January 17, 2018

Misspent Youth: The Toothpaste Millionaire

There’s a handful of books I read — or more accurately, were read to me — in my youth which left enough of an impression that I’ve felt compelled to track down a copy thirty-or-so years later, particularly now that I’ve got little’uns to read them to. This is still a work in progress. Evie’s not old enough to appreciate The Frisky Kittens or Piglets at Sea yet, and I think I should give Dylan another year or two before I spring The Westing Game or From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler on him. But we made some headway recently when, on the second try, he got interested in Jean Merrill’s The Toothpaste Millionaire.

Jean Merrill is best known for an earlier book, The Pushcart War, which I bet is pretty surreal to read now since the publishers keep pushing forward its then-near-future dates to keep them near-future, but probably they haven’t updated Merrill’s writing style to be less full of charmingly dated minutia. Also, odd coincidence, Merrill and I have the same birthday.

I don’t remember exactly when we read The Toothpaste Millionaire in school, but it was definitely during Media Center (even back then, in the misty murk of history, “Library” was deprecated). Over on the far side where there was a clearing that served as a small presentation stage, flanked by the bookcases of Hardy Boys books, sitting in a position whose old name I completely agree was inappropriate and had to go, but for which they have not yet invented a replacement name I can possibly take seriously (“Criss-Cross-Applesauce”? Come the fuck on. That is stupid. That’s worse than “letter-carrier”. Get the folks who came up with “firefighter” on this. They know their stuff).

The basic story is this: Kate McKinstrey and her family move from Connecticut to Cleveland, and the first friend she makes is a clever and economical boy named Rufus Mayflower, who helps her make saddle bags for her bike. Erelong, Rufus develops an obsession with the cost of toothpaste, and decides to go into business selling his own homemade baking soda-based dentifrice under the name brand-name TOOTHPASTE, and sells it for three cents a bottle. To say that hijinks ensue is being a bit hyperbolic. Spoilers: Rufus makes a million dollars.

The book is pretty funny. Dylan found it hilarious, in fact. It’s not, if you’re an adult, that much happens which is especially silly in itself; in fact, the whole book is a series of people acting reasonably and making rational decisions. But there’s a lot of comedy in the outsider point-of-view and the… Let’s say child-like plainspokenness. Have you ever tried to explain a complicated social concept to a child, like why we segregate bathrooms by gender or why it’s not socially acceptable for men to wear skirts or why we have capitalism, and halfway through realized that it actually is, in fact, ridiculous? That happens a lot in this book. A lot of “Well why not?”

What I noticed on this read through is that the structure of the book is a little strange. The book is largely presented as Kate recapping how Rufus solved a series of logistical problems. The narrative is sort of fragmentary because of this: each chapter is essentially a separate episode, and the linking between individual scenes is generally pretty weak. Some chapters are barely narrative at all. For instance, one chapter covers Rufus doing a TV interview. In a more traditional narrative, you might have a scene of Kate and Rufus talking beforehand, and a scene of Kate watching from the audience and her thoughts and feelings as Rufus goes on the air. But instead, we get a chapter that’s mostly exposition, with Kate dryly explaining about the local talk show, a transcript of the interview itself, and a coda talking about all the new orders they got, including an anecdote about an order from someone in California who’d been on the phone with a relative in Cleveland when the interview aired.

The style works for me, and I think it would work for most kids with engineering-type minds, who’d be more interested in the problem-solving than in any sort of character-driven narrative. Even in the ’80s when I first read the book, there was a weird uncanniness to the ’70sness of it too. Kate accidentally buys five gross of toothpaste tubes thinking she’s buying five dozen, though it still only ends up costing her like five bucks. Which is a lot of money back then.

