Thursday, September 27, 2007

Real World

Here's something I've been fascinated by for a few years now -- our planet doesn't actually look the way we think it looks. Which is to say, the standard Mercador projection maps/globes that represent 'the world' to pretty much all of us, due to our constant exposure to such from birth onwards... aren't correct.

The above two graphics are alternate projections of what the world looks like. The top shows a Gall-Peters projection of what the world actually looks like from orbit. The bottom shows an actual world map drawn with a method called the Hobo-Dyer Equal Area Projection. Both methods avoid the ancient Mercador mapping method's built in bias towards industrialized, non-Equatorial countries, and present a much more geographically accurate view of the planet we all live on.

It fascinates me to see stuff like this. I would love to get a projection of countries with their borders over the top graphic; a half hour search of the Internet doesn't turn anything like that up, though, so I'm forced to look from one to the other and interpolate. Still, even doing that, it seems obvious that the Sahara Desert (if, indeed, that's the Sahara Desert taking up the entire northern third of Africa and most of the Middle East) is actually larger than the entire United States. Africa itself is three times larger than North America. The Middle East is nearly half our size.

It also brings home just how geographically blighted much of the world is. The yellow regions I'm going to assume are deserts, or at least, very arid areas where little grows. A huge stretch of terrain that would, without intense high tech support, be almost completely uninhabitable seems to stretch from northwestern Africa through the edge of China, and included in that vast swath of Earth's surface are all of the Middle East, 12 countries in Northern Africa, and all of the 'stans. An area almost three times as large as the entire U.S. doesn't get enough yearly rainfall to grow a corn crop.

Of course, we have quite a few deserts within our own continental boundaries, but just look at all that lush growing area. Maybe we really could actually run all our cars on corn oil if we tried... presuming, of course, we all wanted to become vegetarians, as our enormous meat industry is entirely dependent on massive amounts of corn we grow specifically for use as livestock feed.

How lucky have we been, here in the United States? How appreciative have we been of our enormous geographic good fortune? How willing to share?

Of course, it's not like our ancestors just stumbled into ownership of a huge continent laden with some of the best land on the planet. Our forefathers worked hard to conquer America, and why shouldn't we, their descendents, feel entitled by that tough and hazardous labor on their part to slam the door in every other latecomer's faces? Our pioneer progenitors kicked ass from coast to coast so their kids could have easy lives betting on football games in office pools while the chick in the next cubicle bends over to show us her thong strap, and by God, if we don't want to share that culture of lazy decadence with a bunch of desert dwelling towelheads, nappy haired jungle bunnies or greasy browed banditos, who the fuck are they or anyone else to call us on it? Our great great grandparents didn't spend all that time distributing firewater and passing out smallpox laden blankets to the heathen goddam injuns just so their distant descendents could roll over and spread wide for a bunch of fucking foreigners who weren't lucky enough to be born in America. Screw that noise.

Still, it's very interesting to me, to see how comparatively tiny, say, all of Western Europe is, compared to us. Look at it! The whole fucking place is barely the size of Rhode Island. Look at how adorable the entire British Empire is. And cute little Portugal, tucked into Spain's tiny little western flank like that. Shit, I never even knew where Portugal was before I saw those maps.

Of course, Mexico is nearly as big as we are, Canada is even bigger, and Russia... or China... jesus christ, the nerve of those bastards, they're WAY bigger than the good ol' U.S. of A. Fuckers. I say we bomb the shit out of them. Cut 'em down to size. By God. And Africa, too. That fucking continent is WAY too goddam big for its britches.

Wait a minute. Maybe there's a cheaper solution...

Okay. Now I feel better.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

May I have 10,000 marbles, please?

So, today has been mostly spent filling our garbage cans with snot-soaked tissues and paper towels. It's nearly as much fun as it sounds.

I've been pretty much round and firm and fully packed with snot for the last couple of weeks. Every few days it seems like my head clears a little for a while, and I keep hoping that whatever this is (probably a seasonal spike in my allergic responses) has peaked, and I'm moving past it, and then, suddenly, it will come roaring back and blindside me yet again. It makes it hard to sleep. So bear in mind, I'm probably groggy as I type this.

After several days of spectacularly gorgeous weather -- clear and sunny, no humidity to speak of, temps in the mid 70s -- we're heading back up near 90 again, and I hates it, I hates it forever. 'Near 90' is practically a killing frost compared to the hammerin' hundreds, with accompanying high humidity, that we somehow dragged our asses through from one end of August to the other, and I should probably be grateful for the respite that September has irrefutably wrought, but I say fuck all that, give me my goddam 70s back again, and do it NOW.

Mind you, I'm strictly talking about outside temperatures. The 1970s was a decade of general, overall torment and misery for me, other than the last four months of which (September to December) when I was a freshman at college and reasonably happy for the first time ever. Of course, at the time I had no idea I was happy; in fact, I'm pretty sure I thought I was miserable, but that's just how it rolls when you're 17 years old, I guess. Youth, as some grumpy bald guy once noted in disgust, is wasted on the wrong people. I could handle it much better if somebody gave me another crack at it now, I'm thinking.

I'm up for a call center job -- went downtown yesterday and somehow managed to pass an utter bitch of a qualifying exam. However, the final selections from all those who qualified have yet to be made; I should hear about that on Thursday. If I get tagged for it, I go in Friday for an orientation session and start actual, official work (paid training) on Monday.

The job will have its upsides -- it's downtown, which is much easier to get to than the industrial park way out in west River City where most call centers are around here. And, obviously, with the global economy tanking and my Unemployment slowly trickling out like the sands in an hourglass, getting some kind of paying gig has to be seen as a positive. On the other hand, the prospect of returning to any call center gig is pretty despair-inducing when I dwell on it. And, annoyingly, my take home from this particular job (which like all call center jobs will necessarily be excruciating) will end up being around 15% less than I'm currently making doing a whole lot of nothing. But of course the dole won't last forever, or, really, much past Thanksgiving, if I'm figuring the timing correctly. So, best to hope for a positive phone call tomorrow. Be with me now.

In good news, such as it is, Astonishing Adventures has accepted two more stories from me, tentatively scheduled for their second and third issues, unless, as the one editor I hear most from puts it, they don't get much material for the second issue, in which case, they're run them both there.

It's always nice to have people like my work; on the other hand, it's never hard for me to get a story accepted in any venue that pays nothing. Like OCP Vice President Dick Jones, I say good business is where you find it... but it's hard to call something 'good business' when there's no money involved. That seems to sum up the level of my writing talent, though -- anyone is happy to publish me if it doesn't cost them anything.

The two stories are called A DISH BEST SERVED COLD and DOC NEBULA AND THE GREAT MAGNETIC TRAIN CAPER. The latter from a suggestion by Tony Collett, so a big Hong Kong Cavalier salute to Tony the C, or, as he will be known on this site from now on, John 12 Pound Pizza.

