Current Mood: Holistic Burgers

Under increasing pressure on the home front, Team Mollison re-upped Hulu for a few months. Their primary motivation was catching up on “Bob’s Burgers” – probably the best family show on TV right now.  The show is filled with fully realized characters who grow in depth with each passing episode.

Bob may not be the smartest cookie, and he may not be a great businessman, but he is a great father.  Long suffering and big hearted, he’s a good man, struggling to care for his family, and in so doing he serves as a role model for fathers – a strong contrast to the usual sort selfish incompetent stock character seen in most sitcoms.

More surprising still is the character of his wife, Linda.  She is loving and kind, but far from perfect.  Headstrong and quirky and fun, her enthusiasm for life actually results in her making frequent mistakes that can only be rectified by her husband.  That’s a storyline unheard of in our enlightened times, and because of it, she has some of the most memorable lines in the show.

The youngest child, Louise, is wise beyond her years and verges on a Mary Sue, except that her own eccentricities result in weaknesses that flesh her out and create internal conflicts of her own.  Gene, the middle child, verges on playing the village idiot role given his obliviousness and bumbling incompetence at pretty much everything he does save for music.  The annoyance that might arise from his clownish nature is tempered by the raw enthusiasm and good nature.  He really likes liking things, and in a world filled with cynics, it’s refreshing to see that kind of optimism.

The oldest, Tina, provides a counterpoint to her brash siblings with a sweet and timid nature.  At first blush, her uncertain steps from childhood into adulthood are ridiculous.  But they reflect a young woman’s uncertainty and misapprehensions and are written with such deftness and compassion that the viewer understands and empathizes with her, even as they laugh at her often self-imposed travails.  Hey, we’ve all been there, Tina.  We know how it goes.

While much too busy for the sort of binge watching that goes on in my house, I’ve been snared by the writing.  At times the gags in Bob’s Burgers rivals early Simpsons for their earnestness and cleverness.  Best of all, most of the humor in this show features the warmth and wry wit of flyover country rather than the hard edged sarcasm that dominates the coastal traditions.  Heck, the mere presence of a nuclear family that loves and cares for each other separates this show from the pack.

If you’re up for some light-hearted fun that won’t insult you and that reflects the normal and typical American family life, you should give the Belchers a shot.

On the more dramatic end of the spectrum, I’ve been experiencing Dirk Gently’s Holisitic Detective Agency.  It’s too early for me to give a recommend just yet.  As a BBC show it’s plagued with all of the usual issues.  Tiny women single handedly beating up hordes of bulky and well trained men.  A Dirk Gently who ladles the ‘quirky genius’ schtick on way too heavy at the outset.  A shadowy government military cabal we’re supposed to fear despite being shown as utterly incompetent.  It’s definitely a flawed work.

On the other hand, it has Elijah Wood in a dramatic role that uses his charisma and raw talent to incredible effect.  One of the kung-fu waif/stronk female characters manages her feats by way of an what amounts to a superpower level of luck.  Dirk, after being introduced as, “Remember Tenant’s Doctor Who?  I’m him turned up to 11!” settles down in fairly short order.  The cabal is revealed to be not so much incompetent as outclassed.  Perhaps I’m making excuses

The premise of the show revolves around the mystery of a murdered billionaire and the disappearance of his young daughter a few days before his death.  We follow Elijah Wood’s character who serves as the real heart of the show.  All he wants is to care for his sister, who suffers from a mental illness that keeps her shut in and requires expensive medications to function.  Thrown into the middle of the mystery, he slips into a shadow world populated by cults, possible aliens, police as confused by the strange events as he is, and the military cabal.

Overall, it’s a mixed bag, but you might find it worth a shot if you like convoluted sci-fi and conspiraciana, and you can stomach and look past the BBC’s typically excessive bullshit tax.  Once I finish the series, I’ll have a clearer picture of whether Dirk Gently deserves your time or not.  For now, it’s worth a shot.

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Happy President’s Day

Together we can turn Mount Rushmore into Mount Rushmost

I don’t trust the plan.  I trust the God Emperor.  But I trust God first and foremost, and so I celebrated this Presidents’ Day with a Rosary and request that Our Lady watch over him and guide him through the dangerous waters in which he swims.  There is truth to the social media refrain, common among the blackpill types, that “We aren’t voting our way out of this mess.”  We won’t be cleaning up this mess by ballot box alone, no.  It’s going to take a return to our Christian values, and that’s going to take a lot of prayer.  If you’ve been neglecting the most important front in the culture war, today’s a good day to get started.  Say a prayer for POTUS, and one for our nation, under God.

