Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Okay, assholes -- there I go!

What do you do, when they're killing you slowly, bit by bit? When they've got this thing you've loved since childhood strapped in a chair, and they're beating it, and breaking it, and tearing bleeding squirming pieces of it off over and over again, and it's SCREAMING, God, it's SCREAMING, and you can't do anything but watch?

You stop watching.

You walk away.

I finally did it last year. I'd watched the Quesadas and the Bendises and the Millars and the Brubakers and I don't know who the hell all else torture and rape and mutilate the Marvel Universe through all that ULTIMATES horseshit and AVENGERS DISSEMBLED and CIVIL WAR, but when they brought Bucky back to life as a Soviet super assassin I was fingering the button and when they killed Captain America I finally slammed the fucker down. The ejection seat activated and I bailed, for good and for all. (The simile breaks down there, though; where a pilot would bail out miles in the air, by the time I finally jumped Marvel's ship, I been carried so deep into depths so bleak and dark and cold I thought I'd never see the surface again.)

It was a mercy to me. Suddenly I just didn't have to care any more. I'd hear something about MARVEL ZOMBIES or WORLD WAR HULK or some new miniseries featuring The Mighty Destroyer whose sole purpose for existence seemed to be the publication of lovingly detailed graphic depictions of elderly men putting their fists through peoples' heads, and I'd just shrug. It didn't matter to me any more. I was out. I was done. I was over it, and moving on.

But like that one guy said, just when you think you're out, they pull you back in. Or, at least, they try to.


Words of power, at least, to a vintage 1970s Silver Age Marvel Comics True Believing Frantic One like me. The Invaders was Roy Thomas' first venture into what he himself fulsomely labeled 'retroactive continuity', a strip where he took Marvel's three most popular WWII era superheroes (Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch) and combined them into a superteam that had never been published during the actual Golden Age of comics. As mostly illustrated by Frank Robbins, The Invaders remains one of my favorite strips of the 1970s, and is easily the best thing Roy Thomas has ever written (for whatever that particular accolade may be worth to you).

And then, well, if you haven't figured out I'm an insanely devoted AVENGERS fan yet, well, either you're new here (welcome!) or you just haven't been paying attention.

Plus, I've been known to like me some Alex Ross artwork at various points in the past, too.

So I read something about an INVADERS/AVENGERS crossover out on the Internet, and Alex Ross has something to do with it, and, well, I'm thinking "hmmm... you know, that could be... maybe... hmmmm....".

Fortunately for me, my local geek shop had a free AVENGERS/INVADERS promo book up by the cash register last time I was over there getting some Magic cards, and I took a copy home, and... well.

A quick glance inside reminded me of what I (somewhat to my shock) had managed to at least partially forget over the past year or so (traumatic amnesia can be so healing). And it all came rushing back like a magic uru hammer returning directly to my prefrontal lobes -- Avengers? Where? When? How? Who? This ain't no Avengers, Brian Bendis and Joe Quesada don't need no steenkin' Avengers to publish a book called The Avengers... or, for that matter, two different ones.


And if that wasn't enough, well, then there was all the rhapsodic gushing within by various people involved in creating the thing as pertains to the sheer overwhelming emotion of a story in which the contemporary Avengers had to deal with the return of their murdered comrade, Captain America... not as they remembered him, but as he'd been when a very young super-soldier, fresh from fighting super-Nazis in the frantic 40s.

"Wounds still raw from the CIVIL WAR, still deep in mourning, how will the Avengers deal with blah blah blah blah BLAH..."

Oh, yeah, now I remember. Those fucknuts killed Cap off, too.

Feh feh feh.

So, you know, when I read, as it seemed inevitable I would, that Alex Ross wouldn't actually be doing artwork for the series (other than covers) but was, instead, just co-plotting it, well, I was actually relieved. Usually when I hear that Alex Ross is involved in some project, and it turns out (as it inevitably always does) that although all of Ross' success and prestige has come from doing actual comics artwork in the comic book field, he's no longer troubling himself to do that, but is instead opting to collect no doubt grotesquely inflated paychecks for 'co-plotting' along with a few fast pencil sketches and throwing in a few covers, well, it irks me, yes it does.

But not this time.

See, if Ross had done the artwork, I'd have had to buy this christly thing regardless of how shitty it was (and I have no doubt will be) but as he's not, I'm off the hook.

(Let me also add that had it turned out Alex Ross was doing full internal artwork for this or any other miniseries, I'd have been astonished. Alex Ross has done full artwork on two series, MARVELS and KINGDOM COME, and he has, apparently, taken a vow never never never to do actual comics artwork ever again. And he certainly doesn't need to, since most of his fans are so fricking stupid that they'll buy anything his name is attached to, even if all he can be bothered to do is spout off some bullshit ideas off the top of his head and doodle a few sketches in a notebook. Although I have to presume that said bullshit ideas and/or doodles are the most highly paid bullshit ideas and/or doodles in the history of comics. Nice work if you can get it.)

Speaking of nice work if you can get it, wouldn't you love to be able to draw stuff like this?

By which I mean, wouldn't you love to be able to take the same frickin' double page spread you've already recycled about fifty times to date, throw it on a lightbox yet again, and quickly pencil in some different costume details so instead of it looking like the Justice League, or the Legion of Superheroes, or the characters from Top Ten, or God knows what all else, it looks like a bunch of crappy old characters from Golden Age Timely comics that nobody recognizes because they're too lousy for anyone to have bothered trying to revive or even reprint them up until now? Wouldn't you love to be able to do that and collect yet another paycheck for that same old piece of artwork? Hell, I would. If I could just rework the same basic piece of art over and over again for a few thousand bucks a month, I'd be all over that shit. Why bother to actually create something new when I have fans and editors out there stupid enough to let me turn my own old artwork into an ongoing cottage industry?