The first story is pretty much classic pulp, featuring a larger than life adventurer named John Commander locked in mortal combat with his arch nemesis, the White Pharaoh. The second is what I call 'cyberpulp', an attempt to write something in classic pulp style that is set in the near future rather than the historic past. Its hero, Doc Nebula, along with his computerized sidekick/partner Jasmine, is waging economic war against the world's wealthy, ruling elite.

I make no claims for the excellence of either story, but I find I like writing 'pulp' a great deal, and only wish I could get paid for it, because it's really easy, and a lot of fun, too.

I'm not posting either story anywhere, mostly to encourage any of you deranged enough to care to go to the Astonishing Adventures site and download the issues when they become available. It's a free download, and all us contributors are doing everything we can to ramp up the mag's circulation.

I had an Unemployment eligibility review last week, and managed to get by it unscathed. So between that, and passing this unbelievable bitch of a test yesterday, and getting three stories accepted by Astonishing Adventures, I seem to be on a little roll lately. And, of course, I need only look around this apartment, or think for a moment upon SuperWife and the SuperKids, to realize that I am, in fact, on the longest and most uninterrupted lucky streak of my entire life. I guess congested sinuses are a small price to pay.

SuperWife's birthday is this Friday. I'm not suggesting any course of action. I'm just sayin', is all.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Emerging from Potterland

Putting it to rest --

So I finished the first Harry Potter book. As I'd previously mentioned, once Harry got to the atrociously named Hogwarts Academy -- hell, once he was even on the train -- the book's narrative got much more interesting. I won't say it ever managed to hurtle the twin bars of being either (a) actually well written or (b) truly enjoyable, but still, there was a lot of stuff going on to keep a reader intrigued (kind of like pretty fireworks will always hold the attention of any primate in line of sight), and the sudden advent of a great many characters who weren't those odious Dursleys was like abruptly toppling into a pool of cool clear water after a week crawling through a gigantic, half full box of powdered laundry soap.

I got all the way to the end, and somewhere around the last page, I felt a brief but nearly overwhelming impulse to continue on reading the damned series. But Rowland continued her narrative past whatever sentence or paragraph it was that had nearly hooked me, allowing me to recall just how appallingly packed from end to end, side to side, and top to bottom the first installment had been with utter, mindboggling stupidity -- ineptly coined names like 'Hogwarts' and 'Dumbledore', a magical message system entirely dependent on goddam birds, fucking flying BROOMS for the love of Christ, pointy hats and dumbass robes and holy jesus everybody has a magic WAND have you lost your fucking MIND and every other utterly moronically contrived feature of the goddam 'wizarding world' that there is no explanation offered for because, you know, there is simply no possible explanation for any of this horseshit at all except "J.K. Rowland thought it was a cool idea at the time" (and she was SOOOO UNBELIEVABLY WRONG, if being wrong was a crime, she'd be in maximum security solitary confinement for not only the rest of her life, but for as long as anyone who has ever read her books remained alive, as well), and, oh my GOD, the insane, deranged, completely brain bending stupidity that is Quidditch -- I mean, are you KIDDING ME? How many people would fall off their (goddam idiotic fucking retarded) flying broomsticks and DIE in every single Quidditch match if anyone ever really tried to do something like this? Are you FUCKING KIDDING ME???

And I still can't get over Hagrid's rather matter of fact explanation as to why the existence of the entire 'wizarding world' is kept secret from the Muggles -- because otherwise, Muggles would expect magical solutions to all their problems. Which is pretty much like saying, if 10% of the population had access to advanced technology that could cure all disease, end all war, and otherwise eliminate all material want, that technology should be kept secret from the other 90% of humanity, because, you know, otherwise they'd want that technology used for their benefit, too.

All of that came rushing back, right around the time Harry was vowing to use his new magical powers to make Dudley miserable all summer. And I decided I didn't really need to read any more, after all.

One further note -- it's extremely difficult for me to accept that anyone as beloved of the entire 'wizarding world' as Harry Potter is, would be allowed to be raised in an environment as emotionally abusive as the Dursley home. I mean, you're wizards, you can do all this amazing shit (with BROOMS! and MAGIC WANDS! arrrrrggggghhhhhh) you love this kid beyond all sanity or reason, Voldemort has apparently died or gone into hiding somewhere, and you have no respect whatsoever for Muggle laws or Muggle customs -- and yet, you let the Dursleys treat Harry like dogshit for ten years? (Yeah, I'm talking to YOU, Dumbledore -- hang your head in shame, cocksucker).

Difficult though it is for me to accept that state of events, however, it is absolutely impossible for me to believe that Harry could have come out of that formative experience with anything like the personality Rowling describes him as having. This kid has spent his entire life up through the age of 11 without the slightest shred of affection or approval, being locked up in closets, beaten up, slapped around, berated, humiliated, degraded, and neglected, the last of which is the best he can ever hope for. This poor little bastard has lived in hell every minute of every day for the first ten years of his life, and you're telling me that a gigantic hairy guy with a magic umbrella shows up one day, and suddenly, Harry becomes this sweet lovable affectionate noble courageous heroic emotionally well balanced and mentally healthy kid?

There's no fucking way. Realistically, the first book in this series should have been titled Harry Potter, Very Nearly A Serial Killer; swear to God, this poor little prick would have been torturing every cat he could get his hands on since he was six years old. Give Harry Potter, Boy Sociopath a magic wand and show him how to use it, and as soon as he gets a chance, he's going to be walking around downtown London blasting random passersby into cinders and giggling hysterically while he does it.

AFTER he turns the entire Dursley family into Monterey Jack and runs them through a gigantic magical cheese slicer, I mean.

Anyway. Maybe the series does get better, at some point, but it's going to have to do it without me. I'm done.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The Haps, as they hit me --

* * * SuperWife woke up with one of her bad migraines this morning; the kind that make her see bright flashy floaties everywhere and cause her to be dizzy and nauseated. Despite my urging otherwise, she insists she has to go to work today, because should she shirk, democracy falls, or something. (I don't meant that to sound as snarky as it came out. I am fully aware that at her job, SuperWife is nearly as indispensible to her employers and co-workers as she is to me and the SuperKids all the time, and on days when she does stay home, virtually everything at her office comes crunching and thudding to a wheezing, steam leaking halt. I'm just very frustrated that I can't do more for her than put some Ibuprofin in a baggie for her.)

* * * It is officially autumn in River City, regardless of what the calendar says. I know this because temperatures have dropped precipitously from their blazing August apexes well north of 100 degrees, to relatively arctic daily highs in the mid 80s. Tomorrow our high is supposed to be 77!!! Woo and hoo!

Also, the Castle Anthrax living room is officially decorated for autumn, mostly meaning our mantle and entertainment center are draped in fallish type swag and knick knacks, and one bookshelf has a huge home made cornucopia on it that SuperWife expertly crafted yesterday, and which I nearly ruined with my own incessant clumsiness.

