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ANUSTART for Television

Netflix has become the absolute mecca for cult television viewing. It has taken niches and carved them out into much larger niches and has allowed the fandom of shows to expand well beyond the expiration date of their network tenure. This is not a newly discovered fact, however, the steps taken by them in recent months has proven once and for all that they herald the death of traditional television.

I am, of course, referring to the resurgence of Arrested Development.

Shows like this, for me, often fly under the radar. Until about two years ago, I had given up on sitcoms. I’d had my fill of bland humor in the nineties and wanted nothing to do with the same old jokes being told by different people on different sets in different ridiculous situations. I was tired of laugh-tracks being cued by the stereotypical lead characters dealing with a problem in the most “wacky” way possible while their sarcastic neighbor/friend made sarcastic comments which may or may not result in a catch phrase being printed on a t-shirt and marketed at Spencer’s or Hot Topic.

Sitcoms were not my friend. Most of them are very poorly written and are dragged out far too long, fading into obscurity before drawing former fans back with some heart-wrenching series finale which promises to be everything like the show you once fell in love with and not at all like the faded over-played tragedy it had become. I think I’ve shown enough of my disdain for one day.

When a good friend of mine recommended Arrested Development, it was prior to talk of the Netflix revival. I had, being a denizen of these fair internets, heard of the show and the plight which its fans suffered due to its abbreviated length. He told me that it would be my kind of humor and he was right. I thoroughly enjoyed it and, as happens with a Netflix revival, devoured the entire show within a week only to find that much to the disbelief of its continually expanding fan base, Netflix itself was involved in producing new episodes.

Shows like Arrested Development, along with other cult shows too numerous to list, are the Netflix cash cow. AD, Firefly, Galactica, every Star Trek series… these, 90% of the time, are why people subscribe. If there’s nothing else to do, you have every episode of these shows that you love on-tap and ready to go.

I realize I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know and I also realize that my blog is not, nor should it be, a Netflix commercial. What I am here to talk about is how Netflix changed the game by grabbing an otherwise discarded network show from the dead zone and resurrected it and how exactly that changes the game.

Network television, known for years to be yellowing their drawers over the encroaching crush of the interwebz, should now loose that fateful turd square into their panties over the fact that Netflix was able to put a show like Arrested Development back together for another season without any backing from the Old Boys Club. If internet-only sitcoms such as The Guild (as well as the rest of the Geek and Sundry lineup) and dramas like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries pulling down cult followings, awards, and millions of views on shoe-string budgets were the death knell for network TV, then Arrested Development Season 4 is the funeral.

YouTube and now, to some extent, outlets like Netflix have made it possible for new ideas to be brought to the fore without running the Hollywood gauntlet. It allowed for shows like FreddieW’s Video Game High School to be created and made public in a wider and more sociable forum. No offense to Freddie and his wonderful product (really, love the show) but if this were pitched to say NBC Universal Comcast Kabletown TGIFridays (or whatever they’re calling themselves now) it would have wound up on one of the backwater niche channels on digital cable that no one ever sees and would have received less views than it did on YouTube or FreddieW’s network, rocketjump.com. It would have also received less exposure. Case-in-point, here I am, talking about this awesome show and I’m able to link you to it directly. If it did wind up on that heretofore unheard of cable network and I mentioned it to you here, you’d still never see it because you’d have to a) determine if your cable provider carries the channel, b) find the channel somewhere in the vast labyrinth of the untouched numbers of the upper-hundreds, c) time it correctly to actually watch the show, and if that weren’t possible, d) condemn it to your DVR until such time as it is either potentially watched (could be months) or discarded in favor of the latest episode of Top Chef.

To clarify, I am not saying that all network television is horrible. I watch many shows on television (some network, mostly cable) and, though indie can be a wonderful thing, it is not the end-all-be-all. It would be impossible for someone to do an adequate Game of Thrones adaptation without the support of a major pay channel. HBO, however, hands over the keys to the kingdom and tells the creative types to lock up when they’re done. They are brave in that they will throw almost anything at the wall for at least one season to see if it sticks. Sometimes you get The Sopranos, sometimes you get Luck, either way it offers more freedom to the creators than the aforementioned Hollywood process, which is why HBO is consistently generating amazing programming. They, too, are making good use of the internet as they will soon (if they don’t already) allow people to subscribe to their HBOGO service; everything they have available on-demand, online, anywhere. First-run episodes of new shows are available as soon as the Eastern time-zone show is over, and they’re telling you that you don’t even need cable to watch it anymore.

Other networks operating on that sort of “take-it-and-run-as-long-as-the-ratings-are-good” philosophy are AMC and FX. Given a slightly longer leash than their network counterparts as far as the content of their programming, they are empowered to make edgier, quirkier, and ultimately more interesting shows that give a glimmer of hope for drama and storytelling within a bottomless abyss of reality shows about pawn shops, storage auctions, and trailer-dwelling creatures who believe they are beyond reproach.

I look forward to the day that channels like these take the Netflix route. They could strike out independently or partner up with a well-known distributor and make the shows they want to make as well as making the shows fans want them to make. I often love to see lists of show ideas that were shot down before being given a chance, especially spinoffs of cult ideas (I would have watched every episode of Starfleet Medical). So much potential was cast aside by fat-cat executives so out of touch with entertainment in general that they think Henry Winkler and Scott Baio are still Fonzie and Chachi hanging out at Arnold’s rather than standing in front of a jury as Bob Loblaw trys to prove that Barry Zuckerkorn can’t reach a doorknob of a schoolyard fence without the alleged use of a step-ladder. Any number of those shows once callously discarded may now face revitalization, provided the licences are available.

Arrested Development and the way it has drawn one fanbase to the internet should have the networks shaking and rethinking their strategy. Indie shows and films on the internet should have them watching their back. Cable networks continuing to expand their influence should make them take notice.

The obituary for traditional television is being written by a man who blue himself and no amount of forget-me-nows can make it go away.