But having said that, I find that my memories of the book aren’t weighted proportionally. Virtually all the conflict in the book comes in the last fifteen pages, and it feels almost entirely offhand, even though my memory tells me it’s a major theme (My memory also tells me that Kate also bought a barrel of aglets on a lark. This didn’t happen at all, and now I’m wondering if maybe that’s something I am remembering from a different book? Anyone recall a book where the narrator and the protagonist go to an auction and the narrator buys a barrel of aglets?). Another thing I remembered from my youth was a pervasive sense of Rufus being a little “off”. Back in elementary school, I wouldn’t have had the concept, but Rufus, with his obsessiveness over waste, his fetish for honesty, and his frequent displays of frustration at people acting like people, definitely struck me at the time as being on the spectrum. Reading it now, I didn’t get that impression at all, and I’m curious where it came from, whether I was projecting from something else, or maybe it was something I was nudged into by the teacher? The whole of the conflict is squeezed down to just a couple of chapters, the main one of which is deliberately gonzo.

After the major toothpaste brands start folding as a result of the ensuing price war, the remaining players invite Rufus to a “conference” about the health of the industry. It turns out to be an attempt to involve him in a price-fixing scam, which ends when it turns out that the FBI just happens to be in the next room over and promptly arrests the heads of the competing brands. Kate presents this in the form of a screenplay, having decided that she’d like to be a screenwriter specializing in torn-from-the-headlines dramas. And then the chapter ends with the offhand reveal that the toothpaste factory was blown up by a gangster working for the mob.

Continue reading

January 13, 2018

Tales From /lost+found 144: The Armageddon Variations

4×21 March 10, 2000
THE ARMAGEDDON VARIATIONS (Serial 57)

Setting: Seattle, WA, UNIT-time
Regular Cast: Hugh Laurie (The Doctor), Sarah Michelle Gellar (Lizzie Thompson)
Guest Starring: Jonathan Frakes (Agent Blackwood), Denis Forest (Malcolm), John Lithgow (John Manning), Rodger Bumpass (Voice of the Morthrai Council)

In voice-over, the Doctor describes the “Monty Hall” problem, in which the participant is asked to choose one of three doors, behind only one of which is a prize, then offered the chance to switch his selection after one of the other doors is opened. The Doctor explains the problem in terms of parallel universes. His explanation is wrong about a key aspect of the problem, but he reaches the unintuitive correct solution: switching doors increases the chances of winning. The Doctor and Lizzie have just arrived back in the present at UNIT to find the Morthrai mothership approaching Earth. Agent Blackwood pressures the Doctor to give UNIT Time Lord technology to combat the aliens, but the Doctor, having witnessed the dire consequences of humanity obtaining such technology, refuses, insisting that they attempt a diplomatic solution. He uses the TARDIS’s communications equipment to request an audience with the Morthrai ruling council. An attache from Washington accompanies The Doctor, Lizzie, and Blackwood to the mothership. The humans argue that, despite the Morthrai’s technological superiority, human numerical and resource advantages will ultimately lead them to a military victory. Given the great cost to both sides in a military confrontation, the Doctor suggests a compromise: human bodies which are near death or suffering from severe brain injuries could be given the the Morthrai as hosts, and with their technology and increased hardiness, the Morthrai could live in areas of the planet uninhabitable by humans. Even Lizzie is taken aback at the possibility of sharing the planet with aliens, but the Morthrai leadership seem to be satisfied with the terms. Negotiations come to an abrupt halt when multiple nuclear launches occur on Earth, targeting not the mothership, but other Terrestrial nations. Malcolm contacts the council, informing them that he has secretly launched a coordinated infiltration of dozens of nuclear installations across the Earth to throw the planet into chaos and neutralize its military capabilities. With no further need to negotiate, the council prepares to execute the Doctor and the humans… And the Doctor is back at UNIT, moments after emerging from the TARDIS. This time, the Doctor advises Blackwood to launch an immediate attack on the mothership before it can send reinforcements to Malcolm’s contingent. Missiles eventually destroy the mothership, but not before it can launch a retaliatory bombardment which kills billions. UNIT itself is attacked by Morthrai soldiers, and the Doctor realizes that the aliens were able to evacuate their mothership before its destruction. Blackwood sacrifices himself to buy the Doctor time to locate Malcolm’s base. Before he dies, the Doctor reveals that he is using his Time Lord abilities to play out possible timelines in order to find a way to defeat the Morthrai. This is dangerous, because two points determine a line, and thus, anything he witnesses in two different timelines becomes “locked in”. On the next reset, the Doctor again pushes for negotiation, but this time as a delaying tactic, sending the attache while remaining behind himself. Though UNIT is able to defeat Malcolm at his base, the mothership launches a surgical strike which disables Earth’s nuclear capabilities. The Doctor tries many more variations, and despite his efforts, more details get locked in. He eventually realizes that the attache is a deep cover Morthrai agent who, left unsupervised, will give the ruling council key strategic information. Since he is now committed to sending the attache, on the next loop, he sends Lizzie along with him. Once Malcolm is defeated, the Doctor and Blackwood travel to the mothership via TARDIS. The Doctor tries to offer the council the same deal as before, but the attache turns on them. Blackwood dispatches him and reveals an explosive device with which he intends to destroy the mothership. Abandoning Blackwood in disgust, the Doctor tries to flee with Lizzie, but the TARDIS refuses her entry. Unable to escape with Lizzie, the Doctor resets the loop a second before detonation. Explaining that he’s locked in too much of the timeline to change his approach, the Doctor allows the timeline to play out almost exactly as before, but this time, he leaves Blackwood behind to deal with Malcolm and joins Lizzie on the mothership early. When the Morthrai council refuse his offer of a diplomatic solution, the Doctor reveals that he has sabotaged their weapon systems, leaving them defenseless against human counterattack. Advising them to leave, he and Lizzie prepare to depart. As the TARDIS still won’t allow Lizzie inside, he prepares to send her back to Earth with the mothership’s teleporter, but Manning, who like Malcolm, has become obsessed with the glory of conquest, tries to shoot the Doctor, hitting Lizzie instead. As she dies in his arms, the loop resets again. Before Blackwood can even ask, the Doctor volunteers to use Time Lord technology to help the humans defeat the invaders.