As we get closer to Halloween our scary decorations will come out and go up on the front porch. After Halloween, they go back into storage again, and the stuffed turkey I got SuperWife for her birthday last year will briefly reign on the entertainment center, until Black Friday rolls around and a freighter full of Christmas decorations explode upon the scene, sending that poor turkey scurrying for cover. (We try to start getting Christmas decorations up as early as possible, because as an adult I have come to believe that the Christmas season is much too short even at the best of times, and I want every single second of Christmas that I can squeeze out.)

* * * My chores list for the day presently runs something like this --

* Drag the garbage cans back from the alley. We completely forgot to take them out Sunday night. Luckily, one of our co-habitants of this large subdivided former one family house picked up our slack, dragging them out early Monday morning right before the trash hauling people showed up. We can't miss a trash day; with five people living in this apartment alone, and three more in the other three apartments, we cram our three garbage bins out back to full and overflowing in any average seven day period, and you don't even want to see how overloaded those cans are Christmas week.

Anyway, the way it works here (the result of an always unspoken social contract hammered out over the last year or so by a sort of blind, intransigent intra-neighbor kabuki I find otherwise indescribable) is, if we don't take the cans out to the alley on Sunday night, we have to bring them in Monday morning. Except I forgot all about it all day yesterday (yesterday I did floor maintenance on the apartment, which took up much of my free time) so I have to get it done today.

At least it's supposed to be relatively cool today.

* Do the dishes. This was a much bigger entry on the chores list yesterday. Every once in a while SuperWife does a meal that ends up dirtying nearly every pot, pan, plate, piece of silverware, cup, glass, and ceramic or plastic bowl in the house, and we had one of those (breakfast for dinner) Sunday night. One full load of dishes was left in the sink and strewn across the counter while another was running after dinner, so I batted clean up on that yesterday. Last night was sloppy joes, and most of those dishes fit into the dishwasher, but I have the big giganto-pan (last year's Christmas present from me to SuperWife, perhaps the most successful and well used Christmas present I have ever given anyone) to clean by hand, and a few plates and glasses to reload the dishwasher with, after unloading it. Yay.
* Clean the bathrooms. Floor maintenance yesterday involved sweeping the entire apartment and mopping the sections with linoleum -- kitchen, bathroom, Hall of Heroes (the hall outside the bathroom connecting the kitchen and bathroom to the rest of the house that currently holds two bookshelves full of comics and a lot of HeroClix, among other things). Today, I get to scrub down both bathrooms. Yay.

* As time permits, do some calculations to finalize SuperDependable Teen's latest character sheet for my roleplaying campaign. She never gets to play, because it's impossible to roleplay when SuperAdorable Kid is in the house (she simply can't and won't be ignored for five or six hours at a stretch), so we have to do it when the kids are over at the Bio-Dad's, which means, of course, that SuperDependable Teen isn't here. But she wants to play, so she wanted to set up a character, so I humored her. I wish I could figure out a way to make things work out better for her. It’s a nice character, and the very small party currently playing could certainly use the reinforcements, but finding a way to include her in our gaming sessions has, to date, utterly baffled my entirely non-genius mind.

And probably two or three more things that will eventuate during the day.

* * * Let me take a moment to note I was pleasantly startled by the SuperKids' Bio-dad when we dropped them off for the weekend Saturday morning. Usually he just ignores me if it's at all possible (with contemptuous hostility radiating off him like microwaves from a cell phone tower), and responds to me in monosyllabic grunts if we absolutely have to interact. This Saturday, he insisted I come inside (I usually don't on Saturdays, as it's only a weekend visit, the kids don't have big heavy luggage for me to help them get into the house) and then offered to burn me a disc with any of the games he has on his laptop, if I saw something I liked. It was a very nice, if shocking, change in his general behavior towards me, and while I am baffled by it, still, I appreciate it.

* * * After nursing the trade along through three weeks of intermittent forum outages and inexplicable postal delays, I finally got a package in the mail yesterday containing my Cap and Bucky Super Rare. It also held a Wasp Super Rare and a Union Jack, among the last pieces I'm looking for from the AVENGERS HeroClix set. I am utterly delighted to own the Cap and Bucky piece, although, again, it looks unlikely I will ever get to actually play a game with it. Still, it's nice to have it. The trade cost me my Ultimates Hulk Super Rare from the same set, but that's a price I'm more than willing to pay.

I now only need the Super Rare Hawkeye and Super Rare Quicksilver to complete the AVENGERS... not that I have anything like a full set, but those are the last two pieces I really want from the expansion.

The completist in me would also like to get a full set of Ultimates, too, since I'm now very close to one... although, admittedly, my idea of a 'full set' probably isn't the same as another collector's might be. What I want is the best possible representation of each Ultimates character (by which I mean, characters with the actual Ultimates TA on their bases) that has a clix figure. With a common Ultimates Iron Man coming out in AVENGERS (of which I now have about half a dozen)

-- breaking in for a moment to note that emptying both garbage cans has been added to today’s chores tally. However, I’ve brought in the trash cans from the alley and just finished unloading and reloading the dishwasher – there were so few dishes, the giganto-pan actually fit inside it. So that’s all done, and I’m going to go knock off cleaning both bathroom and then come back and dig into finishing this blog post, and maybe doing one for the poli-blog, too. No promises.

…okay. With the very common Ultimates Iron Man piece from AVENGERS coming out, it seemed like I might have a decent chance of getting a ‘complete’ set by my standards, lacking only Ultimates Thor, who is still one of the toughest to get, most collectible pieces in HeroClix. I had an Ultimates Hulk (the original figure, from the ULTIMATES expansion) then sold it for rent money, but pulled one of the new Ultimates Hulk Super Rares from an AVENGERS booster. So I figured what the hell, might as well try to get them all, and over the next couple of weeks, managed to get Ultimates Captain Britain and Ultimates Quicksilver included in a couple of trades. I pulled the new Ultimates Scarlet Witch (and already had the original version, again, from the ULTIMATES expansion), an Iron Widow, an Ultimates Wasp, and the new, truly wretched looking WWII version of the Ultimates Captain America. Along with the original Veteran Ultimates Cap, Veteran Ultimates Hawkeye, Ultimates Giant-Man, and Natasha Romanova LE, I had ‘em all, except for Ultimates Thor.

But, now I’ve traded away yet another version of the Ultimates Hulk. And, honestly, I hate the Ultimates, so I shouldn’t care at all. It’s just the OCD (Obsessive Collector’s Disorder) rearing its maniacal, gimlet eyed head.

The release of the latest HeroClix expansion, JUSTICE LEAGUE, snuck up on me, although when I check old posts on various blogs, it would seem that it’s actually overdue, as it was originally announced for August. Whatever the case, it apparently came out last Wednesday. Nate wanted to check out a local geek shop looking for specific Magic cards Thursday, and I saw the boosters on the shelves and had to pick some up, along with some AVENGERS.

