Saturday, November 30, 2013

Happy Birthday, Marie and Cherie Currie!

I've spoken to Cherie this year, and she's been having an incredible run of success lately. I hope she had a peaceful, lovely birthday. And Marie actually wished me a happy birthday this year, which was unexpected and fantastic of her. It continues to amaze me how Cherie will be there when I'm at my absolute lowest points to remind me of things I should never forget.

I wish both of them only the best, forever and ever.

(And also, Cherie has a new single for Christmas on iTunes with Lita Ford, which you should totally check out. Love to all of them.)

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 4

When last we left our self-obsessed heroine, she had tripped trying to avoid a bike courier or something, and Christian had caught her, and they were staring into each other's eyes.

Now, there are a couple of ways that scene could have gone. They could have kissed. He could have ignored the sexual tension that the author is artlessly trying to ram down our throats until we choke. He could have gotten all angry about the bike courier. Hell, she could have actually asserted herself and kissed him. But, no. Instead, EL James decides to go with the most manipulative outcome possible.

Christian Grey stares at her meaningfully. He lightly traces his thumb over her mouth. He gazes deep into her eyes. Then he closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and then--as though it were causing him great emotional and psychological pain--whispers to her "Anastasia, you should steer clear of me. I'm not the man for you."

And she gets so hurt. So angry. She's so sad that he doesn't want her after all. She wants to cry right there on the street.

But actually, for Christian, it's mission accomplished. Manipulation achieved. There it is once again: he's making her desperate to gain his approval. He's already made her think she's not worthy of him. Now he's confirming it. But he's also throwing in a pained, melodramatic warning. He's just a few steps away from pulling the old I know I'm wrong for you, but god help me, I can't resist you. She thinks he just doesn't want her. But, of course, now she wants him more than ever.

See, I can't speculate about EL James' personal life or what kind of relationships she's had. That would be unfair. But this novel so far is proceeding as though she set out to dramatize and romanticize the abuse cycle. This is like the start of the Excuses Phase. He's pulling a blame shift; he's planting seeds called Plausible Deniability. So later, when she comes to him (seemingly of her own accord, but really because he's trained her to be submissive), he doesn't have to take responsibility, because she'll believe it was all her own desire and not this brainwashing mindfuck her's pulling on her muy rĂ¡pido.

She's already responding to her training. Even as she's devastated inside by rejection, she also quietly thanks him "For saving me." He pounces on that, saying "I'm glad I was here. I shudder to think what could have happened to you." Which, dude...she was knocked over by a bike messenger, not nearly mauled by a rhino. You're overselling it for effect. You've already got her on the line, ease off.

Oh, and then they have this meaningful moment where they say goodbye, where he stops himself from saying something with "anguish in his voice" and looks at her with "bleak" eyes, "torn, frustrated, his expression stark, all his careful control has evaporated." Then he just wishes her luck on her exams and she hurries away, where she rushes to her car and doesn't just cry, but has a full on breakdown because apparently the only man she's ever wanted sexually has rejected her.

So, to recap, what we just saw was a master manipulator sowing doubt and confusion in his prey so she'll be that much more willing to be captured. That last thing, where he lets his guard down and pretends to emotional turmoil, was the final stroke he needed.

(Well, he actually invited her to go back to the hotel where she could calm down from the trauma of being bumped into on a street corner, but she turned him down because she's confused. So he's going to have to work a little more, but hey, he's already got her crying the cry of her life, so it's not like it's going to take much more work.)

(God, I feel like an asshole writing about this. Like... I just look at this guy and think, Yeah, we're really animals.)

My favorite part of her dramatic spin into self-obsessed tears is when she starts listing all the things that are wrong with her, like in that way where people think self-deprecation is modesty and not self-obsession, and she starts going on and on about how she's too skinny and too pale and always gets picked last for sports teams, like a burlesque of a depressed person. And then she actually says in the narration "Maybe I should be kinder to the likes of Paul Clayton and Jose Rodriguez," which is just... Well, yes, you should be kinder to people, anyway, especially people who go out of their way to be nice to you. I'm not saying you owe them anything physical--you should always be honest with people about that--but you should just, in general, be kinder to people. Also, the use of that phrase, "the likes of," makes me not like her. What "likes" are they? People who are nice to you and actually elect to be around you for reasons I've yet to understand?

"Oh, the substandard peasants who aren't special enough to date me, I should perhaps look upon them with less dismissive cruelty."

Then she goes home, and Kate sees she's been crying and knows where she's been and asks if Ana's alright, and Ana immediately thinks to herself "not the Kate Kavangh Inquisition," which is just a flat-out straight-up bitchy way to characterize your best friend's concern for your well-being.

"You never cry," Kate says, which seems like it can't possibly be true, since Ana's so moody, but then might be true, because in order to cry at disappointing interactions, Ana would have to first acknowledge that she's one of these lesser humans she's so detached and aloof from when she deigns to interact with them.

Kate says "He likes you, Ana," and every time they use this phrase, it makes me laugh. You're grown damn women, talk like adults. Gee, Kate, does he like her or like-like her. Here's a brilliant idea: pass him a note that says "Do you like Ana?" and put a box for yes and a box for no and a box for I want to fuck her mind until she's more of a basket case than those pre-cogs from Minority Report and see which one he checks.

