March 21, 2018

Deep Ice: They don’t die pretty (Ian Edginton and D’Israeli’s War of the Worlds, Part 1)

It is May 2, 2006. I’m working on building a cat condo for Leah’s cat. Louis Reukeyser, host of Wall $treet Week (How I pray that some day when she gets too old to be cool, Ke$ha discovers a hidden talent for economics and takes over that show), dies. Puerto Rico is forced to close their Department of Education due to an ongoing budget crisis, but I’m sure they’ll turn it around. Silvio Berlusconi resigns as the Prime Minister of Italy, to spend more time with, I assume, sex workers. Surely, he will never be heard from again. Bjoern Hoen, Petter Tharaldsen, and Petter Rosenvinge are sentenced to seven, eight, and four years in prison for their roles in the 2004 theft of Edvard Munch’s The Scream and Madonna. The paintings will be recovered in August. This week also sees the Great American Boycott, also known as the “Day Without an Immigrant”, a protest by US immigrants against the broken and frequently racist immigration policies in the United States. I’m sure that’ll get sorted out soon too.

Well, this has been kind of a bummer. Let’s look to the world of entertainment… Doctor Who wins the British Academy Television Award for Best Drama this week. Saturday, it’ll air “The Girl in the Fireplace”, a Steven Moffat tearjerker in which the Doctor romances Madame du Pompadour in 18th century France, but is unable to adopt her as a traveling companion because a faulty time window has him show up after her death. This past Saturday gave us “School Reuinion”, the return of Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. The episode would lead to Sladen being given her own spin-off, which would run for five seasons until… Well fuck. Every damn piece of news this week has ominous foreshadowing, and I haven’t even mentioned that this is the week 7th Heaven airs its series finale (Then goes on to get renewed anyway because we don’t yet know about Stephen Collins).

Madeline Albright is Jon Stewart’s guest tonight. Paul Reikoff is Stephen Colbert’s. We’re approaching the Police Procedural Event Horizon, with three CSIs, four Law & Orders, and the first of the NCISes. Power Rangers Mystic Force is off this week, returning next Monday with “The Gatekeeper, Part 1”, an episode in which the actual rangers themselves are tangential at best, a frequent weakness of this season, with its unusually large supporting cast. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse premiers this week, reuniting classic Disney characters in banal, toddler-friendly adventures as creepy, soulless CGI constructs, and forcing parents to learn something called the “Hot Dog Dance”. Mission Impossible III is out in theaters this week. Goodfellas comes on on HD-DVD.

Almost two thousand guitarists converge in Poland to simultaneously play Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”, setting a Guiness world record. Pearl Jam releases the Avocado album. “Bad Day” is the top song on the Billboard charts.

I’m not overly literate when it comes to comics. I never really got past the fact that in terms of minutes-of-entertainment per unit cost, comics fall somewhere between hard drugs and sex workers. But I’m not disinterested. I’ve watched every episode of Atop the Fourth Wall, and studiously never bothered to read my copy of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.

The upshot of all of this is that my knowledge and background into comics is sort of haphazard and lackadaisical. Which is how I ended up with a copy of the Dark Horse adaptation of War of the Worlds. Because, although this comic is just a very straightforward, very direct adaptation of the novel, it’s also something else: it’s a prequel to Edginton and D’Israeli’s 2002 series Scarlet Traces, about the imperialistic ambitions of an early 20th-century England, bolstered by reverse-engineered Martian technology. Edginton and D’Israeli’s War of the Worlds was published a few months before Scarlet Traces‘s direct sequel, The Great Game, with a fourth series, The Cold War being published a decade later. And I will probably get to those eventually, but it turns out that I’ve got a ton of these comics to get through, and I haven’t worked out what the minimum number of things I have to buy to get the whole thing.