January 10, 2018

A Second Evie Lexicon

A sequel to last year’s Evie Lexicon:

  • Mackie: Milk
  • Bawbal: In a bottle
  • Bee: A bib
  • Bassy: Pacifier
  • Berber: Diaper
  • Bop: A lagomorph
  • Nickey: A mouse, famed of western animation
  • Carlee: A pen, crayon, marker, or paint.
  • Chickie: Chicken (cooked)
  • Basta: Pasta
  • Cah-coo: A cookie or cracker.
  • Ahgan: I am finished
  • Ahwango: Please take me to
  • Hom: home
  • indacar: Via automobile
  • Dadeye: Father
  • Momeye: Mother
  • Broba: Brother
  • Baw: Ball
  • Oh no: I have just thrown something on the floor
  • Stinky: I have soiled myself. How embarrassing.
  • Stinky Bye-bye: A toilet. Yes, really.
  • Stih-kah: Anything with adhesive properties.
  • Beebee: A doll or infant.
  • Ear: An orange muppet, cohabitant with Bert.
  • Hap: I require assistance
  • Hug: Please pick me up.
  • Cheer: A place to sit
  • This, That: You got me. I have no freaking idea what these mean.
  • Pistachio: Oddly enough, pistachio. I don’t know how she got this on her first try. I was six before I could say it properly.
January 6, 2018

Tales from the Found: Ranking the Capaldi Era

Because why not.

  1. Heaven Sent
  2. The Doctor Falls
  3. Extremis
  4. World Enough and Time
  5. Hell Bent
  6. The Pilot
  7. Into the Dalek
  8. Time Heist
  9. Thin Ice
  10. Last Christmas
  11. The Witch’s Familiar
  12. Death in Heaven
  13. Mummy on the Orient Express
  14. The Girl Who Died
  15. The Magician’s Apprentice
  16. The Caretaker
  17. Smile
  18. Dark Water
  19. The Husbands of River Song
  20. The Lie of the Land
  21. Kill the Moon
  22. The Return of Doctor Mysterio
  23. The Eaters of Light
  24. Flatline
  25. Twice Upon a Time
  26. The Zygon Invasion
  27. The Woman Who Lived
  28. The Zygon Inversion
  29. Knock Knock
  30. Oxygen
  31. Deep Breath
  32. In the Forest of the Night
  33. Under the Lake
  34. Face the Raven
  35. Before the Flood
  36. Empress of Mars
  37. Listen
  38. The Pyramid at the End of the World
  39. Robot of Sherwood
  40. Sleep No More

10-38 are mostly arbitrary; the two Zygon stories would rate much higher if it weren’t for the bit where a literal lord delivers the message that young people should just calm down and not do anything extreme in order to achieve freedom, equality, and the right not to be murdered in the street by a bunch of hicks for failing to disguise what they really are well enough. I imagine that I will look back on the Capaldi era as… a thing which happened.