Life is a roofie circle.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Its-a Me! PETA!

It used to be that a plumber could jump down a couple of pipes, grab some coins, eat some mushrooms, and rescue a princess without much of an issue.

For decades, Nintendo has been the softer of the game companies. They have always been the more sterile, family-friendly brand. Mario, Link, Samas, Kirby… none of their big names ever perpetrated violence on actual people. The nature of their games has always been about fighting cartoonish monsters or aliens or turtles. Mind you, I’m talking about the games Nintendo exclusively produced, not necessarily all games that were available for their systems over the years. Though, looking back, they didn’t even give you a blood code option in the Super Nintendo version of Mortal Kombat (even though it was graphically superior and closer to the arcade than the Genesis version, let the debate begin).

Being the “safer” brand for kids has brough Nintendo much glory and profit. Say what you will about Call of Duty, Fallout, Battlefield, Skyrim, Mass Effect, or any of the other game franchises; even as adults, we’re want to pick up a good old fashioned Nintendo game from time to time.
The Super Mario franchise, being the flagship of Nintendo’s line, has always produced quality gaming. Sure, it might not be an ultra-realistic combat simulation or a sci-fi space drama with intense characterization or a post-apocalyptic romp through a mutant infested wasteland… but it’s still good old fashioned fun. The Super Mario Galaxy series for Wii is probably one of the most innovative, fun, and challenging platforming games ever made. Seriously, I defy you to tell me you don’t have fun playing it.

Nintendo-brand games, from Donkey Kong all the way up to Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, have always been family-friendly and fun; a finely-crafted formula which doesn’t come along often in our world.

That is, until PETA shows up and shits on everyone’s Froot Loops.

You read that right. PETA. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Going after Nintendo.

Their basis? The Tanooki Suit.

From PETA’s website (via The Daily What):

When on a mission to rescue the princess, Mario has been known to use any means necessary to defeat his enemy – even wearing the skin of a raccoon dog to give him special powers. Tanooki may be just a “suit” in Mario games, but in real life, tanuki are raccoon dogs who are skinned alive for their fur. By wearing Tanooki, Mario is sending the message that it’s OK to wear fur.

For those of you just tuning in, let’s go over a bit of the history of the Tanooki Suit.

The Tanooki Suit made its debut in Super Mario Bros. 3 way back in 1989 (that’s 22 years ago, for those of you keeping score at home). Cited as one of the greatest video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3 brought our beloved overall-wearing hero the gift of flight via the use of a raccoon tail and ears earned by collecting a Leaf (save your retro-WTFs for the end of the lecture, class).

Flight via raccoon tail was a key element to the game, often allowing you to complete levels and/or access secret areas. Nintendo did us one better, however, and threw us an entire Furry costume. Mario dressed up like a full-on raccoon not only gave us flight, but the ability to turn into an invulnerable stone statue by pressing down + jump. The second function of the suit was really negligible, but it was still cool to see and made the Tanooki Suit unique in its application.

Even though its function was essentially the same as the much more common Leaf power-up, players often took the diversion to World 5 (Sky Land) to get their hands on the fabled Tanooki Suit when they could have easily just blown that second whistle from the warp zone and skipped straight to World 8.
Although people loved Tanooki Mario, after 3, the suit was kept out of Mario games in favor of newer power-ups. This was standard practice as every game had to have Mario doing something unique, such as the cape in the SMB3 follow-up Super Mario World for Super Nintendo. Any gamer worth his salt knows that the only three constants in Mario power-ups are Mushrooms, Fire Flowers, and 1-Ups (excluding SMB2, but that wasn’t REALLY a Mario game on a worldwide level).

In the interim, much Tanooki Suit merch was made. Vinyl statues, t-shirts, even a brown hoodie with raccoon ears. It remains one of the favorite power-ups of long-time Nintendo fans.
No doubt it was this popularity as well as the retro-factor which brought Nintendo to include the Tanooki Suit in the latest Mario Franchise offering, Super Mario 3D Land for Nintendo DS. And the fanboys rejoiced. At this point, people who played SMB3 in their Thundercats Underoos can now share the joy of the Tanooki Suit with their children (and surely wax nostalgic about how video games were so much better/harder/more back in the day).

Wonderful though that may be, PETA suddenly has a beef with something that originated on an 8-bit system 22 years ago and hasn’t been seen since.

Seriously. Damn near 30 years of Mario Bros. action and this is the only complaint PETA could have about the Franchise? How many turtles does a mother fucker have to stomp on? What’s wrong, PETA? Turtles aren’t as cute as “raccoon dogs”?
How about Yoshi? Yoshi has been the white man’s slave since 1990! Forced to eat anything that moves and lay its eggs only to have them destroyed (or callously thrown at shit, as in Yoshi’s Island)! Thrown off of cliffs to its death when you need a little more boost to your jump! Allowed to run off the edge of the screen and completely into oblivion, never to return!
And Bowser and the Koopa Kids? There’s a reason fire-breathing, spiky-shelled, lizard death machines are extinct, and it’s wearing a pair of blue overalls and a red hat.

I’m starting to think that being a vegan, with the lack of protein alone, causes severe brain damage. When you think Mario wearing a Furry costume warrants any kind of attention from your branch of insane activism, you may be taking life a bit too seriously. Either that, or there are some seriously fun mushrooms in your vegan diet which are doing more than giving you an extra life.

I didn’t see this sort of turn out when we were slaughtering innocent ducks by the thousands at the advent of the Zapper. I didn’t see protesters lining up outside the Death Egg to protest Dr. Robotnik enslaving all of those poor animals inside of robot suits, nor did I see them when the rare blue hedgehog and two-tailed fox were constantly tormented, chased, shot at, drown, and spiked to death.

And, where were you, PETA, when Roger Rabbit was framed?