Oh, and remember Pendragon? The folks who put out one of the most painful adaptations I’ve tried to fight through? Well, right after this adaptation came out, they took a stab at insinuating that Dark Horse had ripped them off, putting up a poll on their website comparing art designs from their “movie” to the comic. This was eventually settled, with Pendragon posting an apology on their website for giving the impression that they thought Dark Horse had ripped them off just because they pretty much said exactly that.

So with the ringing endorsement of having been accused of looking too much like a shockingly cheap-looking film, how’s Dark Horse’s adaptation? S’okay. It sticks close to the novel, despite being deliberately positioned to lead into Scarlet Traces. If there are direct references to Scarlet Traces, they’re subtle and don’t really change anything from the book. But I think it makes an interesting contrast to the Saddleback version in how it translates the story to the less verbose style of sequential art. And I find the art style cool in a lot of places, and… interestingly weird in others. So let’s take a look…

I like the art style here. It’s kind of a medium between the oddly over-detailed look we saw in the Saddleback version and the old-timey simplified style of the retro-Superman story. There’s also something unusual about the use of color that I don’t have the vocabulary to describe. It’s a limited palette with a small number of colors and exaggerated contrasts, but it doesn’t have the same harsh flatness of most comic art. Something like a pop art chiaroscuro that has a bit of an art deco quality to it.

It’s good to see the AskJeeves logo guy get work these days.

Whenever space is shown, even the night’s sky, it has this reddish nebula effect on it. It livens up panels which would otherwise have a lot of empty blackness. And if it sometimes seems a little excessive, at least it’s clear that D’Israeli has actually seen the night sky before, which gives him a leg up on both Pendragon and whoever did the covers for Howard Koch’s War of the Worlds II.

Continue reading

March 17, 2018
March 14, 2018


I’m ridiculous, but I wanted to share this.

Last Friday, I got pizza from Domino’s for the first time since college. I’d heard that they did some soul-searching about a decade ago and discovered that perhaps customers didn’t like pizza that tasted like ketchup on a cracker topped by a slice of pasteurized processed cheese-food product, and re-engineered their offerings into something that could broadly be described as “pizza”, but I hadn’t gotten around to actually trying it. Dylan had been suggesting that he might like to since he’d seen a teacher eating some at lunch, and some coworkers were talking about their carryout special, so I pulled the trigger and bought a couple of pies, and you know what? It was pretty good. I liked it. Dylan liked it. Evie ate the cheese and pineapples off of two slices and begged for more. Leah thought it was okay.

So in celebration of this surprisingly edible pizza, I wanted to offer up the following meme:

Upon reflection, associating your pizza company’s mascot with avoidance may have been a misstep.

March 10, 2018

Tales From /lost+found 152: The House-Guest

3×19 April 2, 1999
THE HOUSE-GUEST (Serial 37, Episode 1)

Setting: Seattle, WA, UNIT Time
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Cast: Jonathan Frakes (Agent Blackwood), Ron Canada (Agent Fesick), Malcolm McDowell (Mr. McMaster/Sam Tether/The Master)

