Long Overdue Thoughts on “Right Ho, Jeeves”

The comic omnibuses shown to the left represent the big splurge for my Christmas presents to myself.  A full review of Gun Ghoul will have to wait – the first issue in the collection piqued my interest but I’ve had a hard time picking it up since early January.  I just need a little more time.  Right Ho, Jeeves, on the other hand, came to me at the perfect time.

Adapted from the novels of Wodehouse, the story follows Bertie Wooster, an affable fellow who just wants to live his lower-upper class life in peace.  That prospect is complicated by the need to please the aunt who funds his lifestyle, and who summons him to her husband’s estate to enlist his aid in prying money out of her husband’s tight grasp.  The cast of goofballs creates a string of misunderstandings and botched plots that would rival any network sitcom.  The gags are delivered in a stately lower-upper class setting with enough dry wit among the slapstick gags to create a deceptively dignified read.

Reading Right Ho, Jeeves reminded me of my childhood.  Not because I was raised in an English manorial estate filled with colorful characters, mind you.  Rather, because it felt like reading a copy of Mad Magazine.

Stay with me here, Wodehouse as Mad Magazine makes more sense that you might think.

Me and my brothers thought we had to smuggle copies of Mad Magazine into the house because whenever the bright and obnoxious covers caught our eye on the supermarket shelf, Mom turned us down with a gentle, “That’s not appropriate for you.”  Our illicit readings proved her both right and wrong.  The kitchen-sink approach Mad takes to humor meant that the booger jokes and slapstick and puns rubbed elbows with references to adult themes such as Hollywood celebrity gossip, the last gasps of seventies culture, and the (then topical) Reaganomics.  While not damaging to a child’s psyche, most adult references whooshed over our heads like facts zipping past the notice of the crew at CNN.

What they did provide was a glimpse into a broader and more mature world waiting for us on the other side of puberty.  Reading Wodehouse presents the same sort of feeling, but looking backwards at once was and what might still be again, if America can get its act together and make some unpleasant changes in our immivasion and economic policies.

The art for Right Ho, Jeeves also evokes a strong sense of nostalgia for a time when comics were a medium of information exchange not entirely given over to children.  The smooth work and dignified cartoonish style used by Gary Kwapitz makes a perfect match for the same balance that Wodehouse brings to the line between dignified and adult humor laced with outright buffoonery.  The colors as well, warm and rich, never tilt too far into the realm of “sepia tinged nostaligia farming”, and instead provide a sense of immediacy that never lets the reader forget he is reading the tales of a bygone era.

Bringing this work to market is an incredible achievement.  Fantastically entertaining and enormously fun, we don’t yet live in a world where Right Ho, Jeeves can develop the popularity and accolades that it deserves.  Too fun for the snooty types that think books discussed on NPR are the height of culture and too mature for the eternal children that flock to Marvel movies, this book has a limited niche that would cause any mainstream editor to swoon at the risks.  It’s too much fish for one and too much fowl for the other.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t market for it.  Hell, Frazier ran for twelve seasons, and it had the same feeling as Right Ho, JeevesIt’s merely to say that mainstream entertainment refuses to acknowledge the hordes of adults who grew up reading bootleg copies of Mad Magazine by flashlight under the covers, and who learned to appreciate that sometimes sophisticated humor can be delivered by smacking a heavy cream pie right into a blowhard’s fat face.

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The Lego Movie: A Cynical Hot Take

The Lego Movie: The Retroactively Named The First Part is a fine movie. With the sequel, The Lego Movie2 : The Second Part out in theaters now, it seemed the opportune moment to raise an issue with the underlying message of the original film.  For those that haven’t seen it yet, the underlying message is that DAD GETS NOTHING!

You should probably stop reading right now because of spoilers and self-admitted man-babyisms.

The third act of The Lego Movie breaks the third-and-a-half wall.  It doesn’t break the fourth wall and admit it’s really a movie, instead it reveals that the Lego movie so far is actually the play time of a real-world kid who just wants to play with Dad’s basement full of toys.  By the end, Dad realizes that having his own interests and wanting a place to escape from the sometimes overwhelming demands of fatherhood makes him a selfish and horrible person.  Through the magic of Legos he learns that when it comes to the pressures of modern life, there is no escape.

If he builds a club where he can relax with like-minded men, they’ll be outlawed.  If he seeks retreat in new books, they’ll be forced to carry messages about the evils he and his kind hath wrought on the world*.  Not a single television show, not even sports, will be allowed to reflect his interests if they don’t also cater to interests directly opposed to his existence.  The one room in the house where he can shut down his racing thoughts and focus on the slow and careful construction and engineering, the detailed thought and planning that goes into the lavish spread that he built over decades, even that he will not be allowed.  He must sacrifice the time and planning and meticulous attention to detail to serve others.

 

Not so heart warming when you think about it like that, is it?

If you do see the sequel, note well the state of the once-glorious utopia built by Dad.  Note what happens when you don’t give him a little space and defer to his wisdom.  Consider also how the results of the DAD GETS NOTHING approach to a basement full of Legos translates to our society as a whole.

Did the writers of these films slip one past the Narrative Censors, or did they just deliver more right than they bargained for?

*Yes, we still have indy publishing and books written pre-1980, but you get the point.

 

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Castalia Reviews: Honor Flight

Today I’ve got a review up for a nice little indy gem of a sci-fi book called Honor Flight.  Head on over and check it out if you’d like to know what a decent version of Old Man’s War looks like.

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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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