Then Kate tries to build up Ana's confidence with the equally stupid phrase "You're a total babe" and Ana actually thinks to herself "Oh no. She's off on this tirade again," which is revealing of a truly deep level of self-esteem problems. You know, it's self-serving and bitchy, but I'm going to let this one go, because I know from experience how that level of anxiety--the kind where you need a therapist--can be pernicious. It can force you to make judgments about other people--even people you've never met--that are totally unfair, just because you feel compelled to refute any evidence that goes against your belief that you're a worthless person.

Then she goes into full-blown martyr complex mode, giving us this chestnut: "He's too gloriously good-looking. We are poles apart from two very different worlds. I have a vision of myself as Icarus flying too close to the sun and crashing and burning as a result." Ugh, no you didn't. You did not do what that awkwardly-constructed sentence claims.

Melodrama, melodrama, on and on, dreaming about his eyes and running, and then she takes her final exams, and she's "doing graceful cartwheels around my head, knowing full well that's the only place I can do graceful cartwheels." Ugh, we get it, you're clumsy, quit reminding us to think poorly of you. We haven't forgotten. And trust me, we're not judging you because you can't do cartwheels (which, frankly, are not that graceful; you ever see a dancer do a side aerial? that's grace), we're judging you because you're so deep into yourself that I'd be amazed if you were mentally capable of acknowledging the existence of other people unless they're speaking directly to you.

The day she finishes her exams, she gets a delivery: a three-volume first edition of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, the book she happened to be reading and writing a final paper on. She's amazed by this "coincidence," rather than jumping to the obvious conclusion, which is that he's stalking her. No, I'm sure his position as a benefactor of your university wouldn't give him access to a syllabus. (Or a quick search of your English Department's website, you dope.) Kate looks up the books online and figures they must have cost him over fourteen thousand dollars. And they come with this quote from the book written out on a plain white card: "Why didn't you tell me there was danger? Why didn't you warn me? Ladies know what to guard against, because they read novels that tell them of these tricks..."

Are you fucking kidding me? I don't know what he finds so special about her, but he's really pulling out all the stops. Expensive British literature for Miss "I Only Read Classic British Literature," and a quote that's basically him pleading that he can't help himself from being obsessed with her because she's so magnetic and fascinating... ladies, welcome to the Honeymoon Phase of the abuse cycle. This is the part where the abuser gives gifts and conforms to his victim's expectations and desires for a relationship, so that the victim won't leave.

I am watching a fly caught in a web with this book.

"What is he trying to say?" Kate wonders. Let me spell it out: he's going to rape your friend and make it think it was her idea.

The numerical title this book should have is not 50 Shades of Grey, it's Manipulation 101.

Well, now he's got her confused, emotional, and wanting him. But her big plan for tonight is to go get drunk for the first time, on "tequila-based cocktails," because EL James doesn't care enough to throw in an actual name, because why bother? Yes, I get that her neuroses take front and center, but it's hard to know Ana in any other context other than her self-obsession when the only kind of info we get is that she listens to [thumping indie rock] and reads [classic British literature] and drinks [tequila-based cocktails]. That's basically just the next step up from listening to [rhythmically arranged sound patterns] and reads [printed language expressions] while drinking [liquid mixtures].

She becomes the wasted cliche that you're familiar with if you've ever known anyone who gets on Facebook or Tumblr when they're drunk, while Kate "has the constitution of an ox," which is totally a thing that college girls still say. We get a whole passage where Ana is too drunk to walk or to hold herself steady when she's just trying to stand and breathe, as though that's the alcohol and not literally any random page of this book so far. Then she decides it's an awesome idea to drunk dial Christian while she's at whatever generic club she's at. He's concerned about her being out and drunk and wants to come get her, and she goes right to "control freak," which is such a painfully naive way of describing her sexual predator that I just want to slap her silly every time she says it. She thinks she's got it all figured out and she's smug about it. (Full disclosure: I've dealt with people who are drunk and demanding of attention enough times in my life that I can't be anything but aggravated reading this bit.)

He decides he's coming to get her, and she's just floating around all drunk, and then her friend Jose takes her outside for some air, where he almost immediately tries to sexually assault her. She clearly says "no" twice and tries to fight him off, but he's doing that entitled thing of "Please, I've always liked you so much" which is just a half-step away from saying that he thinks she owes him for being so patient and not forcing himself on her until, you know, right now in the street, because apparently every man in her orbit is a predator just circling around waiting for their prime rape opportunity.

Of course, EL James is going to leave no romance novel cliche/Twilight plot beat unturned, so just as as he's settling in for a satisfying and romantic invasion of her bodily integrity, Christian Grey is there, softly demanding that he let her go, because he won't have a Beta stepping in and consuming his prey cares about what happens to her.

And then, because Ana hasn't embarrassed herself enough for maximum endearment, I guess, she spends the entire page vomiting.

Just puking her guts out, and then feeling shame about it.

He, being the classic abuser, proceeds to lecture her about her behavior and how she should know her limits--how, when she's never experienced anything?--and says "I'm all for pushing limits, but really, this is beyond the pale," like it's Victorian England and he's never been in a college town before. Dude, I live in one, you see and hear a lot of puking. But he scolds her, and she gets contrite and actually apologizes. Then he basically tells her that he's taking her home and pawns off Kate on his brother Elliot.