The AVENGERS pull immediately near paid for itself when I scored The Colonel, a Super Rare Ultimates villain who doesn’t have the Team Ability, so I don’t need him for my Ultimates set, and whom I otherwise couldn’t care less about. So I sold him back to the shop for cash.

The JUSTICE LEAGUE pull got me a Big Barda & Mr. Miracle Super Rare duo figure, which is cool looking but apparently from an Imaginary Story I will probably never read. So I’ve traded that for a Kingdom Come Hawkman and one of the new Firelord figures from the recent Galactus event and a few other things. Since then, I’ve also managed to pull a Guy Gardner Super Rare, which is okay, because he’s a Green Lantern and I’d like a complete set of Green Lanterns, but otherwise, I wouldn’t care about, because, you know, he’s Guy Gardner and Guy Gardner sucks.

Probably my favorite thing I’ve pulled from a JUSTICE LEAGUE booster to date is Bouncing Boy. He’s only a common and if I buy more boosters I’ll probably end up with twenty of him, but right now I only have the one and I’m just delighted with the piece. The sculpt looks fabulous, his dial is reasonably well designed, and while his special power should have more ‘oomph’ to it (it only lets him bounce into another opponent on a critical hit or if he rolls doubles, when he should do it with every attack), still, Seth at least got the basic idea correct.

I keep pulling Batman. In fact, so far, JUSTICE LEAGUE looks like the booster contents could best be described as ‘four randomly chosen figures plus Batman’. I mean, this is a pretty good Batman – his special power, “Out of the Shadows”, which lets him basically move sneakily from one piece of hindering terrain to another without opponents noticing, is one of the coolest powers Seth has come up with yet, nearly making up for the lack of Incapacitate on the front of his dial – but I don’t need seventy three of him.

Other than many Batmen and Bouncing Boy, I’ve mostly shown the remarkable ability to pull a great many figures I couldn’t care less about, like Bulleteer and Zauriel and Plastic Man and the female Dr. Light and Emperor Joker and Batzarro, while giving a clean miss to the stuff I’d really love to get, like the new Flash, and the new Zatanna, and the various Flash Rogues, and Batman and Robin, and Dream Girl, and Chronos, and Hector Hammond, and Black Hand, and Hourman, and like that.

I have managed to pull the new Parasite, who looks useful, as well as Granny Goodness and Mento and the Golden Age Vigilante. The last of which I’m not thrilled with as he’s pretty much useless, and as far as I know there are no other Golden Age Seven Soldiers of Victory figures to place him with. On the other hand, it’s pretty cool that WK would give such a hoser character his own figure, and I admit, the sculpt looks pretty good. And Golden Age Vigilante stories were a pretty constant part of my adolescent comics reading experience, although it's not like I sought them out, or anything.

I’m glad to get Mento as it puts me a step closer to a complete Silver Age Doom Patrol. Here’s hoping that when Negative Man finally comes out, they don’t put him on a flight stand. I simply have no idea what to do with a Negative Woman whose shadow self can taxi other figures. It’s just insane. And, having said that, here’s also hoping that when and if we finally get the Chief, he’s a full figure, not just a pog.

Oh, and I got a Professor Ivo, too. He's really ugly.

Okay, I really need to go clean the bathrooms now. So talk quietly amongst yourself or something.

* * * Okay, I’m back, to note in closing that I have a good solid lead on a local call center gig that I’m hoping fervently turns into something. It’s odd to find myself in a position where I’m hoping fervently to go to work at a call center again, but, well, with the next Great Depression looming, I think it would be a great thing to be employed again before it hits.

I don’t think Dick Cheney minds the idea of another global Great Depression at all. Depressions are fabulous times to be rich, even more so than the rest of the time, because in a Depression, nearly everyone else is so wretchedly poor that they’ll do absolutely anything for a mug of soup and a cot to sleep on. People like Dick Cheney really enjoy that. Which may very well be a major contributing factor to the economic and financial cataclysm that is about to overtake the entire planet.

What, you waded through all the incredibly boring HeroClix nonsense just for that? Well, I will happily refund your money, but first you would have to pay me something for doing all this nonsense, and I don’t foresee that happening any time soon.

Now I’m going to clean the bathrooms for real.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Trudging through Potterland

I'm hewing my way through the first Harry Potter book. It's not by any means anything I'd call a pleasure, although I had vague hopes it would prove otherwise.

I'm reading the goddam thing dutifully, out of a sense of long overdue moral obligation. As a man who has despised everything about Harry Potter since the first book was published, entirely by osmosis, I finally decided I might as well actually read one of the fucking things, to see if my entirely negative opinion of all things Potter is in any way justified by the source material itself.

Now, as I said, I was at least faintly hoping to be pleasantly surprised. And unfortunately, I haven't been... at least, not yet. I will say this, though... Reading the book out of a sense of ethical obligation is strangely appropriate to the text itself, because it seems to me that it was written in much the same manner. Which is to say, at least in this first book in the series, J.K. Rowling writes as if she's cleaining a toilet. It's a nasty and unpleasant job, and she'd rather be doing any number of other things, but by God, that toilet needs to be cleaned, so she's going to do it.

Rowling shows no flair or talent for words in this novel at all. Nor does she seem to have a particularly fine or sophisticated grasp of story structure, plot, characterization, or exposition. Her dialogue frankly sucks, her writing style, such as it is, contains nowhere within it so much as a subatomic particle of grace or wit, and she badly, badly needs someone with authority, somewhere, to bar her from ever, ever, EVER inventing another world-specific proper noun again.

None of her world specific name coinages work well. Every once in a while she comes up with something that sounds more or less adequate to the job she sets it -- Slytherin, for example, isn't a terrible name for group of kids who are all destined to one day be evil sorcerers, although, in all honesty, if every sorcerer who eventually goes bad is always a Slytherin, why not start, like, teaching all the Slytherin kids crappy magic? But even here there's nothing even remotely subtle; you hear the phrase 'Slytherin' and if it doesn't strike you that there's something vaguely sinister there, then you were most likely shocked to be told that that guy Grimas Wormtongue was a bad 'un, too.

Voldemort isn't a terrible name for a villain, either. It ain't great. But it works okay.

Yet, for every made up phrase or proper noun she comes up with that kinda-sorta works okay, albeit in a halting, stumbling, haphazard fashion, there are eighteen more that are just retarded. Gringrott's? Who the fuck is going to bank at a place that sounds like a toe fungus? Hufflepuff? C'mon, she stole this from the Three Little Pigs. How is this supposed to be cool? Hogwarts? Seriously, you want me to go to school at a place called Hogwarts? It sounds like something that's resistant to penicillin. Knuts? Knuts? Do I even have to describe how fucking brain damaged I'd have to be before I ever let myself refer to a bunch of coins in my pocket, even to myself, as Knuts? Fuck all that.