January 3, 2018
December 30, 2017

Tales From the Found: Twice Upon a Time

Pop between realities, back in time for tea, here’s some thoughts about the 2017 Christmas special…

  • Look, asking me to believe that David Bradley looks at all like William Hartnell was going to be a stretch, but it’s the sort of thing a fellow has to accept as just what happens when fifty years pass and people die and all. But that morph shot when archive footage of Hartnell turns into new footage of Bradley? That is nightmare fuel on the level of the new 2017 rebooted Teddy Ruxpin.
  • Look, asking me to accept Mark Gattis… At all. At Christmas? Seriously?
  • Notice that they never say when the Antarctica scenes are set? There’s even a spot or two where the dialogue gets slightly awkward in order to avoid it. There’s an unpleasant sense here of Moffat, of all people, here at the end, being just a little ashamed of some of the goofy stuff that hasn’t aged well. Like how “The Tenth Planet” was set in 1986.
  • I dig the classic TARDIS set. I don’t think it works especially well as a regular set for the modern show, but I would really like for them to find excuses to roll it out once a season.
  • I rather liked the musical reprises, “I Am The Doctor” on Testimony, “Vale Dicem” when the Doctors arrive on Villengard, and the Ninth Doctor’s Theme during Bill’s heart-to-heart with the Bradley Doctor. But Murray Gold seems strangely muted for what I gather is his last outing; none of the big manipulative antics he’s known for.
  • That scene with Bill? That is the only moment when Bradley actually seems to be playing The Doctor, rather than playing an over-the-top caricature of the Fandom Zeitgeist of what “The First Doctor” was like. He complains a lot, he’s curmudgeonly, he’s bitter, he’s sexist, he hates the French. He dislikes his future selves’ sense of taste. Yes, look, Doctor Who was indeed hella sexist back in the ’60s and the Bill Harnell was personally kinda on the regressive side even for his time. But that era of the show was a lot of other things too, and this didn’t feel, outside of that one moment, like an earnest attempt to revisit the feel of that era, just a “The Five Doctors”-style attempt to bring in a William Hartnell impersonator to do a goofy First Doctor shtick. Only in The Five Doctors, everyone’s shtick was meant to be adorable, not sexist.
  • And, I mean, I’m not of the camp that believes Steven Moffat is a misogynist. You have to ignore way too much in order to support that. But we’re into “after three shakes, you’re playing with it” territory here: at some point, you’re no longer mocking the tacit sexism of ’60s Who; you’re reveling in it.
  • Also, did anyone else notice that when Bill outs herself, the Captain looks scandalized, but the Doctor looks kinda creepily aroused?
  • Though I will grant that the Captain’s reaction was fairly understated, which was a relief, especially coming from Gattiss, a guy who, as a writer at least, seems to love writing “people from the past freak out at the concept of gay people” scenes.
  • Oh, that scene with Bill and the Bradley Doctor on Villengard? Bill’s framing of the Doctor’s reasons for leaving Gallifrey not as what he was running from but what he was running to? That’s fantastic.
  • And so, frankly, was the Doctor’s casual dismissal of his reasons for leaving as, essentially, “A bunch of things which seemed way more important at the time than they do now.”
  • I am glad they didn’t try to retcon in a more specific reason for the Doctor’s first regeneration by having him get shot or something.
  • Little surprised they didn’t CGI up an improved regeneration sequence. I have no feelings one way or the other about the decision beyond surprise.
  • I am also glad they let him just say “Time Lords” instead of having him talk around it to maintain the purity of the whole “Time Lords didn’t exist as a concept until The War Games” thing.
  • You noticed, didn’t you, that the speech Bill gives to the Doctor when he sends her back to the TARDIS on Villengard, the one about not being able to see her right in front of him, is the same one he gives Clara in “Deep Breath”?