Okay, so let's take a look at this situation. He's scolded her for drinking, made her apologize, told her that she's coming home with him, then mentioned that his brother came with him and even says he found her because he tracked her cellphone, and her response is just to tell us "somehow, because it's him, I don't mind." Because, again, as I've learned from Tumblr, no one can be too evil or violating of your life as long as he has floppy hair and sad eyes and is thin enough. If Christian Grey looked like Zach Galifianakis, she'd be running to the police station right now.

He's seriously miffed, too, when she insists on going back inside and telling her friend she's leaving, like he's really frustrated that something will happen that will make her think twice about getting in his car. It's like when the fisherman has the net out and he's worried that the line will snap before he gets his catch.

And she's eating it up, because if there's one thing she loves to pretend she doesn't love, it's attention. Even being near him makes her "flush, and somewhere deep, deep down my muscles clench deliciously."

Now I'm going to vomit.

Then he orders her to drink a glass of water to clear her head, which she totally does even though inside she's annoyed at how "overbearing" he is. Notice she doesn't even think once, though, about not doing everything he says.

Folks, we've already advanced to the Planning Phase of the abuse cycle. He obviously feels--and you can see it by how reluctant he is to even let her go back into the club, for fear that her friend might reason with her--that he's on the verge of losing control of her, and is figuring out how to regain control. And to that end, he's brought his brother Elliot with him to distract Kate. Kate is slutting it up on the dance floor so well, and sort of vibing with Christian, that Ana even starts to get jealous and worry that her friend is going to swoop in on the man she like-likes. (Oh, yes, there's a whole scene here where they're all dancing and Ana is amazed by what a great dancer Christian is, and it plays like that ridiculous club scene in Basic Instinct, and it is the first thing that makes me eager to see the upcoming movie, because they're both going to look like a couple of ridiculous twats.)

But Christian, in the Planning Phase, has chosen his target and deftly unleashes his brother Elliot on Kate, and he pulls her into his arms and Kate just sort of waves Ana off. Seriously, Ana... he brought a guy to distract your friend so he could steal you off like der Erlkonig. Why are no warning signs going off for you?

Oh, because you're drunk, and also kind of dumb and heavily wrapped up in being fascinated with yourself. She gets overwhelmed and passes out drunk, and the last thing she's aware of is Christian catching her and harshly saying "Fuck!" Which, of course he does. He's frustrated because tonight was going to be the night.

Oh, well. We'll see what happens in the next chapter. Christian should be in the Set-Up Phase by then, where the abuser waits for the time when his abuse can be justified. I'm sure he was thinking it was going to be tonight, when her drunkenness would be pretext enough. Still, he's following the abuse cycle pretty closely, so I'm sure he's got a backup plan.

No points for guessing if she wakes up in her own bed or not.

You want to read a sentence mired in resigned hopelessness? 64 pages down, 450 to go.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Soviet Winnie-the-Pooh

This is a wonderful find; the first of three animations based on Milne's character that were produced in the Soviet Union between 1969 and 1972. They were made by Fyodor Khitruk. I have to say I found this really enchanting; I love the design (sort of a descendant of UPA), and I love the character animation of Vinni Puh especially. It's a slightly different take, but the same spirit is there.

You can go to YouTube and click the "CC" button to see some very out of sync subtitles, but I almost prefer them without, because I get lost in the language, design and music. (I keep humming his song.) Besides, I'm pretty familiar with this particular tale.

New Winter Banner

This is the fourth time I've had Sunblom up for the winter. I decided to go less Christmas and more general winter this season.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #42

"The Voice of Doom!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Don Heck
(April 1963)

Ant-Man's villain in this issue is Jason Cragg, a soapbox preacher who has walked into town. He has a power, though; a voice that can make people do whatever he wants them to. And what he wants them to do is turn against Ant-Man.

Cragg's origin is one of those things that kind of sounds like science but more accurately sounds like magic: he was a radio commercial announcer whose microphone picked up ionized atoms accidentally released by a nearby lab. Amplified by the mic (why not?), the radiation changes Cragg's voice, giving it "an unnatural tone" that makes people do whatever he tells them to. Armed with this, Cragg quits his job and goes around the country making people do things for him.

This guy's small time right now. He's just scamming free train fare and ordering unsuspecting housewives to make him steak dinners. Then he decides, after seeing Ant-Man in action, that he could defeat Ant-Man and take over the city. "If I can defeat him, I can defeat anyone!"

Pal, some day someone with a fly swatter is going to defeat Ant-Man, alright. I know you think this is a grandiose plan, because you think demanding a steak dinner and getting people to buy dog food is a grandiose plan, but you're still going small. Now, if you could defeat Thor, well, then you could defeat anyone!

I shouldn't scoff so much, because it does actually almost work. He turns the city against Ant-Man and has the citizens chase Ant-Man down into park with magnets (so they can find his helmet in the grass). Henry actually takes off his helmet so he can hide, cutting him off from the ants, but removing his helmet also leaves him susceptible to Cragg's voice. Cragg orders him to leap off the pier and do nothing to save himself, and only some quick intervention by his loyal ant friends save him from dying. So I guess I can't pooh-pooh Cragg too much.