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Begun, The Ember Wars Have

 The talented team-up of Jon Del Arroz and Richard Fox has born its first fruits.  Those of us smart enough to back the crowdfund for the comic adaptation of The Ember War saga have received the initial offering.

It lives up to the hype.

The full run of 120 pages aren’t slated for release until April, but backers recently received the 24-page Issue #1 which lays the groundwork for the coming interstellar conflagration.  Set sixty years in the future, humanity continues to do what humanity does – they fight.  The tools have changed, thanks to Marc Ibarra and his mysterious benefactor, but the law of scarcity and supply and demand still apply.  Which leaves the door open for conflict ranging from espionage of the corporate and governmental varieties, and big damn space battles as well.

The action opens with the infiltration of a mining colony that went dark and the search for survivors, then moves on to the broader shoot-em-up of fleet battles in space, and delivers a short vignette that hints at big doings afoot in the Earth’s galactic neighborhood, and finally ends with a terrible realization that echoes the great hook at the heart of Battlestar Galactica.

There’s a lot to pack into the first issue, and if it seems heavy on the plot set-ups and light on the resolutions, that’s likely because we’ve got another 96 pages worth of comic to get through.  The characterizations are a little thin, but again that has more to do with pacing for the long haul than any oversight on the writers’ part.  With such limited space to work with, the writers make heavy use of the time saving device of tropes and blank slate characters just waiting to be fully fleshed out later.  They do provide just enough meat to hold interest and make this reader want to learn more about who they are and what they face.

The art?  I’m not an art critic.  It works.  Jethro Morales’ aesthetic has enough detail to please the eye, without overwhelming the story with visuals for the sake of visuals.  The colors are vibrant, the lettering seamless, and everything fits together well.  One nice aspect of the artwork that jumps out even to my inexperienced eye is the dynamic layout.  Check out this scan of a few pages.  Note how often Jethro uses insets in splash pages or eschews rectangular frames.  That helps add to the visual appeal and drives the action forward.  It breaks things up and keeps you on your toes.

Finally, it’s worth noting that straight ahead sci-fi tales are woefully under-represented in the pages of comics.  The decision to bring a story like this – for those who care, it’s too early to tell if we’re looking at space opera or military SF – to the page represents a bold choice, and for my money it’s one that paid off in spades.  The cape genre has had over fifty years of domination and they’ve built and deconstructed and rebuilt those stories so often there just isn’t a whole lot of blood left in the super-stones.  The Ember War represents exactly the kind of diversity that mainstream comics lack – a diversity of genres and ideas.  It feels fresh and new in a way that no super-hero story can these days.

More so than any other comic that I’ve back, save perhaps only Alt*Hero: Q, this is one comic that has left me eager to get my mitts on the next issue.

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Alt*Hero: Q.2.1

If you experienced Savers Remorse when the chance to back Alt*Hero: Q came and went without your money in the pot, Arkhaven Comics has great news!  It also has great news for those of us interested in top-notch storytelling from Chuck Dixon.  After Indiegogo sabotaged the original crowdfunding campaign, Arkhaven set up a speakeasy style campaign to recover, and now they have a front-facing chance for those who didn’t get in on the ground floor.

Honestly, I’m not a big QAnon guy.  That’s a channer phenomenon, and the chans’ tactic of flooding the stream with gross-out images does a fine job keeping squares like me away from the deep lore.  The Q stuff that trickles out of containment is enough to keep me mildly curious, and this reimagining of Q as a classic-but-modern renegade superspy just piles on the intrigue.  So I’m going in, and you should consider going where we go all.  Looks like a lot of fun.

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Swiss Army Trash

“A hopeless man (“the autist”) stranded on a deserted island befriends a dead body (“Daniel Radcliffe”) and together they go on a surreal journey to get home.”

Spoiler:  No, they really, REALLY don’t.  I’m not linking to this film because you shouldn’t watch it.  It’s gloriously bad in all the worst ways.