  • Look, Clara, you’re the one who erased his memory. And sure, you had good reason, but it’s kinda a dick move to take him to task for it when you’re the one who did it.
  • “That’s the trouble with hope. Makes one awfully frightened.” Well, there’s 2017 in a nutshell for me.
  • A story with no real enemies, the Christmas Armistice as a major plot point, themes of rebirth, and this fairytale ending where it turns out that no one is ever really gone makes this very straightforwardly the most “Christmas” of all the Christmas stories.
  • At the same time, with all this stuff about reaching back and fiddling with one’s own past, interfering in the deaths of the parents of one’s friends, and everyone who ever lived getting a second life in the distant future, this is somehow the most straightforwardly Faction Paradox that Doctor Who has ever been. Which is super weird because…
  • It’s kinda also the most fluffy and insubstantial of the Christmas stories.
  • It bothers me how little any of the pieces of the story have to do with one another. Exactly what purpose does the Bradley Doctor serve in the narrative, anyway? I guess on the surface, he’s a plot device to create the temporal strangeness that serves as the setting to the episode. But what narrative function does he play?
  • What’s the Captain doing there anyway? Okay, the two Doctors trying to kill themselves in Antarctica in the ’80s breaks time. This is within the bounds of the sort of things we’ve seen before. Not the same exact thing as happened in “Father’s Day” or “The Wedding of River Song”, but close enough that we’ve established a basis between those earlier two to accept that fucking around with life and death on a temporal level like that can cause time to go sideways, and the exact details of what that means will vary depending on the exact circumstances. But “diverts a guy on his way to being beamed back to 1914” seems like a stretch. Why him? Testimony is apparently picking up people from all of time and space, and the one who gets shanghaied by the Doctors’ temporal crisis is a random Captain from the trenches in World War I? Why any of the infinity other people they’ve been beaming up?
  • It’s nice to see Rusty again, and I really like his animosity toward the Doctor; it woulda been easy to make him friendly, but the idea that hating the Doctor for his similarity to the Daleks would stick with Rusty is wonderful. Though I felt it undermined his credibility how easily the Doctor manipulated him. You get the feeling that you could basically get Rusty to do pretty much anything you liked by reminding him that helping an inferior lifeform would piss the Daleks off.
  • But speaking of which, Testimony freezes time on Villengard while the Doctor’s with Rusty. Which means that the time-freezing thing is something Testimony was doing, not because of the Doctors. There’s no sense of causality between the Doctor’s meeting, the “temporal error”, the Captain, or anything else that happens.
  • Unless, of course, the whole thing is a rouse. I mean, the Doctor screws around with time right in front of them to save the Captain and no one objects or anything. Could it be that Testimony never actually intended for the Captain to die, but rather set the whole thing up, matchmaking between the Doctor and Alistair’s dad, offering him a chance to see Bill, giving him back his memories of Clara, as a kindness?
  • But this only pushes the question off again: why now, and why the Captain? If this was all a set-up by Testimony, why did we get this episode and not David Tennant catching Colin Baker before he whacked his head and flying off to meet Jo Grant’s grandpa? I mean, other than “Because no one wants to watch that.”
  • The Captain’s identity is a bit out of nowhere, isn’t it? This is largely the same issue as the previous three bullet points, but, like, it being specifically him doesn’t connect to anything else in the story, it’s just “HERE IS A CONTINUITY REFERENCE. YOU NERDS LIKE THOSE DON’T YOU?”