Anyway, they NEARLY got me, and would have, too, if they had a decent Avengers team (which would have to include a still living Captain America) to team up with the Invaders.

Of course, if they still had that, they wouldn't have lost me in the first place.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I have a bad feeling about this

Just my gut, but the tide seems to be turning back again.

I said a while back that The Powers That Be will never forgive John McCain's apostasy on campaign finance reform, and therefore, no matter how fast or desperately he backpedals on tax breaks, no matter how many times he chants "a thousand years in Iraq! Nuke Iran! Nuke Iran!", he still can't get the Innerests back in his corner.

And, of course, the Innerests can't back Obama. Even if 'Change You Can Believe In' turns out to be nothing more than a tiny bit more transparency in government and some kind of government ethics committee with one or two worn down nubs in its gums, that's more change than they want to believe in. They have our government exactly the way they want it.

So, it's clear to me that the Innerests have gone whole hog behind Senator Clinton's campaign, and if you don't want to believe a nobody like me, you should ask Richard Mellon Scaife.

And what's bad, what's very VERY bad, is that I'm really starting to think that Senator Clinton is going to pull it off. Somehow, in some way I don't know enough about the system to fully visualize at this point, she's going to end up with the Democratic nomination.

What I can't imagine beyond that is her actually winning the Presidency. She's thrown way too many Molotov cocktails around inside the Democratic party to have any chance of taking the general election. A great many supporters of either Obama or Clinton are making noises about how if their candidate doesn't win, they will not vote for the other guy, and most people seem to presume it's all hype, and in the end, Democrats will all come together to vote for whoever the Democratic candidate is.

I honestly don't know if I can do that. I look inside and try to measure whether or not I'm capable of voting for Senator Clinton, if it turns out she manages to get the Democratic nomination, and I run into blank, staring incomprehension.

My answer is, I just don't know.

I can't vote for McCain. He's a spineless asswipe I cannot remotely find it in myself to respect. But I have come to truly, madly, deeply loathe, despise, and abominate Hillary Clinton over the past several months. She is a vile, despicable, reprehensible human being. I understand that there ain't no rules in a knife fight, but I'm sick and tired of politics being a knife fight. I want grown ups, especially the grown ups that will end up running my country, to behave like responsible, honorable, ethical adults, not vicious bullies.

I have to hope that I'm wrong, and Senator Obama gets the nomination. But if I'm not, then I don't know what I'm going to do when November rolls around.

Vote for Ralph again, I guess.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Well, it looks like Clinton took the Pennsylvania primary by a 10 point spread.


From BradBlog, just this last Monday:

This Tuesday's crucial contest will be primarily run on 100% faith-based, Direct Recording Electronic (DRE, usually touch-screen or push-button) e-voting machines across the state. There will be no way to determine after the election whether the computers have accurately recorded, or not, the intent of those voters who voted on them. As VerifiedVoting.org summarizes the crucial contest, it "will be essentially unrecountable, unverifiable, and unauditable."

Most of the votes, more than 85%, will be cast on such DRE systems which do not provide so-called "Voter Verified Paper Audit Trails" (VVPATs), as their use has been found unconstitutional in the state, since its been determined, accurately, that ballot secrecy cannot be guaranteed when using such paper trail systems. Not that it matters.

And from BradBlog, late yesterday evening:

9:24pm ET: Fox "News" confirms e-voting problems.

While MSNBC was said to have reported earlier that PA's SoS claimed there were no reports of problems today (see the 6:34pm ET update below), it was Fox "News" of all outlets who bothered to confirm and briefly report the problems.

Just after the polls closed tonight, as the Exit Polls were "too close to call", and too important to share with us mere mortals, the cable news nets were beside themselves with the prospect of having to actually wait for votes to be "counted". In truth, very few of them can actually be counted because, as we explained yesterday, most of PA uses e-voting machines on which it's strictly impossible to determine if even a single vote was recorded as any voter actually intended.

It was Fox then, who confirmed some of the problems we've been reporting all day here.

"Some of those electronic voting machines did not work," says the Fox reporter in the clip below, describing the process of "cartridges" being brought in for counting. She mentions that there were some paper ballots brought in as well from where machine broke down (though as we noted in earlier reports below, provisional ballots were only handed out if both machines in voting precincts broke down).

"Those machines weren't ready, weren't going, and they did have to resort to the paper," before adding with a big roll of the eyes, "the old way."

I'd love to quote different sources than BradBlog, but apparently nobody else anywhere thinks any of this is worth reporting. The mainstream media has advised us who the winner is in Pennsylvania, and although there is literally no way to independently confirm those pronouncements, nobody is inclined to question it. (Premier lefty poli-blogger Josh Marshall helpfully reminds us "All that said, remember, the exits out of Ohio had it a much closer race than it ended up being." In other words, when the evidence indicates that the official results may be bullshit, well, just remember, the official results are never bullshit.)

I don't know what it is. People have been screaming about election fraud, especially untraceable, unverifiable election fraud by electronic voting machines, for years now. Apparently we've screamed so long, so loud, and so hard that the 'serious' people, ALL of them, have simply decided to tune out.

The press wants a horse race. The Powers That Be would find it simpler to do their work with a Republican President in the White House, or, barring that, with a Clinton. And each time it seems like this section of the mess might get resolved and we might be able to move on to the next section, we get exactly the results that Big Corporate Media and the other Powers That Be would like to see most. And it troubles no one that there are countless problems with how votes are being cast and counted in this process, and that odd little things like exit polls lately (well, since 2000, in Florida, anyway) always seem to be somewhat at odds with the actual reported results.

Ah, fuck it. On to the next untraceable, unverifiable, unaccountable primary. It's good practice for the untraceable, unverifiable, unaccountable Presidential election this November...

