Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Quentin Tarantino and the Blue Duck

My wife Brooke and I were discussing Pulp Fiction recently, specifically which of its three plotlines is our favorite. I’m partial to Jules and Vincent’s Very Bad Day. She prefers the Butch story, with the exception of the sequence we both agree is the weakest in the film: the extended cab ride with Esmarelda Villalobos. I said it felt to me like Tarantino just had an idea or fetish for a sexy foreign cab driver character who was obsessed with death, and just figured, “Hey, I’ll squeeze her in here! Why the hell not?”

“Esmarelda Villalobos,” my wife said, “is a Blue Duck.”

I cracked up and declared that she was absolutely right, and that this should be the name for all such Esmeralda Villa Lobos type things going forward. They are Blue Ducks.

For those of you not familiar with the classic of modern cinema that is Adam Sandler’s Billy Madison (it was the first movie I bought on DVD because I figured I’d want to watch it over and over, and damned if I wasn’t right), when man-child Billy is repeating the First Grade (it’s a long story), his final assignment is coloring. As his teacher stands over him, Billy says, unprovoked, “I drew a blue duck because I’ve never seen a blue duck before and, frankly, I wanted to see a blue duck.”

So a Blue Duck in film or other arts would be something that only exists because the author wants to see it. I’m not saying it’s always a bad thing, either. In Tarantino’s latest film, Inglourious Basterds, I laughed out loud in the theater every time a touch came on screen that was just so obviously something Tarantino wanted to do because he could. Why does Hugo Stiglitz get giant ’70s grindhouse titles of his name when he’s introduced when nothing else of that style exists in the movie? Because eff you, that’s why. It serves no purpose to the larger story, other than reminding you that you’re watching a Tarantino film. It’s a Blue Duck.

My guess would be that Blue Ducks most often turn up in the work of auteurs who can’t be told that their work needs editing, or in the work of well-meaning amateurs who figure they have one shot at greatness and try to squeeze every cool idea they ever had into their first project.

Can you think of any other Blue Ducks in the worlds of film, literature or comics? Share them in the comments. But most importantly, next time you see one, don’t forget what they’re called. What do YOU think, Mr. Duck?

“That’s Quacktastic!”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

...Ask Questions Later

So today’s the day. I am now officially published by Dark Horse Comics, as my short story with artist Ben Bates, “S.H.O.O.T. First: The Wooden Saint,” is online as part of MySpace Dark Horse Presents #35, along with short stories by the wonderful Stan Sakai, Gabriel Ba and Art Baltazar. You can find it online here.

It’s been quite a ride to get to this point—just over 8 months (as opposed to the just over 5 years it took Hero House to come together, of course) since I first had the idea. So first and foremost, I need to thank my wife Brooke for being my initial reader and telling me she thought it was a good idea. I want to thank my editor at Dark Horse, Dave Marshall, who’s an incredible editor and has never given me a bad note; Dark Horse Senior Managing Editor Scott Allie, who is a legend and who kindly gave the project the greenlight; and Ben Bates, who injected an awful lot of life into the idea with his awesome art.

The last couple of weeks have also been really wild, starting with this interview with Comics Alliance that first revealed the concept behind S.H.O.O.T. First (they’re the Secular Humanist Occult Obliteration Taskforce—a team of atheist commandos who hunt down supernatural and especially religious creatures that they don’t believe in). That led to this article on the Robot 6 blog, which then got picked up by FARK, The Examiner and Discover’s Bad Astronomy blog, which led to a lot of discussion of the idea. Which is a good thing. I was kind of expecting the core of the concept to take some religious people aback, but so far, at least, nearly all of the controversy over it has come from atheists! I’m hoping to keep the conversation going now that the story is out (it premiered online yesterday at Comic Book Resources, along with another interview with me) and people can hopefully see how the idea works in execution (heh), not just in theory.

You can also find interviews with me that touch on both S.H.O.O.T. First and Hero House here at Mapcidy (where I also answer the legendary questions of Bernard Pivot), and one at The Fwoosh.