  • I’m feeling a little bipolar about this whole episode now that I think about it. Whiplash back and forth between “There’s a whole bunch of stuff crammed in here for no reason” and “It seems a bit thin, doesn’t it?”
  • There’s the beginning of an arc going on with the Bradley Doctor being reluctant to regenerate, then horrified by his future as “The Doctor of War” (Don’t think I haven’t noticed how completely free they are with acknowledging the Hurt Doctor now that the cat’s out of the bag, despite his introduction as the secret the Doctor would take to his grave), and finally resigning himself to his future when his successor saves the Captain. But this ultimately isn’t his story, it’s the Capaldi Doctor’s, and thusly it doesn’t get enough focus for the weight it ought to have. The emotional heart of the episode has been shifted over to a side-plot.
  • Which gets me to the thing that worked the least for me: the Twelfth Doctor doesn’t have an emotional arc. We don’t actually see him grow or change or react to what happens around him in a way that brings about the ultimate character change. In the end, he changes his mind about dying and decides to regenerate instead. But why? It doesn’t feel like something that comes out of the events of the episode. In fact, his very last scene with Nardole, Bill and Clara suggests that he still hasn’t changed his mind. But then suddenly, for no clear reason, he consents to the regeneration. And despite his long speech, there’s no suggestion for why he does it.
  • You could tell a story about how meeting his former self causes him to face his own fears about regenerating. But that isn’t this story.
  • You could tell a story about how seeing Bill resurrected as a glass avatar and realizing that she is no less real even though she exists now as a being of memory rather than flesh and blood helps him to get past his refusal to let this version of himself be relegated to memory. But this isn’t that story. In fact, it seems like to the very end, he still isn’t completely able to accept that memory-Bill and memory-Nardole are legitimately themselves.
  • You could tell a story about the Doctor finally getting the answer to the question he poses to Bill about the sustainability of good — that he is the force in the universe that tips the scales in favor of good. But, again, this isn’t that story; the reveal happens to the wrong Doctor, and besides, the whole concept is introduced only in the middle of the second act.
  • You could even tell a story where meeting Testimony convinces the Doctor that the kindness he puts into the universe can ultimately be repaid, and this makes death less appealing. But again, this isn’t that story. This is a largely unrelated story, at the end of which, the Doctor shrugs and says “Okay, fine, I’ll regenerate.”
  • Y’know, I’m the one person who actually liked Tennant’s “I don’t want to go.” I think most people wanted some kind of grandiloquent speech instead.  This whole episode was Capaldi’s “I don’t want to go,” and he finishes on a big speech which, honestly, does nothing for me. I mean, it starts out at largely cliche platitudes, saying nothing that wasn’t already said much better in “The Doctor Falls”. By the time he gets to the bits about his name, honestly, the whole thing seems like just random meaningless gibberish trying to sound profound.
  • Jodie Whittaker is lovely, but I wish she’d gotten at least a whole sentence or two. Enjoyed the physical acting, but she gets far and away the least screen-time of any incoming Doctor in the new series. Given that they’ve released her new costume, I will also note that she continues the trend of the new Doctor looking cooler in the remains of her predecessor’s wardrobe than in her own.
  • Though not thrilled with the extent to which it’s a very straight rehash of Matt Smith’s first scene.
  • Overall… It was fine. Least favorite of the Capaldi Christmas Specials. Not disappointing-to-the-point-of-inducing-a-three-year-neurosis or anything. But a let-down all the same.
December 27, 2017