Seriously, PETA, it’s not like Mario has to skin the “raccoon dog” before he puts on the Tanooki Suit. They leave that kind of shit to the Fallout franchise. It’s a dude putting on a costume. That’s all. Harmless as Halloween, as long as you’re not a turtle or a dinosaur death machine. Never in all my years of gaming did I see a tag on the Tanooki Suit that said “100% Real Japanese Raccoon Dog”. I’m sure if it were anywhere near a real thing, it would be composed of as much real fur as the average sports team mascot on a yiffing binge.

Lay off the pipe, PETA. The world has more important problems that a grown man dressed like a raccoon.

For the record, the Hammer Bros. Suit was the shit.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

The Dangers of Camping

May 21, 2011 passed just like the majority of the waking world thought it would: uneventfully.

Sure, there were events. There was a relatively harmless earthquake somewhere between Fiji and New Zealand. The Grungelfjordel Volcano (not the actual name, but close) in Iceland blows its stack with the potential to grind European air commerce to a halt, just like when the Sprungenfrugel Volcano (again, not the actual name) erupted not too long ago.

People were born, people died, but no more than usual.

The only thing odd about this particular day was that it was being marked by a particular Christian cult as the Day of Judgement. The Rapture. TEOTWAWKI.

Never mind the fact that this prediction set the internet ablaze with everything from cautious speculation to appalled anger to outright (and rather hysterical) mocking. I’m sure if you’re reading my blog, you knew that this was hanging out in the zeitgeist for much longer than just the week leading up to the big day. However, within that week, Harold Camping’s Rapture prediction finally got real press coverage enough for people with the proper access to start asking the proper questions; the questions I wanted to see answered before The Rapture became (and, pardon the emo-hipster term) too mainstream.

I first heard about the prediction months ago from my absolute favorite “news” aggregator, The Daily What. However, there was no information beyond the few web-capable followers of Harold Camping’s Family Radio, proclaiming that their fearless leader was 100% right, that they had followed his math, and that the Kingdom of God was, indeed, at hand.
Of course, hand-in-hand with these sites, obviously designed to trick the weak into thinking that there were more people than just the crazy Family Radio crowd who thought shit was going belly-up, there were the angry detractor sites. However, neither set of sites presented any facts. At least, not the facts that only a credentialed journalist would have the ability to dig up.

With baited breath, I waited until this week. I wanted to see what the kook-in-charge was up to behind closed doors.

I devoured articles from every conceivable source. A few, particularly from reputable Christian-specific news sites such as the Christian Science Monitor, angrily spewed vitriol back at Harold Camping’s Fun House, oft quoting the books of Mark and Matthew from the bible, giving an immediate counter to the mostly-bs-but-as-yet-unproven prediction, protecting their respective flocks from possibly being influenced by what more than one minister called “a dangerous man”.

How, I thought in something of a state of gullibility, could Harold Camping really be considered dangerous? Dude’s an 89 year-old living somewhere in California and all he’s doing is talking. If he’s wrong, he’s not dangerous. He wasn’t preaching any sort of mass suicide, he was just saying that The Rapture was coming. He didn’t seem like the type to be able to perpetrate it on his own, unless Family Radio was harboring some sort of uber-right-wing Christian version of al Qaeda.

No, it wasn’t until later in the week, when the knee-jerk Christian-based reactionaries sloughed off and the mainstream media started picking up steam that the real danger was revealed.

Articles interviewing Camping’s street preacher squads, which had amassed in most major cities in America, began to surface.

Stories of people leaving their homes, selling all of their worldly possessions, dumping off all of their money (some with very sizable donations to Family Radio, I might add), planning to have nothing left in the bank by precisely 6PM on May 21…

One particular story about a family – husband, wife, two kids – really jumped out at me. The parents had quit their jobs and uprooted everyone to NYC so that they could hit the streets, pamphlets and placards in hand, to “warn” the general public of their impending doom.
The kids, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with their crazy parents, citing them as an embarrassment. I sympathized. No one wants crazy parents when they’re in high school. The next complaint, however, from the elder of the siblings, really bothered me.

“My parents have stopped saving for college,” to paraphrase, “I don’t know what I’m going to do now.”

My rant for the side of Mike Rowe and the oversaturation of secondary education is a topic for another day, however, I suddenly felt truly bad for these kids. Their parents had been lead like sheep right off the deep end. They had put the future of their family into something beyond jeopardy.

They weren’t the only ones. Another husband/wife tandem were dealing with the issue that they were pregnant, the wife described in tears as she thought about the fact that she would never get to know her baby as, once she ascended into heaven, she would cease to be pregnant. Not to mention the fact that the couple spent every penny they had, donating to the Family Radio cause through advertising and pamphlets. I mean, why buy baby food, or diapers, or a crib when the Rapture is coming? Wouldn’t you rather dump all of your money because some stupid old man pulled the wool over your eyes?

Camping’s followers, the ones who were mislead enough to drop everything they owned, will fall quickly into the welfare state. You can bet that Mr. Camping won’t be handing out refunds any time soon. These people made charitable donations to a non-profit religious organization to the tune of $120 Million or more. That’s not counting the people who didn’t think there was time enough to process a donation and went right out, spending their own money on everything from pamphlets to billboards to giant message-bearing RVs.

Yes, this is their bad. Yes, they might actually learn a very harsh lesson about stupidity from this. Yes, I almost have enough schadenfreude in me to point and bellow out a great big belly laugh at all the stupid people who now have to go about life disappointed; let down by the fact that Their Personal Lord and Savior did not descend from the clouds to take them away from the misery of a mortal existence. Some of these people didn’t have it that bad before all of this. Now, having quit their jobs for insane cultish reasons, they’re probably not going to get them back. They probably won’t be able to buy back that house after they dropped all they owned, planning to have that perfectly zeroed out bank account by the time Jesus would be taking them home.

I legitimately feel bad for the people in their families who are affected by this. The kids. The spouses. The “non-believers” who would have probably been left behind, according to their standards. For the thousands of Camping’s followers, the worst question follows a day like May 21: “What now?”