Now, as I keep mentioning in these interviews, there are more S.H.O.O.T. First stories to tell, if I get the chance. I wrote out an outline for a mini-series with the characters that I’m really excited about. If you’re interested in seeing it, do me a favor and drop Dark Horse a line on Twitter or Facebook and let them know. Or, if you’re a comic publisher who’d be interested in seeing the outline, drop me a line on Facebook, on Twitter or at herohousecomic [at] gmail [dot] com.

So, because I’m always interested in process and I know a lot of other people are too, here’s the original outline for the 8-pager that I submitted to Dark Horse. I’ll probably put up the script and the character descriptions I sent to Ben as well in the near future. But here’s the document that started it all…

S.H.O.O.T. First

Short story proposal by Justin Aclin

“They don’t believe in the supernatural…they’re just here to kick its ass.”

“The exorcism was going just fine,” the narrator tells us. We’re in a country farmhouse where a young girl is confined to a bed, sickly looking and screaming in tongues. A priest is admonishing a demon to leave her in the name of yadda yadda…we know this drill. The priest, however, is brandishing a holy relic to help him in his crusade—the Acadian Driftwood, whose knots have been known to resemble different saints at different times.

All was going according to script, until they kicked down the girl’s bedroom door. S.H.O.O.T.: the Secular Humanist Occult Obliteration Taskforce. To S.H.O.O.T. there are no saints or demons or angels or yetis or what have you. There are just humans, and then the Outside Actors who are playing a game and using humans as their checkers. And it is S.H.O.O.T.’s sole mission to track down these Outside Actors and hit them with bullets.

They’re a motley crew. There’s Kenshin, a former Shinto practitioner who saw the ancestors he revered return as ghosts to prey upon the living and lost his faith in anything he couldn’t see. There’s Bett, who as a child in the late 19th century wandered into a field of fairies and unicorns and disappeared, only to turn up 100 years later, unaged and with no memory of the intervening century, clutching a bloody unicorn horn she still uses as a weapon. There’s the new recruit, Codename: Infidel. He was a translator for the U.S. military in Afghanistan until he saw things that made him question everything he believed. Now he lives without a name to protect his family from the death sentence he’s brought upon himself. There’s Lord Byron, an aging punk nihilist who enjoys trampling upon the sacred and inflicting violence and finally found a vocation that combines them both. There’s the team’s field leader, Mrs. Brookstone, a [redacted]. And there’s Robot. He’s a robot.

The Outside Actors are powerful, but the assumptions and importance that people of faith put on them empower them even more. S.H.O.O.T.’s secret weapon is that they think it’s all bullshit, robbing their adversaries of an advantage. When they enter the room, Lord Byron brandishes a gun and tells the priest to screw, because his belief is interfering with their powerful cynicism field. The priest starts to flee, but Bett blocks his path and tells him to leave the log. Suddenly a humanoid figure made out of wood springs out of the Driftwood—it’s the Wooden Saint, the spirit who had been inhabiting the relic, and it’s making a break for it down the hall. Mrs. Brookstone barks orders for Kenshin, Infidel and Robot to chase it with her and for Bett and Lord Byron to stay behind and take care of the possession.

Lord Byron tries to convince the demon to leave the girl willingly, but it’s understandably reluctant. So Bett pulls out the big guns—literally. They’re guns that shoot metaphysical bullets, which should pass harmlessly through a human and injure the demon residing within. The demon doesn’t buy it, but rather than risk being a sitting duck it jumps out of the girl and tries to jump through the second story window to freedom, but Bett is able to grab it and execute it.

Meanwhile in the farmhouse den, the rest of S.H.O.O.T. searches for the Wooden Saint. As Kenshin passes by a portion of the wood-paneled wall, the disguised Saint peels itself off the wall and makes a run directly through the middle of the team, so that they’re unable to shoot at it. It nearly escapes and the team pursues, guns blazing. Just as it’s about to clear the door and make it outside, Robot smashes through a nearby wall and clotheslines it, enabling the bullets to find their marks. As it lies dying, the Saint asks, “Why? I’m just doing the Lord’s work.” Mrs. Brookstone informs it that they’re just doing humanity’s work, and tells Robot to get a tissue sample to take back to the lab.