And, to be fair, the way Ant-Man defeats him is equally lame, with an extra side of silly. (I know, you're surprised.) When Cragg goes on stage to address the town, Ant-Man has a gun trained on him (the ants are ready to pull a string that will trigger the gun... yeah.) and orders him to tell the crowd that he was wrong about Ant-Man. He does so, but when Ant-Man reveals the gun's not loaded, Cragg goes to contradict himself... only for his vocal powers to be gone. Yes, Ant-Man also took the precaution of lacing Cragg's microphone with microbes that cause laryngitis. Now Cragg's just another hobo bum who gets run out of town.

Live by the microphone, die by the microphone, I guess.

Stray notes:

:: For the first time, Ant-Man's home town is named as Center City. In just two issues--the retool issue, actually--we're told he lives in Manhattan. It's a retcon, I guess, but I'm glad they ignored the whole Center City thing. Part of what makes these comics work so well is the emotional realism and the sense that they take place NOW in YOUR WORLD, DEAR READER! Center City sounds like something out of an old DC book where there are no consequences.

:: And starring Zach Galifianakis as the Doctor as Jason Cragg.

:: I love when the city is searching for Ant-Man, and there's a guy on his hands and knees with a magnifying glass. I do enjoy that kind of silliness.

:: Heck does a better job this issue than usual of switching up the perspective, making Ant-Man's size more obvious--Ant-Man standing in front of a matchbook, for example, or walking under a pill bottle that towers over him, or even standing in Cragg's ear to talk to him. That's something that's been less interesting with Ant-Man; we see him on his own level too often, without a real sense of perspective to make what Henry does seem truly amazing.

Another less-than-stellar menace for Ant-Man, easily solved and easily forgotten. There'll be one more solo Ant-Man story before Stan Lee steps in to retool the book, give Henry Pym a real back-story, and partner him with the Wasp. From there on, the stories start getting much, much more entertaining. Once again, Stan and Jack figure out the problem: the readers need stories about a man they know and can care about, rather than just the fantastic adventures of a blank slate.

Marvel's not going to make the same mistake they made with the Hulk again.

Next time: Spider-Man fights one of his greatest villains, and one of his weakest.

Eat, Fry, Love

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Marvels: Tales of Suspense #40

"Iron Man versus Gargantus!" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein, Jack Kirby & Don Heck
(April 1963)

About half of this story is devoted to coming up with an in-canon explanation for changing Iron Man's armor. The real reason is simple: Stan Lee didn't like the colors from Iron Man's first story, when armor was lead-gray. After re-establishing the basics about Anthony Stark--millionaire, genius, scientist, playboy, but trapped in an iron chest plate that has to keep charged or else shrapnel trapped inside his body will reach his heart and kill him--the story goes on to show us that his gray suit scares people because it looks so creepy. After getting a bad reaction from the crowd when saving an animal trainer at the circus, Stark decides he's got to redesign the whole thing. At his date Marion's suggestion--she says if he looked more like "a knight in shining armor" he'd be less scary--he creates a new suit that's gold-colored.

("Leave it to a woman to figure out an attractive appearance" he says, in one of those lines that's meant to sound like a compliment but fails.)

That's really the major difference: it's gold. Well, whatever works. It does look better, but I'm just patiently waiting on what to me is the "real" Iron Man suit, the red and gold one. We'll see that in about 8 issues, I think.

The rest of the story proper deals with Iron Man liberating the town of Granville, which has been walled off by its citizens. They're all under the hypnotic thrall of a Neanderthal giant named Gargantus, who gives Iron Man a pretty decent run for his money. But Iron Man uses magnets to expose Gargantus as a robot, sent here as the vanguard for yet another misguided alien invasion. (This time, the aliens had assumed that Earthlings looked the same as they did 80,000 years ago, when the aliens first spied on us; I have to guess that if you don't get around to invading within 80,000, you've probably got better things to do than bother. Here, you know what I do? If I'm not sure I want to keep something, I put it in a box or a bag and leave it in a closet. If I haven't pulled it out a year later, I obviously don't need to keep it. Do that with your invasion plans, aliens.)

It's over pretty quickly. Not a thrilling story, but not a terrible one, either. They're still finding their way with Iron Man. They'll get there.

Stray notes:

:: Marion is Stark's love interest, but she doesn't know he's Iron Man. No one does yet.

:: Lots of new gadgets in this one, of course: boring tools (that's boring as in boring through earth and rock, not boring as in I'm being insulting), a loudspeaker, a monobeam searchlight and the miniature magnets. Transistors can magically do anything, as long as they have a scientifish explanation. Also, Stark keeps his Iron Man costume in a briefcase, because he can use transistors to fold the parts over many times. At this point, I'm not sure Marvel knows how transistors work, but whatever. It's convenient to the story. It already breaks up enough of the story to have him constantly attaching new bits to himself, so if he wants to carry the pieces in a briefcase, you got it.

(How that briefcase isn't heavy as hell, though, I don't know. Microscopic transistors, I guess. I think they're made of handwavium.)

:: Stark has to plug his chest plate into the wall to recharge it. If I were Tony, I wouldn't be making too many trips to places without rural electrification.