Camping has, just today, made a statement saying pretty much nothing. He’s been quoted as “flabbergasted” that the Rapture didn’t occur per his calculations. Family Radio’s website has lost all traces of May 21 reference and now looks only slightly less zealous. The jokes are getting stale and I’m soon all of this will, within two weeks or less, be just another busted meme in internet history.

Social networking and viral media are what Harold Camping used to panic thousands of his followers and, I’m sure, to convert hundreds more as that day drew closer. We have seen internet hoaxes before, but none so tangible and, as most of the legit Christian clergy have said, dangerous. Dangerous to the people who believed it, anyway. This should serve as a warning to the world of the true dangers of social media and the sort of panic that can be induced, even among a small portion of the populous, by one person who speaks with conviction and has a good PR team out there generating internet buzz.

Hopefully, if there’s one lesson these people can take from this instance, it would be that just because it’s on the internet – just because multiple websites make it look good – doesn’t mean that it’s true.

I suppose, to his people, Harold Camping may have been right. Instead of being taken in the Rapture, however, his people were, indeed, left behind to suffer on Earth. With no money, no jobs, and no homes, I’m sure that this is just the beginning of the real tribulation for the broken and disillusioned cultists of Family Radio.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

True Believers Don’t Fear the Reaper

The first time it drew any attention in the media was with a black polybag.

Emblazoned on said bag was the familiar red S logo, dripping with blood.

Inside, the grand conclusion to a comic book event which shattered records: The Death of Superman.

It was the first title-character death to be covered by the national media. It became as much an event as the death of any other celebrity. There were obits on the national news describing the life, career, and cause of death, profiles of his family and friends, and a rudimentary analysis of his killer.

I purchased a copy, but not the black polybagged version (I refused to line up all day for anything Superman related). I wanted to see the Man of Steel beaten to a pulp at the hands of Doomsday. I have the iconic final splash page of Lois Lane cradling the Supercorpse as she wept openly, his tattered cape, torn from his costume and attached to some random debris, flying like a flag in the background.

I was overjoyed. Superman; as much my own arch-nemesis as he is to Lex Luthor or Braniac, was dead. My problem with Superman was, at least temporarily, cured.
My hatred wasn’t just quelled because he had shuffled off this mortal coil to much fanfare. It wasn’t only healed by attempting to lick the tasty tears of anguish from the page as Lois cried a true love’s mourning. Those things both helped. But the root of the anger and issue I had with Superman was almost immediately repaired upon his demise.

Some may ask, why would anyone have a problem with Superman? I mean, he saves the day. He’s the ultimate white knight of comics. How could anyone argue with something as wholesome and all-American as Superman?

My response can be summed up in three words: Superman. Is. Boring. My reasoning for this is lengthy and logical and certainly for another rant at another time. I’m already going to keep you a while as it is, you don’t need me prattling on about why Superman’s books have sucked since before time began.

His death served to stem my bleeding rage, healing me as he crept closer to that inevitable scene alluded to by the black polybag.
Finally, something beat the absolute living shit out of Superman. The bony protrusions and relentless attacks of Doomsday cut him, forcing him to see his own blood in who knows how long. He gave Supes a puffy black eye, broken bones, and gashes through his invulnerable skin. By the time Lois cradled his head in her distress, he was like a Snickers bar left out in the sun; a bunch of lumpy mush loosely contained within a wrapper.
The race was quickly on to replace him, bringing Superboy back into the fray on a more hardcore level, and introducing Steel, Hank Henshaw (the Cyborg Superman), and the Eradicator. Great plot lines unraveled as the ripple of Superman’s death stretched to the farthest reaches of the DCU. It made the book relevant. What would the DCU be like without Superman around to save the day? We were on the verge of truly finding out.
Then, of course, within a year, they turn around and bring him back, putting an end to anything interesting that might have happened had the Corpse of Steel remained six-feet under. Welcome back to the doldrums.

The reason I’m waxing nostalgic about the Death of Superman storyline is that Marvel recently announced a similar event which reached the national media (if you count USA Today as a viable source, that is).

The Fantastic Four will soon become the Fantastic Three.

Shaking up the status quo of a comic which has been running since what seems like the beginning of time by killing off the cast isn’t really something groundbreaking. Even eliminating a main character is becoming passé. Without revealing any spoilers from the article, the fated character dies, essentially splitting up the team to make them free to do other things and pretty much ending the 500+ issue publication. The cover alone caught my attention, as it vaguely resembles the infamous black polybag; it is a simple black cover with the team’s logo front and center, using a 3 instead 4. Simple, ominous, and effective.
I was a fringe fan of the Fantastic Four, usually only coming back to the story when Doom was involved, but I still find it enthralling that one of them will bite it as well as the fact that Marvel has its plans in motion for the survivors. If things go well, this one may stay dead, which would be a truly ballsy coup and would have a lasting effect on Marvel’s First Family.
They were already blown apart once when their opinions were split on the Superhero Registration Act during Civil War, now the giant wedge of death may permanently cleave them apart. It will be interesting to see how things develop, especially since the remaining three have other things to keep them busy. Will they ever be a family again? Will there be resentment or buried rage over the death? To me, the emotional nuance of superhero comics has always been fascinating. Marvel usually does this better than DC.

Death in comics is usually taken about as seriously as death in soap operas. Characters will always find a way back into the plot. No character, no matter how brutally or poignantly they may have perished, is ever truly marked for permanent death.

One of the most notorious examples comes from Batman.
Jason Todd, the second Robin, replacing the outgoing and outgrowing Dick Grayson, who decided on a better career under the name Nightwing and running with the Teen Titans, was savagely beaten to death with a crowbar by the Joker. The incident provided the Dark Knight with anger, regret, fear, temptation… an entire gambit of emotions not normally reflected by the stalwart hero. It also helped the book transition into the modern age, the death of Jason Todd symbolizing the death of innocence within the Batman comics as a whole. It forever affected the partner relationship and heavily influenced Batman’s treatment of Tim Drake, the third Robin, and the development of their relationship. Granted, Todd really died as the result of a reader’s poll, but the writers thought it would be a horrible slight to the readers (who voted Todd dead) if they brought the character back shortly after.
It was believed since the 1989 death of Todd that he would never be reintroduced, as the death was far too significant for the comic.
Of course, Todd was resurrected (courtesy of “reality punching”, DC’s Infinite Crisis-based panacea for all ret-conning). Clayface, posing as Todd during the Hush storyline, offered fans the jaw-dropping moment in 2003, but it wouldn’t be until 2005 that the actual Todd rose from the grave to cause trouble. He also had a pretty big role during the Battle for the Cowl mini-series while Bruce Wayne was (ironically) “dead”.

