Thursday, December 31, 2009

Staking 2009 In the Heart

It's funny to me just how many people hated this year. I've mentioned before that I attended a non-Thanksgiving dinner this year themed "Thanks for Nothing" by some friends who've all had bad years. But I also saw that one of my fake Facebook game-friends had posted pictures from their "Unthanksgiving" get-together, as well. And I happened to hear Glenn Beck on the radio a while back, talking about what an awful year it has been. And today, I saw some news article or other where they were talking about people who will not be sorry to see 2009 in their rear-view mirrors and hope that 2010 starts on a more hopeful note than 2009 ('more hopeful note?'--remember that when 2009 started we were less than a month away from the coronation of B.O. the First, signalling the start of a new era when the Earth would cool and the oceans would stop rising, we would no longer have to worry about mortgages or jobs or health care, everyone in the world would be America's friend, bird and beast and flower would be one with man and death but a dream--how much more hopeful could could people be?).

Then again, my wife had a wonderful year (and I hate to think how much her thriving may be a result of my leaving).

As for me: I started the year employed but desperately unhappy in my job. I was launching a new webcomic and hopeful about that, but not so much about anything else. I spent much of the year broke and unemployed, and end it underemployed, in debt and barely hanging on financially.

But the year ends with hopeful signs. Barring unforeseen disaster, I should be starting a new job in late January with the potential to be earning more in a year than I was a year ago, which can help me resolve my debt problems. I'm on the verge of finishing and submitting a new novel. Several folks who were more in the line of acquaintances last year are friends now. 2010 looks like it could be a much better year than 2009, and not just in the "How could it be any worse?" sense.

So whether you had a good year or a bad one, here's hoping that we all*, each of us, will see that better future we hope for come to pass.

(ETA: Except for those rat bastards who cheated me--they can suffer and die for all I care)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Monday - Batman, 1966

Not so much detail in this one, but lots of pics.

So in 1966, a TV series debuted on ABC featuring Adam West as Batman, with Burt Ward as Robin. Featuring a campy, tongue-in-cheek tone, energetic performances by a host of celebrity guests as villains, and a kick-ass mind-worm of a theme song, the show was an instant hit. And while the show was in summer hiatus after its first season, they filmed a quickie theatrical feature with the same cast.

According to Adam West on the DVD commentary, they had actually intended to make the movie first as a way to sell the series (many series of the 60' and 70's started life as TV movies--The Six Million Dollar Man, for one). But the TV series sold without the movie. So the movie was filmed the next summer, both to cash in on the series's popularity here in the U.S. and to help sell the series in syndication overseas.

The movie opens with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson racing to stately Wayne Manor in answer to a distress call. Alfred the butler and Aunt Harriet (a new comedy relief character invented for the TV series) wave at the boys as they dash into the house. That's all we see of Aunt Harriet in the entire film.

Bruce and Dick perform the ritual so familiar to viewers of the TV series--flipping up the head on the bust of Shakespeare to press the button that opens the secret panel to the Batcave. No chintzy grandfather clock entrance here.

The Batcave is new and improved, a big set with lots of colorful scientific gadgets. Yes, the silly labels are present on everything, but look past that and you see that this is a hell of a set. And right in the center...

YES! Finally! The Batmobile!

And what a Batmobile. George Barris really outdid himself on this car. Unless you're a real hard-core fan, you probably can't name more than five cars Barris customized (off the top of my head, I can name six, but only because I watched Fireball 500 recently), but this one will always top the list.

But since this was a movie, and therefore required to be bigger in scope than the TV show, they decided to add some new elements. We see the first new element within the first five minutes, as Batman and Robin race to the airport to board the Batcopter.

It's not really all that impressive; it was simply an old Bell 47 helicopter with a Bat-paint job and a couple of wings attached (according to this website, the wings made the thing dangerous to fly, but I gotta say they looked pretty cool).

Batman and Robin take the chopper out to sea, where Batman climbs down a rope ladder and attempts to drop onto the deck of Commodore Schmidlap's yacht. But the yacht disappears (!) and Batman is dunked into the ocean, only to emerge with a pissing rubber shark attached to his leg!

And this is where you can separate the audiences for this film. For some folks, the rubber shark is a perfect piece of camp--obviously, laughably, intentionally fake. And given how ridiculous the entire Batman concept is, the shark simply fits right in. For others, for the true fans, the shark is a humiliating reminder that this movie is not laughing with Batman (as if Batman ever laughs), but laughing at him.

So Batman escapes the shark before it explodes (yes, it's an exploding shark), and soon Batman and Robin are consulting with Commissioner Gordon and Chief O-Hara (another character added just for the series) about who may be behind the deathtrap. They discover that not one, but four of Batman's arch-enemies are currently at large.

And finally, we get to see adversaries who originated in the comics--the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, and the Joker. But which one is behind the plot?

Batman figures out from studying photos Robin took of the disappearing yacht that it was actually a sophisticated projection apparently originating from a buoy. So he and Robin take the Batboat (a really cool speedboat custom-made by Glastron) out to the buoy to investigate.

Unfortunately, they are pinned to the buoy by a powerful electromagnet, while Penguin fires torpedos at them from his submarine, a contraption that manages to be simultaneously goofy and super-cool.

The Caped Crusaders barely manage to escape with their lives, and in conference with Gordon and O'Hara, divine that their adversaries are not one, not two, but all four supervillains, leading Gordon to wax all Lovecraftian on us: "The sum of the angles of that rectangle is too monstrous to contemplate!"

Preach it, brother.

Meanwhile, the villains devise a plan to kill Batman so he can't foil their ultimate plot, which involves a mysterious device invented by Commodore Schmidlap of Big Ben Distilleries (the owner of the missing yacht), whom they have kidnapped. Catwoman assumes the guise of beautiful Russian reporter Miss Kitka and asks for an interview with Bruce Wayne. The plan is to kidnap Wayne and use him as bait in a trap for Batman.

So Bruce Wayne takes Kitka out on the town, where we finally get to see the millionaire playboy actually acting like a millionaire playboy...

Adam West cuts a suave figure in a tux, and Lee Meriwether is fucking gorgeous in that dress.

Meanwhile, Robin and Alfred (in cunning disguise) follow along in the Batmobile, having been alerted to a threat to Miss Kitka by a Riddler riddle.

But it is all for naught. The villains capture Bruce and spirit him away on flying umbrellas.

Whenever I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, this is the image I think of during that early broom scene. The kidnap enables screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. and director Leslie H. Martinson to insert a dirty joke.

I'd like to seize Lee Meriwether's brazen snatch.

Of course, the plot fails to lure Batman into a trap, but Bruce is able to escape on his own. He returns soon after as Batman to rescue the lovely Miss Kitka, only to discover that she is gone and a bomb has been left in her place.

And not just any bomb, but the most old-fashioned of cartoon bombs, a big black ball with a hissing fuse.

This sequence is another Rorschach test for fans. If you hate funny Batman, you loathe this sequence just because it is so intentionally funny. If you don't mind funny Batman, you love this sequence, because it is brilliantly constructed. Batman frantically tries to dispose of the bomb, but is sequentially foiled by hippies, gluttonous fat twins, Salvation Army band, woman with baby carriage, nuns, lovers and even ducks. Finally Batman can take no more and busts out with, "Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb!"

The smoke has barely cleared when Penguin appears, claiming to be Commodore Schmidlap. Penguin has used Schmidlap's invention, an instant dehydrator, to convert several thugs to powdered form, which he has secreted upon his person. He convinces Batman and Robin to take him back to the Batcave, where he rehydrates the thugs and sics them on the Dynamic Duo. Unfortunately, he uses unstable heavy water, so it's a short fight as the thugs disintegrate on contact. Ick.

Batman and Robin decide to try the reverse of Penguin's plan. They allow Penguin to gas them and steal the Batmobile (once they've gotten safely out of the Batcave, of course) in order to track him to his hideout. This plan involves them riding another new gadget, the Batcycle. Oh, the toys.

They switch to the Batcopter, which is knocked out of the sky by one of Riddler's skywriting Polaris missiles. Luckily, they survive the crash, and the riddle lets them know where the villains will strike next: the United World headquarters! They race there, but are too late. The villains have dehydrated the members of the security council and made off with them, demanding a huge ransom for the return of the world's top diplomats.

Brilliant plan, right? Except for the part where Batman and Robin track down Penguin's sub and force it to the surface with Bat-depth charges, leading to one of the series's signature BAM! POW! fights on the deck of the sub. The bad guys are rounded up and Batman's heart is broken when he discovers that Miss Kitka is actually his mortal enemy, Catwoman.