Misspent Youth: Marley Was Dead to Begin With

Doing something different this week because it’s timely. About a week ago, I went to the dentist. On my way back, I reckoned I should stop off at the mall and see if  I could get in any last-minute Christmas Shopping. My predicted flight path would naturally take my past the Annapolis Mall, but I decided that, what the hell, why not do the stupid thing and swing by Marley Station again. I was out of the wrapping paper I’d bought at the dollar store the last time I was there and maybe I could pick up another roll.

Well, they didn’t have the same paper this year, and I didn’t actually find any Christmas presents to buy, but I’m glad I went all the same. You’ll recall from my previous visit to Marley that it’s a slowly dying mall about halfway between Severna Park and Glen Burnie that was, about thirty years ago, the big fancy exciting mall that drove all the small malls up the MD-2 corridor out of business. I’m pleased to report that Marley Station looked far less bleak on this visit. More storefronts were occupied, to the point that it was really only the farthest wings that looked like ghost towns, and there were plenty of people in the mall — not what you’d expect for a holiday crowd perhaps, but certainly a normal number of people for the early afternoon on a weekday.

There’s a used bookstore there now which looks charmingly like they got all their signage by dumpster diving when B. Dalton went under. They look to have opened once and then relocated to a bigger space down the hall in the time since I was last there. The bounce house place has moved over as well. A lot more of the shops were occupied, and even a bunch of the ones that weren’t open looked like they maybe weren’t abandoned — there’s a few fitness-related places that look like they only open for classes in the mornings/evenings. There was an old-fashioned candy shop where I bought a pound of red hots. And a place that specializes in nerd-culture type collectibles — one side anime DVDs and merch, the other side autographed sports stuff. There was one Christmas pop-up store, which is way less than I was expecting.

But the real reason I’m glad I took this most recent trip to Marley Station is this: remember that closed model train place I mentioned last time where the Friendly’s used to be? Turns out that it’s seasonal. Every Christmas, it opens up as a Holiday Train Garden to raise money for the North Counties Emergency Outreach Network. According to the news, they’ve been doing this for twenty-three years now. My first instinct is that they must’ve been doing it somewhere else for part of that time, but then I realize that 23 years only takes me back to High School and it’s entirely possible that the Friendly’s at Marley Station has been gone that long. And also, I feel super, super old.

The first thing you see when you walk in is a layout modeled on DC, which, fair enough; we’re in the greater DC metro area. Further on, there’s a model of Fort McHenry. This isn’t a high-accuracy recreation of the local geography, but instead a fun thematic construct giving a sort of theme park version of the Baltimore-DC corridor. But then you see the face of Donald Trump blasted into the mountain. Which is a horror in its own right, but you can kinda imagine that blasting his own face into a mountain is exactly the sort of thing Trump would do.

Notice the windmill off to the left? The garden has numerous motion features, activated by buttons along the base. There’s a button to activate those windmills, with similar buttons to activate other things like the propellers on the presidential helicopter off to the right, or the Santa orbiting above. But I question the accuracy of placing windmills so close to the White House, given that I’m pretty sure Trump wants to ban them for not using enough coal.

More windmills.

There’s a Christmas village above the giant Trump head. Because of course there is.

This looks nothing at all like Trump Tower, and its placement between the White House and Fort McHenry makes no sense, but I’ll allow it because that is a really clever way to use the old support columns from the Friendly’s.

Continue reading

December 25, 2017

Tales From /lost+found 143: Christmas Special 2017

Click to Embiggen

4.X Living in Harmony: On the planet Hath, war has broken out between the Human and Messaline colonists. Traveling alone, the Doctor finds himself separated from the TARDIS and thrust into this tense situation. What has driven a wedge between these once-allied races? And who is Harmony Beck, an enigmatic young colonist who seems to know far more about the Doctor than she possibly could…

December 20, 2017

Deep Ice: Strong men, no weak ones (Superman: War of the Worlds, Pages 19-38)

Previously…

I tell you, it feels really good that they went all-in on the Golden-Age costume here. Notice, though, that there’s no bullshitting around with a secret identity. Clark doesn’t even seem to have had time to think about such a thing. It’s obvious to Lois who he is and he doesn’t deny it. There’s no time for anyone to coin his moniker either; he’s just Clark Kent for the duration. Or occasionally, “That guy in the pajamas”.

In fact, Lois and Clark meet up with the army on the next page, and Captain who greets them asks whether he’s a foreign agent or with the circus. Which is an interesting combination of possibilities, and even better, Lois vouches for him by saying he’s her photographer. I could kinda see how this might actually carry some weight, with Lois being a general’s daughter, but Sam Lane wouldn’t be introduced until 1959, and it wasn’t until the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot that he was a military man. As it is, a random woman just told an army captain that the random dude with her in a weird costume is trustworthy. You can’t even suppose that Lois has clout as a famous journalist, since they’ve established that Lois has been stuck writing the agony aunt column waiting for Taylor to give her a break.

