more power over us than we give them; I can watch a million car commercials a week and still not be budged from my lifelong notion that if I ever get to own the car I really want to own, it will be a Lambourghini. (I probably had that idea planted long ago in childhood by some fucking James Bond movie, but my point is, all the Toyota ads in the world aren't going to budge me off it.) But the most important bit of nonsense is that final phrase, "shit we don't need". Need is beside the point; what we mostly buy is shit that we want. Maybe movies and TV make us want things we really don't need, but if so, the problem is not with culture or society, but simply with our own fucked up inability to make meaningful choices in our life.

The kernel of truth in that Durdenism that resonates so well in all of us? It's the phrase "working jobs we hate". Nearly all of us find ourselves trapped within a reality largely defined by 'working' a 'job we hate'. And because we hear that and we enthusiastically agree with it, we tend to swallow the rest of it without further thought. But it's nonsense, and society, for all its flaws and inadequacies and admitted sicknesses and corruptions, is not to blame. If we're slaves to ads that force us to work jobs we hate so we can buy things we don't need -- and I reject nearly all of that statement categorically -- but even if it were true, you don't need to blow anything up to fix any of that. You just need to stop watching so much TV, and make better choices as regards how you spend your disposable income.

It shouldn't be hard for anyone watching Fight Club to figure out that you're not supposed to take the philosophy of Tyler Durden seriously, much less pattern your entire life around it. In the first place, the stuff is literally the product of a diseased mind, given that Tyler is, in fact, just a schizoid sub-persona of the movie's deeply disturbed protagonist/narrator. Fincher isn't exactly subtle in getting across the fact that Jack/Tyler is a profoundly emotionally unhealthy human being; from the start of the film, where Jack is infiltrating support groups to get an emotional release necessary for him to sleep, through to the end, where Jack finally cures his psychosis by shooting himself in the head (!), Jack, and therefore, Tyler, is never portrayed as being remotely sane or rational. Fincher sets Jack/Tyler's's entire existence in a rotting, moldering, abandoned hulk of a house in a near perfect externalization of the psychic decay going on inside Jack's head.

Beyond all that, any time anyone in the film tries to pragmatically apply any of Tyler's wisdom in any way, shape, or form, the results are immediate and disastrous. Every member of Project: Mayhem is a mindless, zombified tool, apparently finding 'freedom' through surrendering their volition to an imaginary person who tortures them with caustic chemicals. Tyler's followers rebel against conformity by pissing and ejaculating into prepared foods and conning dumbasses into spreading used motor oil on their lawns... until they graduate to actual criminal mischief, at which point, Bitch Titted Bob takes a bullet to the head and ends up buried in the garden.
So crazy are Tyler's lackeys that when 'Tyler' himself turns against them, they are fully prepared to cut their leader's nuts off in a police interrogation room.

Tyler is violently psychotic; his followers are even more so, plus, mindless and willfully stupid. That any rational person could find anything to venerate in the ravings of such oan obvious lunatic is a source of amazement to me... and yet, as my previous blog post clearly indicates, such people are out there.

Probably the clearest indicator of just how dangerously deranged Tyler's 'philosophy' is comes when Jack, infuriated and exasperated with how his entire life seems to have been hijacked by Tyler's mysterious machinations, vents his wrath during a Fight Club session on the face of an almost angelically good looking member of Project: Mayhem. Jack's viciousness is so pronounced even 'Tyler' is taken aback by it; after Jack finishes pounding his hapless victim's face into unrecognizable scrapple, 'Tyler' whispers to him in shocked disbelief "Where'd you go psycho, boy?"

Jack's response: "I wanted to destroy something beautiful".

Like the movie's other central image, the rendering of human fat down into designer soap, this particular sequence is the distillation of all Tyler's insane psychobabble down to its most essential element. Beyond the anti-IKEA rantings, the "you are not a beautiful snowflake" bullshit, the nonsensical ravings about "wearing leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life while climbing the inch-thick vines wrapped around the Sears Tower" and the endless self-pitying wail as regards the great depression that is contemporary men's lives and how we've been raised believing we are going to become movie stars and rock gods and we're slowly realizing it won't happen and we're really pissed off about it, there is only this -- "I wanted to destroy something beautiful".