There's a goofy final sequence where they have to separate out the spilled diplo-powders into their separate diplomats, and then it's over.

So that's the movie. And a lot of younger fans not only think of the Adam West Batman as the first real live-action Batman, but they also hate him because he's so campy and unserious. And it's true: not only are the movie and series terribly silly, but their campiness was probably a huge influence on Joel Schumacher's approach to the later movies, which I'll discuss in a few weeks. So in their minds, the 60's Batman doubly sucks: it's not only a cheap and campy slap at the GREATEST COMIC BOOK CHARACTER OF ALL TIME, but it also reached out from beyond the grave over twenty years later to kill the first good movie series bearing the character's name.

But here's the deal: yes, it's silly and campy and over-the-top, and yes, the 60's television production values pale in comparison to modern big-budget treatments. But the series and movie are pretty good on their own terms. They were intended as comedy and they succeed as such.

Look past the violence done to the Batman legend and you see a ton of talent on display here. The theme song by Neal Hefti is instantly memorable and hummable, and Nelson Riddle's soundtrack music fits the action perfectly. The scripts at their best are witty and fun. The Batmobile has become a modern icon. Adam West and Burt Ward, smarmy as they may be in real life, play their parts with conviction, and in West's case, with brilliant comic timing. And the costumes looked pretty darn good, very true to their comic book counterparts at the time.

The villains' performances are memorable, too. Say what you will about the greasepaint over Cesar Romero's mustache, but he has great fun as the Joker. Frank Gorshin is brilliantly over-the-top as the Riddler. Burgess Meredith's quacking, waddling performance as Penguin took a nothing-burger of a comic book villain and turned him into a central part of the Batman Rogues Gallery. I'm sad that Julie Newmar didn't make it into the movie as Catwoman, but Lee Meriwether did an excellent job.

The point is, yes, if the Batman series hadn't existed, those awful Schumacher films wouldn't have been made the way they were. But if the Batman series hadn't existed, those Tim Burton films probably wouldn't have been made, either. Batman was a reasonably popular comic book character in his day, but he wasn't an instantly recognizable pop culture icon until the series made him that. And it was that iconic status that got Warner Brothers to put up the huge bucks it cost to make the Burton film I'll talk about next week.

So in a sense, the Batman TV series of the 60's was the true genesis of Batman's pop culture status, and the inferior serials can be forgotten, right?

No. Because if you think about the way the TV series was structured--two episodes a week, the first episode ending on a cliffhanger, with a breathless narrator telling us to tune in for the next thrilling episode--then you realize what inspired the creators of the series. William Dozier, the producer and creator of the TV series, was inspired not by his love of the comic books, but by viewing the old serials and realizing how outrageously silly and laughable they were. His brainstorm was to turn that unintentional hilarity into intentional comedy. And he did an excellent job of it.

So it's a continuum. Batman serials inspire Batman TV series which inspires Batman movies. As we continue to progress down the timeline, we'll see the same elements cropping up over and over again, as each new version both continues elements from the previous version and adds new things as well.

Next week: Mr. Mom versus Jake Gittes.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Out of the Vault- The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot

In 1995, Dark Horse Comics released the second collaboration by Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow, The Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, in an oversized format (you'll notice I don't scan the entire cover here--my scanner's not quite big enough to handle it).

Miller was still revered for his revitalizations of both Marvel's Daredevil and DC's Batman, but had seemed to be floundering of late. He had mostly given up the pencil to concentrate on writing for other artists, and his work was weird and uncomfortable. For instance, Hard Boiled, his first collaboration with Darrow, a hyper-violent satire with a strangely dream-like quality and the emotional depth of the ring of sweat left by a cold beer mug.

Unfortunately, The Big Guy was much of the same, simultaneously redeemed and doomed by Darrow's ultra-detailed artwork.

The story opens as Japanese scientists attempt to recreate the conditions that brought forth life on Earth. However, their unnatural processes, bringing forth life without a soul, leave their living tissue open to possession by an ancient evil entity, which grows into a giant saurian monster that then sets out to devastate Tokyo. He has fire breath, impenetrable hide, and mutagenic saliva that turns innocent civilians into monstrosities like himself, under the control of the monster's diabolical mind.

Japan responds in typical movie monster fashion, sending helicopters and tanks to confront the beast to no avail.

And here in this panel, we can see both the main attraction and the major drawback to the book (unlike most of my other scans, I've left this one super-extra large when you click it, so you can see all the detail). On the one hand, the artwork features lots of detail and excellent draftsmanship. There's a lot going on in this panel, and this panel is typical of the entire book. Almost every panel features tons of small detail, both in the main action and in the backgrounds, full of logos and ads for non-existent companies.

But it is so hyper-detailed that it's hard to get a sense of it at a glance. There's nothing to differentiate the main action from the background detail, and so the dramatic impact is lost.

After the conventional military forces fail to stop the monster, the Japanese desperately turn to a small prototype robot named Rusty (an obvious homage to Astro-Boy). Rusty possesses the most advanced technology on the planet, with "nucleo-protonic" power and a super-advanced artificial intelligence that mainly serves to give him an inferiority complex. And said complex is well deserved, because Rusty is swatted away without landing even one blow for freedom.

Japan's last line of defense is beaten. And moping.

So the Japanese Prime Minister does the unthinkable. He signals the U.S.A. for help.

And in the second issue, help arrives in the form of The Big Guy, an American "robot" who is actually a pilot in an advanced battlesuit.

The Big Guy fights the monster for thirty pages or so of hyperdetailed action, first disabling the creature with the giant bombs above, then cutting loose on the hordes of mutated human monsterlings (although the dialogue balloons indicate that he's using mercy bullets and anesthetic gas--perhaps a satiric comment on the American tendency to dub in false dialogue over anime to make the plots more kid-friendly).

The monster is defeated and the Prime Minister presents The Big Guy with Rusty as a thank-you gift. The Big Guy is suddenly called away to another emergency and takes off, with Rusty flying after him, begging to be The Big Guy's kid sidekick. The book ends with the words "The End--For Now!"

But they never returned, at least not in comics. The Big Guy made some cameo appearances here and there, but the super team never starred in another comic. However, the concept was developed into a TV series for kids that, for my money, was better than the comic it was adapted from. The nastiness of the satire is toned down, the characters are better developed, they have a worthy nemesis in the evil Legion Ex Machina, and there are some genuinely funny episodes. You can watch them on Hulu here.

But while I didn't much like this comic, or their previous comic together, I did very much like work Miller and Darrow later did separately. Not long after this was published, Frank Miller took a hard right turn, scripting and drawing a stylized noir comic known as Sin City. Geoff Darrow, meanwhile, got hooked up with a couple of brothers, doing concept art for a script they were planning to direct, something called "The Matrix." So, you know, they both landed on their feet.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Managed to dig my car out of the snow and make it to my wife's house for Christmas morning (it was still technically morning by the time I got there, although just barely). A nice time. I ended up not shaving, but I did dress up. We opened presents and ate brunch, and then my mother-in-law cleaned up the edges of the haircut I gave myself last night.

Now I'm back home and wondering whether the truck that's scheduled at Target tonight will actually come in. The streets are passable in some places, but a huge mess in others, and some highways are still closed (in part, due to jackknifed semis). So they might cancel the truck tonight.

But until I hear one way or the other, I need to plan to go in, and all I really want to do is bundle up and settle in for a day or two.

Oh well.

Just to let you see, here are a couple of pics of Action Fraze out in the snow with his new hat, in widescreen! You can't see it in the pic at top, but I'm wearing combat boots with the slacks; dress shoes would never cut it in the snow. The scowl in the pic below is because I was trying to set the self-timer and accidentally clicked the pic. But it's not the worst picture of me I've ever seen (I look terrible in pics when I try to smile), so I kept it.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Weirdest Christmas

Well, we're gonna have a white one tomorrow, but I don't think folks on the shut-down turnpike are nearly as jazzed about it as ol' Bing was.

For the last twenty years or so, I've spent every Christmas Eve (except for a couple in Korea) at my wife's birthday party. She was unfortunate enough to be born on Christmas Eve, but fortunate enough to have a mom who kept her birthday separate from Christmas. So every Christmas Eve without fail, Kim had a party. It's a tradition.

This year, she decided to end the tradition, even before the weather turned to shit. But the weather means that my first winter without a wife party finds me with nowhere to go and nothing else to do. I've got to wrap a present or two still, but otherwise, I'm just listening to old radio programs, sipping (very cheap) whiskey and debating whether to cut my hair or not. I bought new clipper guides, but I haven't gotten up the courage to use 'em yet. Maybe it'll seem like a better idea once I've had some more to drink.