Sunday, April 20, 2008


For those who may be curious, this is actually the graphic on the t-shirt we gave Mike Norton for his birthday:

I took a beautiful Alex Ross reimagining of the original Jack Kirby cover to AVENGERS #4, photoshopped the top of that actual cover (the logo along with the various other bits of business) onto it, did some careful brushing to get rid of the ominous "Sub-Mariner In The Sky" bit from the original (see this entry from Orto to see that graphic in its original glory), shopped in the "Captain America Lives Again!" graf, and let it roll. I loved the result, and am happy Mike seems to enjoy it, too.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Political Self Gratification (2)

MAOTE: We're doing this again? Jesus. Jimmy Rabbit never interviewed himself this much.

DN: I have a great many things to say about politics at the moment, like every other blogger on the Internet, and this particular format will let me ramble about nearly all of it to my hearts content. So deal with it.

MAOTE: Yes sir. Dealing, sir. Okay. You have a great many things to say about politics. Hit me.

DN: Okay. First... yes, I'm getting as stressed and pissy as anyone else about how long this goddam Democratic primary is taking to resolve.

MAOTE: But, you have a 'but'.

DN: Of course I have a 'but'. But, I think maybe it could be useful if more people remembered that this is exactly what many of us demanded, back at the start of primary season.

MAOTE: Wait. What? 'Many of us demanded' a protracted primary between two truculent showboats that may well end up destroying the eventual victor's chances of actual election, and that is certainly going to at least substantially weaken that electibility?

DN: Well, I grant you, that's not how we put it. What we were all whining and bitching and screaming and kicking our feet about was the primary scheduling system that made most of our votes pointless and redundant. What we wanted was a primary where our votes would actually count. Well, we got one. Usually, the nominees for both parties are decided by Super Tuesday at the latest, and everyone who lives in a state that holds primaries afterwards has more influence over the winner of AMERICAN IDOL than they do over who will be running for President. This primary season, that's all changed. We wanted a primary where our votes would count, this season, our votes will count.

MAOTE: Okay, but... we didn't want this. We just wanted every state to have its primaries on the same day, say, in March, so everyone's vote would count.

DN: Many of us wanted that, but I distinctly remember several of the wonkier poli-bloggers gushing about how cool it would be if things remained undecided up to the convention, how that hadn't happened in a long time and it would really shake things up in a healthy way for the whole political apparatus in America.

MAOTE: Okay, well, those guys were assholes.

DN: Big time. Still, it's important to keep in mind, as we rant and rave that Clinton or Obama should drop out and stop hurting the Democrats' chances to take the White House... we wanted this. We begged for it. We yearned for a primary season where our votes, every single one of them, would be important to the outcome. And here we are.

MAOTE: Be careful what you wish for.

DN: Yes infuckingdeed. To underscore this we need do nothing more than look at the arguments currently being made by Clinton's camp against premature declaration of loyalties by the superdelegates. Their premiere point is that there are millions of Democratic votes still uncounted, and to effectively end the primary season here by locking down the superdelegate votes would be to disenfranchise all those poor voters. Of course, (a) those primaries will still be held and people will still get to vote, it's just that, like nearly every other election year, their votes will effectively be meaningless, and (b) if Clinton were leading the delegate count and confident the superdelegates were going to go her way, she'd be leading the 'shut this primary down now' pack her damn self. Nonetheless, it's the very fact that so many people screamed so long and so hard for a primary season where their votes would actually make a difference that is empowering Clinton now. She's spinning this so that by not dropping out, she's a champion of the people who wants ALL the votes counted, instead of a petulant, entitled brat throwing the world's biggest and potentially most destructive hissy fit because she has actually lost a tough, well contested primary instead of sailing smoothly and without serious opposition through what she feels should have been an anointment to power.

MAOTE: Okay. So while we're bitching about the extended primary season this year, and wishing to God that one or the other of the candidates would just stand down and concede it to the other one, we should remember that this is the kind of primary we thought we wanted, back before we actually had it.

DN: Yeah. And it's interesting to consider parallels to the 2000 Presidential election too. I remember feeling exactly this way back then, during the endless weeks after election day when we still had no clearly announced winner. "Dammit, somebody needs to man up and concede... as long as it's Bush".

MAOTE: Heh. Yeah, I remember that feeling. So, we need to remember, when we're bitching about it, this is what we wanted.

DN: And that's not all. Yeah, it's frustrating having this thing drag on for so long, but consider this... as a general rule, Presidential candidates run to the extremes of their political spectrum in order to get their party's nomination, and as soon as they have it, they move immediately to the center. The classic thinking is, okay, I have the Republican or Democratic nomination, so all the hardcore members of that party are going to vote for me. Now I need to pick up the moderates and the undecideds, so I need to run to the center. And if you look at both Obama and Clinton, both of them were very clearly positioning themselves to sprint back to the center the instant they locked down the nomination. McCain was, too... hell, so was Huckabee. Romney campaigned from much closer to the center than any of them.

MAOTE: So, you're saying that the long, drawn out primary is good because it's kept both Obama and Clinton over on the left.

DN: I wouldn't use the word 'good'. I'm pointing out that this dark cloud has a silver lining, and that if the candidate of your preference had locked down the Democratic nomination two months ago, and you're any kind of real liberal or progressive, you'd be pulling your hair out right now and screaming bloody murder about how suddenly Clinton/Obama has turned into a raving Republican. And they wouldn't have, but, well, they'd be courting the center very aggressively, taking for granted that the left wing of the Democratic party may grumble and bitch, but, in the end, they'll dutifully roll out and vote for the Democratic nominee. The drawn out primary has prevented that, although I will say that Clinton is so clearly itching to run back towards the right that she's inching back there almost unconsciously, probably despite everything that everyone else in her campaign is telling her to do. She can't afford to run as a Republican right now, which is pretty much what she's doing... although, since her campaign is on life support and she's praying for a miracle anyway, I guess she might as well do what comes natural to her.