Probably the worst name Rowland ever came up with, though, is one that's all through this franchise -- not quite as common as Hogwarts (a phrase which, honest to jebus, makes me wince every time I hear or read it), but one that's pretty well traveled nonetheless -- Dumbledore. I mean, what? The wisest of the wise, everybody's magical mentor, the Gandalf, the Obi Wan Kenobi, the Professor X of the entire Harry Potter universe... and he sounds like he flaps his gigantic ears to fly. Seriously, what the fuck was Rowland thinking?

Now, I knew she came up with crappy, stupid sounding names and phrases before I ever picked up the book; I got all that just from living in a world packed to the rafters with insane, drooling Harry Potter fans. I guess I was just hoping that, once I saw these dumbass phrases in their original context, they'd seem better, somehow.

Well, so much for that.

Here's the thing, though. I know it's extremely picky of me, but, well, even within a fantasy context, I still like my fictional worlds to make some kind of sense. Now, I understand what Rowland is trying to do here... she wants to create a world that is very similar to ours, but in which various fantasy elements (like magic, and magic users, and magical creatures) also exist. Rather than integrate these fantasy elements into our more mundane reality, which would create an entirely different sort of culture and society and world for everyone to live in, she wants to keep this all separate... so she can have the real world we all live in and are familiar with, but, at the same time, have all these fabulous fantasy elements that only a select few actually know about and interact with.

It's a great gimmick. Probably the most appealing thing about the books is this distinction between Muggles and Magical Folk, especially since it's pretty much designed to make any loyal Harry Potter fan feel superior to anyone not initiated into the inner mysteries... a Muggle, as it were.

As an aside, one reason I've always largely loathed Harry Potter is an unpleasant experience I had back in 1999 -- I think -- with a fellow temporary employee I was forced to interact with during a brief clerical assignment at an insurance office in Tampa. This fellow saw me reading something geekish -- I couldn't tell you what it was now -- on a break and decided to befriend me. However, upon learning that I'd never read a Harry Potter book, and had no desire to borrow any of his so I could remedy this grievous character flaw, he began to berate me by saying "Well, you're just a Muggle. Huh haw, huh haw! You don't know what that means, but that's because you're a Muggle! Huh haw, huh haw! You're a Muggle!"

Actually, I did know what the phrase 'Muggle' meant, because I'd read about the Harry Potter phenemenon by that time, and the word had been prominently mentioned in the articles I'd read. But I didn't bother to argue with him, I merely tried to ignore him as best I could for the remainder of the time I had to work with him... which wasn't easy, because he liked his own 'joke' so much that he compulsively repeated it, along with braying spasms of near hysterical laughter, every time he saw me after that. I think it was probably one of the deepest disappointments of this fellow's life to that time, that he couldn't get anyone else working the assignment to start calling me "Muggle", too.

Now, I'm very familiar with the phenomena of spurious elitism. It's a malady many of my geekish brethren fall victim to, and it's understandable. Many geeks are outcasts and rejects, living on the fringes of normal society because they are conventionally unattractive, or sometimes simply so gauche and otherwise socially clueless as to be intolerable to anyone who isn't also an outcast. For such people, the chance to be an expert in anything has a powerful draw, and the more obscure their area of expertise is, the more superior to non-experts they feel. I've had similar experiences to the one I described above with fellow geeks whose 'expertise' lay in other fringe areas... Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, superhero comics in general, the occult... any time someone has learned a lot of trivia about something that most people just don't give a shit about, there's a danger they will become insufferably arrogant about it... as if the fact that they can (mis)quote reams of Monty Python or Dr. Who dialogue for hours on end somehow makes them superior to people who have actually had real sexual intercourse with partners who were living, conscious, willing, and human, all at the same time.

Chronic to geekdom though this condition may be, I will say this -- I have never seen a subgrouping of geeks more prone to spurious elitism than Harry Potter fans. They all seem to have embraced the concept of being a "non-Muggle" with the avidity of a Templar snatching up the One True Holy Grail, and while it is certainly correct that few Harry Potter fans I have known have been remotely as rude about the whole Muggle thing as the guy I mention above, nonetheless, it seems to me that nearly all devoted fans of Harry cherish, in their heart of hearts, the notion that they themselves are certainly intrinsically and undeniably superior to mere Muggles.

Which brings us back to my affection for fantasy worlds that make actual internal sense: Here's something about Harry Potter's reality I do not understand -- why is the 'wizarding world' (yet another truly horrible phrase coinage) kept secret from the Muggles?

When Harry asks this question of Hagrid in the volume I'm reading, he is told that if Muggles knew about magic, they would expect magical solutions to all their problems. The implication is, providing magical solutions to Muggle problems is bad, and therefore, the very existence of magic and magic users must be kept secret from these tiresomely needy Muggles. Otherwise, one supposes, wizards and witches would be kept busy feeding the hungry, curing cancer, disarming nuclear weapons, coming up with cheap power sources, fixing global warming, ending wars, and all that crazy bullshit, and wouldn't have any time to sit around in magical pubs drinking magical ale and sending each other magical mash notes via magical owls.

Obviously, this explanation troubles me. This is very much like saying that people who don't know how to blow glass aren't allowed to have incandescent bulbs in their homes, and if you can't construct a central processing unit from copper wire and cadmium chips, you have no right to access the Internet. Magic, like applied engineering and basic scientific knowledge, is a field of human knowledge whose primary purpose is problem solving (or it would be if it actually existed). You shouldn't need to be able to cast a spell to benefit from the existence of working, functional sorcery, any more than you should need to be able to wire your house before you enjoy the benefits of electricity.

Now, I'm only 3/4s of a the way through the first book, and I don't even know if I'm going to finish this one, much less essay another, so it's very possible that at some point someone smarter than Hagrid may provide Harry with a much more intelligent reason why 'the wizarding world' keeps its existence entirely secret from all the Muggles.

Still, I doubt it. I think the reason is exactly as presented -- wizards are a bunch of stuck up, preening pricks who don't want to be bothered using their magical powers to help improve the existence of a bunch of worthless stupid good for nothing Muggles. Not that fans of the franchise will object to that, since it seems to be pretty much how they feel about Muggles, too.

Now, having said all this, I don't think there's much of anything wrong with the Harry Potter franchise that couldn't be cured by someone with actual writing talent. Neil Gaiman would probably write a terrific Harry Potter novel. I just don't think J.K. Rowling has managed it yet... or, at least, she didn't with the first one, which is likely all I'm going to read.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Dumb and dumber

The worst superhero comics that have ever been written appeared in the mid 1960s. They were published by Archie Comics, and featured characters called the Mighty Crusaders, and they were written by the co-creator of the entire superhero genre, Jerry Siegel.

If you don’t believe me, read this.

I know all this because my one time roommate and best buddy in the world The Late Great Jeff Webb conceived of an unhealthy fascination with these wretched periodicals back in the early 80s when he chanced upon a whole bunch of them in a cheap quarter bin at the local comics shop we all frequented at the time. This gave me the opportunity to read many of these Siegel authored stories, which in turn gave me the opportunity to scream in horrified disbelief and run gibbering up and down the hallway of the house we were all living in at the time until one of our other housemates hit me over the head with a half full two liter bottle of Jolt soda, stunning me long enough to allow me to once more regain my composure.