I did sew myself a new pocket for my leather jacket; cut the cloth pieces out of one of my old brown Army T-shirts. It didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, but it did turn out better than I'd feared. Now I've got to do the pocket on the other side. But maybe not tonight. I don't know.

Eventually I plan to modify the jacket for a costume piece. The zipper is shot, so I'll probably pull that out and put in buttons or snaps--something more retro. The jacket fits pretty loosely, so I should have the room to put those in and still close it. Maybe add some patches and reinforcements at the shoulders and elbow to make it look more combat-ready or something. I have some old wallets and an old black boot with no mate that I can cut into scraps and attach. I just need to figure out what I want it to look like. I had thought to tear the whole thing apart and rebuild it from scratch, but sewing one pocket was enough trouble to put the kibosh on that idea.

But I'm pretty jazzed to have that new pocket. The pockets have been torn out of that jacket for a few years now, so it's cool to have one intact.

I wore a tie to the OSFW Christmas party on Saturday. First time I'd worn a tie in years. Tuesday night, I decided to wear another one, just because it had been nice to look sharp for a night, and I figured, why wait for another special occasion. Plus, I've been watching those old serials from the 40's when everybody wore a tie as a matter of course.

I didn't just go retro with the tie, though. The slacks and shoes were bought in the mid-80's, back in my clubbing days. I also shaved with mug soap and a brush I'd bought at the drugstore, did my hair up with Brylcreem and used some bay rum aftershave I picked up from Sally Beauty Supply. Figured if I was going to go retro, I'd go really retro.

I'll do the same thing tomorrow for Christmas at the wife's, with one addition. I'm going to wear my new hat, which is really an old hat--a vintage fedora I bought off of eBay.

So you see what I mean by the weirdest Christmas. No two Christmases are ever alike, but I don't know if I've ever done everything differently at once like this.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Movie Monday - Batman and Robin 1949 Wrap-up

Wrapping up our series on the 1949 serial, "Batman and Robin." So after 15 chapters, what impressions are we left with, overall?

1. The Costume

This is the worst Batman costume of any of the Hollywood adaptations.

I know I said in the recap of the first few episodes that the costume wasn't terrible. But it can be "not terrible" and still be the worst. What makes it the worst?

The weirdly arbitrary gadgets that show up randomly on his utility belt. The gauntlets, which are gloves with extensions attached that don't even match the color properly. The ill-fitting mask. The bat-ears, which don't even rise to the level of the devil-horns on Lewis Wilson's costume in the first Batman serial. They just sort of jut out from his head almost sideways. There were some shots in the first serial in which the costume looked pretty good, pretty comparable to the way it was depicted in the comics. This costume never looks good from any angle.

2. The Characters

On the plus side, we have Commissioner Gordon. On the minus side, we have everyone else.

Vicki Vale is annoying as hell. She's not especially attractive, although that might be a function of her awful wardrobe.

Okay, she doesn't look horrible in this shot. The hat is silly, but the suit is kind of stylish, even though the wide shoulders and long skirt make her look rectangular, like an armoire with a face from the Disney version of "Beauty and the Beast." Unfortunately, for most of the serial, she looks more like this:

No part of that outfit looks good. Still, a not-especially-attractive actress can become an object of lust for legions of fans if her performance is especially memorable or spirited - look at Karen Allen in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," or Margot Kidder in "Superman," or Gillian Anderson in The X-Files. But Jane Adams doesn't pull that off with Vicki. Her character is a bargain-basement Lois Lane. We don't so much wonder why Bruce Wayne hides his Batman identity from her as wonder why he hangs out with her at all when he's Bruce Wayne.

In fact, even though she's supposedly his girlfriend, he tends to dump her as fast as he can whenever he gets an opportunity, no matter which identity he's playing. Now part of that is obviously catering to the target audience of young boys who don't want to see that "mushy stuff," but still...

Robert Lowery isn't any better as Bruce Wayne. Wayne is supposedly a flighty playboy, a foppish peacock whom no one could suspect of being the Batman. Yet we see Wayne conferring with Commissioner Gordon on plans against the Wizard, Wayne investigating Professor Hammil, Wayne serving as the confidante for Vicki whenever there's a crisis. For a guy who's supposed to be a useless dandy, they all seem pretty anxious to keep him in the loop when problems arise. And a big part of that is Lowery's fault. He just can't pull off the playboy pose; he's too inherently serious.

I kind of like John Duncan as Robin though, that is, WHEN I NOTICE HIM. It's not his fault the script has him doing so many ridiculous things.

The Wizard is a mixed bag. On the one hand, the masked scientist master villain really brings a comic-bookish flavor to the story, even though he was just as much, if not more, a staple of the serials at the time. He's not a ridiculous racial caricature like Prince-Doctor Tito Daka. He's also not nearly as entertaining. He's stiff and boring and given to delivering stern lectures. He's like your dad as a supervillain, except sometimes your dad will joke around. He's like your chemistry teacher as a supervillain.

Oh, and one other thing: remember I mentioned recognizing one of the thugs as a character actor I'd seen in a lot of stuff? This is him:

John Doucette. Did literally hundreds of parts, mostly on television. If you watched TV in the 50's, 60's, or 70's, you saw this guy a lot. Had a great voice, BTW.

3. The Story

It's both ridiculous and repetitious. I realize that this is a function of the serial format. These things were churned out pretty quickly, and it's not as if they scripted them painstakingly before starting out. They wrote them on the run, probably, like a TV series. You can't blame them if they get lost in their own mythology and start introducing indestructible alien cyborgs and black liquid cancer oil and space babies...

Oh wait, that was a different ridiculous series.

The problem is that none of it ever becomes very involving. The deathtraps are lame, either too easily escaped (the train going through the tunnel, the fire on the water, the out-of-control car lightly bumping a cliff wall), or too unbelievable (the exploding cabin, the exploding safe, the FREAKING ACETYLENE TORCH on Batman's utility belt) or too familiar (the cars going off cliffs in chapters 8, 9, and 12, plus Vicki's interrupted car-cliff plunge in 15, the non-cliff car crash in 11, and Batman going off a cliff sans car in chapter 3). Oh, and since the cliffhanger ending was repeated at the beginning of the next chapter, we also saw cars going off cliffs in chapters 10 and 13, and Batman falling off a cliff without a car again in chapter 4. That's half the chapters involving cliff-related mayhem! I know they were called cliffhangers, but it's just too much.

Speaking of familiar, the repetition in the rest of the story gets really bad, too. Hammil's constant visits to his miracle chair, constant revisiting of the "Who is the Wizard?" question, and the same conversation happening every time someone gets on that damn secret submarine gets on my nerves. Now, I understand that these were not meant to watched the way I watched them, back-to-back-to-back. They were meant to be watched one episode a week, a week during which you might well have forgotten many nuances of the story.And maybe you might not even make it to the theater every week, so you might miss some chapters entirely. So I understand the need to repeat certain pieces of exposition.

But just because these scenes might have been necessary doesn't make them good. And really, since all of these scenes were meant to prolong a mediocre mystery plot, I wouldn't even call them necessary. That time could have been put to a better use.

3. The Story

Did I mention the repetition?

4. The Atmosphere

One thing that the original 1943 serial got right was to have the Batman's activities take place mostly at night. It fit the Batman's original conception, and it fit the modern interpretation of the character as well.

But by the mid 40's, Batman's persona began to shift. He went from being a mysterious avenger of the night to Robin's jolly uncle, giving instructional lectures about science and criminological techniques between merry outings to punch ineffectual crooks in the face.

He was a happy daytime Batman, a guy whose costume didn't so much strike fear into crooks as give confidence to the average citizen.

So it should come as no surprise that the 1949 serial Batman does most of his adventuring during the day, and that no one is much scared of or put off by his costume. Everyone seems to accept him at face value. You've even got a citizen eagerly volunteering to let him take his car. It just doesn't feel much like Batman to me, at least not the modern grim take on the character.

Plus, you'd think if you knew you were going to be disappointing a legion of fans by the absence of the Batmobile, you might try to limit the amount of driving time on-screen, and not, say, base your entire story around a contraption that takes control of cars, therefore ensuring that driving scenes are a central feature.

Oh well. Enough of the 40's for a while. Next week, we get to the Batman that most folks my age and even a little younger think of as the "original" screen Batman, Adam West's take on the character from the mid-60's. We can finally wash the bitter taste of the serials out of our mouths and leave them behind forever, right?