MAOTE: Okay. So, as you're an Obama man, I presume you come down on the 'Hilary should drop out of the race' side of the controversy...

DN: First, I'm not an Obama man, I'm a Nader man. Obama is very much the lesser of several evils.

MAOTE: You're not going to vote for Nader again...

DN: No, destroying the world once is plenty for one lifetime. But while I like Obama more than I like Clinton, especially given the way Clinton has behaved over the past six, seven weeks of campaigning, and I like both of them much, much better than I like John McCain, still, I think all of them are pretty much entirely bought and paid for by the Powers That Be. Obama may do some good things should he get into office... Clinton might, too... and McCain certainly won't... and unfortunately that's pragmatically what we have to base our decisions as voters on. Some good things, probably; some good things, maybe; or no good things and a great deal of shit. But neither Obama nor Clinton are going to do any of the good things that really NEED to be done.

MAOTE: Which are...?

DN: Well, many specific things, but in general they all come down to, seeing to the fair collection and distribution of wealth and resources. Which is, honestly, government's only real and valid purpose, anyway.

MAOTE: Can you be more specific...? Say you get elected President. What do you do?

DN: Begin immediate troop withdrawals from Iraq, as well as any place else where the native populace doesn't want our troops stationed. Appoint a lot of special prosecutors to investigate government corruption on every level. Declassify everything Bush and Cheney classified and start faxing documents to every media outlet in the world. Tell the IRS to start looking hard at American corporations doing business overseas, and especially at overseas accounts and transactions. Overhaul the Federal tax code so everyone can understand it without hiring an expert. Crack down hard on every single special interest that has spent a great deal of money lobbying the Federal government for special favors in the last 20 years. Design and implement a decent universal health care plan. Get some really good forensic accountants, give them special prosecutor powers, and have them start a comprehensive, utterly transparent audit of the Federal budget system.

MAOTE: Okay, you even try that last one and somebody will shoot you in the head.

DN: Probably somebody in the Secret Service who's actually on the NSA payroll, yes. But, still, it's something that has to be done. It won't be, probably not ever, but if we're ever going to have a chance at really cleaning up our government, we have to open the books. Not half assed, we have to do it for real.

MAOTE: Well... okay, I agree with you, but it ain't gonna happen, cap'n. What else would you do? Any specific program or policy proposals you like?

DN: I'd like to see the Federal government buy every house in America that has been on the market for six months or longer, and then give those houses away to combat veterans and/ or their surviving families. Kind of like EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION on a massive scale. I'd like to issue an Executive Order requiring every elected and appointed official to submit to a polygraph test and answer questions written by their constituents, no more than twice a year.

MAOTE: Whew. They will shoot you many, many times. Okay, anything else?

DN: Yeah. No more political advertising on the public airwaves. Create another C-SPAN channel and give Congress access to something like a public access TV studio. They do all their campaigning for free there.

MAOTE: What about freedom of speech?

DN: Oh, bullshit. There is no freedom of speech on the public airwaves; we regulate content on every broadcast TV channel there is. If the government can tell private citizens what they can and cannot say or show in commercial advertisements and commercial programming, we can sure as hell regulate political speech. You want to scream 'freedom of speech' for paid political attack ads that are mostly horseshit anyway, that's fine, but you also need to let FOX put on AMERICA'S UP AND COMING PORN STARS, or let Budweiser advertise their beer with topless models. And if that's indecent, then what the hell is lying to the American people about who they should and shouldn't elect to positions of authority over them?

MAOTE: Um... okay. Anything else?

DN: I'd like to see Congress work a little longer and a little harder, too. And I'd like to appoint a citizens' board that reviews all government salaries, perks, and proposed pay raises... or, hell, lets just put that stuff up to a national referendum. In fact, I'd like to see a great many things taken away from Congress and the Executive Branch and put up to national referendums.

MAOTE: Like declaring war?

DN: No, declaring war should stay with Congress. However, maybe we could let the people en masse vote on when to end wars... say, if we've been in a state of active aggressive war for 12 months, then the people get to vote on whether we continue with it, or we get the hell out.

MAOTE: Hmm. Any other shit you want to stir up in the brief moments you'll be sitting in the Executive Office before the missiles hit?

DN: We need to get serious about anti-trust laws, especially as regards our print and broadcast media. Several huge media conglomerates need to be broken into tiny little pieces.

MAOTE: Yeah, okay. And anything else?

DN: I'd like a serious review of any kind of top secret technology the government may have that hasn't been released to the public. I sincerely doubt we actually have working fusion or functional anti-grav, but maybe we do and the economic Powers That Be are sitting on it because, as Westinghouse once said to Tesla, there's no place to put the meter. If we have the technology to solve our energy crisis, or to let people have safe flying cars, well, fine. You move ahead. Stalling progress because somebody's stock market portfolio is going to take a hit doesn't work for me.

MAOTE: Okay. You realize, pretty much ANY of those will get any President who pursues them a bullet in the brain.

DN: Yeah. By definition. But those are the things that need to be done, and which aren't going to be. Call that my 'bullet points' list.

Blue baiting

In yesterday's email, from my deeply conservative Uncle Rick:

From: [somebody or other]
Sent: Monday, April 14, 2008 12:46 AM
To: [a whole lot of people]

Subject: Subject: Subject: History Lesson! You Guys all know that [somebody I don't know but won't name here anyway] wants to be a history teacher. He has outlined his First Lesson to be given at his debut class at Columbia University.

Today's history lesson

For those that don't know much about history...... here is a condensed version.

Humans originally existed as members of small bands of nomadic hunters/gatherers. They lived on deer in the mountains during the summer and would go to the coast and live on fish and lobster in the winter.