I’m serious about this. Yes, yes, Marvel and DC have published their share of truly idiotic comics, many of which were written by Gerry “Hackmeister Supreme” Conway, and, well, if you’re looking for a jaw droppingly moronic story so brainless it makes the average issue of MARVEL TEAM UP look like it was penned by Faulkner, you need look no further than THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN. But even with all these absolute suckapaloozas factored in, still, the Jerry Siegel authored Mighty Comics stories featuring the various members of the Mighty Crusaders, all together or in their own separate features, are really in an entirely separate quadrant of the Brain Damaged Galaxy.

Don’t believe me? Here are two random examples of sheer story stupidity inscribed in my memory no matter how desperately I try to forget them (and I apologize; I’ve gone up one side and down the other of the Internet looking for scans of these pages, or, really, any pages, of Siegel Mighty Comics dumbness, and apparently, nobody has ever bothered to post any of this stuff anywhere. I’d do it myself, but I never owned these comics, and I have no idea what happened to Jeff’s after he passed away back in 1993):

In one particularly unfortunate Fly-Man story, Siegel starts out by having a strange alien meteor enter Earth’s atmosphere, or become visible in Earth’s sky, or something like that. What does this meteor do? Why, it robs insects of their powers! (Holster those irons, pards; I don’t make the news, I just report it.) To demonstrate this we get several panels showing a bumblebee that is unable to fly, a grasshopper that has lost its ability to make mighty leaps, and an ant that is no longer capable of toting around bread crumbs that are ten or twenty times its own mass. (Stop hitting your head on the wall. You’re just chipping up the paint and the story will remain as idiotic as ever regardless. Trust in the word of One Who Knows.) Naturally, this causes Fly-Man to lose all his insect powers, and… and… okay, I’ll wait for you to stop screaming…

There. Better now? The second example I can immediately think of, of just how wretchedly fetid Siegel’s scripting for Mighty Comics was – there was this story where some villain or other… the Hangman, maybe, or the Wizard, or perhaps even the arch Mighty Comics villain himself, the Spider – had trapped all the Mighty Crusaders inside this nuclear furnace. There was no way for them to escape and they were all going to die in the next few minutes when… something happened, I don’t know, the furnace heat got turned up or the protective lead box they were in finally melted or the furnace itself blew up in an atomic explosion (villains were always trapping heroes in deathtraps that were going to blow up in an atomic explosion in Siegel Mighty Comics strips, as I recall). So the Shield, who is this big strong invulnerable guy in a bulletproof costume, pipes up and says something like “Say, I’ve never mentioned this before, but I happen to have the power to teleport us all to safety. Now, I can only do it once, and I’ll never be able to do it again, so after I do it we must never speak of it.” And he does. And they never do.

And, yes, I did say the Shield was this big strong invulnerable guy wearing a bulletproof costume, and no, I don’t know why an invulnerable character ran around in a bulletproof costume, although I will say that, if a strange alien meteor had entered Earth’s atmosphere that happened to have the effect of robbing all medieval weaponry and martial equipment of its powers, well, the Shield would still be somewhat protected by his bulletproof outfit, presumably, and in the Siegel authored Mighty Comics universe, you obviously couldn’t rule shit like that out, ever, so wearing it was probably a canny precaution on his part.

Until this very day I have always believed that these Siegel authored Mighty Crusaders stories were inarguably and objectively the absolute worst superhero stories that had ever been published in comics form, that, in fact, like SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE, they simply could not under any circumstances ever be equaled much less surpassed for sheer mindboggling brainbending sanity tottering stupidity by anything that ever has or ever could be produced in their own particular fictional subgenre and communications medium, from the dawn of time unto the end of eternity, amen.

I mean, yeah, I knew that DC and Marvel had put out a lot of really stupid comics in the early Silver Age. AVENGERS #2, featuring the Space Phantom, is without a doubt one of the goddam dumbest comics stories ever put on paper, and nearly every Superman Family story ever published under Mort Weisinger’s editorial direction is senseless to the point of mental retardation. But there’s a surreal, almost iconic, and certainly grander than life absurdity to the Weisinger stuff that makes it very enjoyable to me, so Jimmy Olsen becoming a 200 foot tall turtle just didn’t bug me that much, and, well, AVENGERS #2, and pretty much every subsequent Space Phantom story ever done, I just try to close my eyes and stagger blindly past whenever necessary. (The Space Phantom is such a prancing cerebral hemorrhage of a character that he defies the capacities of even the most brilliant comics writers to ever do anything even remotely sensible with; even “Stainless” Steve Englehart, arguably the finest superhero comics writer ever to put fingers to typewriter, merely used the buffoon to erase the knowledge of Captain America’s foolishly revealed secret identity from the minds of every man, woman, and child on Earth – and why? So Cap’s mind would ‘be at peace’ when the Grim Reaper transplanted the Vision’s brain into Captain America’s body… and if that makes any sense to you at all, I suggest you go to the emergency room right now because you almost certainly have a concussion or a very high fever or both.)

But, still, even with all that, and everything ever mis-written by Gerry Conway thrown into the mix, I nonetheless maintained my fervent belief that the Siegel authored Mighty Comics stories were the absolute nadir of superhero comics, and that DC and Marvel, wretched though some of their Silver Age output undeniably was, had never sunk to any depth even remotely as abysmal as those that were routinely plumbed by a no doubt near constantly drunken Siegel in his Mighty Comics gig.

But, well, I was wrong, as I learned today, when going through SHOWCASE PRESENTS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA VOLUME TWO, and reading, for the first time, the mind shreddingly godawful stupidity incarnate that is JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #19 – “The Super Exiles of Earth!”

Follow, if you dare:

We open with a splash page showing the entire Justice League – at this time (from left to right on the page) Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Martian Manhunter, Superman, Green Arrow, the Flash, and Green Lantern – all looking very sad, as they stand disconsolately around a globe of the Earth with the Atom sitting on top of it, in an equally gloomy posture. “This is all we’ll see of Earth from now on,” Green Lantern solemnly advises us, “since we have been exiled into space forever!”

How did something so dreadful happen? Well, we turn the page and discover that, apparently, Ray Palmer, while staring into a microscope, happens to see – the Atom! This is rather bizarre, because Ray Palmer actually IS the Atom, but that doesn’t seem to matter, because the Atom promptly zips up to his more proper action figuresque height of three inches and pummels the rather startled Mr. Palmer into unconsciousness.

