Monday, July 25, 2011

The First Avenger

Saw "Captain America: The First Avenger" last night. I was a little doubtful going in, because while I have found Joe Johnston's films enjoyable in the past, he's never struck me as a particularly strong director. And I had been underwhelmed by the last couple of big budget superhero movies I saw ("Thor" and "Green Lantern").

And to tell the truth, Cap has never struck me as an interesting character. I've always loved his design; Kirby really did himself proud designing that costume. But the comics I've read never did much that was interesting with the character of Steve Rogers. Even the writers would regularly get bored with the guy and have him quit for a while, or, you know, shoot him in the head.

But I seriously loved the movie. The pacing is good, the action scenes much more intense than I expected (the later scenes really capture the frantic mass action Kirby would often evoke with Cap, leaping over the heads of dozens of Nazis while flinging his shield), and the Marvel mythos is worked in abundantly without being too intrusive. Bucky is reworked into an interesting and vital character, which I never expected. The art direction, special effects and period details shine.

But best of all is that this really is a movie about Steve Rogers. In the comics (see Hero Go Home on Saturday for a look at Cap's first appearance), Steve Rogers is a 4-F rejectee given a second chance to enlist via a special serum that makes him into a super-soldier. But once he becomes Cap, the comic never really looks back. Captain America becomes sort of iconic, and his commanding presence is such that even gods accept his orders without question. Which is cool and heroic, but also kind of boring.

But the movie never lets you forget that big Captain America grew up as little Steve Rogers, and Chris Evans really sells the character's heart and courage in a way that I never imagined he could from the previous projects I've seen him in.

It's not perfect. The movie does start to feel kind of long after a while, and if you're an old-school Marvel fan, there is a momentary bit of dislocation you have to work through when they introduce Sergeant Fury's Howling Commandos (never named as such) and you realize there will be no Sergeant Fury to lead them, because he's Samuel L. Jackson and in the movie-verse, he hasn't been born yet.

Bu overall, the movie kicks all kinds of ass. This is definitely one I'll add to my library when it comes out on disc.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Smeaton Sings

Yes, the Atlantis game is still chugging along, though drawing to a climax soon. And so, I thought it was a good time to reveal a particular aspect of Smeaton's character that has gone unrevealed to the others for over a year. And because the Atlantis game is unlike any other RPG I've ever played, I ended up revealing the secret in a song.

Lemme 'splain. No, is too much. Lemme sum up: efamar and jormungandr have been treating us to song parodies about our characters for a while now. I've got a stack of them in the back of my game binder, parodies of "A Whole New World" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and others. I didn't participate because, though I have written songs before and enjoy the discipline that comes with lyric writing, well, I have to get pretty inspired to do it. The last song I wrote IIRC was composed while driving in a military convoy around northern South Korea.

But then jorm sent around a link to a video of a guy named Matt Mulholland doing a mournful minor-key cover of Rebecca Black's "Friday." And I thought it was cool, so I watched some of his other videos, and ran across an acapella multitrack of Ceelo Green's "Fuck You."

Which sparked something in me, because Smeaton has long had a secret crush on someone else in the group, and a not-so-secret grudge against her boyfriend. And when I actually sang the song for everyone over the weekend (and BTW, having not sung in front of people in years, I had to rehearse a lot--try to imagine what it felt like walking around work for two or three days constantly singing "Fuck You" under your breath), I don't know how many pieces actually fell into place for the people listening, but a few big ones obviously did.

But for the benefit of completeness, here is the timeline of the Smeaton crush (pause while everybody else who knows nothing about the game scrolls down to the next post or else leaves entirely).

THE MEETING: Smeaton wasn't actually impressed by Amice Belden when he met her. She was pretty enough, but bookish and full of fancies about so-called "magic."

THE CHIMERA: His attitude toward her changed over time, especially when they went upcountry to battle a chimera. She showed amazing spirit and bravery, yet still remained feminine and somehow fragile. A contradiction.

THE SOLDIERS: Smeaton kept his feelings buried most of the time, but when the group tried to flee the country to avoid arrest by British soldiers due to their association with the spy, Dr. Travis, he let his feelings show just the slightest bit. When the soldiers leveled their rifles, he cried "Amice" (not "Miss Belden"--one of maybe three times in the entire game he has done that, and nobody ever notices) and tackled her to the ground, covering her body with his. She was very annoyed at his sexism.

The trip to and from the city of the Ghuls did not allow much time for him to dwell on his feelings, what with the seasickness and the Hesperian woman and the giant hydra and all. Amice became more involved with her magical studies and Smeaton wondered if it was simply not meant to be.

CUPID'S ARROW: During a strategy session at Lord Acrisian's house, Smeaton was struck through the heart with an assassin's arrow. Everyone else went their separate ways in the subsequent battle, but Miss Belden ventured down to the lawn where Smeaton lay on the verge of death to bring him back. This was also where the group met rather slippery Jareth Rosewood, spy and scout.