Not so fast...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It'sThat Season

So no, no Vault yet again. Yesterday was the OSFW Christmas party, and I'm generally useless on that day. Plus the week leading up to it was hectic. I'm hoping for good job-related news next week. It would be a hell of a Christmas present, I tell ya.

Anyway, to make up for it, go here and watch this.

If you think I go on at length in my "Batman" serial recaps, wait till you see this guy. He does a 70-min takedown of "The Phantom Menace" that manages to be both a primer on good storytelling and a devastating critique of the Lucas film's shortcomings, while telling its own story about the reviewer himself. When I found out about it, it was through someone quoting Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost, who said to watch it all the way to the end. Turns out, I didn't need the instruction, because once I got into it, I was hooked and couldn't have stopped if I'd tried. So after you've watched part one, do yourself a favor and watch all the other parts from the Related Videos sidebar.

Now I have to wince from my use of the phrase "Turns out" above, because when we had our annual Writing Fragment contest last night, everyone knew which one mine was. Which wasn't a bad thing, because it wasn't as if I tried to make it hard to figure out.

But I figured they'd figure it out from the protagonist, a Scottish inventor in a steampunk tale (given the Scottish inventor I'm currently role-playing, and having a blast BTW). But no, when Sargon said he knew I'd written it, it was because of this sentence:

It had started out innocently enough, though he supposed you could say that about anything, couldn't you?

"That sentence is so you," Sargon said, and he's right. But it's depressing to think that my writing is descending into a series of easily recognizable verbal tics. Oh well, people liked it anyway, and I'm wondering whether it would be worth expanding into a real story.

Presented herewith is the fragment, and you tell me... finish it, or is it fine the way it is? (BTW, in case you're wondering, the "phlogiston" reference was part of the contest, an extra challenge word).


The centipede raced along the rutted dirt road. Its hundred segmented legs, driven by thousands of tiny gears and pistons, rose and fell in a smooth rippling motion that almost made them seem as one piece made of liquid rather than brass and steel. The shears that made up its mouth parts gnashed and slashed with a grating scrape that set MacBirnie's teeth on edge.

Bernie MacBirnie ran down the road in the simulacrum's wake, cursing as he went. He cursed the sun and the gritty dust in the air, he cursed the mechanical monster he was chasing and the real creatures that inspired its design, he cursed false pride and the ultimately hollow satisfaction of a well-mowed lawn, he cursed pianos and the bloody Germans, and most of all, he cursed Moira and himself. Moira, his beautiful maid, for causing this mess, and himself for both inventing the blasted thing and for wanting even now to turn back and comfort Moira with kisses, rather than run his infernal contraption down and stop its rampage.

It had started out innocently enough, though he supposed you could say that about anything, couldn't you? The bloody Garden of Eden had started out innocently enough, and look how that turned out. In this case, Moira had played both Eve and Serpent, wishing to see the workshop where MacBirnie built his wonders. He had acceded readily enough, eager to impress the bonnie red-headed lass and learn if she could kiss better than she could clean.

Moira had ooh'ed and aah'ed appropriately at his steam-driven calliope played by a steam-driven man, and had recoiled in shock at the power of MacBirnie's steam cannon. And then, of course, he'd shown her the centipede.

It was a lovely thing, its carapace of polished steel and copper gleaming in the sun. MacBirnie had built it to mow his lawns. He would wind it with a big key and then set it free to clip the grass with its mouth-shears, following the logic he had imprinted on its control roll. Moira had been fascinated to learn that it was controlled by means of logical parameters punched in a roll of paper, of the same type as those used in a Pianola. MacBirnie had waxed rhapsodic about the beauty of the maths involved, the logical structures that to him possessed their own type of music.

So Moira had proposed listening to the control roll on the autopiano in the music room. As it turned out, the logical structures had no discernible melody when played on the instrument. Rather, the sound was chaotic and dissonant, random notes plinking as if hailstones were striking the keys.

But when MacBirnie then proposed demonstrating the centipede itself, something had gone wrong. Rather than begin mowing the lawn in orderly lines, the centipede gnashed its mouth-shears in a fury and took off down the road as fast as its little legs would carry it. That was when Moira realized that she had inadvertently brought along the wrong paper roll. Rather than follow the immaculate logic MacBirnie had punched out for it, the mechanical insect had been driven to fury by the "Beer Barrel Polka."

Now the only bright spot was that the thing would wind down soon. Not for the first time, MacBirnie counted himself lucky that he hadn't gotten around to powering the thing with phlogiston. There would have been no stopping it in that case. As it was, though, the machine should wind down shortly after entering town, and if he was lucky, there would be no one on the street and he could retrieve his machine and be gone before anyone was the wiser.

But the sound of music and laughter brought an end to MacBirnie's hopes. He remembered now, there was a fair today. He should have brought Moira there, rather than this bloody insecto-chine. The centipede's mouth-shears gnashed eagerly and it redoubled its speed, as if thrilled to have found something to mow. MacBirnie tried not to imagine the entire population of the town falling over in sequence like bloody nine-pins as their legs were mowed off at the ankles. He sprinted faster in hopes of averting the disaster, and his cursing reached new heights of ingenuity.

Roll out the bloody barrel, indeed.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Painful Revisions

So when I thought my internet had been cut off the other day, I tried doing more revisions to Death Wave. However, it went very slowly, because of the split skin on my dry fingers, making typing verrah painful. I moisturized a bit, enough to make typing marginally less painful, and did my blog post, but didn't do any more on the book. The fingertips still hurt a little today, but I was lucky not to work last night, so they've had a little while to recover. Tonight, however, the pain resumes.

Job interview tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

As I've mentioned before, my interest in steampunk has revived a bit since starting a new RPG campaign. In fact, I recently started reading The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling again.

But looking at steampunk stuff on-line, I find that my interests actually lie more along the lines of dieselpunk (warning: there's an autoplaying jukebox at the link), given my interest in pulps and big band swing and old radio and the 30's and 40's in general. In fact, you could even say Death Wave is a mildly dieselpunk book, given its 30's setting and alternate history/pulp adventure overtones. I really need to finish that thing and get it out the door, which means I need to hunt through the stacks of mess that still cover my furniture (I've been meaning to clean up for a while, but the extreme cold has made me loath to do anything but sit in front of a space heater, much like the heat of summer made me loath to do anything as well).

All of which is just an excuse to post this. "Love With a Capital 'You,'" by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, a song I heard years ago and really liked, but could never find again. Until now.

Enjoy (I couldn't get the embed code to work, so you'll just have to follow the link).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Strange Omens

Well, earlier this week, everything seemed to be looking up. I finally got a call from Dish Network to set up an interview. And out of the blue, I got a call from Million Dollar Elm Casino to also set up an interview.

Then last night, Cox Cable cut off my internet service, even though I'd paid them. And this morning, service was restored without my even calling. So that was weird.

Then this afternoon, Million Dollar Elm called back to cancel the interview. The lady said that they had changed their procedures or some such nonsense, but I'm guessing that they saw something on my application that they decided they didn't like. Or maybe they talked to one of the folks who conducted the three interviews I've had with them before.

So that was weird. And then, I opened up my freezer to get some ice cubes for my Diet Coke and saw this:

It's some kind of stalagmite sticking up out of the ice, but I have no idea where it came from. I couldn't find any place where water might have been dripping in the freezer. For all I know, a ghost sculpted it. I've never seen anything like it before, at least not in an ice cube tray. It's a mystery.

Like this whole damn day. Ominous, man. Ominous.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie Monday - Batman, 1949 Chapters 11-15

So here we are, finally, presenting the conclusion to the 1949 Columbia serial, "Batman and Robin."

When we left off last week, Batman had mysteriously grown a fighting ability just before being knocked out a window. And as an aside, the scenes inside the Markham/Norton Building are pretty funny, because they keep reusing the same hallway set, but pretending it's different corridors by throwing in props like water fountains and radiators (and in the climactic fight, changing out the far wall for one with a window). And I suspect, but am too lazy to check, that the hallways in this scene are the same hallway sets used in Chapter 4, the one where Batman gats not-electrocuted.

So anyway, Batman falls to his death, just as Bruce Wayne is walking out the door of the Markham Building dressed in Jimmy Vale's clothes. Kinky.

Turns out, it was Jimmy in the Batman costume. No wonder he was suddenly able to fight so well. Robin is so shocked that he rips off his mask in the streets as he talks to Bruce about the situation. And no one notices, of course, because NO ONE CARES ABOUT ROBIN!