<Montgomery Burns Voice>Excellent.</Montgomery Burns Voice>

The obligatory scene of the army not believing this “Martians” nonsense is cut short with the reveal of the tripod, eliciting a shout of “Holy Crow!” from the captain. I assume this is a golden age comics thing, but all I can think of is Bella Swan. The tripod itself is a letdown after the really creative look we got from the Saddleback version, but it’s certainly consistent with the ’30s comic aesthetic. There’s not anything wrong with it, mind, it’s just the most straightforward interpretation possible; essentially a flying saucer on stilts. In one interesting choice that is true to the novel but rarely carries to adaptations, the heat ray isn’t built into the fuselage but is instead held in the manipulator arms.

I’m thinking the captain is modeled on Les Tremayne

When the army is slow to heed Clark’s warning to back off, he throws himself into the path of the heat ray to save them. At such close range, the blast is enough to stun even Clark, causing him to experience pain for the first time in his life. He recovers in time to shove a cannon and its operator out of the way, then lifts the heavy field piece over his head and fires it like a bazooka. When this fails to affect the tripod, Clark grabs the canon by the barrel and just clubs the Martian with it, knocking it over.

WHAMM!

He’s able to pry open the fallen tripod, extract the struggling alien, and pitches it. Not all the way back to Mars, mind you; he points out that he’s not strong enough for that.

Superman can’t throw a Martian clear to Mars. But Ralph Kramden could probably punch one to the moon.

This is one point where the writing style can get a little annoying, and the artifice can show through a bit. This is Golden Age Superman, so his powers aren’t what they’d creep up to in the silver age: he can’t fly, only “leap tall buildings in a single bound”; he’s not immune to all injury, but only strong enough to withstand “anything less than a bursting shell”. He’s not faster than the speed of light, only as fast as a speeding bullet. And this story stays true to that. But in an actual Golden Age story, they wouldn’t feel the need to remind us of it. The real Golden Age Superman would not, as this Clark Kent does, tell people, “No, I can’t fly, but I can jump really far.” He wouldn’t tell a Martian, “I’m just sorry I’m not strong enough to toss you back [to Mars].” This Clark Kent — on his very first outing in tights — seems unrealistically aware of his limitations.

It’s a similar kind of misstep to when the opening scene of the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie started out inside the TARDIS and spent several minutes there before showing the Police Box: it botched “It’s bigger on the inside” by showing us “It’s smaller on the outside”. Just like here, Clark’s repeated mentions of his limitations changes the message from “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” to “Slower than a fighter jet, weaker than an atom bomb, not able to fly.”

Not bird nor plane nor even frog…

Clark arrives at Metropolis not far behind the Martians, just in time to rescue a pilot who’d managed to ditch before his plane was incinerated, but lost his parachute to another heat ray.

But even with Clark’s reassurance that he’s not flying, just jumping, the rescued airman still panics, begging the non-human Clark to keep away from him. This might seem ungrateful, but that airman has had a hell of a day, and in any case, we’re really edging in on our major theme for the piece. Presaging Man of Steel, we see that Pa Kent had been right to warn his son against displaying his powers, that, at least in the context of an alien invasion, humanity’s instinct is to fear Clark rather than idolize him.

Up And Atom!

Lois makes it back to the train station, but it’s destroyed halfway through her call-in to the office. Lex Luthor knows better than to drive into Metropolis, but offers Lois a ride as far as his laboratory on the outskirts. They have to make the last leg on foot once the roads become impassible, and at this point, Lex and Lois are separated before Lex gets clipped by the outer edge of a heat ray, and I think you know where this is going…

Brylcreem! Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!

Clark’s luck runs out when the Martians release the black smoke. Though he can hold his breath for minutes, he’s eventually forced to make a blind leap out of the smoke and takes two heat ray hits at close range. His unconscious body is scooped up with the others harvested by the tripods.

I used to just toss my action figures loose in a big bin too. That’s how so many of them got broken.

George Taylor witnesses the Man of Steel’s defeat via telescope from his office at the Daily Star. Though the height of the building protects them from the black smoke, a heat ray catches the building. Taylor shoves Jimmy Olsen out of the way, but is killed when his office explodes.

The destruction of the Daily Star leads into a kinda mediocre two-page spread showing civilians fleeing before smoke and tripods as the Battle of Metropolis ends in utter rout…

To Be Continued…

December 16, 2017