THE WET T-SHIRT: While fighting a sea serpent, Smeaton was swallowed whole and carried off. The others pursued the creature to a submerged cave to rescue him. Amice cast off her heavy dress and swam down in only her shift. Though he tried to bluff his way through, Smeaton was not immune to the beauty on full display.

THE PRINCESS AND THE DEMON: Smeaton's feelings became very confused when he met a beautiful princess imprisoned in a tower. She claimed that she had seen visions of him all her life, and long ago fallen in love with him. They began an affair which seemed doomed, for her visions also showed him being killed protecting her from a fearsome demon. The battle, when it came, though, saw Smeaton emerge victorious against near-impossible odds.

But it was clear that the victory was only temporary. Whoever had sent the demon would merely send another, perhaps stronger, to finish the job. Smeaton needed help to sort this out. And who should show up at precisely the moment he needed help with precisely the help he needed but Amice Belden? As if she knew instinctively, as if they were somehow connected.

THE PIRATES: Once Smeaton's submarine was finally finished, the group set off to find the lost tomb that would give them clues to the location of the next phase of their quest. Along the way, they were beset by pirates. While Smeaton tried to seal the barrel of the deck gun so the sub could dive safely, he was struck by arrows and fell, senseless, into the water below. With no thought for her own safety, Amice cast herself over the gunwale to save him from drowning. Smeaton began to think she might care for him as much as he was coming to care for her. He was even considering finding a way to split amicably from Leda when they reached the Triton city, where things changed.

THE BUGGER AND THE BABY: Once the group reached the Triton city, however, everything went wrong. Leda and Smeaton ended up in some drunken orgy that he only barely remembers, while at the same time, Rosewood and Amice became lovers. Not long after, Leda informed Smeaton that she carried his baby. Smeaton's opportunity had passed.

THE PACT: Smeaton decided his first responsibility was to the child, and so decided that his loyalties must lie with Leda. However, his distrust of the Viceroy and the current Emperor led him to a dark decision: to insure his child's safety (as much as it could be insured), he must overthrow the throne of Atlantis and see Leda made Empress instead. And the first person he approached with the plan was Amice. He still didn't dare reveal his feelings, but now they shared a secret. It was something.

THE POSSESSION: Unfortunately, Amice was soon taken over by the spirit of an evil ancestor, a powerful ancient sorcerer named Daath. She turned against her friends and caused them to be routed in a crucial battle. And here we depart the actual history for a small meta-digression. I would sometimes prepare speeches for Smeaton to deliver in case a certain situation arose. They were often memorable: the Steam Man Whiskey speech, the "We're in Hell" speech, the Dougal Bloody Smeaton speech. I had actually prepared a "Come back to me, My Amice, My Love" speech for Dougal if he ever had occasion to come face-to-face with Dark Amice. Alas, he was off kicking the asses of an entire army of barbarians and giants while the others got to facilitate Amice's return from Heel to Face. Oh, and Rosewood earned Smeaton's enmity by stealing Smeaton's favorite dagger. Bastard.

THE MIND-READING: Nothing further developed between the two during the trip to the Dawn Forge in the furthest reaches of the north, but there was one dangerous moment (not counting the danger of the giant evil-sorcerer-possessed automaton). While debating the fate of the Forge, Lady Victoria used her newly developed powers of telepathy to read Smeaton's mind. If she had tried to read deeply and learn his secrets, the truth might have come out, but she specifically stated that she was only trying to read surface thoughts regarding Smeaton's intentions concerning the Forge. And so his secret feelings remained secret. And his resentment of Rosewood grew.

THE ASSASSINATION AND THE DEATH OF CELAENO: Lately Smeaton's trust in Amice was shaken when she offered to "fake" Leda's assassination as the factions have begun their battle for the Dragon Throne. Smeaton had no guarantee that the assassination would not be real, and it certainly looked real. But in the end, he chose to trust his heart in trusting Amice, and during the subsequent battle with the sorceress Celaeno, Amice healed him back from the brink of death (resulting in another rare use of her given name when Smeaton thanked her).

Truth be told, Smeaton may never reveal his feelings for Amice, almost certainly not while Leda's alive, especially since it seems evident by now that she does not reciprocate them in the least. Which is fine. I mean, there's a reason why you never hear "romantic" as one of the adjectives bandied about concerning Scottish men, and Smeaton is a stiff upper lip-type. He's good at expressing anger, but other emotions, not so much.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thinking About the Future, Except...

Something weird is happening with Hero Go Home. I updated the Wordpress install, and now traffic has dropped to zero. It was never big, but there was always something.

It puts a crimp in my ideas for the next step. I had thought to abandon the serialization idea, since hardly anyone was reading the novel anyway. Almost all of my traffic was coming from the movie and comics articles, so I figured I would focus almost exclusively on those and just put up links to the ebooks.