Threw on some trash to watch while alone for an afternoon doing some home repairs.  Since mainstream titles worth watching are hen’s teeth rare these days, I figured I’d give an indy title a shot.  Oops.  Swiss Army Man features an autist struggling to find meaning in his life who does befriend a dead body.  Their journey to escape the desert island and then find their way through the woods to civilization in the Pacific Northwest parallels their search for meaning.

As this is a film made by people far more clever than wise, they explicitly reject God early on in the process.  The corpse of Daniel Radcliffe has a lot of magic powers, but has a blank slate of a mind.  The Autist’s struggle to explain life to the not-quite-zombie wanders aimlessly, with a focus on the mechanics of eating, pooping, flatulence, and sex.  When they stumble upon a trash heap, the film-makers illustrate for Dead Radcliffe the concepts of empty (pizza box), smelly (empty Chinese takeout box), and old (Bible).  They go out of their way to use the Bible as a slate upon which the autist draws the concept of pooping by drawing an elephant pooping in brown smears.  Because the film-makers are Smart People who understand the concept of SUBTLE!

Naturally, the protagonist, having eliminated the Prime Meaning, struggles to help his man-child magic corpse appreciate that the true meaning of life is…I don’t know.  This is part buddy movie, part romance, part fever-dream, part never mind, it isn’t worth watching.  These days, even shallow minds quickly grasp what the film-makers are shooting for, deep minds analyze the deeper magic of what’s broken inside the film-makers, and the deepest thinkers start looking for ways the film-makers out clever themselves.

Because a world-view that abandons Truth cannot exist without a myriad of contradictions.  In this case, our autist recreates scenes from his own life, and passes them off as scenes from Dead Radcliffe’s life to jog his memory.  Why?  Doesn’t matter – the purpose is to show the autist building a new life for himself out of garbage.  Which results in long, lingering sequences of beautifully shot trash.  Really, the cinematography, music, and editing are first rate in these slow-motion and lovingly crafted images of pure trash.  Of course, what they’ve done is spit-shine garbage, and at the end of the day, that’s a pretty good metaphor for this whole movie.

Go to Church.  Read the bible.  Say your prayers.  You’ll find the meaning in life that so eludes the makers of this miserable little film.

 

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Kakerlacs, by Alexandru Constantin

The modern day monster genre suffers from a dearth of creativity that leaves most stories feeling like a scene from “The Monster Squad”.  Vampires?  Garlic.  Werewolf?  Silver.  Blue haired land whale?  Crime statistics and logic.  Or they feature protagonists who feel flatly perfect and impregnable.  Or they take place on the streets of another bland city on another bland night.

So it was with considerable pleasure that I read Alexandru Constantin’s Kakerlacs, in the latest issue of StoryHack.  His body-snatcher style villains lack an obvious weakness that the reader can trust will save the day.  The story opens with the small town drama that grounds the events in a reality and reminds the reader that the protagonist has a lot of other issues to deal with, even if he survives his encounter with the titular threat.  Best of all, the action takes place in a dusty desert one-stoplight town just a few minutes past the very edge of the LA megalopolis.  It’s a remote setting, and one you don’t see very often these days, and one that helps reinforce the isolation and vulnerability of the victims that pile up along the way.

Bold choices like that are par for the course with Constantin.  His “Tiger in the Garden” – the cover feature for the StoryHack Issue Zero – made me sit up and take notice of his talent.  He writes with an unabashed strength and ZFG masculine attitude that runs completely at odds with the passive and feminine stylings that have come to dominate the market these days.  It’s not a forced and artificial scenery-chewing approach to what drives men to risk life and limb for people they don’t even really like all that much.  His protagonists have a natural ebb and flow to their inner turmoil, a turmoil that most often has more to do with choosing between how best to use his talents to serve others than the choice between serving himself or others.

Take this brief passage:

Back in his truck, he sat in the unlit cab squeezing the steering wheel so hard his knuckles turned white.  Memories he didn’t want rushed through his mind.  Thoughts he’d left behind when he left so many years ago.  Coming back here had been a mistake.

In less competent hands, our protagonist would be considering running for the hills.  Here, he’s a strong man wrestling with his natural inclinations to solve his problems through the judicious application of heavy rocks to stubborn heads.  This internal battle for control over one’s emotions, the struggle to fight back smart instead of fast and dumb, just doesn’t show up in enough fiction these days.  It’s one of the more obvious aspects of the strength – in the physical and emotional sense rather than the qualitative sense – of Constantin’s writing.