Plot: The Master describes Earth, a place of great natural beauty, abundant mineral resources, and strategic location. While derisive toward human intellect, he grants that humans are prolific and highly adaptable. At UNIT, Agent Blackwood is finishing the clean-up after the Cyb incident. Lizzie has gotten settled in her new apartment when the Doctor surprises her by materializing in her living room and asking to stay for a few days. He tells her about seeing the man they know as McMaster in eighteenth-century Europe, and that he believes McMaster has been using Seattle as his base of operations. He works with UNIT to trace McMaster’s endeavors in the city, leading him to realize McMaster may have been involved with []. McMaster, now operating under the alias “Sam Tether”, discovers the Doctor’s investigation and begins to set a trap. Despite the time they have spent together so far, Lizzie finds the Doctor a difficult roommate, and their friendship becomes stressed. While watching the local news, she gives the Doctor the idea that more mundane local crime might be connected to McMaster’s activities. UNIT is able to correlate a series of unsolved burglaries with business acquisitions to uncover the scope of McMaster’s empire. The Doctor concludes that McMaster is building a hyperspace transmitter, and this might be a prelude to a return of the Nestene consciousness – or something worse. The Doctor wants to confront McMaster, but Blackwood is unable to act, as they can’t even prove that Tether and McMaster are the same person. After a fight with Lizzie, the Doctor decides to confront McMaster/Tether alone. Lizzie improves the computer search UNIT used to discover the Sam Tether identity and finds older activities under another alias, “Matt Shere”, which suggest that he had already completed the hyperspace transmitter months ago. She realizes that the Doctor is walking into a trap, and convinces Blackwood to put together a rescue. At the headquarters of Tether’s company, the Doctor confronts his enemy, who introduces himself as the Master. He claims that he and the Doctor knew each other long ago, though the Doctor does not remember. He offers the Doctor a partnership, though is careful not to give away his plan, beyond the fact that it will yield unfathomable wealth and power. The Doctor rebuffs the offer and promises to prevent the Master from completing his transmitter, but the Master laughs this off; he isn’t building a transmitter, but a weapon which will destroy a large part of the city. He sets a countdown and challenges the Doctor to defuse the device. The Doctor attempts to trap the Master in the room with him, forcing him to disable the weapon to save himself, but the Master overpowers him and knocks him unconscious. UNIT arrives minutes later, having located the Doctor with the life-sign scanner he built for them previously. The Doctor refuses to leave without defusing the weapon, but is unable to. When the timer runs out, instead of activating, the weapon plays a taunting message from the Master, forcing the Doctor to admit he’s been outmatched. Lizzie asks about the Master’s accomplice, confusing the Doctor. The scanner had detected two heartbeats in the office in addition to his own, causing the Doctor to realize that the Master must be a fellow Time Lord. The Master completes his narration about the riches of Earth, now revealed to be the message he had broadcast months earlier. He ends the transmission by declaring bidding for the planet open.

March 7, 2018

I’m tired.

I’ve mentioned numerous times that I’ve got two small children. One of them is school-age; he just started Kindergarten this past fall. Taking care of small children is a lot of work. But that’s not actually why I’m tired this week.

What I’m tired over is worrying about them. I’m tired of worrying that some disgruntled man-child is going to take a legally-purchased long gun and shoot at them.

I’m tired of being told the problem is that parents are too lazy and aren’t engaged enough. Look, parenting is hard. I like to think I do a decent job of it, but it takes literally every ounce of strength I have to keep that up. And I’ve got a good job and live in a good neighborhood and have all manner of other things going for me.

I’m tired of being told that the problem is “mental health” when the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victims of a crime than the perpetrators. And I’m doubly tired of being told it by the same people who work day and night to make healthcare harder to afford. And I’m triple tired of being told it by people who have absolutely no intention of doing a damned thing about how shamefully broken our support and care systems for people with mental health issues are, but are just looking for a convenient out-group to stigmatize.

I’m tired of being told how children of today are “entitled” and “irresponsible” by adults who are throwing a tantrum at the prospect of having their favorite toys taken away.

I’m tired of being told that we should try ridiculous solutions since they’re better than nothing by the people who have taken all the reasonable solutions off the table.

I’m tired of being told I’m a coward by people who need a personal arsenal to feel safe.

I’m tired of being told that the survivors need to “embrace Jesus” at a school that’s 40% Jewish when the shooter etched swastikas into his magazines.

I’m tired of being told that a 5-4 SCOTUS decision from 2008 represents the one and only possibly interpretation of the phrase “A well-regulated militia”.

I’m tired of being told that banning guns won’t help when it’s helped in literally every other country it’s been tried. I’m tired of being told it by the same people responsible for the war on drugs. But then, banning assault rifles would inconvenience white men rather than serving as an excuse to disenfranchise millions of people of color.

I’m tired of it taking two weeks for the media to notice when a shooter is a white supremacist and two seconds to notice when they’re a Muslim.