Ultimately, this is the poisoned gift of Tyler Durden -- validation of the childish, empty, entirely anti-social impulse in every single one of us to vent our rage at a lifetime of serial disappointments by wrecking everything around us.

There is nothing sane for anyone sane to embrace in this movie. To the extent that this film has a bad guy, it is clearly Tyler Durden. Good looking, totally ripped, spectacular in the sack, irresistibly charismatic, and utterly toxic, Tyler offers nothing of positive value whatsoever. He's a complete psychic vacuum with a crowbar in one hand and a hand grenade in the other. He creates nothing to replace what he destroys, he offers no solutions beyond "blow it up! blow it all up!" He is cackling nihilism with no redeeming values whatsoever, and what is most attractive about him is that he says that it's okay to be that way.

Grown ups shouldn't have to be told that this is wrong; anyone who's mommas raised them even remotely right should understand implicitly that it's NOT okay to be that way. However blackly enticing Durden's imprecations are, ultimately, they lead only to self destruction on a grand scale. Few enough of Tyler's followers will live to see the reborn Paleolithic that seems to be their ultimate goal, and those few that do will find it a stunning disappointment. It's one thing to talk the talk about resetting everything to zero and starting over; it's quite another to have condemned yourself, your family, and your friends to existence in a world where very few people will be able to outlive their teeth.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Freedom isn't free

But comic books and HeroClix are.

Today, anyway.

If you're a nerd, a geek, a dork, or a simple fanboy/girl, River City is the place for you. While Free Comic Book Day limps haltingly in utter obscurity elsewhere in civilization, here in River City, it is a celebration on a par with Christmas or Cinco de Mayo. Celebrities pour in from all over the world to celebrate Free Comic Book Day here, mixed drinks and rich pastries are named after it, businesses close, fireworks are detonated by the ton, and parades are enacted in its observance. Cheerleaders cheer, baton twirlers twirl, public speakers speak, and a variety of C list used-to-be's get really really drunk and puke on streetcorners. Everywhere you go you see Free Comic Book Day banners, the newspapers and airwaves are chock full of notices of thousands of different Free Comic Book Day Celebrations.

I grant you, the municipality is a little confused; they spell 'Free Comic Book' in a way peculiar to the local provincial patois, which is to say, 'Kentucky Derby'. But, still, free comics and HeroClix are free comics and HeroClix, and River City has taken the geeks' holiday to its regional bosom with style and aplomb.

Having skated out to a few of the local geek shops today, I've come home with a small pile of free comics and several of the free Batman promo clix. A time may come when someone will want to trade me something for one of them, or, alternatively, I can feed one to some dog I don't like in the middle of a great big wad of raw hamburger.

Here's the haul to date --
* the Nexus' Greatest Hits sampler that Rude Dude is putting out to promote the new Nexus strip they have coming out soon. Always happy to see Nexus return, especially with Baron scripting and Rude drawing.

* Legion of Superheroes in the 31st Century, a comic obviously based on the TV cartoon, which I have yet to check out.

* a Free Comic Book Day edition of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #0, which I doubtless don't need, but what the hell.

* a Free Comic Book Day edition of that HOW TO DRAW feature from WIZARD that attracted so much flack from the Fangirl Furies a while back, with all the cheesecake shots that so enraged the Distaff Daemonites carefully omitted.

* something I'm sure is dreadful called LIBERTY COMICS, featuring something I'm equally sure is equally dreadful called Liberty Girl. However, as SuperWife noted upon perusing the cover, Liberty Girl at the very least has very small boobs for a superheroine, meaning that they are merely bounteous, shapely, and curvalicious by the standards of normal humanity, without being obscenely gijugular and ultrabosomesque, as is more normal amongst the spandex set.

* something with a cool Alex Ross cover that appears, on first, scant flip through, to be all about Hindu deities in the far flung future doing... something, I can't be sure what, and may never be, either. From the couple of pages I've read, the art is lovely and the script pretty appalling. You may never hear another word about it from me again.

* Marvel Adventures featuring Iron Man and the Hulk. Did they have Civil War in the more kid centered Marvel Adventures universe? I don't know. I'll probably find out, though.

* The Amazing Spider-Man. Well, we'll see how that goes.

Plus, a big heap of promotional Batman HeroClix, if, by 'big heap', you mean, after I got one and all three kids each got one, there's one left over. And whether or not that's what you mean by it, well, it's what I mean by it, so, yes, a big heap, indeed.