The two most important events in all of history were:

1. The invention of beer, and

2. The invention of the wheel. The wheel was invented to get man to the beer. (Thus most car people are conservative)

These were the foundation of modern civilization and together were the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into two distinct subgroups:

1. Liberals

2. Conservatives.

Once beer was discovered, it required grain and that was the beginning of agriculture. Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while our early humans were sitting around waiting for them to be invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That's how villages were formed.

Some men spent their days tracking and killing animals to B-B-Q at night while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning of what is known as the Conservative movement.

Other men who were weaker and less skilled at hunting learned to live off the Conservatives by showing up for the nightly B-B-Q's and doing the sewing, fetching, and hair dressing. This was the beginning of the Liberal movement.

Some of these Liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became known as girlie-men.

Some noteworthy Liberal achievements include the domestication of cats, the invention of group therapy, group hugs, and the concept of Democratic voting to decide how to divide the meat and beer that Conservatives provided.

Over the years Conservatives came to be symbolized by the largest, most powerful land animal on earth, the elephant. Liberals are and were always symbolized by the jackass.

Modern liberals like imported beer (with lime added), but most prefer white wine or imported bottled water. They eat raw fish but like their beef well done. Sushi, tofu, and French food are standard liberal fare. Another interesting evolutionary side note: Most of their women have higher testosterone levels than their men. Most social workers, personal injury attorneys, journalists, dreamers in Hollywood and group therapists are Liberals. Liberals invented the designated hitter rule because it wasn't fair to make the pitcher also bat.

Conservatives drink domestic beer. They eat red meat and still provide for their women. Conservatives are big-game hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks, construction workers, firemen, medical doctors, police officers, corporate executives, athletes, Marines, and generally anyone who works productively. Conservatives who own companies hire other Conservatives who want to work for a living.

Liberals produce little or nothing. They like to govern the producers and decide what to do with the production. Liberals believe that Europeans are more enlightened than Americans. That is why most of the Liberals remained in Europe when Conservatives were coming to America. They crept in after the Wild West was tamed and created a business of trying to get more for nothing.

Here ends today's lesson in world history.......

It should be noted that a Liberal may have a momentary urge to angrily respond to the above before forwarding it.

A Conservative will simply laugh and be so convinced of the absolute truth of this history that it will be forwarded immediately to other true believers and to more liberals just to piss them off....

* * * *

I honestly can't think of anything to add here. Conservatives are a bunch of people who, since prehistory, have largely done nothing except kill shit, eat it, get drunk, and whine about what those goddam pansy liberals wear. Liberals, by default, have pretty much had to do everything else (including invent all the stuff the conservatives immediately adopt and enjoy, like fire-making technology, agriculture, fermentation, distillation, and barbecue sauce).

As a final note, though, I do wa -- wait wait wait hold ON a second here --

::sound of screeching breaks, boinging sound of eyepopping double take::

"Some of these Liberal men eventually evolved into women. The rest became known as girlie-men."

It... I... whoa. Did he just say women evolved out of liberals?

So... all women are liberals?

So... um... no women are conservatives?

Which means, no conservatives are women?

Fuck, I knew Ann Coulter was a man.

And I suspected Michelle Malkin of the same thing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Birth of a Norton

Today is Mike Norton's birthday. He seems to have been swallowed whole by some nameless leviathan, but, still, you can go over to his blog and wish him a Happy Birthday if you've a mind to.

I'll do it here, although Superwife and I already sent him a present and a nice card, which I'm hoping he has received and at least somewhat enjoyed by now.

Happy Birthday, Mike.

Happy Tax Day to all the rest o' youse. SuperWife finished mine last week; I had nice big returns coming, until we figured in my Unemployment from last year, which did not have taxes deducted from it. That entirely wiped out everything I would have gotten back and ended up with me writing relatively small checks back to the government. Still, it could have been worse.

A week from today is me and SuperWife's first anniversary as a married couple. We have a family celebration planned which I will probably go into excruciating detail regarding once it's come and gone. Or maybe I'll have mercy on you. I guess it depends on my mood at the time.

Good night, internet.

KILLQUEST: the next reincarnation

For backstory on KILLQUEST, go here. It's one of my old blogs, which was stone knives and bearskins compared to this one, so there are no permalinks embedded, and you'll have to scroll down the page until you get to the entry titled KILLQUEST. (Nobody reading this is ever going to do this, but, hey, I put the link up, your unwillingness to click on it is entirely on you.)

As I mention there, the first KILLQUEST was created by Jeff Webb and I back in college, and ever since then, I have occasionally felt the urge to take the basic idea out and tinker with it again. Here's my latest concept for it:

There's a box, see. It's about, I don't know, seven inches square and three inches thick. It says KILLQUEST on it in big gaudy letters, and BASIC SET underneath that in somewhat smaller ones, and is decorated with graphics showing various different kinds of warriors and fighter types from throughout human history in combat with each other.

So you take the lid off the box and inside there are:

* 4 six sided dice

* 10 little plastic stands, 5 red, 5 blue, each of which has a number 1,2,3,4, or 5 on it. These stands are such that a normal playing card could be slid into the holder on top of them, and the playing card would then stand upright on a flat surface.

* 10 coin shaped markers, 5 red, 5 blue, each with corresponding numbers on them.

* 1 rules pamphlet

* 1 48" x 48" sheet of heavy paper, folded, with a different full color map/playing field printed on either side

* 2 decks of 85 cards each

The top 5 cards of each deck are blank except for numbers on each (1 through 5) and a question mark. 5 of these cards are printed in blue ink, 5 in red.

Underneath these cards are three other types of cards:

Character cards - There are 50 character cards. These feature on one side a picture of a generic fighter/combatant type. There are at least 100 of these different cards, combatant types include colorful character representatives from every era of human history: samurai, cavemen, pirates, ninjas, minutemen, gangsters from the Roaring 20s, Roman centurions, motorcycle stunt riders, baseball players, cowboys, Indians, banditos... anything and everything you might possibly conceive of from any point in human history that anyone might want to see fighting someone else.