:: Stark's newest invention for the military is jet-powered skates for soldiers. The Iron Man armor has those eventually, too.

:: Is this the first time Iron Man uses his air-pressure jets to fly? (Or, at least, to leap?) I can't remember if he did that in the first issue or not.

:: This story's scripter is Robert Bernstein, going under the pen name "R. Berns" because he was also writing under his own name over at DC. He'd been in comics since the mid-40s, writing at EC, DC and Marvel, particularly war stories. He co-created Congorilla at DC, as well as Aqualad and Aquagirl. At this time, he was writing some of the really bizarre Silver Age Superman stories like "The Oldest Man in Metropolis."

I have to admit, I'm not much of a fan of his work over at Marvel. He'll script Iron Man for a while, and do some Thor stories (where's Larry Lieber? is he ok?), but they aren't among my favorites. (Granted, what he's got to work with isn't that great, either; Iron Man and Thor will later get re-tooled into something a little better, but that comes later in the year.)

:: The art in this issue is credited to Kirby and Heck, but it looks a lot more like Heck to me. Maybe Kirby just did the layouts and designed Gargantus? Gargantus is clearly one of his, particularly in this amazing splash page:

But for the most part, it's very Heck-like, except perhaps in the character poses, which is why I figure Kirby laid it out and then Heck finished it. I think Heck is a better artist for this series. Much like Ant-Man, he gives it a bit of a 60s secret agent spin that works for it.

Next time: Hypnotism! Drowning! Ant-Man.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Self-conscious, irritating, unfunny attempt to duplicate Bring It On, but in (what is, judging by the movie itself) the cutesy, cloying, oh-so-twee world of a cappella competitions. So oversweetened it'll give you diabetes, and so unfunny you'll wonder why you bothered. Anna Kendrick is a cutie, but not cute enough to make up for it. *

Part of me finds it cute that the double-length new Mickey Mouse is actually as long as the short Disney cartoons used to be. I loved this one--hell, I've loved them all--where Donald and Mickey contort themselves trying to create a fake amusement park so Goofy's dreams won't be crushed. That Potatoland is like a poor imitation of Disneyland is just icing on the cake. I particularly loved Potato Lincoln (and Goofy's teary reaction). ****

I was fascinated by the attempt, but I was not expecting to be as moved as I was. Mark Gatiss wrote the movie as his own tribute to the 50th anniversary celebration of Doctor Who, a movie about the making of the show itself, taking us from 1963 to 1966, encompassing William Hartnell's tenure as the First Doctor. David Bradley is excellent as Hartnell, very three-dimensional and sympathetic without heading into mythmaking and giving us a whimsical old man. I found him captivating. (There's this part of me that loved him so much it just wants him to show up now as the First Doctor... give us an episode where Bradley shows up as the First Doctor, David Troughton as the Second, and Sean Pertwee as the Third... hell, all of them. You can always say they don't look quite right because of some time distortion thing, and then the episode will be about setting them right. And I fanboy on. Back to the review.) I also thought Jessica Raine was wonderful as Who producer Verity Lambert, facing institutionalized sexism and fighting to get the show on the air. And the production design, the colors, the wonderful Daleks... and a little nod at the very end to the show's 50 year legacy that I found both surprising and touching. Beautifully done. ****

I may not have liked "The Day of the Doctor," but An Adventure in Time and Space and The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot and those monthly The Doctors Revisted specials were the real celebration for me. (And I watched the first two new seasons on BBC America, too. So it's been a lovely Doctor Who 50 week for me regardless.)

It's not just bad, it's also really tedious. From the director of the bad, tedious Horrible Bosses, and just as effortlessly dumb. *

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Regarding Those Regenerations

There's been a bit of a discussion since "The Day of the Doctor" aired about the Doctor's regenerations. Canon is that the Doctor can regenerate 12 times, meaning 13 incarnations of the Doctor. With John Hurt's War Doctor slotted in between Paul McGann's 8th and Christopher Eccleston's 9th, that means Peter Capaldi's upcoming version would be the 13th and final version of the Doctor.

Now, Steven Moffat has said--in what I considered a rather nice concession to possible fan confusion--that he didn't renumber the Doctors, instead calling John Hurt "the War Doctor" so that you could sort of make up your own mind as to whether his regeneration counts numerically. I think this is probably why we don't actually see Paul McGann regenerate in "The Night of the Doctor," exactly. There's a cutaway there that gives you an out. Is it a true regeneration? I think an interesting idea that no one's really discussed is that the War Doctor could possibly exist as a creation of the Sisterhood of Karn, outside of time somehow, something between the 8th and 9th Doctors, and not an official regeneration, but some sort of magicky skiffy thing that ceased to exist when he was no longer needed.

Anyway, Moffat's sort of stirred this up by saying that the Doctor for sure only has 12 regenerations. And we know that Capaldi is coming in. But the question a lot of fans are discussing right now is whether or not Matt Smith is the final regeneration or not.

Apparently a lot of the fans have decided that the 10th Doctor deflecting his regeneration energy into his old hand to create the half-human Doctor in "Journey's End" may count as a regeneration, which--including the War Doctor--means there have been 13 incarnations already, and Matt Smith's Doctor is the last.