We then cut to the narrator, in shadows, on his cell phone. He or she has been relaying the entire story so far to someone on the other end, who says, “This is excellent intelligence. I know it can’t be easy for you to betray your friends like this. How do I know I can continue to trust you?” The narrator says, “I’ve come to realize that sometimes you need to have a little faith.” The man on the other end of the phone, from his office in the Vatican, knows exactly what the narrator is talking about.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Day a Comic Drove Me Insane

Okay, the headline isn't exactly correct - it was more than a comic that drove me crazy. But the comic was a part of it. The comic in question was Kurt Busiek's Astro City #1/2 (a Wizard 1/2 issue!), which if you haven't read you really should. Because I'm about to spoil it for you, and it's very very good.

Basically (spoiler) it's a story about a man who's haunted by visions of a woman he's never met, and in the end it turns out that she was his wife, and as a result of a cosmic superhero crisis in the past she ends up never being born. And it's very, very upsetting. You can see some panels from it here. I got thinking about it again this week when it came up in a conversation I was having about Lost. If you saw this week's episode you'll understand why.

But thinking about the story made me think about the first time I read it, when it kind of drove me insane.

A little background first: F0r the past eight years, minus a few months, I've worked at Wizard Entertainment, which was located in beautiful, scenic (and nearby) Rockland County. Then, for four months in 2008, I went to work in Manhattan at a trade magazine called License! Global. (The exclamation mark was part of the name). Suddenly I went from commuting two hours a day to commuting five hours a day, taking a train from nearby my house down to Secaucus New Jersey, then transferring onto a crowded train into mega-crowded Penn Station, then taking an even more crowded subway to the office. It was awful. Then I got my current job back at ToyFare and I was back to Rockland County and the shorter commute. Hoorah!

Then, right after my second daughter was born, Wizard announced that they were moving all the staff into their New York City offices. Which, let me tell you, is not so bad right now. I discovered that if I took the bus instead of the train I didn't have to transfer or go into Penn Station, and it really made a difference. However, the first week we moved into the city, for various reasons, I had to take the train in, which made me fairly well miserable. Add to this the fact that I was doing a lot of the night feedings for the baby, and I wasn't getting an awful lot of sleep at the time. And that's the atmosphere I was in when I read Astro City #1/2, on the train on the way to work.

It knocked me for a loop. Losing your family is the greatest fear of anyone who has a family, and here was a really heart-rending story about just that. It hit me like a punch in the gut. So we arrive in Secaucus, I get off and get on the crowded train to Penn Station.

And in the crowd on the train, I happen to see someone reading a paper - one of NY's abysmal tabloids, probably the Post. And this was the entirety of the headline of the story I saw:


That's it. No further information, weird use of the present tense.


So given that I was exhausted and depressed and had just had my mind #$%ed by a story about lost loves and time travel, I came to the only logical conclusion: I became convinced that the newspaper was from the future, and it was trying to warn me that one of my three girls was going to die.

I was floored. Devastated. I knew it couldn't be possible, of course, but at the moment I couldn't convince myself it was anything else. I just kept coming back to "Why would the headline be written that way?"

Of course I later realized that the Post is just a terrible, awful paper, which is why the headline was written that way.

I don't think I felt totally better until I got to work and was able to Google the headline and figure out that, yes, it was an actual story about someone else. But for those several minutes, I was convinced that the future was trying to warn me of a terrible occurrence through a newspaper headline glimpsed on the train.

And that's how a comic book drove me (temporarily) insane. Although, in retrospect, it was probably more the terrible headline writing of the NY Post that did it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shallow Thoughts - 3/29/10

• Apologies to the HuffPo, from whom I nicked the above image. I spent the day after the House's HCR vote (Remember that?) tweeting what I imagined the aftermath of Health Care Reform might look like, if the Republican alarmists are telling the truth. Check it out!

• ITEM! You can read an interview with me and read the first 50 pages of my graphic novel Hero House in this Comics Alliance piece from last week. Big thanks to Chris Sims, author of the web's funniest comics blog, for reaching out to me and making the story happen.