On the other side of the card are listed statistics, like BARE HANDS ATTACK/DEFENSE, and any particular skills or ratings that combatant may have, like STEALTH: Roll 2d6; if a 5 or 6 is rolled on either die, this character cannot be seen by opponents unless they are in an adjacent square, or APTITUDE: This character may be equipped with a Tommygun for free.

Also listed will be the character's COST to play. The more useful a character is at game related functions, the more expensive that character would be. For example, the Spy would be Stealthy, but probably have poor ATTACK AND DEFENSE and no APTITUDES for equipment. The PRIVATE EYE would have some Stealth (probably not as good as the Spy) but would also have a better Attack and Defense and maybe would be able to be equipped with a .45 automatic for free. Because the PRIVATE EYE would be more versatile than the SPY, he would also cost more points to put on your team.

Equipment cards - On one side is a picture, on the other side is what the equipment does and what it costs. These would mostly be weapons, ranging from a KATANA for the samurai up through a TOMMYGUN for the Gangster. However, there could be other equipment as well, like a ROPE WITH GRAPPLING HOOK, or a MOTORCYCLE, or maybe even a JET PACK.

Happening cards - Things that change the way the game is played. These would be optional, and would have to be bought at the start with build points for your team, but could be played at any time during the game. These would be cards like SUDDEN DARKNESS, where suddenly all characters must make non-visual perception rolls before they can attack an opponent, or EVERYBODY WAS KUNG FU FIGHTING, in which no weapons can be employed, or NO WAY, JOSE cards, which would negate a card being played by an opponent.

So you buy the game and you agree with your buddy how many points you can each use to build a force and then you put your force together. You start with the question cards in the little coin shaped holders. You put the combatant cards face down next to the map, with one of the coin shaped markers on each of them so you know which question card represents which of your combatants. You start your question cards at the various spots on the map where combatants enter the arena. Each combatant will have a different move stat; each player takes turns moving one character at a time. When characters reach places on the map where they could see each other, you replace the question card with the corresponding combatant card, each player thus revealing one member of their force to their opponent. (Assuming, of course, that one of the combatants doesn't make a STEALTH roll, in which case, they would not be seen by the opponent, although the opponent would have to reveal the identity of the card the Stealthy enemy had seen.)

This is the latest version of KILLQUEST.

One more little twist -- while all you need is the basic set to play very enjoyable matches, you can, if you want, purchase booster packs containing randomly packed combatant, equipment, and happening cards... more interesting and effective cards than the simpler ones in the basic set. The characters would have proper names (instead of a generic Roaring 20s Gangster you might get Al Capone or Babyface Nelson) and better stats and more useful attributes; the equipment would be more varied and useful, the happenings more interesting and effective.

If this game proved popular, it could have any number of expansions. Robots. Monsters. Sword and Sorcery. Galactic Empires. Celebrities. Superheroes. Eventually, you could build teams consisting of a killer robot, a werewolf, a blaster packing starship pilot, Blackbeard the Pirate, and Paula Abdul.

Obviously, I couldn't create this version of the game myself; it's the sort of thing I'd need to sell to an actual gaming company to get a good working version of, or win a Powerball to capitalize myself. And I have no idea if anyone would really enjoy playing it. But I think it mostly captures the overall spirit of the original KILLQUEST.

Okay, I have to go to bed now.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Water, rust, and pyrites

So I finally plowed through ICE, IRON AND GOLD, an anthology of various short stories by best selling author and occasional blog commenter S.M. Stirling.

The scoop:

"Riding Shotgun To Armageddon" is 16 pages set in the offshoot Bronze Age of the "Islander" novels. If you've read the "Islander" novels, well, it won't hurt you to read this, but it adds nothing and you'll live just as long and die just as happy if you never trouble yourself over it, either. Nicely written and ultimately pointless, other than, I suppose, as a hook to sell the anthology.

"Three Walls - 32nd Campaign" is from one of those crappy David Drake edited anthologies about ancient military units kidnapped by aliens and taken off to fight on distant planets. I enjoyed reading the story, but I have a hard time believing aliens with this kind of advanced technology have much use for a timelost Roman legion.

"Cops and Robbers" is a type-by-the-numbers alternate timeline story. If it's the very first parallel timeline story you've ever read, you may find it charming. If, on the other hand, you've read H.Beam Piper's PARATIME and every other alternate world story Stirling himself has written, from the Draka novels through CONQUISTADOR and PESHAWAR LANCERS, this particular 8 pages is going to seem like pretty thin gruel... sort of Draka-lite, with an ending so cliche as to actually elicit a groan from me. That Stirling has to date been paid for this dopey thing twice, while I'm getting my stuff bounced by editors who probably don't even read it, makes me crazy.

"Roachstompers" - I enjoyed this one wholeheartedly, although, again, if you've read pretty much everything else Stirling has written (as I have) this is going to seem largely like a rerun of other, bigger, better stuff. This one seems more like a novel fragment Stirling gave up on rather than finished story, but it's fun to read.

"Constant Never" is okay. It reminded me a lot of something Poul Anderson might have co-plotted with Neil Gaiman, and I think Stirling was straining too hard to come up with some kind of unpredictable twist ending when he wrote this, but, still, it's a pretty cool little story.

"Taking Freedom" is yet another story I found to be very flavored by Gaiman. Still, it's a good read for all of that, even if it seemed obvious to me that the evil sorceress was being an idiot for the entire plot. She got what she deserved, certainly, but anyone stupid enough to cast that should have blown herself to bits decades before this story could ever take place.