Of course, Batman's worse than that. He doesn't care about anybody. For instance, after noting that Vicki doesn't know about her brother's death, Bruce shrugs and says, "Well, there's nothing we can do for him now. Come on, let's go."

While they're driving, Bruce describes how Jimmy dragged his helpless body into a room and began removing his clothes. "I remained motionless, wondering what he was up to," Bruce says. Well, we know what Bruce hoped he was up to, don't we? Damn it, they make the gay jokes too easy.

Meanwhile back at the Wizard's cave, the thugs rejoice at the fact that they've killed Jimmy Vale/Batman until they realize Jimmy Vale was present at times when Batman was also. Then one of the thugs (a very familiar face who had a long career as a character actor, but who I just can't place yet) mentions that he saw Bruce Wayne outside the building talking to Robin. Head thug Nolan says no way Bruce could be Batman, but the Wizard demonstrates sudden intelligence by speculating that Bruce Wayne's playboy act may be just a pose. Man, just when I've given up on this thing, they have a decent moment.

Meanwhile, if I were playing the drinking game, I'd be in serious trouble about now. First, Bruce and Dick speculate (again) about the Wizard's identity--P.I. Dunne, broadcaster Brown, scientist Hammil--then Bruce goes to see Hammil, inquiring about a way to counteract the remote control machine. Hammil pooh-pooh's the idea, then invites Bruce to stay for dinner, but Bruce busts out the double generic names, saying he's meeting Vicki Vale of Picture Magazine at the French Cafe for dinner. Then Hammil locks his door, and moments later, the Wizard is radioing his men to pick up Bruce Wayne when he arrives at the cafe that evening.

The crooks nab Wayne and force him back into his car. Vicki pulls up just as he's driving away. She starts to chase him, but gives up when she sees he's with two other guys. She's apparently had her suspicions about him, too.

Bruce clicks the headlight dimmer on the floor to activate a hidden radio in his car. In the Batcave, Dick is at a microscope, working on more homework, when he hears Bruce describing where the crooks are taking him. The thugs take him to a warehouse at 52 Commercial Street. Really good thing I'm not playing the drinking game. I'm just sorta drinking straight through, now, anyway. Dick changes into his Robin outfit and takes Batman's costume along with him as he heads out to the rescue.

The thugs play cards while waiting for the Wizard to show up. Robin meanwhile, knowing that nobody has bothered to watch all the previous chapters, pulls the Batsignal trick on the wall again, then hides behind some Phoenix Chair Company boxes. The thugs rush outside, see Batman running away and chase after him, leaving one thug to guard Bruce Wayne.

Robin uses his cape to upend the thug's chair and helps Bruce escape. As they run outside, they see the Wizard talking with Nolan. The Wizard leaves, and Bruce follows, after making sure Alfred (in the Batman costume) is safely away. The Wizard notices the car following and releases a smokescreen, which causes Robin to crash.

Chapter 12 is titled "Robin Rides the Wind." Besides sounding like the setup to a fart joke, that makes the second episode in a row to use Robin's name in the title. Not only that, but fully half the episode titles so far have featured Robin's name ("Robin's Wild Ride," "Robin Rescues Batman," "Target--Robin," "Robin Meets the Wizard," "Robin's Ruse," "Robin Rides the Wind"), as opposed to only a third for Batman ("Batman Takes Over," "Batman Trapped," "Robin Rescues Batman," "Batman's Last Chance!"). The serial should be titled "Robin and Batman," really.

Anyway, in the tradition of this serial's lame cliffhangers, Robin manages to stop the car before it wrecks too seriously (they hit a rock wall, but not hard enough to even dent the bumper). Then Batman realizes that they're close to the spot where they've lost the Wizard's men at least twice before. And sure enough, the Wizard and Nolan ride the secret submarine (which seems to be auto-piloted rather than remote-controlled, since the Wizard is riding along this time). And no, "ride the secret submarine" is not a euphemism for anything, although it totally should be. Batman decides to pay Professor Hammil a call, since he lives nearby.

As the Dynamic Duo prowl around the grounds of Hammil's estate, Hammil's butler Carter takes a shot at them! He's up to no good! They disarm Carter, then catch Dunne using the old schoolyard trick of Robin getting on all fours behind Dunne so Batman can knock him ass-over-teakettle. This will be significant in a couple of weeks.

In Hammil's house, Hammil accuses Dunne of thievery while Dunne accuses Hammil of having a secret agenda. Batman searches Dunne, and after Dunne tries the clumsiest tactic to foil a search ever, discovers a roll of microfilm inside a cigar. The microfilm contains plans for a Neutralizer that can block the Remote Control machine. Hammil invented the Neutralizer and stole the plans from the Research Council.

Batman returns the plans to the Council the next morning and sets up a ruse with Commissioner Gordon to dupe Barry Brown into broadcasting that a working model of the Neutralizer will be transported to a test area in an armored car (yes, the same armored car again).

The thugs stop the armored car along the route and toss in a gas grenade. Robin, riding in the back of the armored car, resists the gas thanks to his Veidt Enterprises pipette.

Now comes the silliness. Now as I understand it, the plan here is to track down the Wizard by having him steal the "Neutralizer." Catching the thugs in the act won't do much good, but letting them take the device to the Wizard's hideout might lead them to it. So what does Robin do?

He immediately tries to get away in the armored car, of course. And when one of the thugs tries to stop him, he hits the guy, hard. Batman never hit anybody this hard. Hell, even Jimmy Vale never hit anyone this hard.

But who cares, cause it's Robin, right? He drives away in the armored car, chased by the spotter plane piloted by Jimmy Vale's zombie. No, although that would be cool. Turns out, one of the other thugs just happens to know how to fly a plane. And how to drop bombs out of it. Yow! Robin goes over a cliff!

Again? Man, the cliffs around Gotham are just littered with smoking wrecks, aren't they? I'm surprised there's any room left for the cars to hit the ground anymore.

Chapter 13, "The Wizard's Challenge," starts with Robin diving out of the cockadoody armored car (of course). The Wizard's men search the wreckage, but there's no Neutralizer. Later, Hammil sends his butler Carter off to the Research Council with his own Neutralizer, which he has built in his "secret workshop." However, the Wizard's men have been tipped off (at the same payphone Vicki used to call Bruce, two doors down from the Markham/Norton building).

Vicki stops by Hammil's house, intending to take pictures. She's apparently done with snooping around outside windows. She is turned away. Then the Wizard's men jump Carter as he is carrying the box with the Neutralizer, but in a stunning coincidence, the Dynamic Duo, who just happen to be passing by, stop in response to Carter's cries for help. The Wizard's men are forced to flee without the Neutralizer.

Only not, because it turns out the box is empty. The Neutralizer has been stolen!

In his secret cave, the Wizard demonstrates the Neutralizer (which looks like a big radio on its side with the bottom facing the camera) to Nolan. The Remote Control, he says, causes disintegration, while the Neutralizer stops it. And he intends to stand where the two energies meet. He dons a special disk. ZOMFG, the Wizard is Flava Flav!

His theory is that the point where the beam cross, where disintegration is halted, will make things invisible, He of course tests it on himself right away, because you wouldn't want to waste invisibility on a rabbit or something, plus "disintegration" is apparently a euphemism for "mild discomfort." Because I certainly wouldn't be standing in the path of a disintegration ray without testing it on, like, the entire Lincoln Park Zoo first. Plus, if the Remote Control really disintegrated things, why didn't the Wizard just hit Batman and Robin with that instead of going through all the "burn out the car engine" rigamarole.

Anyway, the inviso-test is a success, so the Wizard declares that he will now announce his plans to Batman and the Commissioner and dare them to stop him. Because that always works out so well for bad guys.

The Wizard's new plan? Steal the plans to a super jet plane from the Research Council vault. Yes, another reused set! Batman has himself locked in the vault as Commissioner Gordon makes some inspection rounds.

Meanwhile, the invisible Wizard sneaks into the office, where Robin doesn't notice the door opening because he's busy playing with a toy truck. Really.

So the Inviso-Wizard knocks Robin out--again--but how to get into the vault? Well, if I were an executive for a huge research corporation, I would decorate my office with stuff we made. Like, say, a block of super-powerful X-90 explosive and detonator. Really. You can barely make it out behind Robin's head, on the table just beyond the door.

The safe explodes! Bye-bye, Batman!