I’m tired of passionate defenses of a law that exists because eighteenth century slaveowners were afraid abolitionists would take away their ability to put down slave revolts made by people who harbor the delusion that they could possibly defend themselves from government tyranny with an AR-15. I’m especially tired of hearing it from people who tell me that the black man with a legally-owned gun who was shot by the cops for no clear reason was “no angel”.

But mostly, I am tired of knowing that the next one is just around the corner.

Fix this.

March 3, 2018
February 28, 2018

Deep Ice: Cut across their lines of magnetic force (Elseworlds: Superman vs The War of the Worlds, concluded)



Clark wakes up weeks later to find himself a Martian prisoner. He finds himself restrained inside a Martian prison camp, where Lex Luthor is conveniently present to deliver some exposition. Stalin, Hitler, Roosevelt and the British royal family have all been killed by the Martians, who have completely conquered the Earth.

Predictably, Luthor has sold out, offering his services to the Martians in exchange for his life. Despite their victory, the Martians are dying. Luthor quotes Wells, but also gives their affliction the cute nickname “Earth Flu”. Of course, the logic here is a little dicey; Luthor’s agreed to serve as the Local Knowledge for the invaders, helping them cure the Earth Flu, because he reckons the human race is finished and working for the invaders is his only chance. But… He also knows that the Martians are dying. So… Wouldn’t it make more sense to just, like, not help them? You’ve got to figure that Luthor would stand more to gain by making a grab for power as humanity tries to rebuild after the Martians are defeated than he would as a Martian Quisling. Even if he’s focused on his short-term survival here, there’s no hint that he’s planning to double-cross the Martians, and he is earnestly working on the cure. The only hint we get is, admittedly, a nice one: it’s a challenging scientific problem, so perhaps it’s imply his vanity pushing him to prove he can hold his own against these otherworldly intellects.

I have an irrational love of this image of Luthor Dope-Slapping himself.

Luthor has Lois brought to them, not for any clear reason, and asks Clark about his extraterrestrial origins. Because of the golden-age setting, Clark knows nothing about it, but easily admits that, yeah, he might well be an alien, having been found as a baby in a crashed rocket. When Lois mentions that the Martians in the lab are the only ones she’s seen that aren’t afflicted by disease, Luthor realizes that Kent’s alien immune system is protecting the Martians. We get the comic’s one and only use of the word “Superman” when Luthor compares Kent to a Nietzschean ubermensch, a comparison which doesn’t actually hold water since Kent’s value system is pretty staunchly opposed to Nietzsche’s, but I don’t consider that a writing flaw since pretty much everyone badly misunderstands Nietzsche and the ubermensch.


Lois is predictably horrified by Luthor’s villainy, and rejects his amorous advances, though Luthor takes it in stride. Within a few hours, he’s isolated Kent’s antibodies and developed a cure for the Martians… Whereupon they suddenly but inevitably betray him, as he is of no further use to them. Lois saves Luthor by stabbing the attacking Martian, and Luthor, declaring himself to have been “temporarily mad” to have sided with the invaders, frees Kent just in time to beat the crap out of more Martians, telepathically summoned to assist.

Okay, I’ll take destiny into my own hands. Just so long as you don’t expect me to spell “Clark” with an “S”

Escaping the lab, Clark dispatches the Martians to whom Luthor had given the cure, hoping they haven’t yet telepathically communicating it to the others. He also frees the humans imprisoned in the camp, pausing to explain about the S on his shirt to a bystander whose most pressing concern is why he spells “Clark” with an “S”. They also pause for Luthor to reflect on the humans who refuse to flee, preferring to be “tended to” as livestock than to take control of their own fate — way closer to Nietzsche than anything to do with Clark.

When Clark tries to shepherd Lois away, she instinctively recoils from him. I like this response, and even more, I like that she owns it. “I know I shouldn’t feel that way, after all, you just saved our lives, but I can’t help it!” She qualifies her instinctive discomfort in light of the fact that, y’know, fifty percent of the alien races she’s met this month have tried to exterminate humanity, and hopes she might be able to get past it in time. She’s genuinely ashamed of herself, and Clark, though clearly hurt, clearly gets it.