Can anyone in comics stay dead? Is it simple popularity that brings them back to life?

Bruce Wayne, as mentioned, was killed via Darkseid’s Omega Sanction. Turns out he was just unstuck from time and sent back to the stone age. He had to crawl his whole way back to the present through the strangest means possible, all the while regaining his memories.
This had me, as a fan, worried because the new Batman and Robin, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne (Bruce’s son via Talia al Ghul), were performing incredibly within the scope of the comic. It was a truly fresh look at the Dynamic Duo. Thankfully, when Bruce returned he immediately spun off into Batman, Inc. – a story about Bruce taking Batman global – leaving Dick and Damian in charge of Gotham while he’s fighting for the greater good. We can continue to watch Dick as he carves his path as the new Batman and Bruce can still be King High Bad Ass. Disaster averted.

Captain America was shot dead after being arrested for violation of the Superhuman Registration Act at the end of the Civil War storyline. James “Bucky” Buchanan, aka the Winter Soldier and Cap’s old sidekick, picked up the mantle and took things to the next level.
Of course, Cap was also simply unstuck from time, forced to battle his way back to the present through… wait, didn’t I write this sentence already? Well, Marvel did it first this time.
Anyway, Steve Rogers, the original Cap, makes it back and steps aside, much like Bruce, to become the new head of SHIELD, America’s “top cop” as it were, and is simply known as Captain Steve Rogers, leaving his patriotic moniker to Bucky.

Both instances marked permanent changes for the namesake heroes, changing the men behind the masks but without the actual carnage of leaving the original heroes buried and rotting. We achieve change without death, but what does this really mean for the characters involved?
Are we not allowed to see a mournful superhero? Would it jeopardize our concept of the traditional super hero comic to see an exhibition of emotion that wasn’t related to being a total crime-fighting, world-saving badass? Will the popularity of the originals versus the infusion of new blood only serve to briefly shake and reestablish the status quo? Can a hero ever stay dead, be mourned, be memorialized, and have the world move on?

If Marvel had any balls, they would test the waters with the F4 member who is about to bite it and mandate that he remain dead. I mean, Ares died in the Siege storyline when he was torn in half (literally) by the Sentry, who was then put down by Thor (lightning bolt to the head). Those two have been dead for a good six months or so now and I’m pretty sure they’re going to stay that way. I have hope that Marvel is learning it’s ok to kill. It’s ok to let some heroes reach their final rest (excluding Magneto and Jean Grey, of course). How long until other publishers follow suit?

In my story (that being Unlucky 7), when you’re dead, you stay dead. (just ask Wearing Hudsucker)

Any thoughts on this? Any answers to my queries? What’s your opinion? Just something to think about while you’re slowly being snowed in this winter.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

The Bat, The Cat, and the Breaker: Dissecting “The Dark Knight Rises”

In case you’ve missed the blurbs, it landed smack in the middle of the internet this past Wednesday that Christopher Nolan plans on using Bane and Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises – the 2012 “conclusion” to the revitalized Batman movie franchise.
Along with the character reveal landed the actors selected for those roles – Tom Hardy and Anne Hathaway, respectively.

Both of these pairs of choices are being received as a relatively mixed bag.

Bane, for those of you unfamiliar with the character, was born and raised in a South American prison. He was subject to a law within a corrupt government which required him to serve a life sentence in place of his father, a revolutionary who ran away from the country when he was convicted of treason.
Through his years of imprisonment, he became a world-class, ass-kicking tough-guy from constantly lifting weights and getting into prison fights as well as a super genius due to his constant study of the prison’s library.
Years later, he becomes “king” of his prison. His rule over the prisoners makes the power-sapped wardens volunteer him for testing of a new drug, Venom. This drug killed all other subjects but, due to his ability to take punishment, Bane gains the benefits without death; drastically increased superhuman strength. This leaves Venom as his only weakness, as his body depends on a dose every twelve hours to keep it from collapsing under the strain of catastrophically fatal withdrawal.
Bane first stepped in to the DC universe as “The Man who Broke the Bat” during the early-90s Knightfall storyline which left Bruce Wayne with a broken back (after Bane cracked him over his knee like a twig) and a psychotic Jean-Paul Valley in a souped-up Batsuit taking over for the injured Dark Knight. Of course, Bruce battles back, rehabs, and takes his city back from Valley who had defeated Bane in Bruce’s absence by separating Bane from his Venom supply (slashing a hose that gave him a constant supply from a pack on his back). Valley beat the living piss out of Bane, but left him alive (because, as Bruce had taught him, Batman should never kill).
Bane went from top-of-the-charts to B-list Villain to, of course, his notable stint as Poison Ivy’s borderline retarded bodyguard in the one big smirch on the Barman franchise’s record: 1997’s Joel Schumacker Debacle Batman and Robin.

This could make for some interesting plot. I wouldn’t doubt if there are shades of the Knightfall story within the script.
Will they change the background to fit Tom Hardy’s overtly British character, or will they make Tom Hardy speak with a British/Spanish/Portuguese accent to fit Bane? Either way, we know that CG will probably be used to create Bane’s ridiculously huge physique. I don’t care how much you people love Tom Hardy, he’s not that big, and no one in the world could ever get that big, I don’t care how much time they’ve been spending with MLB Physicians.