Hello, Batman! It's chapter 14, "Batman vs. Wizard." Batman had stepped from the outer vault to the inner vault to inhale some oxygen from a handy bottle on his belt, so he is shielded from the ultra-powerful blast, unlike, say, Robin, who was in the same room with the explosive when it went off. But Robin's not hurt either, so oh well.

Not so with the Wizard, who has headed way outside the building to be safe from the blast, and so is obviously ripe for the catching when he suddenly becomes visible (the machines overheated). A guard shoots at him and nicks his right hand. The Wizard momentarily evades pursuit and pulls his glove off to examine the wound, then leaves the glove behind as he runs away again. And I'm not sure why, but it looks as if he has a fake hand stuffed into his shirt sleeve in this shot, maybe just because his hand doesn't twitch at all.

The guards, along with Commissioner Gordon, Batman, and Robin, catch P.I. Dunne hiding in one of the buildings on the compound. And he has a wound matching the Wizard's, right where the guard swears he shot the villain. It looks pretty bad for Dunne.

But this is "Batman and Robin," where coincidence reigns supreme. Because as it turns out, broadcaster Barry Brown has an identical wound (What are the odds? Don't answer yet).

Which doesn't matter because the fingerprints inside the glove turn out to belong to Carter, Hammil's butler. But Gordon and Batman arrive to find Carter shot dead, which is when Professor Hammil walks into the room without his wheelchair (which nobody comments on) and with a bandage on his right hand in the EXACT SAME SPOT!

That's right, all three major suspects have identical wounds. And the fingerprints belong to a dead man without a wound. And there's still a chapter and a half to go. God, this serial makes me tired. If only we could start eliminating some suspects.

Oh good. Someone killed Barry Brown. Strangled him invisibly while he was on the air about to reveal the Wizard's true identity. But not before he could broadcast a warning that the Wizard plans to kill Commissioner Gordon in his office at 2 p.m.

Shit, Brown's not dead, just unconscious. But his throat hemorrhage will keep him from being able to talk for some time.

So Batman calls Vicki Vale to Gordon's office and gives her a special infrared flashbulb to use in her camera. With this bulb, she should be able to photograph the Inviso-Wiz (although he wears a mask even when invisible--a real belt and suspenders-type guy, our Wizard). At 2:00, a rope descends outside the window and a gun floats down. Yes, luckily whatever force makes Flava-Wiz invisible doesn't work on firearms. Handy. Vicki shouts a warning, a shot rings out, and Gordon falls to the floor. And Vicki just sits there clutching her useless camera.

Until chapter 15, "Batman Victorious," when we slip into a parallel universe where Vicki remembers to take the picture before the shot is fired. The cops canvass the area and arrest Jason from Chapter 10, waiting with the getaway car. Batman reasons that the Wizard might call for help, so he has the phone company tap all the phones in the area.

The Wizard calls Nolan to tell him not to turn off the invisibility rays, no matter how they overheat. The cops trace the call and rush there immediately, providing the Wizard with a handy getaway car, one with red lights and a siren. Meanwhile, Vicki shows up with her special photograph, which has not only photgraphed the invisible Wizard, but penetrated his mask to reveal his face to be...Carter! (And luckily, it doesn't penetrate any other clothed areas). Batman sends Robin out to 17 Mile Drive to keep watch for the Wizard's men and see if he can spot where they're disappearing.

The Wizard busts through a police roadblock and turns visible as his machines overheat catastrophically. He evades the cops on foot, then gets picked up by a few of his men. Robin sets up his stakeout, but Vicki, following, gets caught. The Wizard orders her to be killed. So they, guess what, tie her up and put her in a car that they send over a cliff, duh.

But Batman shows up at the last second and pulls the emergency brake on Vicki's car just a few feet from the cliff's edge. Then Robin shows Batman the entrance to the secret sub base. They catch one of the Wizard's thugs as he's exiting the sub and force him to take them back to the Wizard's secret base. Once in the base, they fight a couple of thugs, but the Wizard gets away. They chase him and end up...

In Professor Hammil's study, where he's sitting at a desk with Carter! Hammil admits to being the Wizard and killing Carter's twin brother. Batman accepts Hammil's confession, then grabs Carter, disarming him. Carter had a pistol on Hammil, forcing the confession.

Later, Batman explains to Gordon how the submarine, based right next to Hammil's house, would make an almost circular trip, dropping the men off in a grotto attached to Hammil's basement, which is where the Wizard apparently had his secret lab. Hammil apparently never noticed the secret lab in his basement, because he was too busy in the secret lab behind his fireplace. A house with two secret labs! Only in Gotham! I think I just orgasmed a little.

Of course, you realize what else this means. It means that out of the three suspects with identical wounds on their right hands, NONE OF THEM was the real Wizard. It was a fourth guy who hurt his right hand in the same place on the same day. I think my coincidence meter broke trying to measure that one.

So the bad guy is caught, and in celebration, Vicki invites Batman to dinner with her and Bruce Wayne (no, of course she doesn't invite Robin--NO ONE CARES ABOUT ROBIN). But then, the phone rings . It's a call for Vicki. Alfred holds the phone down next to a record player playing the most boring album ever--a recording of Bruce Wayne canceling dinner.

Wait, when did Batman record that? Did he know Vicki would invite him to dinner, or does he just have an all-purpose date-canceling record sitting around just in case (maybe I need one of those, if I ever start dating again)? But if that's the case, how did he signal Alfred that it was time to use it? So many unanswered questions in the last twenty seconds, and I don't care, because IT'S FINALLY OVER!

Thank God.

Wrap-up and comments next week.

Read the recap for chapters 1-3 here.

And read the recap for chapters 4-6 here.

Chapters 7-10 here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Vault Extra - Heroes Against Hunger

So while I was reading through my issues of Electric Warrior, noticing the house ads for such books as Watchmen and Matt Wagner's Demon miniseries and Lords of the UltraRealm, I also came across this little gem.

Heroes Against Hunger, DC Comics' attempt to jump on the "Save Ethiopia" bandwagon that had been started by Bob Geldof's Band-Aid. At this resolution, it's hard to read the small print names along the right side of the ad (as with any picture on my blog, you can click it for a larger version, but it's still hard to read), but trust me, it's a Who's Who of comics in the mid-80's. Interestingly enough, the front cover is by Neal Adams and Dick Giordano, and the back cover is by Bill Seinkiewicz, who started out as a hardcore Neal Adams imitator, though by the time this was published, he had broken out to a radically different style.

I never read the book; I'm not one for trendy, preachy tracts like this. But it was a noble cause, right? Why single out the ad for ridicule now?

Because of this:

They misspelled Bob Geldof's name. If you're going to cite the man as inspiration for your good works, at least get his name right.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Out of the Vault- Electric Warrior

So here we are, back in 1986 again. What can I say? It was an exciting, even seminal time in comics. And DC Comics were totally on top of their game that year, producing an incredible string of hits: Watchmen, Legends, Batman: Year One, the Giffen and deMatteis Justice League.

But they had some forgettable comics as well, such as Electric Warrior, by Doug Moench and Jim Baikie.

Electric Warrior takes place in a future society that will feel very familiar to readers of sci-fi dystopias. There's this city, see, where rich people live in penthouses in total luxury, while down on the streets, people have descended to a primitive, almost bestial way of life, scavenging off the garbage that gets tossed down from above. And there are these other people who decide cities are evil, so they go off to the woods and live in harmony with nature, and they're so much more vital and alive than those city assholes, like noble savages and all that shit.

The city leaders use robots known as Electric Warriors, or "Leks," to keep the brutish Zigs under control.

But one Lek, unit 9-03, develops a conscience and human emotions and breaks away from his programming to rebel against his masters.

At the same time, an anthropologist from the city visits an enclave of the primitives, or "primmies," where she meets handsome Derek Two-Shadow. He is intrigued by her, but rejects her request to return to the city.

Of course, it all goes wrong. Spurred by the discovery of a threat to the existence of mankind, the city magistrate orders his remaining Leks to begin capturing primmies for a secret project intended to avert their evil fate.

Unit 9-03 is destroyed, and then in issue 9, his parts are reused to rebuild Derek Two-Shadow into a new kind of Warrior, one with a human brain. Derek rebels against the magistrate, which is when he learns the nature of the approaching threat: a fleet of starships from Earth, coming to destroy the planet (?).

The series was intriguing, but never really came together into the total package I kept hoping it would be. Moench was an old comics hand, trying to stay up-to-date and relevant, but his slang-speaking Zigs and preachy, humorless primmies really dragged the book down. The most interesting character was the robot, and he was killed off in issue 6. Baikie's art was interesting as well. Jagged and European-looking, it lost some of its character when Pablo Marcos started inking in issue 5 or so.