• ITEM! In that selfsame Comics Alliance article, you can also read my very first public comments about my long-awaited (by me) first post-Hero House comic book work. In brief, I'll have a short 8-page story in the online anthology title MySpace Dark Horse Presents this June. You'll hear more about this soon (though not to the point of nausea, hopefully), but suffice to say for now that getting my work published by the company that publishes Hellboy comics, BPRD, The Goon and many, many others (and in the same issue as Levar Burton!) is a dream come true. Can't wait for you guys to see it.

• Last comic book item, I promise: I recently had my first encounter with a Hero House in the wild at Midtown Comics in New York City. If you saw a goofy looking guy snapping a photo of himself with the new releases last Friday...that was me.

• Tonight marks the start of Passover, and a happy Passover celebration to all my fellow Jews out there. Passover was always one of my favorite holidays, and Brooke and I (especially Brooke, who does all the cooking, etc.) are working hard to make it special for our daughters. That said, I find myself struggling with what, exactly to tell my daughters about my religion. I don't want to be responsible for the end of a line of Jews or anything, but over the past few years I find that I just can't bring myself to believe in a god who, for instance, would get mad at me if I ate a cheeseburger for dinner tonight. (And I did.) My "crisis of faith," if you want to call it that, has been exacerbated lately by the government of the homeland of my people acting like raging assholes. You're welcome to believe nearly anything you like (actually, that's not true, but that's a different blog post...), but if you are standing in the way of peace because a 4000-year-old book says that you're entitled to a certain slice of land, you are not invited to my Seder, and I'm not sure I want to identify myself as belonging to the same group as you. Combine that with the recent headlines about the Pope and the Catholic Church, and it's enough to think that religious orthodoxy, no matter what the denomination, is a fundamentally destructive force in the world.

• On a lighter and totally unrelated note, hilarious Fred Schneider humor from The State. God bless you, Fred Schneider. (And David Paggi, who found the link.)

• I've started playing Final Fantasy XIII, and so far I'm enjoying it a lot more than certain people I could name. However, I've been playing a lot more Final Fantasy IV on my DS, which has been occupying my time on the way home from work the past couple of weeks. I love being able to carry the greatest video games of my childhood with me on the DS, and I look forward to being able to play today's video games on a handheld in the next 15 years or less.

• And finally, I had mentioned that my wife had been knitting me a scarf. Well, she finished it, and it looks amazing - dig that checkerboard pattern! Can't wait to wear this bad boy in the cold weather. Or, you know, to the beach. It's versatile.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Shallow Thoughts - 3/10/10

• At the end of “Lost” last night when they said, “Only nine more episodes left until the finale,” Brooke said, “Only?” sarcastically, and I said, “Only?” earnestly. It seems like there’s still a lot of ground to cover in 11 hours if they want to wrap everything up in a satisfying manner. By which I mean not telling us every little bit of minutiae regarding what happened, but to answer the questions that they at least made us think were important, like why the island can time travel, what the Dharma Initiative were doing there, etc. It seems like they’re moving toward a grand unification theory involving (SPOILER) the Oceanic castaways (and most everyone else on the island) as “Candidates” for taking over Jascob’s job of protecting the island, which doesn’t necessarily address all these other issues…yet. At least last night we got a subtle answer to a riddle from last season – why did Ben stop Locke from killing himself, then kill him? Turns out candidates can’t bring about their own demise…but they can be murdered. The larger issue this season, though, is that they have yet to explain the relation the flash-sideways have to the main plot (or if, indeed, they are now the main plot). Everyone certainly has their theories as to how they relate, and as we see two episodes in a row now where Sayid and Ben live an existence where they get to be close to dead people they love without actually getting to be with them, it’s certainly becoming clearer. But until the show explicitly says “These are real, the stakes in them are as high or higher than the stakes on the island,” they’re inevitably going to feel like extended fantasy sequences, and they’re not going to carry the weight that the action on the island carries. For more spirited discussion of Lost, be sure to check out Sean T. Collins’ weekly wrap-up session, and the comments thread there.