SuperWife and I continue to mend our respiratory ailments; the SuperKids are off to their bio-dad's for a week, Deadwood Season 2 is nearly done for in our DVD player, and a shortage of funds dictates no viewing of SPIDER-MAN 3 this weekend. I may well grill some burgers tonight, or, on the other hand, just eat leftover roast beef. It's the way of things. Our lives are made of these small hours... these little wonders... these twists and turns of fate.

Indeed. Indeed.

Friday, May 04, 2007


Over at WizKids' website, they have a much trafficked comment forum, and like many such private forums, there are rules as to what you can say and what you can't say there. WK enforces these rules using two tools -- a preprogrammed filter that will not allow people to post a certain specific list of forbidden words, and a team of moderators who scrutinize everything that does get past the filters, and who are empowered to take any of a variety of actions, ranging from editing objectionable words out of a post, to rewriting an objectionable post, to simply pulling the post in its entirety.

On a thread I started a week or so ago, I noticed some fellow had posted a response and within that response, there was a bracket, and within that bracket, there appeared the phrase 'edited for questionable content', followed by a particular moderator's signature.

I'm just like everybody else when it comes to censorship -- I'm absolutely against it when other people are doing it to me, and reluctantly admit that sometimes it is necessary when I'm doing it to other people. Having admitted that, though, I must also admit that, while I do see censorship on the Internet as being sometimes necessary, especially if one is a corporation catering to a customer base comprised of a broad age range, it is something I regard as very much a necessary evil, which should not be done casually or often or without good reason. My reasons for doing it on my own website are generally two fold -- either to prevent flames, or to shut down what I think of as "the morons' echo chamber", which is to say, that unfortunately not uncommon Internet event that occurs whenever someone anywhere on the Internet posts any viewpoint or opinion that is remotely controversial. What happens is, people who disagree with that point post their disagreement in the threads, which is fine as long as they do it in a civil fashion, and then the original writer addresses those points, after which successive commenters ignore the manner in which the original disagreements have been addressed and simply continue to reiterate the same idiotic points over and over again that have already been completely resolved.

This is aggravating, and I don't let it happen in my comment threads. You can disagree with me, and that's fine, and if you convince me I'm wrong, I'll admit it and apologize, and if you don't convince me, I'll respond to your points with my own, generally at length and completely and without taking you out of context. After this, though, if you, or others who agree with you, simply continue to post and repost and repost the very same moronic chants that I've already dealt with, well, I'm going to shut that down. If you don't have anything new to say, I won't let you clutter up my threads reiterating the same bullshit I've already dealt with.

So those are the conditions under which I will censor, and they're pretty clear. I do not edit other people's comments, either they come through as they were originally posted or they never appear at all. And I absolutely do not restrict what words or phrases people can use when they post to my threads. I don't give a fuck how vulgar or obscene you are; if you're putting forward a viable idea or adding something worthwhile to the ongoing discussion, you can drop the f bomb and shout 'cocksucker' and goddamn everything to hell at great and elaborate length.

WizKids, on the other hand, has no such clarity in their own censorship policies. There is a list of words you cannot use, but beyond that, their mods are charged with the mission "keep it clean for kids". And anything a mod thinks might not be 'clean for kids' can be edited out, rewritten, or pulled in its entirely.

So that's the background. I protested, not just on the grounds that censorship always pisses me off when someone besides me is doing it, but also on the basis that a moderator editing words out of someone's post, not because those words are 'objectionable' (meaning a clear violation of objectively interpreted Terms of Service) but because the moderator finds them to be 'questionable' (meaning, the person doing the censorship him or herself doesn't actually know if these words violate TOS or not, but, what the hell, they might, so let's censor just to be on the safe side).

And that's led to this big long discussion, of which I will present several excerpts below:

Exactly where do we draw the line when it comes to 'symbols used to express profanity'? Words are symbols used to express basic concepts, and words like 'heck', 'fudge', 'shoot', 'butt', etc, etc, etc, are surrogates for other, slightly different arrangements of letters that our history and society has deemed to be, for whatever arbitrary reasons, profane or obscene. General access media has long employed such circumlocutions (Milt Caniff once famously coined the phrase "Cheese n' crackers got all muddy!" as a stand in for a much more profane, very common linguistic usage of his time, in the TERRY AND THE PIRATES comic strip).