Also, it’s the thirties, so technically it’s illegal for me to love an alien.

One thing that’s really interesting about this exchange to me is that while Lois is repulsed by Clark on learning he’s an alien — the exact reaction Pa Kent had cautioned young Clark about — Luthor never shows any such revulsion. He never shows any animosity toward Clark that’s greater than the general disdain he shows toward everyone else in the world. If anything, this Luthor seems oddly trusting.

A few Martians are still healthy enough to operate their tripods, and they rain heat rays on the escaping prisoners. Luthor and Lois are shocked when Clark picks up a wrecked car to defend them, Lex remarking, “The man isn’t human! But if he isn’t, then what is he?”

The answer comes in the form of a half-page spread recreating one of the most iconic images of the golden age.

“Guy in the lower left who loses his shit at the sight of Superman picking up a car” is one of the most unsung visual icons of comic book history.

Clark smashes one machine with a car and destroys a second by throwing its own black smoke rocket back at it. But when he tackles the third machine’s legs, the hood of the machine separates from them, hovering in the air. Luthor speculates that the tripod legs were akin to training wheels, assisting the vehicles while they learned to compensate for Earth’s gravity (Later, it’s implied that the tripod legs can’t even hold the machines up on their own, but are purely to assist with balance).

This is one of the few adaptations to keep the detail of the heat ray being held in the tripod’s manipulator arms rather than mounted on the fuselage. Though it kinda makes it look like Mr. Burns saying “Excellent…”

Clark takes two direct heat ray shots leaping at the flying machine, but makes a key discovery, which Luthor conveniently explains to us: when something passes between the flying machine and the ground, it interferes with their anti-gravity. Clark takes a third hit tossing one of the disabled tripods under the flying machine and it crashes to Earth. Though mortally wounded, Clark proceeds to hammer on the crashed machine, but suddenly holds back, realizing that “war fever” is taking hold of him. He collapses, and as he lays dying, he explains that he recognizes the basic similarity between himself and the Martians: that he too comes from a dead world (he’s guessing), and Lois’s reaction earlier demonstrates how easily it might be him and not the Martians that has humanity running in terror.

I like the sentiment, but maybe he’s laying it on a bit thick here? This is like all those scenes in Doctor Who where they set up this moral challenge between the Doctor and the Daleks, like, “But isn’t the Doctor on some level just as bad as they are?” Actually no, because they’re the Daleks. And here too, though the narrative does a good job of setting up the fact that it’s natural and reasonable for humans to fear Clark the same way they fear the Martians, and though the first few pages do set up the basic similarity between Krypton and Mars, only one of the alien species in this story has actually attempted genocide. Moreover, the moral arc of the narrative seems to land firmly on the side of “Humanity is right to fear the Martians, but wrong to fear Clark.” Yet it almost seems like the narrative isn’t quite clear on why. It seems at times implicit that it would be natural and entirely justified for a Kryptonian to look down on humans exactly the same way Martians do, so it’s hard to justify a message of “Fearing aliens because they’re different is wrong,” in the face of it actually being the right thing to do half the time. It’s even worse when you consider that no one acted with immediate fear and revulsion toward the Martians; they only freaked out later once the Martians had demonstrated hostility. So the good message of not rushing to judge Clark is in some sense twisted into a bad message of “Don’t learn from your mistakes.” (That’s not the only message you could take, and there’s a perfectly good “Don’t let bad past experiences lead you to misjudge someone else later,” but the comic doesn’t put in the work to take the moral the rest of the way there).

We have a… moral? I guess?