I don't know that I would count that. That seemed more like a story work-around (an aborted regeneration doesn't seem like an actual regeneration to me) and a way to give Rose a happier ending, by leaving her her own Doctor clone in the Pete's World universe. If you want to count something like that, don't you also have to count the Valeyard as an incarnation of the Doctor? That, along with the clone and Capaldi, would make it 15 Doctors so far.

And then there's the Curator. He makes 16. Back to him in a sec.

There are ways around this, of course. Lots of fans keep bringing up River Song sacrificing her future regenerations to revive the Doctor and wondering if that means he's got more. But I don't think this is really that complicated. Do you?

In "The Day of the Doctor," the show reveals that Gallifrey was never actually destroyed and the Doctor never committed Gallifreyan genocide. Gallifrey is safe and sound in a pocket universe outside of time. Moffat seems to be setting up Capaldi's character arc--unless this somehow gets resolved in the Christmas episode next month--as the search for Gallifrey and its restoration to the universe.

So I think it goes like this: Capaldi finds Gallifrey, restores it to the universe, and in gratitude for saving them, the Supreme Council rewards him with another set of regenerations. After all, the Master keeps getting them, either outright stealing them or being resurrected by the Council to fight in the Time War. So it's not like there's no precedent. It seems like the simplest, most obvious conclusion. It's not like the BBC are going to just let their cash cow go. I've been figuring that that was how Moffat was going to end his run on the show.

I mean, guys, he lampshades it in "The Day of the Doctor" by throwing in the Curator as a future incarnation. How can he have a future incarnation if he has no more regenerations? (And I seriously, seriously don't think Smith is meant to be the last one. But who knows, maybe I'm wrong and that's what the Christmas episode is about. Which, by the way, are their Cybermen in it? Because I don't mind seeing the Cybermen again as long as I don't have to see Smith arguing with an even-campier evil version of himself again.)

(Also, I know people who think we'll find out more about the Curator in the future, which, come on. It's a story work-around to get Tom Baker in the anniversary special, nothing more.)

But, you know, wait and see. I don't think Moffat would have even brought it up if he didn't already know how he was going to work it out.

UPDATE 11/27: Someone mentioned on another site that obviously Moffat has a plan in place, because obviously he introduced the War Doctor so that he could address the whole thing and do that story before stepping down as showrunner. Even I wasn't cynical enough to come up with that. But since Moffat seems hellbent on making everything that happens in his run the most important events ever in the life of the Doctor, that makes total sense.


Interesting, quiet, short-short film by Jim Henson. That's Sesame Street director Jon Stone in front of the camera.

What I Mean When I Talk About Hating Snow

One of the things that's become so aggravating to me in the age of the internet and internet commenting is that I'm walking around with a certain knowledge of which opinions I can't just start sharing without expecting some kind of confrontation.

For example, I can't devote a whole post to what I did or didn't like about Star Trek Into Darkness, because I know there are people who are weirdly angry about it and I don't want to get into a fight over a movie. (Not anymore. It's draining.) I can't write a post about how a big part of why I love The Phantom Menace is that it reminds me of a time when I was really happy and first dating my wife and just carefree without several people who are still bitter over not liking an overhyped movie 14 years ago getting offended that someone likes it. (Thank you for making me feel bad about sharing my memories of the love story of my life, that's very rational of you.) And I haven't been able to say anything at all on Tumblr about how I didn't like "The Day of the Doctor," because people there are being such dicks to anyone who was dissatisfied that you'd be justified in thinking that only total agreement on all opinions is what keeps the fandom from crying at night.

I hate this irrational sensibility and weird hostility on the internet, but I hate it most where matters of subjective opinion on entertainment are concerned. Sure, I get it when people argue about religion or politics. The arguments are pointless--nothing you two scream about here today is going to actually affect religion or politics in any way, you're just angry with the other person for having different beliefs than you--but at least those are things that affect policy, law, and society. But whether I'm offended or not by Miley Cyrus on someone else's behalf, or what my sexual preferences are, or whether I care how some celebrity's kids or being raised, or the fact that I think Jennifer Lawrence is far from the greatest actress ever... those are things that affect exactly zero people.

I should have to think about whether or not what I'm saying is actually offensive. I should not have to think that what I'm saying might hurt someone's feelings because I hated Les Miserables and they thought it was amazing.

And I'm not saying I can't stand disagreement. That doesn't bother me. What I hate is when people go out of their way to be flip and dismissive in their irrationality. I hate when people invalidate my like or dislike of something because I'm fat or I'm a pervert or I'm stupid. I hate when people get angry and tell me there's something morally wrong with me because I didn't like The Dark Knight. If your love of anything is dependent on defending it to people who don't like it--or even don't care about it--with personal attacks, then the problem isn't me.

I hate dealing in it. Unless it's some tremendous irritation that I'm trying to get out, I don't really like to talk about it online much anymore. It's why I stopped writing the Throwdown years ago--the sheer amount of snarky negativity I was engaging with every week, even just coming out of myself, was tiring and eventually sickening.

I'm thinking about this now because of something that happened yesterday.

Yesterday was Illinois' first big snowfall of the season. The one that always seems to come out of nowhere and take everyone by surprise, because at first it's just tiny flakes that don't accumulate, and then suddenly it's several inches of thick, wet snow blowing so hard that you can barely see.