  • New Futurama episodes return in June! It’s almost hard to feel excited because it seems so abstract. The feature-length episodes they did were good, by and large, but not nearly as good as the show at its best, and the protracted battle between Fox and the voice cast last summer (that resulted in a very low-key Comic-Con panel) have made it difficult to get quite as jazzed as I would have been at the news several years ago. But, again, I can count on my apprehension melting away when the episodes actually air – Futurama is a show that rarely disappoints. It’s just part of what I’m hoping will be a very exciting June…

  • Speaking of San Diego, I’m registering as a Professional this year for the first time ever (provided they accept my registration, which they should because it’s legit). This, coupled with the fact that I’ve recently received my first check for writing a comic book (which, by definition, makes me a professional comic book writer) makes me feel a lot less guilty about listing myself as a comic book writer in my Twitter bio. It’s true!

  • So the Oscars happened. Brooke and I had the pleasure of viewing them with Zach Oat, who was live-blogging them for and had to leave his home due to Cablevision and/or ABC being jerkfaces (and then changing their mind about being jerkfaces 40 minutes into the show). I haven’t seen Hurt Locker, partially due to my prohibition on things that I think will be really upsetting. We watched District 9 a few days before the ceremony to at least up the number of nominated films we’d seen, and I was initially a little meh on it, but I’m liking it better the further away I get from watching it. It was bogged down in my head too much at first by being Oscar-nominated, but as I get some distance from that I’m just enjoying it on its own terms. Brooke suggested that they license the characters out for cat food commercials, and I think that’s an excellent suggestion. If they use it, I hope they pay her. At any rate, I think Avatar got the Oscars it deserved, but I wish Inglorious Basterds had won a couple more awards. Granted, I didn’t see a lot of the films that won over it, but hot damn that movie’s a hoot. I enjoyed Avatar, but it’s hard to judge it on its merits, partially because of the spectacle and partially because it was the first film I ever ended up seeing in a theater by myself. I had to see it for work (look for an Avatar parody in an upcoming Twisted ToyFare Theatre!) and there was just no time we could get someone to watch the kids so Brooke could see it with me. It’s not an experience I’m keen to reproduce—I find doing things I normally do with Brooke by myself depressing.
  • Final Fantasy XIII is on its way to me, and I'm not sure if I should spend my evenings playing it or getting work done and spending time with my family. The two seem kind of mutually exclusive. I’ve got a long history with the franchise—I played every U.S.-released game up until XI (I’m not a big MMO guy), and the release of a new Final Fantasy game is usually a big deal in my family. To this day, my brother can only remember my birthday because Final Fantasy VII (possibly the masterpiece of the video game medium) released on September 9th, and he remembers that it was the day before my birthday.
  • The ToyFare blog FarePlay should be up and running again, either today or within the next couple of days. Definitely keep an eye on it—I’m going to be adding some entries soon that should prove pretty entertaining.
  • Speaking of blogs to follow, keep checking out We Are the LAW. After moving on from Poltergeist, the guys tackled Sean’s Destructor, then Orko, and the next round of drawings should prove pretty fantastic, indeed.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shallow Thoughts - 2/20/10

Hey, it's been a while. In my defense, we've been ramping up to our busiest time of year at work, and then I was living it for a week or so. In my prosecution, I'm also just kind of lazy. Anyway, here's what's going on.

• A large group of my buddies have formed a new blog called We Are The LAW. Although very few of them are artists it's a sketch blog, and to my kind of embarrassed delight, they chose Hero House's Poltergeist as their first subject. That's my former boss Zach Oat's take up above. Check out the LAW Blog to see them all. I can't wait for the next subject, which will be a character by one of our other friends. It should be awesome.

• Let it be known, I'm back on Twitter. If you're on as well, you might want to follow me. I'm not exactly interesting, but I'm endeavoring.

• We're watching (right this moment, actually!) Survivors on BBC America, which is interesting so far, but has a premise that's so upsetting you wouldn't even want to play a game of "what would you do in that situation?" with it. I just want to point out that the main actress, Julie Graham, who's British, looks exactly like actress Lauren Graham, who's American. Cue Patty Duke Show theme!

(Above: Which is which?)

Also, for the record, I think Patterson Joseph would have made a pretty awesome Doctor Who.