But I stuck with it. I think I was under the impression that Electric Warrior was going to be a 12-issue limited series. so I figured I would stay with it until it resolved. However, when issue 12 came and went with no final resolution, I dropped out. The series ended 6 issues later and is virtually forgotten today.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Movie Monday - Batman, 1949 Chapters 7-10

Continuing our recap of 1949's "Batman and Robin," starring Robert Lowery and John Duncan. This is a long one, but I'm just trying to get it over with. In our last installment, what I can remember from my drunken stupor after playing the drinking game for realz, the Wizard's henchmen were trying to global-warm the Dynamic Duo to death by filling a chamber with deadly CO2 gas.

Chapter 7, "The Fatal Blast," opens with Batman handing Robin a thin glass pipette to breathe through and then pulling a freaking acetylene torch out of his utility belt to cut through the door. WTF?

The next morning, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson visit Commissioner Gordon, who speculates that Barry Brown is the Wizard. Drink! (In theory only, thank you). At that moment, Barry Brown walks in, and within a minute, a police officer walks in with an important message from the Wizard. Double-co-yay FTW! Double theory drink!

The Wizard demands that you play this film as loud as possible!* Sorry, the Wizard demands an unspecified sum of money from the railroad, or else he'll shut down all train traffic. BTW, as much as I snark about this serial, I actually like that the Wizard's plans have followed a logical progression: steal a machine, steal the diamonds needed to operate the machine, steal a power source for the machine, and now use the machine to make money.

Meanwhile, Hammil uses his chair to walk like Christopher Reeve in that old commercial. Theory drink! Moments later, the Wizard uses his remote control machine to shut down all train traffic around Gotham for five minutes to demonstrate his power.

But Winslow Harrison, president of the railroad, is not cowed. He refuses to bow to blackmail and is coming to Gotham to meet with Commissioner Gordon. Bruce is concerned for his safety.

The next day, Batman and Robin are on the way to escort Harrison when they realize they're being followed. They ambush the car following them to discover that it's Vicki Vale. Batman rips off Vicki's hat for no discernible reason other than that her hats suck. I mean, it's not like it's hiding her face or anything.

BTW, in most of the series, Vicki's round face and horrendous wardrobe--goofy berets and shapeless mid-calf skirts--make her look like a bit of a gargoyle, not sexy at all...

But with her hat off and wearing a leather jacket, she looks kind of hot in this scene. Plus, there's just something in her eyes and the way she holds her mouth--I frankly think she got some the night before this scene was shot. Or maybe she's just turned on by the masterful way Batman ripped off her hat.

Anyway, Vicki's hot on the trail of the story. Also she speculates that Barry Brown might be the Wizard. Drink! Then she asks the question that's been bugging all of us for seven chapters. "Does Bruce Wayne know that you're driving his car?"


Because the biggest complaint I read from other fans who've written about these serials is that there's no Batmobile. They just didn't have the budget for it. But at least in the first serial, Batman was rocking the huge chauffeur-driven Cadillac.

It's at least an impressive car, powerful-looking and dark. But in this one, Batman just drives this standard dinky Mercury convertible. It's not even black!

Seriously, Bats, you can afford better. Anyway, Batman blows off the question, then takes Vicki's keys to keep her from following. He says he'll call Bruce Wayne to come get her (how, since you've got his car, genius?). He and Robin take off, then Vicki smiles and pulls out a spare set of keys and takes off after.

Meanwhile, the Wizard's men are holed up in a cabin along Harrison's route. The Wizard uses the remote control to stop Harrison's car right there. When the Wizard's men try to grab Harrison, his chauffeur suddenly goes all Kato and starts beating up on the crooks. Batman and Robin arrive during the fight and promptly... hide behind a bush, where Batman adjusts his mask. Drink!

Batman sends Robin to help the chauffeur while he rushes off to save Harrison. He leaps off a rock on top of the henchmen, and such is the power of his leap that he actually begins to knock the men down before he touches them!

Batman decides to take refuge with Harrison in a handy cabin nearby, because there's no way that could be the thugs' hideout or anything, could it? The one thug left behind in the cabin sets a bomb and sneaks out the back way as Batman and Harrison enter (Harrison pronounces Batman as "BAT-mun," though he doesn't seem British). Batman peeks out the window to see brave, brave Sir Robin bravely running away from a couple of thugs.

Batman magnanimously decides to help the kid out, but gunmen are covering both exits from the cabin to make sure he doesn't escape the bomb. And I'm not sure why, but Lowery sometimes holds his arms in this really weird posture when he's in the bat costume.

Harrison at this moment is noticing a clock that has suddenly started running super-fast. Then he notices his watch is going crazy. Then the curtains burst into flames, followed by a random piece of paper. Then the building blows up. Weirdest bomb ever.

Title check: there is a blast, although (SPOILER) as we'll find out next paragraph, it wasn't fatal. What the hell, drink!

In chapter 8, "Robin Meets the Wizard," we learn that the blast wasn't fatal. Batman and Harrison hid in a secret cellar. Also, Robin tries the siren trick again, but the thugs know it's a trick (because Bruce Wayne told them about it while posing as Mac Lacey--good job, Bruce). But they decide to leave anyway because Robin? "Forget him." After a while, you start to feel sorry for the kid.

A couple of the thugs ride the secret sub and of course, speculate on where it's going. Drink! The Wizard, having gotten both Batman and Harrison out of the way, plans to specify his unspecified amount of cash. Gordon tells Batman and Harrison that the Wizard has demanded five million dollars. Batman plans to foil him with "strategy," starting with a news leak. Barry Brown announces that the railroad will pay the ransom.

And now we have Bruce describing the stupidest plan in the history of stupid plans. Batman has managed to coordinate with the Treasury department to use five million in old bills that were slated to be destroyed. The bills will be coated in a special radioactive substance, then packed into a metal box and thrown off a train at a designated point along the train's route. Batman and Robin will then track the money by using a Geiger counter to detect the radiation.

So okay, a solid plan, if a bit doubtful on the science as far as them being able to track radioactive money that's locked inside a metal box and being carried in a car. "But," Dick asks, "what if the Wizard gets away with all that money?"

No problem, Bruce explains. When the package is opened and the money is exposed to the air, it will burst into flame. Got that? Why not just give him a box full of newspaper clippings, or cow patties, or plastic explosive? Why go to all the trouble of using real currency if the crooks will never know it's real until it's actually burning their fingers?

And if you think the plan's concept is bad, the execution is even worse. The crooks are using Jimmy Vale in the Wizard's plane to spot from the sky and give them the all clear. Turns out, Batman and Robin are in another plane, circling about 5,000 feet higher. Through his binoculars, Robin sees the crooks getting ready to pick up the money. Now, you'd think if they can see so well from up there, that they might as well just track the car from the air.

But no. Batman tells Robin to land the plane and fetch the car. He's going to parachute down. Now, you'd also think the crooks might have Jimmy Vale flying aerial observation the entire way. But no. As soon as he gives the all clear, he takes off, so Batman floats down completely unobserved from ground or air. WTF? Then he hides in the crooks' trunk while they're fetching the strongbox.

The crooks then switch cars and push the one Batman's in off a cliff. But since the chapter's only three-quarters over, this doesn't merit a cliff-hanger. Batman jumps clear just before a Model T (not even close to the same car) smashes through a guard rail and falls off the cliff. BTW, it's really obvious in this and other scenes that for most exterior shots of Batman without dialogue, it's his stunt double being shot by the second unit, not just the stunt scenes.

So now Batman's stranded, but Robin pulls up to a stop within moments. So really, what was all that rigamarole with the airplane and the parachute for, other than risking detection? They follow the radioactive trail to a warehouse (on South Street--drink!), where the Wizard's men are opening the strongbox. Over the radio, the Wizard says he's coming to the warehouse.

Meanwhile Batman and Robin arrive at the warehouse. Robin is to wait outside while Batman goes in. Batman climbs to the roof and sneaks into the building to see the thugs working at unwrapping the tight bundles of money. He sneaks around behind some boxes that say they're from the "Phoenix Chair Company" (there really was a Phoenix Chair Company in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, that made chairs from the late 1800's to the early 1930's--if authentic, that would mean those boxes were in the Columbia prop warehouse for at least 15 years before this serial was shot).

Meanwhile, outside, the Wizard sneaks up on Robin and saps him.