Then comes Anne Hathaway as Catwoman who, in the official WB press release, is referred to as Selena Kyle, in an effort to portray Catwoman as a company cuss word ever since Hally Barry went and shit all over it. Regardless of how the Brothers Warner wish to disguise it, it’s still Catwoman and it may still be a bit too soon to put the multiple Razzie-Award Winning candidate for worst movie of all time behind us. Hell, I read the comics and when someone mentions Catwoman, the first thing I think of is the poster for that movie. Sad, isn’t it?
Most of you will remember Ms. Kyle as she was portrayed in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns; a mousey secretary who is nearly murdered by her corrupt boss for snooping around in his private files, but is mysteriously resurrected by a bunch of alley cats (really?). She then cuts up a vinyl trenchcoat and rough-stiches together the Michelle Pfeiffer costume which dominated the minds of the Male 18-25 bracket (and beyond) for the next few years.
The comic book story is much more confusing yet infinitely more proper for a character often portrayed as the one constant love interest in Bruce Wayne’s life. We’ll cut to the chase and say that it’s not nearly as “supernatural” as Burton made it and Selena was a rather strong woman who fought back against adversity to become one of the best thieves in the world.

The prospect of seeing the lovely Ms. Hathaway don the leather of the Cat (I envision a costume reminiscent, if not dead on, with the latter-day comic book Selena) is something that causes many fanboys to shiver in antici… pation. Strictly on a visual basis, I’d call this a winning proposition.
Still other detractors of Anne’s acting skills thing she’s the wrong one for this job. I’m inclined to disagree. I think she’s got the chops and, more than that, she’s good at being believable, which is what Nolan’s Bat-stories have been about since this all began.

These two characters are looked upon by some as a poor decision for what Nolan swears will be the last entry in the Bat-Franchise which he will direct.

The whispers of the Johnny Depp Riddler and the Phillip-Seymour Hoffman Penguin had people on pins and needles for official word. While I am among the masses disappointed that neither of these fanboy fantasy castings took place, I can understand how neither character fits with Nolan’s overall vision of a (relatively) more realistic superhero scenario.

The Riddler, Johnny Depp or not, would have made for a more boring “conclusion” to the Nolan Years. A dark, evil, twisted, Johnny Depp Riddler would make the Nolan-verse into Batman vs. Saw. Riddler was all about the thinking-man’s death traps. I’m sure this would have been key and, as I just mentioned, Saw has been doing that for a grating six (SIX!) movies now. There won’t be any surprise twists and the plot will not snake. Batman fights death traps, wins. Batman finds Riddler, fights Riddler, wins. Credits. Sorry, Johnny.

The Penguin, while an extremely interesting character in the DC Universe, didn’t even play out well with a truncated origin story and Danny Devito behind him in Batman Returns. Yeah, the character was grotesque and had some awesome one-liners, but in the end, there were penguin rocket troops. Really, Tim? Really?
Phillip-Seymour Hoffman would do the darker nature of the character justice, but there is hardly enough time to establish him as the organized-crime kingpin that DC made him into via No Man’s Land (which was, truly, the first time the character became interesting since Burgess Meredeth quacked). Though, this is more plausible than the Riddler due to the Nolan-verse’s recent power vacuum in Gotham’s underworld (spoilers: Joker killed ALL THE BOSSES in The Dark Knight. Remember that shit? Yeah, you didn’t, did you?). The Penguin’s modern Mafioso persona would have been able to play right into that spot and fit right in with the “more real” Nolan-verse. Might not have been a bad movie, either. The only issue: Batman has taken on the mafia in the last two movies. Let’s see something different.

Other people have suggested different villains, such as Talia Al-Ghul, Ra’s’ daughter, which would bring a delightful symmetry to the movies, but again, Nolan is not one to repeat. The motives would be the same (burn down humanity), the random thugs would be similar (ninjas), and everything would drive toward an even more romantic story than the one Catwoman will probably bring. Also, Talia was not mentioned in the previous flicks and would almost be a stretch to believability if she suddenly showed up claiming to be the Daughter of the Demon’s Head.

At least one person suggested Black Mask, recent star of Batman RIP, building off of that story line, and exposing Thomas and Martha Wayne as careless sex fiends and social deviants to attempt to draw Bruce out and ruin the legacy of both him and Batman. My response: A wonderful idea for a year-long story arc, a terrible idea for a two-and-a-half hour long movie. Too much premise needs to be established and that leaves too little action.

Another one was Harley Quinn, which would be strictly off-limits due to the Joker association.
If you don’t think the studio is trying to avoid anything to do with the Joker, look at the fact that they killed Harvey Dent in the end of The Dark Knight. Why do that when a)Two-Face is awesome, b) the beginning of The Dark Knight proved that villains can continue to exist in the Nolan-verse (as opposed to being ruthlessly killed off in the Burton/Schumaker-verse) by having Cillian Murphy reprise Scarecrow for three or four minutes of screentime, and c) Aaron Eckhart was willing to do whatever they asked him to get even a bit part as Harvey in the third picture.
The news broke that Eckhart had been told by Nolan that Harvey was dead, even though he fell from a height that may not have killed him. Harvey’s origin was tied directly to the Joker and his presence in the sequel would remind people that the Joker was also left alive, hanging from the penthouse window of a half-constructed building, at the end of the last movie. Kill Harvey, no appearance. Joker’s legacy remains ambiguous, we move on to the next detective story. Bring Harley into the mix and you’re rubbing salted lemon juice into the Chelsea Grin wound Heath Ledger left behind.

Personally, I think Hush would have made an awesome villain, but he’s nothing without the grand conspiracy which surrounded his identity and nothing without the Riddler essentially behind it all. Not to mention the cavalcade of associated villains working, knowingly or not, in sync to make that arc quite possibly one of the best Bat-Stories of all time. It would be an Avengers Movie like feat to get that one up and running (considering that it included Superman as well) and would be a fanboy wet dream. At least for this particular nerd.