After this, Superman shows up at Clark Kent’s door, proclaims that he, himself, is ‘really a Super-Superman, and to prove my point, here’s my convincer!’, after which, he lobs a chunk of Green Kryptonite at ol’ Clarkie. Clark, as he is wont to do in such circumstances, pisses his pants and falls to the floor near unconscious, wondering as he does “but why wasn’t my twin weakened too?” (Gee, I don’t know, Clark. Maybe he was a Superman robot, or maybe he was a shapeshifting alien from another galaxy, or maybe he was actually Batman in disguise playing a cruel practical joke on you, or maybe he’s an evil Superman from another dimension where Green Kryptonite doesn’t weaken, but actually gives him additional superpowers – any of which are perfectly plausible explanations, given that all of them are things that Superman routinely encountered during the Silver Age. Or maybe he’s something else entirely, but anyway, the one thing we know for certain and there ain’t no maybe about at all, Mr. Kent, is, you’re still a great big doofus, you great big doofus.)

So then Hal Jordan gets beat down by Green Lantern, except this is a Super-Green Lantern who has no weakness for yellow. Barry Allen gets punked by a Super-Flash who is even faster than he is. Wonder Woman gets kicked around by a Super-Wonder Woman who makes her look like a shabby generic. The Martian Manhunter gets humiliated by a Super Martian Manhunter who is not afraid of fire, and Green Arrow gets outdrawn and outshot by a Super Green Arrow who, you know, can actually shoot a bow well, or something, I don’t know. Aquaman gets lured into a maelstrom that he can’t swim out of by a Super Aquaman, who promptly adds insult to injury by easily swimming out of said inescapable maelstrom while heaping scorn on his haplessly trapped twin. And Batman gets punched in the jaw by his own Super Bat-Twin, proving that this Super Bat-Twin is ‘far superior’, because, you know, prior to this, nobody in the history of humanity had ever managed to sock Batman one in the snoot. Yep. Suuuuuuuure.

And then, with the real JLA all hammered into unconsciousness or trapped in whirlpools or just too friggin’ embarrassed to show their capes or cowls in public, this Super JLA goes on a crime rampage, beating up little old ladies and robbing museums and raping squirrels from one end of the U.S.A. to the other. (Okay, actually, as with any early Silver Age villains at the DC Universe, all this evil JLA does is commit crimes against property. In the DC Universe at this time, villains hardly ever assaulted helpless bystanders, murders were rarely or never committed outside Batman’s comics, and rape certainly didn’t exist, because, well, sex didn’t exist.)

In response to this bizarre outlaw rampage by the apparently round the bend JLA, coppers move to arrest the real JLA members (because, you know, if Superman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Batman, the Martian Manhunter, and Aquaman went bonkers and started stealing shit from coast to coast, you just know the authorities would send flatfoots with nightsticks out to bring ‘em in, yes, indeedy). The real JLA surrenders without incident, and Jean Loring gets the job representing them in court, because she’s the only person in the entire DC Universe who has a law degree and has passed the bar, so she gets all the superhero business. (For something like thirty years, Matt Murdock, with occasional help from his partner Foggy Nelson, occupied a similarly opportunistic position in the Marvel Universe.)

Now, the judge has to be a Republican, because it never seems to occur to him to wonder, if the JLA has gone bananas and is robbing everybody in sight, why in the world did they just let us slap handcuffs on them and come meekly to court? Couldn’t they, you know, reduce the entire assembled police forces of the globe to powder in half a second, if they wanted to, and wouldn’t they, if they’d really gone rotten, as we presume they must have, since we’re arresting them? But, nooooooo, examining the internal fallacies of one’s deeply held preconceptions not being a conservative strong suit, this judge happily accepts Jean Loring’s suggestion that the JLA be exiled from Earth forever, because, as he notes, “What jail could hold them – if they decide to escape?” So he orders the exile, with the JLA members ‘forbidden to return unless and until their innocence is proved to the satisfaction of the court’.

Which… now, wait, let me look at that cover… is this actually an issue of the Justice League of the U.S.S.R.? The JLA has to prove their innocence? Isn’t this in complete violation of the bedrock principle of American jurisprudence? Well, never mind, we’re movin’ on again. Superman builds this great big spaceship and they all get aboard and go rocketing off to the end of the universe.

Leaving behind the evil JLA, who all promptly gloat “Now we can rob and steal without interference from our counterparts!” (And beat up orphans! And put ground up dolphin in all the canned tuna! And boy is that bitch Jean Loring getting a cornholing tonight! And that dickweed Lex Luthor better not show his face anywhere in Metropolis or man oh man is HE getting a surprise…!)

Meanwhile, off in a jail cell, some dork-and-a-half is gloating “So far my plan’s working like a charm!”

Wait a minute. This is somebody’s plan? Somebody who’s in jail? What the FUCK?

Oh, but it’s that numbnuts Dr. Destiny. Let’s let him explain it –

“With the help of a confederate, I managed to get a letter mailed to the JLA’s post office box. When they opened it in their headquarters, the action of the air on the chemically treated ink produced an invisible gas that caused them to dream that night!”

It’s… I… but… okay, wait a minute… you’re in JAIL, dude… how are you getting chemically treated ink that produces invisible gas that causes anyone to do anything, much less, dream, which is, you know, a retarded thing to create chemically treated ink that produces invisible gas to do?

“As the gas forced the JLA to dream about themselves as super-superheroes, my Materiopticon – which I was able to build in the prison workshop where I was sent for good behavior – transformed those dream images into living beings!”

Okay, couple of points here.

First, as Bill Maher might say, NEW RULE – evil assholes who have created mind boggling magical or technological devices at any point in the past with which they have attempted to rule the world never, never, never get sent to the prison workshop. NEVER. If they behave themselves they can have ice cream and maybe get to watch some reality TV once in a while, but they DO NOT GET SENT TO THE PRISON WORKSHOP UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER. Got it?

Second, okay, so you’ve got chemically treated ink that makes people dream of whatever it is you want them to dream of and you’ve got some fucked over device that makes these dreams into actual living breathing solid three dimensional reality.

So, like, why not make yourself dream of, I dunno, Raquel Welch and Grace Kelly and a young Liz Taylor in the buff, all of whom have super powers, and who, after boffing your brains out for hours on end, will then kick a gaping hole in the wall of your prison cell and fly you off to your secret Destiny Cave, after which, they will resume boffing your brains out for as long as you want them to? And than make those particular dreams real? Why bother with the goddam Super-JLA at all?

But I’m interrupting. Sorry. Let’s get back to Dr. Destiny’s narration: “Naturally, since I am wicked – I caused those dream materializations also to become wicked! In the beginning they were not wicked enough so they did not succeed in destroying the Justice League – merely knocked them out or trapped them! I had intended for those dream powered Justice League members to get rid of the real ones! But perhaps exile from earth will do just as well. Wait – knowing the Justice League, I’ll bet they have a trick up their sleeve!”

It… I… well, so, they weren’t wicked enough, to… um… whose sleeve is the trick up, now? Because Wonder Woman doesn’t even have sleeves, and… you know, I’m still thinking, if you’re going to make dream materializations wicked, naked, horny mind controlled Liz Taylor, Grace Kelly, and Raquel Welch with super powers are waaaaay more fun than dumb ass super- superheroes. I’m just sayin’, is all.