Inside, Batman decides to start a fight with the Wizard's men. Remember, the purpose of the plan, as far as I can tell, was to use the money to trace the Wizard to his lair and catch him. But the Wizard still hasn't shown his face. Anyway, a fight breaks out, a shot rings out, and the Wizard runs away. After pausing to straighten out his mask (drink!)...

Batman knocks one of the thugs into the table holding the money, knocking it onto some packing straw nearby. The money bursts into flame, and now the warehouse full of cardboard boxes is on fire. One of the thugs throws a hammer and clocks Batman in the head with it. He falls unconscious amid the flames. The thugs leave (in a nice touch, they happen to pass right under a "No Smoking" sign as they head for the door). So Batman's trapped in a raging inferno, set off by his prematurely starting a fight with the thugs instead of waiting for the real villain to show up, and igniting the money that he himself rigged to burn. Great job, genius. Oh, and drink! for Batman screwing up his own plan.

Title check! Robin did technically meet the Wizard, though it was more like the back of his head meeting the Wizard's sap, so no drink.

Chapter 9, "The Wizard Strikes Back!," opens with Batman merely getting up and running out of the warehouse before the fire spreads much. I say again, lame cliffhangers in this one. Batman finds Robin just getting up off the ground. Robin asks what started the fire, and Batman says it was the radioactive money, lamenting that the Wizard will probably cause more trouble now that he has no ransom. Should have thought of that before, hadn't you? God, Batman's an idiot. Those multiple blows to the head have apparently taken their toll.

At that moment, they spot private detective Dunne wandering around near the warehouse--co-yay!--where he runs into Barry Brown, broadcaster--double-co-yay! Drink! Our heroes speculate that either man could be the Wizard, and Batman adds his suspicion of Professor Hammil, despite Robin's objection that Hammil is a "wheelchair invalid." Drink again! And of course, in the next scene, we're in Hammil's house. Drink for the trifecta? No. Hammil locks the door, the way we've seen him do every other time he's used the chair, but then the scene dissolves to the Wizard's lair. Trifectus interruptus!

The Wizard is pissed that Batman double-crossed him, so he decides to shut down all traffic in the entire city. He fires up his machine, but it overloads and he has to shut it down. He claims that he has burned out the "diamond bearings" (oh, so the diamonds weren't fuel, after all--good to know, finally). But I thought diamonds were forever.

The city rejoices that the threat of the Wizard has abated. Traffic once more flows freely and everyone's happy.

But the Wizard has discovered that our old friends the Electronic Research Council have developed a new kind of synthetic diamond that resists heat and friction better than real ones. He plans to steal some right away. Meanwhile, as Bruce and Dick drop Vicki off at her apartment, she gets a call from Jimmy. Co-yay! Drink! He needs her help to get away from the Wizard. She sneaks out through a secret exit in her darkroom. Damn, does everybody in Gotham have secret panels? I want to go to there.

Bruce and Dick figure out that Vicki's headed to the Harbor Club. Re-used set! Drink! Vicki sneaks in and unties Jimmy, but as they're escaping, they are chased by one of the thugs standing guard. Batman and Robin pull to a stop with an especially violent bounce of the Mercury's front end, and Batman disables the thug with a thrown trash barrel. Oh, and marked on the bottom? It's our old friend, Solox! Thug is captured.

Jimmy tells Commissioner Gordon that the Wizard plans to steal the synthetic diamonds. So Commissioner Gordon orders them moved to a place with higher security. Which is apparently just what the Wizard wanted, because as soon as he is alone in Vicki's apartment, Jimmy calls Neil, the Wizard's new head thug, and tells him the diamonds are being moved.

Later, Commissioner Gordon calls Bruce Wayne to tell him that the guard Batman captured had blanks in his gun. Why tell millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne? Maybe Gordon suspects that Wayne is Batman because he always drives Bruce's car. Or maybe he just suspects Bruce and Batman are gay lovers. Either way, Batman and Robin go screaming off after the thieves stealing the synthetic diamonds.

But the Wizard uses his remote control to burn out the engine in Batman's car. You know, the remote control that doesn't work because it has no diamond bearings? That one. Batman flags down a passing motorist and commandeers his car (which looks remarkably like the car in whose trunk Batman hid in the previous chapter). "If anything happens to it, the police will buy you a new one," says Batman.

"Tell 'em to get me one with a red light and a siren on it, will ya?" I quote this line only because it may be the only actual joke anyone tells in all fifteen chapters. For a ridiculous comic book serial, it is deadly serious all the way through.

So the Wizard remote-controls that car right off a cliff. Oh, you know what's coming don't you? Oh, and title check sez--no drink.

Let's squeeze in one more chapter before calling it a day, shall we? Chapter 10, "Batman's Last Chance!" (oh, if only it were true) opens with the standard "jump out of the car before it goes over the cliff" moment. Although it's kind of funny, because after Batman tells Robin to jump, Robin for some reason tries to jump out the driver's side after Batman, and Batman slams the door in his face. Robin, you get no respect from anyone, do you?

So Jimmy calls Neil and is told to report to "Rendezvous D." He runs outside and tells the cabbie to take him to "the Markham Building." Unknown to him, Vicki follows. When she gets there, she tries calling Bruce but he's not home. So she goes into the Markham Building alone.

The thugs are holed up in a room on the ninth floor. They have the hallway rigged to alert them when someone's in the corridor, and a nifty little X-ray gadget that lets them see who's at the door. Jimmy arrives and they tell him to wait for further instructions.

Then they investigate another arrival in the hall and capture Vicki. When Jimmy protests, they knock him out and lock Vicki in a small room with a telephone. The cord's ripped out from the wall, but she hooks it back easily enough and calls for Bruce again. Before she can tell Alfred where she's being held, though, one of the thugs comes in and hangs up the phone.

Just at that moment, Batman and Robin pull into the driveway of stately Wayne Manor and get out of the car in full costume. Batman's a bigger idiot than I thought.

Alfred tells him Vicki is being held prisoner, but she didn't say where. Now if you recall, when Vicki was faced with this situation back in chapter 5, she just had the operator trace the call after the fact. Whether or not you can do that in real life, it is established as possible in the serial. So does Batman do that?

No, he arranges a fake escape for Jason, the thug he bowled over with the barrel last episode. Then he stows away in the vehicle as Jason's driving away. So he is able to follow Jason into the Norton Building.

Wait a second. Weren't the thugs holed up in the Markham Building?

Yep. So is Batman in the wrong building? No, just a continuity error. Nothing to see here. Move along. Besides, it's not the worst one in the episode.

When the thugs realize that Jason has been tailed by someone, Neil throws a switch on the wall that will zap anyone who touches any metal in the hallway. Then the thugs all go out into the hall to track down the intruder. As they leave, Jimmy sits up; he has been faking unconsciousness. He tells Vicki he'll free her as soon as he can, then he also leaves.

Batman, hearing the thugs coming, tries to duck into a room and gets zapped by the doorknob. But then, a gloved hand turns off the power switch. Whose hand? We never find out. Jimmy and all the thugs are in the hallway, and Vicki's locked in the little room, and none of them are wearing light leather gloves. It's an unsolved mystery that is never answered.

Jimmy discovers Batman out cold on the floor and looks under his mask. "Mac Lacey!" he says.

No, he says, "Bruce Wayne," then drags him into a nearby room. and shuts the door. Moments later, Batman is running through the halls. He runs into Neil and drops him with one punch. He digs the keys out of Neil's pocket and runs back to the thugs' room to free Vicki. But two more thugs come in, and he beats the crap out of them while Vicki makes her escape. Hmmm. Something's suspicious here. Batman has won two fistfights in a row and hasn't adjusted his mask once.

He runs out of the office, and the three thugs revive and chase him up to the tenth floor. He runs to a window to try to escape, but there's no fire escape. Cornered, he fights all three thugs, and looks like he's well on the way to beating them when one gets in a lucky punch and knocks him out the window. Batman falls ten stories to hit the sidewalk next to the truck where Robin's waiting for him. Bat-pizza!

Title check! "Batman's Last Chance!" Your guess is as good as mine if it actually had anything to do with the episode. Drink if you feel like it, I guess.

See you next week for the exciting conclusion. Well, exciting in the sense that it'll be over anyway.

Read the recap for chapters 1-3 here.

And read the recap for chapters 4-6 here.
And finally, the recap of chapters 11-15 is here.

*Back when Stephen King made his directorial debut in 1986 with "Maximum Overdrive," a movie which used just about every AC/DC song ever recorded on the soundtrack, I heard a rumor that prints of the film were shipped with a sticker that said, "Stephen King demands that you play this film as loud as possible."