His writing reminds me a lot of Schuyler Hernstrom, but where Hernstrom evokes the mythic and the epic tales of yesterday with soaring language and wide-ranging philosophical asides, Constantin kicks down the doors of contemporary literature stylings with a plain spoken and two fisted prose that brooks no admission nor apology for its raw power and ability to tap deep into what makes a man tick.

Kakerlacs is a great read with a great protagonist, a disgusting antagonist, and an dry and dusty setting as oppressive as the desert sun at noon-time.  Once again, I’m impressed by the people that Bryce has chose to surround me with, and can only trust his judgement that I belong on the page next to Constantin.

 

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Temple of Baktaar, by Jason Restrick

Bridging the gap between review and shill, it’s time to talk about StoryHack, an action and adventure short story periodical produced by Bryce Beattie.  He had the urge to produce a regular collection of short works that runs the gamut of genres, and that is a much bolder move than you might think.  The state of the art of marketing in today’s world of search engine optimization and direct focus marketing strategies and AI algorithms tells creatives that they should do one (genre) thing and do it well.  Readers don’t cross genres.  Target one niche audience.

That may be right, you may derive a lot more sales from a relentless focus on one niche like that, but the concept bores me to tears.  When Bryce announced his One Genre To Rule Them All, and that genre being action-adventure, I snatched at the ring like a toad-man with a frog in his throat.  And so you’ll see my own name gracing the cover of the second issue, but that’s not why I’m here today.  That’s just my oblique admission that this post might come off as a bit of a self-shill. My motives are as pure as the snows of nuclear winter, but that’s doesn’t mean I’m wrong when I say that Jason Restrick’s entry into the StoryHack library hits the jungle-action-with-a-side-helping-of-weird-tales nail on the head with a ten-pound sledgehammer.

The opening snatches you up in its arms like a 600-pound gorilla and the story doesn’t let go until the last passage and beyond.

Weary and haggard, I was alone in my study when there came a sound beyond the door.  Barely a knock: the faint thud of knuckles and the slow scrape of fingernails.  I started from my desk; not to flee – there was nowhere to run; nor to fight – but only to die on my feet.

The doorknob twitched.  The intruder stepped forth – a tall silhouette in the shadows.  Then, through my blurred vision I recognized the face of a friend, one who I had feared lost.

That’s how you start a story!  It’s a miniature drama all its own complete with mysteries set up and resolved, and more menace in the first two paragraphs than most Lovecraft knock-offs manage in a full blown novella, and we’re only getting started.  Our hero has to trek back to the source of his woes to remove the curse that afflicts, not himself – oh no, so such selfish motivations drive our hero – but to lift the curst on his friend, a curse he feels responsible for.  That’s the kind of unselfish effort that changes this from a tomb raider story to a heroic adventure, and part of the charm of the piece.

Restrick adopts the strong voice of a gentleman adventurer to tell this story of a lost temple that should have stayed lost, a cursed treasure recovered from degenerate jungle cultists, and a wise old hermit witchdoctor.  A tension runs through the story between the unshakable faith of the narrator and his best friend and confidante, and the dark and brooding menace of the jungle and temple ruins.  It speaks of danger at every turn, with only the brief solace provided by the wizened hedge wizard of the deepest Congo rainforest.

By my count the tale features at least three monsters, depending on how you want to count them, two warring gods in fine Weird Tales fashion, some hard hitting action scenes that leap from the page.  The amount of story packed into the brief pages of this tale is impressive, with nary a wasted word or thought.  Everything drives the plot forward towards a resolution that some may find unsatisfying, but which fans of the Weird Tales style will appreciate.

This is my goal as a writer.  To tell stories that can match the evocative spirit of the old stories as does Restrick’s “The Temple of Baktaar”.  It’s a story I’ve now re-read with a closer eye, not as a relaxing read, but as a writer looking to understand how Restrick manages to pull off this story.  It’s that good.

You can get yourself a copy here:

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Solemn Veterans Day

What can be said that hasn’t already.

Thank you boys for all of your sacrifices to make the world safe for whatever the hell it is they are doing down in Florida these days.