Other villains not mentioned would neither be strong enough to carry an entire movie nor would they fit the “no sci-fi” creedo of Nolan’s vision. Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, Ventriloquist and Scarface, Clayface… none of them would work.

My conclusion is that Nolan has the right idea. A master thief and (essentially) a super genius on performance enhancers come in at slightly more realistic, not to mention action-based, than any of the others. He wants his franchise to go out with the same bang which heralded its arrival. Batman is the world’s greatest detective, but you watch the movies to see Batman whupping whole-sale ass. You read the comics for the mystery and the thrill of the page-turn. It’s this very principal which makes Hush and RIP two of the best story arcs, but not very fit for the silver screen. It’s also the reason that Nolan wants to leave the detective stories to the funny papers.

I’ve kept you long enough while nerding out. If you have any varying opinions, by all means, feel free to debate me. Just know that I have a PhD in Batman and a MFA in Joker Studies.

You’re damn right Joker Studies is a Fine Arts major.

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

The World According to Biff

Twenty-five years ago today, the most groundbreaking research project of the Twentieth Century culminated with an unprecedented result.

It all began fifty-five years ago (this November) when one of the most brilliant scientists of our age had his Newton moment. He was in his bathroom hanging a clock on the wall when he slipped and hit his head. Immediately upon waking, he was inspired to draw a quick diagram for what would become the single greatest discovery in the history of science.

From there, he devoted his life to this project. His vast family fortune tapped while acquiring the necessary components to create his masterpiece, he was forced to sell his palatial mansion in southern California and took up residence in his garage, where he could continue his work uninhibited.

He continued to tinker with other things in the meantime in order to satisfy his need to create. He was especially fond of Rube Goldberg-style contraptions to help shorten his morning routine. This, however, seemed pointless as his habits usually had him up all night or out of bed before the start of the device would be triggered.

When his great work was finally completed, thirty years after his initial epiphany, the last piece of the puzzle still remained. This part is where his legacy becomes a bit tarnished.

In order to power his device, he required a nuclear reaction. As nuclear material isn’t exactly available at every corner drug store, he was forced to make a deal with a group of Libyan Nationals who provided him the material with the promise that he would build them a nuke. Instead of building their device, he gave them a dud which was simply a bomb casing filled with old pinball machine parts.

With the power source in place, at precisely 1:20 AM the morning of October 26, 1985, in the parking lot of a shopping mall, his dog became the world’s first time traveler by jumping instantly one minute into the future. This was later followed by numerous trips both to the past and to the future by the scientist and his friends.

Today, we salute you, Dr. Emmett L. Brown. Thank you for your work, whenever you are.

***

Now that the history lesson is over…

We are now 4 years and 360 days away from when Doc and Marty arrive in the future (October 21, 2015). Let’s take a minute to look over what we’ve seen in the future and how we’re progressing so far. Here are seven things from the future and where we are in accordance to Back to the Future.

[note: I know there are a ton of other sites more official than this one doing this exercise, but, come on, wouldn’t you rather hear this stuff from me? I’m a lot more fun than random news websites.]

1. Flying Cars. Some huge breakthrough not withstanding, this probably won’t happen within our lifetime if ever, let alone by 2015.
As awesome as it would be to essentially have a straight-line, high-altitude path to anywhere we wanted to go, I don’t think we’ll ever be ready for it. We have enough trouble negotiating road traffic let alone air traffic. Think about some d-bag cutting you off at a couple hundred miles an hour while you’re a couple thousand feet in the air. Think about the collateral damage from all the mid-air collisions. Bad drivers? Imagine bad flyers.

Likelihood of it happening: Yeah, right.

2. The TV/Phone/Entertainment System. As seen in the McFlys’ Hilldale home, a large flat screen capable of receiving video-phone calls as well as granting the ability to view multiple channels at once.
Yeah. We has it. As costs decrease, giant flat-panel TVs of all variety are becoming commonplace within today’s home. With services like Skype coming to the forefront, video calling is becoming easier by the day. When you consider the continuing integration of internet accessibility into cable/satellite systems, gaming systems, and even some newer TV models, the only big difference between what the McFlys had and what we have now was that theirs wasn’t hi-def. Even that’s debatable because theirs was reproduced using early 90s tech as the backbone. Things like the Sony Eyetoy and the Xbox Kinect are making the idea of video calls much simpler.

Likelihood of it happening: It’s happening now.

3. The obsolescence of arcade games/hands-free gaming. Remember that scene in the Café 80s where Marty gets whined at by a couple of snot-nosed brats (one of which was Elijah Wood) about the fact that Wild Gunman required the use of hands to play? Remember that one of them said: “My dad told me about these…”
Yeah. For reals.
Sure, our kids MIGHT know what old school arcades were like if only for the intervention of Dave and Busters and numerous amusement parks keeping the old cabinet industry going. Honestly, though, it sure is a panda of a thing (as in not quite extinct but extremely close and usually only found in captivity).
With console graphics matching or outclassing anything that could be in a cabinet and online multiplayer replacing the public grudge matches of the old school video game dens, there really is no point in leaving your house to show off your skills. Our children will have to be told tales of putting a token/quarter on the ledge to signify that we “got next”.
As far as using your hands, with Wii, PSMove, and Xbox Kinect, we’re already there. I’m pretty sure it’s more than a kitschy gimmick at this point considering its popularity, so we can only expect more advances in motion control/controller-free gaming as things go on. By 2015, games with controllers may indeed be a baby’s toy.

Likelihood of it happening: It’s happening now.

4. Holographic movies. Sure, Jaws didn’t make it to as many sequels as depicted, but in 2015, you could see him jump right out and bite you, even though Marty thought the shark still looked fake.
With the triumphant (though, I still believe, unnecessary) return of 3D to the silver screen and the addition of IMAX 3D, we’re getting close, but this stuff is still pretty far off. 2015? Probably not. 2025? Maybe a bit more likely. I’m not predicting that we’re going to find the key to mass-marketable holographic recording and replaying within the next five years. I’m sure we’ll find some consumer friendly alternatives, possibly involving a VR-type setup, but I don’t think that has what it takes to survive a mass market right now. Too much expensive equipment involved.