So, we can employ such shady dodges, always, of course, at the expense of actual verisimilitude of language, and, occasionally, at the expense of the precise, pungent, pithy meaning we truly wish to convey. But now I'm being made aware that while I can speak of kicking butt, darn someone to heck, accuse someone of being full of bullshoot, and advise that I think a certain dial designer has his head well up his asterisk more often than not -- I can employ all of these various verbal dodges -- but the age old 'Beetle Bailey' is right out?

Words are arbitrary strings of letters and/or sounds strung together that form meanings both subjective and objective. They are powerful things indeed. But it seems to me that the distinctions and gradations at least one, if not more, of the mods around here are insisting upon making are moving beyond even the realm of the ridiculous and absurd into the mind bogglingly surreal.

Here's what I'd like to see -- well written Terms of Service that allow little or no subjectivity on the part of moderators. Here's a very specific definition of what we allow. Here's a very specific definition of what we don't. Here's a list of words you can use, here's a list of words you cannot use. Our threads are for discussion of our products; you can discuss other topics if you want, but we do not allow personal attacks on each other, or discussions on subjects not suitable for all ages. And we define 'all ages' as being anything that could appear in a non-restricted, any age accessible Marvel or DC Comic.

There is nothing 'questionable' about these terms. Anyone can understand them; the particular target demographic that uses these boards will especially understand that anything you would need to put in a Vertigo title you can't put here.

I also think there should be considerably less leeway as to what mods can and can't do. Some mods pull entire posts, others go in and edit your words, cutting what they think is 'questionable' and even substituting other phrases they find more acceptable. This puts every person here in the position of basically taking pot luck -- you get one mod reading a thread one day in one particular mood, and your work is fine; get a different mod (or the same one in a less pleasant mood) and your post disappears entirely, get a third one and your post shows up in some heavily pasteurized, skim milk edition. Feh. If we have to have the heavy hand of the law upon us because some of us simply cannot behave as adults, fine, but let's have some regularity, at the very least.

As to my own preferences, I prefer to communicate to other people however I please (I would badly, badly like to add two words after 'however' because it would exactly convey how exasperated I am with this whole idiotic situation, but, of course, I cannot do that here, because such an invocation might conceivably offend some prudish twit's prudish twittering eyes, and we can't have that) and would rather my words weren't edited or censored at all. But if something I post is objectionable, well, I'd prefer to have my entire post pulled rather than have my identifier on something that someone who doesn't write as well as I do and doesn't have any idea what I was trying to say has gone in and helpfully rewritten for me.

And, once again -- if we can use words like 'heck' as a substitute for more pungent phrases, but we cannot use printer's symbols, well, that's just farging retarded.

This seemed reasonable enough to me, but, apparently, not to others, as it drew the following response (among others):

Why some people think that it is perfectly acceptable to say whatever they want, however they want, when and wherever they want is something I just don't understand.

To which I said:

'Some people' think that saying whatever they want, however they want, when and wherever they want is a natural right of all human beings.

For the very very little it's worth, I think that, certainly, every mature person has a responsibility to behave in a civil manner towards other people, and to take their feelings into consideration. However, I do not think 'not having your feelings hurt', or, to be more specific, 'not being offended', is a basic, natural, or universal human right. It can't be. There are far too many people who get their feelings hurt by the most ridiculously trivial things, or who become foolishly offended by nonsense. If such a right existed and any real attempt was made to enforce it, nobody could ever do anything or say anything, ever, at all.

This all gets very complex. But I do know this: People have an absolute right to express themselves. That right is more important than other people's feelings. It is very difficult to respect someone's right to free expression when they are using it in ways that directly offend and/or anger you, but that's no excuse for not doing so. The fact that someone has offended you does not mean they have harmed you. Being offended or angered is not the same as being injured. The fact that your feelings are hurt does not give you any right whatsoever to demand that others give up their right to freely express themselves around you. If you don't like what someone is saying, don't listen to or read it.

I am, honestly, sick to death of reading in threads like this that there is something badly wrong with my communication skills if I choose, or want to choose, to use profanity to express myself. David Milch is a better writer than anyone who uses this board is ever going to be, and every second word of dialogue on DEADWOOD is rank vulgarity and profanity, and DEADWOOD is one of the most beautifully expressive and fabulous dialogued pieces of fiction ever created. Profanity is a valid, legitimate form of written and verbal expression, and censorship sucks, and the fact that people have a 'right' to censor others in their own living rooms, or on their own websites, does not make it intrinsically correct behavior.