Continue reading

February 24, 2018
February 21, 2018

Flash Fiction: Impostor Syndrome

The morning fog hadn’t worn off yet the first time it happened. He was in the bathroom, combing his hair. The thought popped into his head. Loudly. Forcefully. That isn’t really your hair. He was so surprised by the sudden thought that had come out of nowhere that he didn’t have time to challenge the idea. His bald pate glared at him in the mirror. On the one hand, he knew it was wrong, but at the same time, he knew it wasn’t. He remembered that he’d been combing his hair just a second ago, but he also remembered that he’d gone bald in his late twenties. He finished getting dressed and headed to the kitchen. On the way, he glanced at the family photos in the hall. Sure enough, he was bald in all of them.

Quick breakfast and he was off to work. As he pulled into the parking lot, the unbidden thought came again. This isn’t really your car. What a strange idea. He clearly remembered buying the new BMW. But he also remembered not being able to get financing and settling for a used car instead. The ancient beater sputtered as he pulled into a parking space. When he got to his office, another alien idea attacked him. This isn’t really your office. He could see his name fading on the door plate. No. He refused to acknowledge the idea. He’d worked hard for that promotion. The office was his, he’d earned it. His name solidified.

Okay. He could fight it. Resist it. He somehow couldn’t make himself panic about it, but he didn’t have to just give in and accept the reality that was trying to impose itself on him. The thought kept coming back all day, but he held it at bay. The junker didn’t want to start, and he barely made it home in time for dinner. He made normal small talk and did normal things, and couldn’t make himself say anything about the strange thoughts that kept trying to force their way into his mind. Then another one came. These aren’t really your children. His two little boys started to fade. They didn’t notice, and neither did his wife.

He concentrated. My children. Mine. He focused on them. Remembered holding them as infants. Staying up late to comfort them through teething pains. First steps and first days of school. He refused to let them be taken from him.

The boys solidified. The invasive ideas changed tack. This isn’t really your house. For a moment, he thought he was in a grimy apartment instead of his home. But he had a whole day’s practice now, and he pushed back. Filled his mind with memories of plumbing repairs and mortgage payments and filling out address cards.

The ideas backed off. He started to think it was over. He got ready for bed. Joined his wife in the bedroom. That isn’t your wife. He fought the idea. Remembered anniversaries, birthdays, romantic weekends.

That isn’t your wife, the idea repeated. He had learned to fight back, but so had the invader. It tainted his memories. He remembered arguments. He remembered long periods of loneliness. Some were his fault. Most were his fault. Times he’d let the bond between them grow slack in the name of getting ahead at work. Times when he’s been jealous of new friends or old friends. Some were her fault, sure; she hadn’t always appreciated his needs or known how to be what he needed. The idea even threw his children back at him, forcing him to dwell on those long months when they’d both poured so much of their love into their children that it seemed like they didn’t have any left for each other. It made him think about every doubt, every slight, every dark night. That isn’t your wife, it insisted. And he didn’t give in, exactly, but just for a second, he questioned it.

That was all it took. The new memories hit him hard enough to break his concentration, and he was standing next to the pull-out bed in the shitty apartment he’d rented after his last girlfriend had left him. The next morning, he put on his good suit. That’s not your suit. Of course it was, his wife had picked it out for— Right. It wasn’t his suit. He was wearing a cheap off-the-rack number. He drove his broken-down car to the office and sat at his desk in the cubicle he still occupied since he’d been passed over for that big promotion, until the idea came into his head that this wasn’t his job.

He had just failed to buy a coffee (that wasn’t his wallet) about a week later when he saw her. He tried not to catch her eye. Even if he still remembered the life they’d had together, to her, he was probably just some scary homeless man. She saw him all the same, and though he tried to shuffle away, there was a flicker of recognition in his eyes. She bought two coffees and offered him one.

“Sorry,” she said. “I— Have we met? I’m Sarah.”

“I’m—” he started. Then he hesitated. Listened to the thoughts. He sighed. “I’m nobody.” He left the coffee in her hand, turned, and walked away. By the time he got to the corner, he wasn’t there anymore. And she only had the one coffee anyway.

February 17, 2018