I’d feel bad about using today’s commemoration to score cheap political points, except that most of the soldiers I’ve ever known wouldn’t hesitate to laugh at the black humor that lies at the heart of the above joke.

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Must. Resist. Watchmen.

Amazon Prime has made Zack Snyder’s Watchmen available in both regular size and jumbo Director’s cut size, and it’s tempting to give it a re-watch.  So why does this post show an image of the Farrelley Brothers’ Something About Mary?

Because they are the same kind of movie.

Wipe the furrow from your brow, and I’ll explain.

The Farrelley Brothers made big money back in the late 90s-early aughts with a string of successful raunchy comedies that consisted of, as some wag more clever than I put it, “a whole lot of filler to sit through to get to four big belly laughs that will put you on the floor hoping your heart doesn’t give out.”  That’s an exaggeration, but not by much.  Films such as Me, Myself, and Irene, Dumb and Dumber, and KingPin, are like power hitters – their jokes strike out most of the time, but when they connect, the ball goes sailing out of the stadium.  That’s a smart plan, as audiences left their films remembering the high points rather than the long strings of dead air filled by flat and uninspired humor.

Which is exactly what happened with Watchman.  That film contains some of the most impressive moments of dread and anticipation ever put into a superhero movie.  Those imminently meme-worthy moments linger in your mind when you scroll through Amazon’s otherwise weak collection of films on offer, but Alan Moore’s dreary tale of miserable protagonists and mean-spirited philosophies – and Rorshach! – only parcels those morsels of goodness out to those willing to filter through the muck of his nihilism.

So it turns out, Alan Moore is the Farrelly Brothers of the comic book world.

And every time I’m tempted to give Watchmen a second chance, I remind myself that I’d rather have a line-up of guys with consistently high on-base percentages than one filled with power hitters.  The highs and lows might not be as high and low, but it’s a strategy that leads to a lot more consistent runs on the board, and one that delivers a lot more fun and a lot less disappointment.

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Deadpool: Too Soon? Yep

Mainstream comics are so much worse than I thought.  All dazzle, no razzle.

I’m a sucker for ten cent comics, particularly when they are bundled in plain brown wrappers and sold in ten packs to clear shelf space down at the local friendly comic and game and community based brand signal store.  Once my youngest daughter and I tossed the duplicates out, we were left with an even dozen cheap comics passed over by today’s more *koff* discerning comic book readers.

She wanted Spiderman first, and we got a side-story that explained how Doc Ock went forward in time, switched bodies with Peter Parker, got killed moments after downloading his brainwaves into a crawling wristband he shares with an AI copy of his beloved, then came back to the present to trick some rando clone-master villain into rebuilding him a body that he could redownload his brainwaves into and thus be reborn.  That sounds incredibly convoluted and gonzo and awesome, and the art was a great match for the over-the-top sensibility, but the writer never let you forget that he found the whole thing ridiculous to the point of stability.  He went through the motions, but couldn’t resist a lot of sly and smug asides to reassure you he is really above all this silliness.  It sucked all the life out of the story, as did the frequent, “Wouldn’t it be funny if”s.  It had a lot of potential, but refused to consistently treat the material with the respect it deserves.

The second story featured Deadpool and Squirrelgirl’s mutant offspring kidnapping them and then a black shadow guy attacks and it was so silly and then Deadpool’s demon wife shows up and the shadow is a demon stalking her because the real bad guy is toxic masculinity but they cut his johnson off and he’s sad because she cooks rocky mountain oysters and Spiderham and Howard the Duck are there because of course they are.  It’s a cavalcade of cringe as joke after joke falls flat and the writer even has an “explain the joke” joke fall flat because it needs to go all the way around to unfunny-ception.  This thing was as hilarious as a Saturday Night Live sketch.  Ever been around a hot chick that thinks she should be a stand-up comic because thirsty guys laugh at every jokes she makes?  Yeah.

Worst of all, this happens once again largely because everyone involved treats the material with a utter contempt.  They feel like they are marking time until they can get a real job at a real company.  Nothing matters, graphic kills happen regularly to name characters you know will be revived at the end of the issue because ain’t no way Punisher is getting killed by some random demon villain of the week.

My five year old thought the squirrel was funny, though.  Not squirrel girl.  The actual squirrel.  Congratulations, sophisticated Deadpool writer, you’re writing humor for the PJ Masks set.

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