This is, obviously, an emotional issue. I've blocked and deleted comments I found offensive on my own website; obviously, I'm in no position to criticize anyone else for doing it here. But when I do it, I do it cautiously and thoughtfully and my grounds for doing so have nothing to do with HOW people express themselves and everything to do with specifically what they are saying. I would never tell someone that if they want to voice an opinion on something, they can use THESE words, but not THOSE words.

I believe I would be being disrespectful to someone in particular if I launched a personal attack against that person in particular. (I've been known to do that, but only in response to someone getting snarky with me first.) But if I want to use profanity to make it explicitly clear exactly how I feel about some object or action or concept or product, well, if that offends you, it is entirely your problem. I don't believe I should have to be told that I can't use a particular sequence of letters and or syllables simply because someone else out there feels that sequence of letters and syllables is troublesome or unacceptable or aggravating to their own sensibilities. Mature adults have an affirmative duty to be tolerant of other people's behavior when that behavior does not cause them harm, and, again -- behavior that offends you does not harm you, no matter how much you may want to believe otherwise.

I have and will continue to use comment moderation on my own weblog to keep comments from juvenile dipsticks that directly attack my friends or family from being posted. That is, to me, a legitimate use of moderation tools; I won't have my weblog being used as a platform for attacking people I care about. I've also used those tools in the past to keep commenters from simply repeating the same points over and over again, long after I've responded to those points in detail (said responses which are invariably ignored by those who continually recycle those same tired, long since invalidated arguments -- you have to read "Hal Jordan is a pedophile!" from a Kyle Rayner nut enough times and it gets really really old, especially after you've explained eighteen times already to eighteen other Kyle Rayner whackos in the same thread exactly why that isn't true and exactly what's deficient about the mentality of anyone seriously putting that argument forward). But, again, if I have to use censorship, I use it for very specific purposes -- weeding out flames, and keeping the morons' echo chamber under control. I do not make any attempt to pick and choose what words, or, for that matter, arbitrary symbols, anyone gets to use.

I think WK has a 'right' to censor the comments on their board. I think censorship is always a dangerous act, though, and I think any and all such acts of censorship should be undertaken with the utmost reluctance, very rarely, and only with extremely firm, very clear guidelines as to what will be censored and what will be left alone, and I think that anyone who has the power to censor should also take that power very very seriously, and accept along with it the responsibility to always, ALWAYS err on the side of the individual's natural right to freely express themselves.

Censorship, like government, law and order, the military, and every other aspect and manifestation of authority itself, may be a necessary evil -- I believe it is, given the general level of maturity and tolerance that exists in our culture and that is reflected by the Internet at this time. But in our culture, nearly all the time, we use that very specific phrase with the implicit emotional assumption that the word 'necessary' is the only important word there. It isn't. The word 'evil' is just as important. Necessary evils may be necessary, but they are also by definition evil, and as such, they should be implemented by just, right minded, well intentioned men and women as little as they possibly can be. And that's true in every context that censorship can occur in. There is no medium or context where communication between human beings takes place that is so trivial or mundane or minor or unimportant that infringing the basic human right to free expression is ever anything less than evil. Necessary, maybe... but evil, still.

Censorship should never be an easy, offhand, casual, reflexive or unthinking action. It should not be frequent, nor should it happen often, and it certainly should not be justified as blithely, as cavalierly, or as condescendingly as I have seen it rationalized at length on this board and in this thread.

All of which seems, again, reasonable and even wise to me. But, well, somebody else had this to say:

Please explain to me when it is appropriate to even use one of the substitute words in a phrase that conveys the same meaning? If you are using such a phrase it is generally to disrespect someone in some manner. It is questionable and objectionable to disrespect someone in that matter the words you use. Just because a filter catches a certain word doesn't necessarily mean that synonyms are appropriate replacements if the intent of the words is to disrespect someone in a flippant manner. Be courteous and respectful and that will be returned to you...besides, why would one stoop to the level of "cursing" in civil discourse?