"Lost Legion", "Ancestral Voices", and "The Sixth Sun" add up to a decent sized multigenerational Bolo novella. Unfortunately, only the first installment is really worth reading; after that, what charm and interest there is to the thing runs downhill fast. This isn't entirely Stirling's fault -- the basic formula for a Bolo story is "There's this Bolo, see. And there are these people who don't like the Bolo very much. But they get in a lot of trouble and the Bolo saves them. Then they like the Bolo fine. The End." Sometimes towards the last part of the arc you get to wedge in 'and the Bolo heroically sacrifices itself to save the people in trouble, so the people are sad'. Either way, what makes a Bolo story work well or not is elements like setting and characterization, which Stirling handles extremely well in the first story. However, by the time I was three pages into the second story my interest had ebbed almost entirely, and I honestly couldn't make myself do more than skim the third story, where all the original characters (except the Bolo itself) are dead and we're supposed to care about their idiot kids. (I did find the villain of the first story kind of interesting, though -- the guy was so straight out of a Peter O'Donnell story that I kept looking around for Modesty and Willie to skydive in from a Cessna Piper and kick his ass with a jury rigged blowgun or a crudely carved boomerang or something.)

"The Apotheosis of Martin Padway" rocks. It just fucking ROCKS. I don't know if I'd like it anywhere near as much if I weren't such a devoted L. Sprague DeCamp fan and if LEST DARKNESS FALL weren't one of my all time favorite SF novels, but I am and it is so it's pretty much a moot point to me. I suspect one could enjoy this story hugely (because it's really just that cool) even if one hadn't read LEST DARKNESS FALL, but who'd be crazy enough to want to?

"Compadres" is okay. Honestly, it didn't do much for me, but I don't have anything against it, either. It's one of those strange alternate timeline explorations that you have to be an insanely devoted history buff to really appreciate, and, well, I'm not.

"The Charge of Lee's Brigade" is yet another alternate timeline story, and it's interesting, but, again, as I'm not an insanely devoted history buff, I can't say much more for or against it than that.

"Something For Yew" annoyed me, not just because of the crappy pun in the title, but also because it seems to be little more than a teaser/commercial for Emberverse novels I haven't had a chance to read yet.

In summation -- this anthology is priced at around $27, which leaves me with very mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love S.M. Stirling's work and I'm an anal, obsessive collector and completist so I'm very pleased to have this as my very own, especially as it was a gift from Tony Collett (thanks, Tony!) so I didn't pay a damn thing for it. On the other hand, if I'd bought it myself and brought it home, I might think that $27 was a pretty steep price to pay for one amazingly cool story in amidst a lot of predictable filler. But, on the gripping hand, as it were, it WAS a very goddam cool story and maybe it was worth $27. I don't know. Ultimately, reading this helped me kill a lot of break time on my new job when otherwise I would have been enormously bored, and I didn't pay anything for it, so I shouldn't complain. I am not sure I can recommend it to anyone who is going to pay anything like full price for it, though.

Don't let that stop you from buying Stirling's novels, though. I'm behind two right now (THE SUNRISE LANDS and IN THE COURTS OF THE CRIMSON KINGS, assuming both came out on schedule) but now that I'm working again, I'll snatch them up as soon as may be. Stirling's novels occasionally don't measure up to his very best work (SNOWBROTHER and CONQUISTADOR, for example, were't as top notchas, say, THE CAGE or ISLAND IN THE SEA OF THE TIME or PESHAWAR LANCERS, and DRAKON and the TERMINATOR novels were apparently written mostly while Stirling was badly hung over for purposes of making timely house payments) but the stuff that he himself obviously cares about is all very much worth reading. (Mental note: see about picking up a copy of SHADOW'S DAUGHTER by Shirley Meier sometime soon, too.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

The dead yet live!

Did you know George Romero had done a new zombie film? No, not LAND OF THE DEAD, I mean, a new zombie film, effectively rebooting the entire 'zombie apocalypse' franchise he originally began with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, lo these many decades ago?

I was vaguely aware that something was supposed to be in the pipeline, but, honestly, I paid little attention. I enjoyed LAND OF THE DEAD in a sort of absent minded way, and think it was a decent coda to Romero's original zombie arc, while feeling that the underlying theme -- living humanity has reached an evolutionary dead end, and now, the dead have inherited the Earth -- was actually pretty fucking stupid. What with that, and the very deeply mixed feelings I have for Zack Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD remake, well, I'd felt I was pretty much DEADed out.

But yesterday SuperWife got an email from our local college which stated that they were going to be showing the new George Romeo movie DIARY OF THE DEAD in an exclusive local engagement this weekend, starting last night. Did I want to check it out? Why yes... yes I did. So off we went to campus, where I happily shelled out the princely sum of $6 for two tickets, two popcorns, and two sodas, and we sat and thrilled to the latest magnum opus by the master of zombie horror himself.

WARNING: If you're the sort of person who shrieks and weeps and cries and stomps your widdle foot when reading articles about movies or TV show episodes or books or comics that you haven't watched or read or otherwise audited yet, and those articles give away details of said object's presentation that you feel should not have been given away to you without your express permission because, you know, nothing in the world is allowed to exist that you might in any way find even remotely objectionable on even a sub-microscopic level, well, there may be some of that stuff you whine and cry and scream and wave your tiny fists in the air over called 'spoilers' in this article. You have been so advised.

Meant to be a 'reboot' of the franchise, DIARY updates the beginning of the end from occurring in the late 60s to the early 21st Century, showing how the multiplicity of video recorders in the hands of the public leads to a global saturation of video recorded zombie carnage, uploaded to websites like YouTube and FaceBook for the entire world to see the truth of what is actually occurring as the recently dead return to life -- or, at least, feral ambulation -- and prey on the flesh of the living.

Whereas Romero's previous zombie epics could only feature 'mainstream' media coverage of the ongoing chaos due to the technological limitations of the late 20th Century, in DIARY, we see amateur videos from all over the world, downloaded and cut into the central narrative being shot as it unfolds by a student filmmaker who was out in the woods with some friends making a horror movie for film class on the night everything went to hell.