I hate the snow. I have for a long time. And one of the things that's come out of that is that when I try to complain about it online, over here, in my teeny space on a vast internet, someone always has to go out of their way to come over here and look at a post I've written about hating the snow and dismissively write "I love the snow!"

I. Don't. Care.

It only pisses me off more to see that. I'm not trying to start an open discussion. I'm exorcising my frustration. The whole point of writing about it is to get out my anxiety and all of the bad feelings I have about this particular weather phenomenon, and you've just come along and invalidated all of it with your self-serving, dismissive comment. I don't care if you love the snow. It has no bearing on my life at all. And guess what? My hating is has no bearing on yours, either. If you love the snow, write about it on your own blog and don't bother me with it. Jaquandor loves snow. He's always excited when he gets snow in Buffalo, and he usually mentions it somewhere--on his blog, or Tumblr, or Facebook. And you know what? I'm happy for him that he's feeling good. You know what I don't do? Assault him with derisive comments about his attitude and try to make him feel bad because he likes something that I don't.

Now, as you know, I've got diagnosed anxiety disorders. I don't always handle them well. I can't be medicated for them, because all the medications I've tried (except Xanax, but only when taken occasionally) have had bad, life-threatening side effects. It's stuff that was always there, but it became a real obstacle several years ago when, on a day like yesterday, I slid my car into a tree. That's what triggered the agoraphobia, and that's what set me on the road to eventual therapy. And as long as I've been in therapy, and as many triumphs as I've had, all it takes is one panic incident to make me feel like it's all been in vain.

Yesterday, right after walking out of therapy, I saw that the snow was really coming down. It was already thick on the ground. And I immediately began to shake. I didn't even make it to the car--my wife driving, because I still can't drive, and it was only in the last couple of years when I've been able to be a passenger again--before a panic attack set in. I sat in that car and the full panic experience happened. Shaking, screaming, crying, hyperventilating. It was a nightmare episode. My anxiety and panic about the wedding was nothing like this. My wife almost slapped me in the face because I couldn't calm down and she didn't know what else to do. You can't do therapeutic breathing techniques to calm yourself when you're panicking so hard that you can't breathe. All I could think about was my accident and my fears coming true and how ill-equipped I was for the real world. I felt fear and shame and self-loathing. It felt like forever before I even calmed down enough to breathe properly. It was the worst moment I've had in a long, long time.

This is what the snow does to me. I can't even look at it snowing when I'm in the comfort and safety of my own home without feeling agitated and jittery. Being out in it, completely unexpected and unprepared mentally for it, was devastating. And demoralizing, because it was a reminder of just how far out of the woods of my own anxiety I'm not. I still feel bad about it. I've done the worst thing, according to my therapist, which is accepted it as evidence of how worthless I am.

It's a mental thing. It's part of my mental and emotional thing that's keeping me stuck in life.

Oh, and I had a little triumph yesterday, too, of being told that I might qualify for the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, so I could potentially go and see a doctor without having to save for months to get the $90 entrance fee. (Why don't I want to go to the doctor? Because without insurance, I've been paying off a $500 blood work for months.) So there's a glimmer of hope now that I could have a slight medical safety net.

And all of that hope? Washed away in an instant by my panic and my deep-rooted problems and all of the negative things about myself and the world that the snow has come to symbolize.

I hate the snow because it's so hard for me to function in it.

I'm sorry if that makes you feel bad because you have happy connotations with the snow. But that's not my problem. And my problems aren't yours, either. But don't rush to invalidate me by dismissing my sentiments just because they aren't yours.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Marvels: Strange Tales #107

"The Master of Flame vs. the Monarch of the Sea!" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber & Dick Ayers
(April 1963)

One of the things that's so interesting about the Marvel Universe in its infancy is just how willing Stan, Jack and company are to look back and pull forward great elements that worked back in the Timely and Atlas days. And they weren't shy about admitting it, either. One of my favorite things about the re-introduction of Namor the Sub-Mariner back in Fantastic Four #4 is that the entire reason Johnny was able to restore Namor's memories was that he had read the old issues of Sub-Mariner Comics that Timely and Atlas had published when he was a child. Namor was both real and a comic book, just like the Fantastic Four were revealed to be both real and a comic book. Stan Lee basically said hey, remember those old comics we used to publish? We're bringing that guy back.

Namor's not the last character from Marvel's past that will return. And heck, even some of the great one-off Marvel monsters from issues of the sci-fi/monster anthology books will make their appearances in the future, like Groot, Goom, or Fin Fang Foom. And, of course, Captain America and Ka-Zar, both characters from the early days (Ka-Zar, like Namor, made his first appearance in Marvel Comics #1), are coming back.

The Human Torch himself is a modernization of the original Human Torch, who also first appeared in Marvel Comics #1. The original Torch was an android created by Professor Phineas T. Horton. Johnny Storm is an update. One that would cause legal issues, actually.

In the spirit of those old days, Stan and Larry have cooked up a story that serves as both an exciting spectacle and a nod to the past. The Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner have faced off before, but in this issue of Strange Tales, the entire Torch solo story is devoted to the two matching their strength against one another. It's a nod specifically to Marvel Mystery Comics #8 and 9, when the Marvel Universe sort of really begins. Then editor-in-chief Joe Simon, apparently inspired by National's All-Star Comics #3 (which pulled many of the company's characters into the same story as the Justice Society of America) decided to have the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch fight one another, and the idea of a shared universe was born back in 1940.