To which I responded:

How about "I really gosh darn hate the gosh darn Alan Scott Vet from ORIGIN"? Am I disrespecting someone when I use a term that is a generally accepted substitute for something much more profane, to more precisely and emotionally express my feelings of deep disappointment in a little plastic sculpt and its defining dial? Who would I be further disrespecting if I were allowed to use that much more profane phrase, as I might well choose to? Avert your eyes, ladies, lest ye faint?

Honestly, this is nonsense. If I'm specifically attacking someone with my language, they are entitled to feel offended.

If, on the other hand, I am writing about a product, or the NAAT ruling, or the new policies as regards how many figures will be in a box and how their powers will be defined, and I want to spice my opinions liberally with various colorful phrases that are not in any way intended to be attacks on anyone, well, I simply don't think any reasonable person should be offended by that, and certainly, nobody has a 'right' to assume that their potential offense is more important than my freedom of expression. To err on the side of, as somebody else put it, "the right to be treated with the dignity and respect any human being deserves" is, in this context, quite flatly wrong. That 'right' is real, but it exists in the context of real wrongdoing and actual injury. Speech is not an assault and cannot harm you; all it can do is offend you. Your right to be treated with dignity and respect cannot infringe on my right to speak and write whatever I choose; otherwise, you are infringing MY right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Take that nonsense much further and you end up with something very like Islamic sharia law -- women cannot wear revealing clothing in public because it might potentially offend someone, no one can use certain phrases in their speech or their expressions because those phrases might offend someone (or, you know, Invisible Scoutmaster In The Sky), and the punishment for infractions is death by stoning, or, if you've a more Western bent, death by exposure in the public stocks with a big sign saying BLASPHEMER hung around your neck. Our culture long ago outgrew the murderous impulse to enforce conformity on everyone at the threat of humiliation, disfigurement, and death -- but the impulse still very much lives, as can be seen by the notion that someone's 'right to be treated with dignity' equates to a 'right' to stifle my free expression.

People who favor censorship never favor it for their own speech or their own expression. It's always on someone else that they like to see it done, someone whose ideas, or whose manner of expression, they themselves disapprove of, or find offensive.

What I am saying is that as reasonable, civil, mature human beings, we have an affirmative responsibility to be tolerant of speech and expression, EVEN WHEN IT OFFENDS US. Our recourse is to walk away from it, express our own responses to it , or engage it in further expression of our own and try to modify the behavior that way. But using force or violence to simply make the kind of speech that offends us never come into being in the first place is rarely justifiable, and, certainly, 'the right to be treated with the dignity and respect any human being deserves', when used as a rationalization for this kind of censorship, is exactly the sort of smug, casually condescending, arrogant justification of a perhaps necessary but always evil act that should never be taken so for granted... and should CERTAINLY never, ever be supported in this kind of onerous, egregiously specious manner.

I notice that those who disagree with me are being pretty careful which particular passages of my posts they pull to refute. I'd assume they don't much want to confront the notion that a necessary evil, as nearly everyone agrees censorship is, is not made any less evil by its necessity. But I suspect that's because those who openly advocate and support censorship do not see it as an evil. They rather see the idea of universal free speech to be an obnoxious encumberance on living in the sort of reality they most greatly desire -- one in which they can rise and sleep under a centrally and rigidly enforced blanket of conformity to every ideal and behavior they hold dear, where nothing will ever occur that angers or offends them, and where no exasperatingly different concepts, ideas, or behaviors will ever intrude to annoy them.

They just don't want to admit it out loud, because they know such openly admitted hatred of basic individual liberty is unpopular. (At the moment.)

Make no mistake -- even remotely tolerate the spurious notion that 'human dignity' means I or anyone else is not allowed to say 'frak' or 'shoot' or (for the love of gob) 'go play in traffic', and you're well beyond 'necessary' and way into 'evil'... and your notion of 'human dignity' is a peculiar one that seems to come with a collar and a leash on every neck, and No Child Left Behind, neither. You may not mind the collar and the leash as long as everyone else has to wear them, too, but it is, to say the least, unreasonable and unkind of you to volunteer the rest of us into restraints and harnesses simply because you yourself like the way they feel.

And, you know, it goes on and on and on, but we've pretty much reached the "morons' echo chamber" stage where all anyone is doing is repeating the same opinions, over and over again, while not convincing anyone who doesn't already agree with them of anything.