Oh, wait, he’s still ranting: “I wouldn’t put it past them to return to Earth and attack the Dream JLA! But it’ll do them no good! My super Super League – who will grow more wicked every day – will destroy them! And the beauty of the entire scheme is that no one can possibly suspect that I am the mastermind behind all this!”

Mastermind. Right. Hm. Let me go over this – he’s got a thingie that makes dreams real, and some chemicals that make people dream about whatever he wants, and a confederate willing to mail things off to anyone he wants, and still, here he is, sitting in his jail cell, reading the newspaper, while the materialized dreams he’s created run amok stealing everything that isn’t nailed down all over the planet.

Yep. Sure. He’s a mastermind all right.

Now, okay, I know what you’re thinking. Yeah, yeah, this is pretty stupid shit, but, still, it ain’t no alien meteor that robs insects of their powers stupid. It ain’t, like, a mesomorph in a bulletproof suit suddenly announcing he has the ability to mass teleport his entire team to safety… once… and never again. It’s not THAT stupid.

But, wait… there’s more –

So, off at the ass end of the universe, the JLA suddenly decides they can return to Earth and clear themselves without violating the judge’s order by doing it -- in their secret identities! Okay, with thinking like that, where one obeys the letter by utterly annihilating the spirit of the law, it would seem the entire JLA is Republican, too, but what the hell. So they all change into their secret IDs (except for poor Aquaman, who doesn’t have one, and will have to stay on the ship, but who cares, he’s a big dork anyway), which is a big deal, because prior to this, the only JLA members who knew each other’s secret IDs were Superman and Batman. So they’re all like “oh, wow, you’re this nobody I never heard of, isn’t that cool” (Barry Allen takes the cake here when he tells Diana Prince “Obviously, you’re Wonder Woman!” heh… what was your first hint, there, Barry, the gigantic hooters?)

Anyway, Green Lantern whips up an invisible space ship and all the secret IDs return to Earth, where they divide up into teams and attack various different groupings of their super super doppelgangers. And, naturally, they all get their asses kicked AGAIN (“Get her? That was your whole plan? Get her?”) after which the Dream JLA explains that they are only dream manifestations and are about to finish off our heroes (“our wickedness has grown by leaps and bounds! This will be a pleasure!”) when Ray Palmer points out that the Dream JLA is, you know, only a dream of the real JLA, and if they kill the real JLA, they themselves will cease to exist. Which the Dream JLA has to admit is a bummer, and more than that, will put a crimp in their plans to dump a whole load of fizzies into the swim meet and deliver the medical school cadavers to the alumni dinner. So they relent and Super Green Lantern whips up this emerald box that they put the real JLA in and then bury it a mile beneath the ground. (Because, you know, it’s not like three quarters of the JLA won’t die of thirst or oxygen deprivation within hours or days if they do that, or anything.)

So the real JLA all combine their willpower on GL’s ring and get the energy bubble to rise back to the surface again, and then Wonder Woman muses on a past case where her muscles and nerves wouldn’t obey her mental commands, and then Ray Palmer speaks up:

“I have an idea! Diana, you’ve studied medicine on Paradise Island, and I’m a scientist. Now, listen closely… I could shrink myself so small as to be invisible while John Jones blows me toward our Secret Sanctuary where are other selves have gone! Becoming microscopic in size, I could enter our dream selves’ brains undetected and unfelt – and perform delicate “operations”!”

It… I… erm… nyargl… bleagh… hyrrrrngggg… okay, my brain just tried to sneak out the back of my head with a suitcase in one hand and a bus ticket to Tijuana in the other, but I’ve wrestled it to the ground and am sitting on its chest, so let us continue:

Following the above utterly deranged speech, there is an Editor’s Note: “What Ray Palmer has suggested is entirely possible! Modern medical techniques can perform amazing brain “surgery” by applying electrical stimulation to many parts of the brain!

“Wait,” my brain whimpers from the floor where I have it firmly pinned, “even assuming the Atom can get into the ‘brains’ of a bunch of materialized dreams and start performing ‘operations’, what the fuck does ‘applying electrical stimulation to many parts of the brain’ have to do with anything? He’s not Electro! Or the Eel! Or Lightning Lad! What the fuck! What the fuck! What the fuck!!!!”

Shut up. It gets worse. (Noooooooooooooo…) Yes, it does. Because, on the next page, all the real JLAers, still in their civilian guises, are running into the Secret Sanctuary. Did Ray operate? Or was he captured again? They’ll know in a minute, when their super-selves spot them…!

So then we get this panel where, well, let’s quote The Man himself:

“The dream beings try to rise and fight but Ray Palmer has succeeded only too well…”

Because Wonder Woman is doing ballet and Batman is flailing around on the conference table and Green Lantern is on his back kicking his chair into the air and the Martian Manhunter is standing on his head and, you know, pretty much everyone in the Dream JLA are completely spazzing out. Mission accomplished, Ray, you brain surgeon to the superhero set, you!

So the JLA turns their Super Super Dream Selves in to the authorities, clearing their names, and then they get Aquaman back off the intergalactic spaceship, and examine this famous letter that Dr. Destiny sent to them with the chemically treated dream ink, which lets them figure out who sent it (I guess Dr. Destiny’s confederate was considerate enough to put Dr. Destiny’s return address on it, or something) so the JLA shows up at prison and takes his Materiopticon away and puts him in solitary where he’ll never be able to make another one, ever again.

But there’s still one more bit of monumental stupidity we have to make our way through before we’re finished with this –

In the last two panels, Superman advises “Since a worldwide knowledge of our civilian identities may expose those dear to us to danger – I’d better do something about it! I’ll go now and get some AMNESIUM from my Fortress of Solitude and with it make us and the whole world forget everything it learned about our secret identities on this case!”

To which the rest of the JLA responds: “SO SAY WE ALL!”

Although none of them will ever remember doing so.

And God, I wish I couldn’t, either.

Now, if truth be told, I’m not sure that even all of that brain staggering stupidity really adds up to something as stupid as the kind of ultra-stupid shit Jerry Siegel routinely tried to run by his audience while writing for Mighty Comics, but certainly, it’s in the same ballpark. And I cannot tell you how sad it makes me, to know that Gardner Fox actually wrote stuff in the Silver Age JLA that was stupid enough to palpably compete with the rampant stupidity evinced by every single character in nearly every single panel of every single script ever turned in to Mighty Comics by Jerry Siegel. I mean, heretofore, I had considered Jerry Siegel’s Mighty Comics work to be something like the cinematic ouvre of Ed Wood, never to equaled much less surpassed by any other entry into its genre or medium, but, now, I find that not only is there another comics story out there very nearly its equal in sheer blinding brainlessness, but, for the love of sweet baby Jebus, it was written by Gardner Fox and – and—it’s a Silver Age JLA story!!!!

I mean, seriously. Say it ain’t so, Joe.

Any Joe will do.