I love Stan Lee and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby and everyone involved for bringing it back, modernizing it, and making it special.

Just for the hell of it, here's the splash page from Marvel Mystery Comics #9:

Click it and look at it full-size. Isn't it fantastic? Look at those signatures. The story was written by Bill Everett, creator of the Sub-Mariner, and drawn by Carl Burgos, creator of the Human Torch.

Jack Kirby's nod to it on the cover:

This is the 46th installment of Marvels that I've done so far, and this handily replaces Fantastic Four #3 as my favorite Marvel cover so far.

So... can you tell that I really enjoyed this issue?

The story itself is pretty lean. Johnny, tired of being left out of the rest of the team's business (because he's a teenager and they're adults), decides to show everyone he's their equal by challenging the Sub-Mariner to a fight, itching to give the guy a definitive defeat.

The fight itself is pretty neat. The whole fight takes place over and in the ocean itself, so Namor's powers never start to wane, and each of the two has the upper hand at various times. Neither one holds back, either. Johnny tries to drive Namor into an iceberg, which Namor avoids by puffing up like a puffer fish. Namor uses an ancient statue to hypnotize the Torch and then punches him hard with an asbestos-wrapped fist. (I have no idea where Namor just found a piece of asbestos cloth under the ocean, but who cares? This story's too darn fun to nitpick.) Then the Torch actually chases Namor through the water, burning so hot that the water around him evaporates, giving him an air pocket to breathe in. (Why not?) The Torch buries Namor in rock, but almost drowns doing it. And, of course, Namor frees himself. But both have been pushed to their limits and come away with a new respect for one another's powers and determination.

It's not a story that really changes anything, but it's a lot of fun. Every so often, you just need a story where the creators go all-out with the action, and to see both Johnny and Namor shaken by the experience is a nice character touch.

Definitely a favorite issue.

Stray observations:

:: Sue's still got that signed 8x10 of Namor, although I notice it's framed now.

:: The catalyst for Johnny's anger at always being left out? The rest of the FF were writing up their notes for the next issue of Fantastic Four!

:: I wonder when time consciously gets slowed down in Marvel storytelling. In this story, Reed mentions last issue's misadventure with the Acrobat as having occurred "last month," and the FF are beginning to refer to themselves as having been around for a year.

:: Johnny gets off to a bad start when he tries to find Namor, having to land and rest on a ship in the middle of the ocean because he's exhausted his flame. The captain, believing he's a stowaway and not the Human Torch, puts him to work swabbing the deck!

:: I always imagine Sub-Mariner with a voice like Michael Ansara's. Not sure why. That kind of works, though, right?

:: I love the bit where Namor knocks out Johnny, then ties him to the back of a dolphin and orders the dolphin to take Johnny back to civilization.

:: That ancient statue is pretty amazing.

:: Dick Ayers' artwork in this story is fabulous! He's so perfectly suited to this title and to the Torch's style of stories. At this point, with the artists shifting a little bit, I think they've got a few of the "right" artists for some of their books. Jack Kirby's clear style is perfect for Fantastic Four and their science adventures, Steve Ditko is doing a bang-up job on making a scrawny kid a believable hero in Amazing Spider-Man (and would have been doing a hell of a job on Incredible Hulk, I believe, if they'd kept going), I love the way Don Heck is starting to draw Ant-Man stories as though they're pulp spy stories, and Dick Ayers' Human Torch is a great mix of kinetic action and character. I love it!

:: Check out some of the World War II era covers of Timely Comics sometime. There's a lot of insanely creepy racial caricaturing, but it's neat seeing Namor, the Human Torch, and Captain America fighting side by side.

I usually run the gamut from ambivalent to dismissive with the Human Torch's solo stories, but I really love this one. Great work, all around.

Next time: Iron Man gets a paint job.

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Five(ish) Doctors

I don't want to devote an entire post to it, but I did not like "The Day of the Doctor" episode. (To be fair, I expected I wouldn't; not because of my sour cynicism, but because I'm just not a fan of this current era of the show. Almost everyone I know loved it, though, so I'm glad they had such a good time. It just wasn't made for me. Oh, well. Maybe the next one will be. Such is the cycle of Doctor Who fandom.)

I did, however, absolutely adore Peter Davison's send-up/love letter, The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. It was a good-natured ribbing of the current show, a celebration of its rich history, and god bless everyone involved (even Steven Moffat) for having a wonderful sense of humor about themselves.

The short film (a half-hour long) is playing on the BBC One site for the next 6 days. Go and see it.

Song of the Week: "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out"

I never knew Richard Pryor was a singer, but apparently he used to open for singers like Bob Dylan and Nina Simone in clubs in the early sixties. I also don't know where this clip comes from, but it seems like a documentary. But, damn, what a performance! He genuinely feels it.

Marking the Distance

Another lovely StoryCorps cartoon from the Rauch Brothers. I've been a fan of theirs for a few years now, and I'm happy to see that this Thursday night on PBS there's going to be a half-hour special, Listening Is an Act of Love, devoted to the Rauch Brothers. Setting my TiVo.