But, you know, it's something that makes the time go by when you're bored.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Plague tent

I've been sick since Saturday -- most likely, since Friday, when our weather momentarily dipped back down towards freezing and caught me walking out without a coat. But I didn't start showing symptoms until Saturday. Saturday night seemed the worst -- I was so full of snot I couldn't breathe well enough to sleep -- but Sunday I seemed to be on the mend enough that after skipping a showing of MEET THE ROBINSONS that SuperWife and the SuperKids all attended, I felt well enough to go with them to the Derby Chow Wagon downtown. It was kinda fun, but probably overtaxing. Monday saw me worsening again, even though I'd gone into work; whatever it was had spread from my head to my chest, and I was coughing up a lot of phlegm in addition to having blocked sinuses. So SuperWife got our doc to phone me over a prescription for a Z-pack (a week's dose of zithromyacin, SuperWife's favorite anodyne for infectious shit of all sorts).

Now I seem to be mending again -- still stuffy, still a slight cough, but obviously improving -- but she's come down with the same crap, at about triple intensity -- hacking, sniffling, wheezing in a way I really don't like one little bit, unable to sleep all last night, in obvious pain whenever she coughs one of those deep, racking coughs. So I'm home today taking care of her, and we're headed over to the doctor's this afternoon.

SuperWife is pretty miserable right now, which makes me feel crappy too as there is little I can do for her except try to make things as comfortable and convenient for her as I can. We're re-watching DEADWOOD (we're up to ep 5, Season 2) to pass the time until her appointment, and I'm trying to hold a good thought. (I can't help it; as an old time Stephen King fan, whenever I experience shit like this, I cannot help but wonder if this time it really is the superflu and the world isn't on the brink of global bacteriological apocalypse.)

Any of the rest of you with positive energy or well wishes to spare, we could use all you got handy.

UPDATE: One trip to the doctor later, we are cranked up with the SERIOUS meds. I'm not just talking your run of the mill, namby pamby, pussified prescription meds, I'm talking IV strength antibiotics, the megablast lungshit killing inhaler, and codeine laced cough syrup. SuperWife seems to be more comfortable and is, hopefully, on the mend. Her being more comfortable means I'm more comfortable, too, so, for now, I'm hopeful.

Thanks to Nate and Laurie for the kind thoughts and good wishes. I am, on that non-intellectual level most people use for religion, certain that they helped in some discernable way.

In other good news, Super Drama Teen started her very first job tonight, and seems to have enjoyed it and done well. Super Dependable Teen's potential romantic crisis seems to have, at least for the moment, blown over, and Super Adorable Kid got to go out for ice cream tonight with her aunt, cousin, and grandparents, so she's doin' fine, too.

Also, I bought myself a few Magic cards tonight and got me a Gauntlet of Power. Wh00t!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

If wishes were HeroClix, BUFFY would have its own set...

So, here's something I posted over at the WK site yesterday. Everyone over there is ignoring it, so I thought I'd give you pitiful few people who read this nonsense a chance to ignore it here as well:

You know there should be a set devoted to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. And I suppose it should be HorrorClix, but I would prefer it was HeroClix, for the good and simple reason that I don't play HorrorClix. Also, the general quality of the sculpts for HeroClix is much higher, and I'd prefer to see good sculpts on a BUFFY set.

I'm not going to go into specific dial designs, since I've never been clear on how to format a dial design in text. Obviously, the characters would be lower point cost than is normal for HeroClix... even Veteran Slayers would probably not cost out at much more than 100 points. (I suppose there are a few monsters and elder demons that might get expensive.)

I haven't quite figured out the new 'no REVs' policy. Buffy Summers herself, it seems to me, should definitely have a REV, a Unique (from the seventh season, with that magical axe/scythe thing in her hands, maybe) and a "Buffy Anne Summers" LE, most likely. I guess we could live without a REV of Willow (who only gets interesting once she's an accomplished witch, for the most part) and we could represent Xander with, say, an Experienced (before he got fat, when he was still vaguely competent) and maybe a Unique with the eye patch (and bulky upper torso garments). But a lot of characters from BUFFY seem to me to need REVs. Still, REV or no REV, I think a good BUFFY set should include the following figures:

(warning: only truly insanely fanatical BUFFY geeks will have a hope of grokking most, much less all, of these suggested figures)