Unlike Romero's previous zombie stories, this one does not show a random mob of strangers coming together in a fortified building, where, trapped by insatiable hordes of walking dead outside, they gradually tear themselves to pieces from within. DIARY is a road movie, featuring a group of students trying to get back to their respective homes in a camper van, and the various ordeals each has to survive (or, you know, not so much) on their journey through a world suddenly overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught of flesh devouring zombies.

There is no omniscient third person camera in this film, and as a consequence, we are not allowed to watch it from a comfortable distance. Every frame of this movie is shot by one of the characters in it, or by security cameras in various buildings they enter on their journey. The perspective is entirely internal and harrowingly personal, and if the protagonists of the film often seem to be acting irrationally, well, I think it's difficult for members of an audience to really understand just how shocking and bewildering it would be to suddenly find oneself immersed in horrific events of this scale and nature. Certainly I'd like to think that I'd do things more sensibly (posting lookouts on top of the van whenever we're stopped for any reason, avoiding specific locations that are almost certain to be infested with newly reanimated corpses like hospitals, searching each new building carefully for lurking dead before relaxing behind locked, heavily reinforced doors, etc) but I'm sure that for the bulk of the several days the film covers, most if not all of the cast are deep in shock, with their thought processes numbed into near non-existence.

One of the interesting points about films like this (at least, to me) is that while they take place in the 'real world', these are worlds where, obviously, certain pervasive and influential pop culture artifacts have never existed. In a SPIDER-MAN movie, for example, there have never been any Spider-Man comics, TV shows, or movies. That's usually not a particularly important difference, but in a movie about a zombie apocalypse that occurs in the year 2006, the absence of people (especially film students) who are knowledgeable about various details of the attendant mythology (to kill a zombie you have to shoot it in the head, anyone bitten by a zombie will die within hours and then come back as a zombie almost immediately) is striking. Nobody in this movie, apparently, has seen any George Romero zombie movies, or RESIDENT EVIL, or any of the multiplicity of zombie offshoots. Everybody has to learn the mythology from scratch.

More striking to me is that nobody in any zombie movie I've ever seen ever mentions what must be a frankly horrendous stench accompanying the presence of the living dead. Leaving aside specific things like how awful it should smell when an eviscerated corpse sits up and all its intestines spill out on the floor (something that seems to happen at least once in every zombie movie since the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), nonetheless, Romero is at pains to show that his zombies continue to rot even after being reanimated. The stink from even one zombie should be (as one of my one time drill sergeants would put it) "enough to knock a buzzard off a shit wagon"; the dense cloud of choking reek emanating from a horde of the shambling dead should be a miasma from hell. Yet apparently it's not so; zombies sneak up on the unwary constantly in these movies, and nobody ever comments on how bad they smell.

Regardless of all this, I enjoyed DIARY OF THE DEAD enormously and strongly recommend it to any true zombie fans that may be reading this -- or just to anyone who enjoys seeing deaf Amish farmers named Samuel kill zombies with a deftly lobbed stick of dynamite and a skillfully wielded scythe.

And any time a zombie clown shows up at a kids' birthday party, you just know whacky, hilarious hijinx are going to ensue.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Dear D.A.,

Thanks for showing us your story "Power 2 the Peepz." It's jam-packed with ideas and I liked your use of language, but in the end I found the format a bit off-putting--the screenplay-like nature made the read a bit too disjointed for me. I'm going to pass on this one, then, but good luck to you with it, and I look forward to seeing more from you.

[editor's name]
Fiction Editor, Futurismic

For what it's worth (very little -- when a writer finds him or herself explaining their work to an audience who didn't 'get' it, that writer has already failed to do their job entirely), POWER 2 THE PEEPZ was meant to be a cyberpunk epistolary -- which is to say, a story told through messages and communications. Classic epistolary stories are generally told through various pieces of correspondence, and/or excerpts from journals or diaries. I wanted to take that classic literary conceit and update it for the SF, and specifically the cyberpunk, genre.

Along with that, I was very influenced while writing the story by the
recent film THE PRESTIGE. I greatly enjoyed THE PRESTIGE's decidedly
non-linear presentation of the narrative, where each bit of 'business'
presented in the film gave the attentive viewer just enough
information to place the next, disjointed, scene in some kind of
temporal context. That's what I was trying to do with P2TP -- I
essentially wrote each 'piece' of the narrative in a separate file,
then mixed and matched them almost like pieces of a puzzle until I got
what I thought was a result that worked.

The problem with all of that is that when you're trying to tell a cyberpunk epistolary tale in text, you end up having to describe sights and sounds with, well, text. A cyberpunk epistolary tale really SHOULD be presented in a VA medium, and, most likely, allowing a film like THE PRESTIGE to influence a textual narrative isn't the best idea, either. One can certainly present non-linear narratives in text -- Robert Anton Wilson is just one name that leaps to mind as being a master of that sort of thing -- but it may well be one of the understatements of the age for me to admit I am no Robert Anton Wilson.

I'm up in the air as to ASTONISHING ADVENTURES #3. I've been told my Doc Nebula story has been accepted, more than once, but it's longer than they usually like to accept, and they're now trying to pay for stories on a tight budget, so I'm thinking, if something gets the axe, it's going to be that story.

Ah well. At least I currently have a day job not to give up.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

When bad things happen to good artists

Both Jim Mooney and Dave Stevens have died recently. I enjoyed the artwork of both men enormously and am saddened at the thought that neither will ever produce any more original work. Jim Mooney is especially meaningful to me for his work on Supergirl and Man-Thing (now there's an odd team), while Dave Steven will always be Mr. Rocketeer to me... although he did some wonderful covers for Mark Evanier and Dan Spiegel's late, great, and much missed CROSSFIRE title, as well.

I have little more to say than this, although I will note I learned of both sad events through Mark Evanier's blog, which is always worth reading.