But now I wonder if maybe I shouldn't give up on the story content. It occurs to me that people weren't reading the novel because...

1. The first chapter didn't have an effective enough hook

2. The chapters were too long.

3. Once a week wasn't a frequent enough release schedule to make it a habit to come back.

So how to fix it?

My thought is that instead of doing one big 2500~ word post a week, I emulate the old Adventures of Superman/Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar template and strip the chapters into five 500-word episodes a week. And I work harder (which I did starting about 10 chapters into the previous novel) to build in cliffhanger endings. With the short episode length, I couldn't waste any words. I would have to write punchier, funnier, and more aggressively.

And I wouldn't have to abandon the other features. I was previously writing other features while doing a 2500-word chapter a week, so the word counts are not impossible. I may have to get by with fewer frame-captures and scans though.

Although I want to keep as much of that as I can. I'm also contemplating changing the blog template to something splashier and more exciting, with a bolder approach to the graphics. This might stretch my GIMP abilities to the limit, but I want to do everything I can to make people want to come back to the site, and appealing graphics can do that.

I don't have a storyline yet, of course. My previous planned story idea, Digger's Big Con, probably wouldn't be exciting enough. It's got a murder mystery structure, which means a lot of setting up and introducing characters and not much happening until somebody dies. I need something that grabs from the first page. So as I prep Hero Go Home for ebook publication, I'll also be rolling ideas around in my head for a completely different type of turbo-charged Digger adventure.

Of course, first I need to make sure I haven't somehow broken my site. It still shows up for me, both from Favorites and from Google searches. But something's definitely wrong.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Outcome

She did not recover. The funeral is tomorrow.

I'm not sure how my dad is going to adjust to her being gone. They were together for 39 years, and she did a lot for him. I'm sure those roles were reversed somewhat these last few years as she was hobbled by her own health problems, but not completely. I'm actually debating whether I should try to find a job in the Muskogee area and move up there to stay with him.

That would be a difficult prospect in a lot of ways, but part of me thinks he really needs it. And the idea of a fresh start is appealing after the mess of the last few years.It's nothing I can decide on the spur of the moment, though. Both the Biggest Mistake of My Life and the misadventure of Casa Estrogen should serve as warnings against jumping into new situations too quickly in the aftermath of life changing events.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Spiral and the Plunge

My stepmother is in the hospital. It is not trivial. She is currently on a respirator, because she is unable to breathe on her own. The doctors are keeping her in a forced coma, so that she will not dislodge her feeding and breathing tubes. If it weren't for the occasional involuntary swallow, you could mistake her for a corpse having air forcibly pumped into her lungs.

Which is not to say that she is as good as dead. Her heartbeat and blood pressure are good, and the CT showed no evidence of a stroke, which they initially feared. It appears to be pneumonia, and the doctors hope that once they have cleared up the infection, they can back off the respirator and let her breathe on her own again. Past experience tells me that people apparently at death's door can fight back and live well for several more years.

But it brings home so many things. The thing is, she and my father and my mother and my step-father have all experienced rapid and lingering declines in health over the past year or so. My wife's grandmother as well. I mean, they've all had problems for decades--heart problems, bowel problems, osteoarthritic problems. Bad knees, bad backs, bad teeth, thinning hair... The same slow downward spiral that I'm now starting to experience. But recently, the decline has accelerated into a plunge.

It's scary to see them all deteriorate so quickly, and all at once. Scarier still to show up at the hospital and see my step-brother for the first time in several years--his head shaved nearly bald to hide his natural hair loss, pudgy, with glasses and a stark-white goatee. My dark-haired athletic brother has somehow morphed into Burl Ives. And when I look in the mirror, it's hard to deny the evident miles on my own odometer.

Just as I am starting to feel optimistic about my possibilities for the future, I am reminded that my time is finite, and there's a good possibility that much of it will involve a frustrating downward slide that I'm helpless to stop. My dad and I talked a lot yesterday, about the past and the future. He spoke with some bitterness that I've never sensed from him before. He is a private man, secretive, like me only more so, because he doesn't have the same inclinations toward being a raconteur that I have.

He told me about how much weight he has lost recently. I felt his arm and his thigh and was shocked. My father spent most of his life on one crutch, because polio had rendered one leg useless. He walked on one leg and one arm and used the other arm to carry what other people used two to do. His arms were steel, his good leg an oak. Now his limbs are thin and frail. It's hard to accept, and harder still to accept that I'll be there too, and sooner than I like to think.

But at the same time, I published the final chapter of Hero Go Home on Friday, and got a comment that said, "AWESOME!!!!!!!!!! THIS WAS EPIC!!!" and another, more reasoned comment that was also very complimentary, so even while I'm scared and contemplating my own and others' mortality, I'm also feeling pretty good. Life refuses to be pinned down to one emotional response at a time.