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Unique (with axe) (Slayer TA)
2. Buffy Summers, E (from around the fourth season) (Slayer TA)
3. Willow V (Magic TA)
4. Xander E (no TA)
5. Willow U (Undead TA)(from alternate universe)
6. Xander U (Undead TA)(from alternate universe)
7. Oz (werewolf form) (Demon TA)
8. Anyanka U (Demon TA)
9. Gentlemen U
10. Faith E (Demon TA)
11. Faith U (Slayer TA)
12. Giles (Watcher TA)
13. The Master U (Undead TA)
14. Angel R (Demon TA)
15. Angel U (Undead TA? Slayer TA?)
16. Spike (Undead TA)
17. Dru (Undead TA)
18. Darla (Undead TA)
19. Kendra R (Slayer TA)
20. Nikki Wood V (Slayer TA)
21. Tara R (Magic TA)
22. Riley Finn E (Initiative TA) (Super Strength)
23. Glory U (Hellgod TA)
24. Mayor U (Big figure)
25. Harmony E (Undead TA)
26. Wesley R (Watcher TA)
27. Moloch the Corruptor U (Demon TA/Robot TA)
28. Marcie Ross R (Stealth)
29. Ethan Rayne E (Magic TA)
30. Jonathan U (Superstar TA)
31. Jonathan V (Trio TA)
32. Warren V (orb powered, Trio TA)
33. Ted U (Robot TA)
34. April U (Robot TA)
35. The Judge U (Demon TA)
36. Kindestod U (Demon TA)
37. Initiative Soldier E (Initiative TA)
38. Mr. Trick U (Undead TA)
39. Kakistos U (Demon TA)
40. Lyle Gorch U (Undead TA)
41. Gwendolyn Post U (w/Glove of Minos) (Watcher TA)
42. Zachary Kralik U (Undead TA)
43. Sunday U (Undead TA)
44. Veruca U (Werewolf form, Demon TA)
45. Giles U (Fyarl demon) (Demon TA)
46. Adam U (Initiative TA)
47. Olaf the Troll (no TA)
48. Caleb U
49. turlikan (the vampire that vampires fear) U (Undead TA)
50. Balthazar U (Demon TA)
51. Buffybot U (Robot TA)
52. Harbingers (minions of First Evil) V
53. Knight of Byzantium R
54. Knight of Byzantium E
55. Minion of Glory E (Demon TA)
56. Minion of Glory R (Demon TA)
57. Vampire Minion R (Undead TA)
58. Vampire Minion E (Undead TA)
59. Vampire Minion (Luke) V (Undead TA)
60. Sid the Dummy U


Jesse (Undead TA)
Principal Snyder
Jenny Calendar
Cain the Werewolf Hunter
Maggy Walsh (Initiative TA)
Joyce Summers
Dawn Summers
Cordelia Chase
Oz (human form)
Cheese Guy
Andrew (Trio TA)
Amy (rat) (Magic TA)

As to the TAs, I’d keep them simple – something like –

Slayer – Damage from figures with this TA cannot be reduced below 1 when they are fighting Undead. Slayers are considered to have Super Strength on every click. (This allows giving Slayers other Attack powers beside SS, which they should always have.)

Undead – Reduce all damage done by 1, except from Slayers. Undead are considered to have Super Strength on every click. (Same reasoning as Slayers.)

Demon – This TA adds 1 to all attack rolls against other TAs, and 1 to all damage done to other Demons. (Demons hate everybody, especially other Demons.)

Watcher – Members of this TA are considered to have Outwit on every click. (This allows Watchers to have Leadership, Perplex, and Probability Control without sacrificing Outwit.)

Magic – Members of this TA add 1 to any damage done by missile fire for any adjacent friendly character, and qualify for any Feat Card.

Robot – Reduce all damage done by 1, do not take pushing damage.

Trio – members of this TA have Probability Control when adjacent to each other. (Otherwise they’d never survive.)

Initiative – SHIELD TA

Hellgod – Before dealing damage to a Hellgod, roll 1d6 and reduce damage done by that amount.

Superstar - the Unique Jonathan may roll any dice for any purpose twice and choose which roll applies, and may make any attacks that target him reroll.

I know, I know, BUFFY is an owned property and apparently, there isn't any interest on the part of WK, or Joss Whedon, or whoever owns the rights to the franchise, to do a clix expansion. But I'd love to see one.