Likelihood of it happening: Maybe.

5. Thumbprint identification. In 2015, there’s no need to carry a wallet. Your thumbprint pays for things like a debit card, can identify you by name, address, and age, and even works as a key to locked doors.
Biometrics is coming along just fine. Thumbprints are already used in some time clocks to punch employees in and out. It’s only a matter of time before all of the debit card swiping progresses. We’ve already got credit cards you can just wave in front of an RFID box to pay. Next, in my opinion, will either be the BttF solution of biometrics or the Demolition Man solution of chips under the skin.
Welcome home, Jennifer.

Likelihood of it happening: Plausable.

6. Hoverboards. Much like the flying car gambit, the hoverboard thing is reliant on some huge breakthrough happening within the next five years.
Great concept, but also not something I think we’re going to see in our lifetime. It stands to reason that, if flying cars go through, the trickle down will certainly involve the tech being put into toys. The hoverboard is an inevitability, especially if someone from our generation is still around when they’re able to be made. Anyone who’s seen BttF2 wants a hoverboard.
I don’t believe hoverboards will ever fully replace skateboards, especially not with the latter-day popularity explosion of pro-skating. Hoverboard may get it’s own slot in the X-Games, but it certainly won’t be to replace old-school wheels.
And, if there ever are hoverboards, I don’t think there will be a Pit Bull. Rocket engines strapped to vehicles that shouldn’t have rocket engines never end well.

Likelihood of it happening: As good as flying cars.

7. Robots. The future was full of them: the full-service gas station, the wait-staff of the Café 80s, even a dog-walker in Hilldale.
This, I believe, is the longest way off. Not based on technology, because we’ve reached the point where we can build robots akin to these. Note the medical bots that help doctors round when they’re not present.
The tech is certainly there. It’s the willingness of the people to accept it, especially in a ruined economy. I think people would take a South Park style stand against robot labor. They may help us live comfortably, but dammit, THEY TOOK OUR JOBS!!! (dicker-doo!)

Likelihood of it happening: 50/50, depending on the public reaction. Not by 2015.

With that, I’m gonna make like a tree and get out of here.

‘Til 2015, kids. Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—

Bidula’s Last Word – The Social Network

It’s late, I know, but I figured I should finally put this one down on paper. Or screen. Or whatever. You know what I mean.

If you’re one of the relative handful of people who haven’t taken your Facebook-trolling ass to the movie theater to see The Social Network, I strongly advise that you put down the Farmville, tear your face away from the screen, and get to the theater. If it helps, most phones support the Facebook mobile app, so it’s not like you’ll be out of touch.

Like me, some of you only really jumped on the Facebook train once Myspace started to go tits-up to the impending juggernaut of social networking. Yeah, remember Myspace? Think real hard and it might come back to you.
Jumping on to Facebook at the point most of us did seemed like we were at the start of something new. Little did we know that we started that particular franchise in the middle of the story. Few, if any, of us were around for the origin. We didn’t know about the people involved in creating it, we didn’t know about the surrounding controversy, the in-fighting, or the lawsuits. All we knew was that something new and cool had risen from the depths of the internet to entertain us, and that was enough.

The Social Network is the origin story none of us really gave a second thought to because we were so busy tagging photos and playing Mafia Wars to care where any of this came from.

Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay spins out of Ben Mezrich’s book, The Accidental Billionaires, the same origin story on which one of Facebook’s co-founders (Eduardo Saverin) was his main consultant.
Combined with David Fincher’s direction and the placement of Jesse Eisenberg in the role of creator Mark Zuckerberg, the movie winds up being a fantastically frenetic shotgun blast of dialogue, most if not all of which is insanely witty and incredibly relatable.

Eisenberg plays Zuckerberg as a modern mad genius; an alcohol-and-caffeine-powered-coding-machine who spends more time programming and hacking than would be physically recommended. He’s a nerd who isn’t hung up on appearances or much else aside from his work. In almost every scene he’s shown wearing cargo shorts with a pair of Adidas sandals and socks, no matter what the weather.
Andrew Garfield plays Eduardo Saverin, the Igor to Zuckerberg’s Dr. Frankenstein, and draws much of the empathy away from Zuckerberg’s hardcore nerd-rage design and back to the struggle of a guy who seems to be trying to do things the more traditional way; finishing school and working an internship while Zuckerberg drops out and moves to Silicon Valley to pursue the future of Facebook with Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake).
You will be severely sucked in before the movie is over, watching what essentially amounts to a bunch of kids fumbling over themselves and turning into multi-billionaires practically overnight. When the movie ends, you find yourself wondering where the story goes from there, but really, all you’d have to do is pick up a newspaper.

Eisenberg’s ability to show intelligent irreverence to just about everything around him really made this movie to me. It made me think that, if I were in his position, I would probably be doing the exact same things. He scoffs at the authorities, the social structure, and the nay-sayers in such amazing fashion that it almost makes you want to stand up, pump your fist in the air, and scream “damn the man!”
He also seems relatable because, no matter where he is with his money or the company in this movie, he’s always dressed down, cool, and casual. They don’t show him out doing what, let’s face it, all the rest of us would do if we suddenly owned a billion dollar business.

As decadent icing on the already delicious cake, there’s the score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross which sets the moods of each scene perfectly, very reminiscent of what the Dust Brothers did for Fight Club or what Beck did for Scott Pilgrim.
Rarely is there a score I’d say I’d buy to bring home. This is definitely one of them.

Everything in this movie combines to make it one of the most relevant pieces of pop-cinema to current culture. At the dawn of the decade of social networking, it’s good to know the root of it all and fun to get a little peek behind the curtain at what the original developers were thinking.

Overall, a definite must-see and a total laugh-a-minute. This is on my top 5 movies of the year, right near the top.

Bidula’s Last Word: 9.5/10

Keep fighting the good fight.

—end transmission—