• Lost is back! I'm definitely more on board now after the phenomenal last episode featuring Locke, Ben and Sawyer aplenty, but I still feel that they need to (SPOILER) explain the significance of the flash-sideways before they begin to feel truly crucial. Having Ben show up as an awesome persnickety history teacher is a step in the right direction, though. (END SPOILER) If you enjoy Lost, definitely read the insights of someone who really doesn't, my friend Kiel Phegley's mother Lynn. Trust me, it's hilarious.

• How do you know you're on the wrong side of history? If you're cheering and chanting for Dick Cheney to run for President, that's a strong hint.

• If my last blog post about thirtysomething piqued your curiosity, you should know the first two seasons are now available on instant streaming on Netflix. It's worth checking out!

• My wife is knitting me a scarf. It's fantastic. I'll post a pic when it's done. Thanks, Brooke. Love you!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shallow Thoughts - 1/28/10

My commute from my idyllic suburban town to big ugly Manhattan normally takes two hours. Now I know that if I attempt it when it’s snowing, it takes closer to three. This is good for blogging, but terrible for every other conceivable reason. Oh well. Here we go.

• Everyone’s abuzz about yesterday’s iPad announcement. I have very little to add to the discussion about how terrible the name is or how it will or will not revolutionize comics or publishing or any other industry I’m involved in. On a personal level, it hits me in the “it would be neat to own it but I can certainly imagine my life without it” zone. But I’m definitely not the target audience—other than the computers I use at work, I haven’t owned an Apple product since the IIGS that was my very first computer. No, not even an iPod. Yeah, I’m the one. I think part of the reason I’m not fully drooling over it is that I prefer electronics that fold up and offer some sort of protective outer shell – like the laptops, Nintendo hand-helds and cell phones I’ve owned over the past several years. It’s a fundamental departure point between me and the way Apple has been designing products, and it’s also why, in the realm of e-reader type things, I’m more excited about Microsoft’s rumored Courier than the iPad. Something about how book-like it seems appeals to me more than the admittedly sexy and futuristic iPad. Not that I’ll end up owning either one, mind you. But I think it would be cool.

• Don’t forget: other than my renewed focus on blogging here, I’ve also been blogging a lot more on the day job blog. Yesterday you could have seen me link to some new Transformers toys, wax poetic about Marvel’s new Heroic Age, and share the wackiest press release I got on that particular day. I get a lot of wacky press releases, and I’m going to be posting them over there whenever possible.

• I really want to hope that last night’s State of the Union address actually does usher in a wave of politicians acting like adults, and I’m trying really hard not to put a qualifier on this sentence. It’s the post-cynical age. Conan said so.

• Brooke and I have been watching thirtysomething (it’s spelled with a lower-case t) on DVD, and we’re in the middle of the second season now. It’s been really interesting to watch for a few reasons. First, because we are—if not the same age as the characters (we’re a bit younger)—at least in the same boat as some of the characters, as regards children, homeownership, etc. Secondly, because when the series first aired (which seems like 100 years ago, but is just over 20), our parents were just about the same age/same boat as the characters. So it’s interesting to note which things remain utterly relatable one generation removed (primarily the many ways in which having kids sets you apart from your childless friends and changes every facet of your life) and which are unrelatable. In the latter category, I find the characters’ preoccupation with authenticity pretty amusing. I’m sure there are people out there my age who can relate to these former hippies-turned-yuppies and their anxiety over selling out to corporate culture, but I certainly can’t. My aspirations always involved making a living doing what I love and being able to support a family, and never involved (for better or worse) changing the world or bringing down “the man.” On a side note, every single male character on the show is various shades of despicable, although Brooke and I figure they must have counted as “sensitive New Age guys” at the time the show aired. Apparently, the ruler for what constitutes a sensitive guy has slid considerably in the last 20 years

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shallow Thoughts - 1/24/10

My long-form blogging is tending to be pretty...long. So here's an experiment in short, bite-size blogging.

• First and foremost, happy "dating anniversary" to my lovely wife. 15 years ago today she asked me out in between high school midterms. It is my sole mission in life to make her happy that she made that decision.

• Despite the fact that we could have caught it any time in the past couple of months, we watched the Caprica pilot when it aired on SyFy on Friday. Before it aired I wasn't sure I even wanted to venture back into the Battlestar universe, after so much closure was achieved in the finale (I'm one of those people who really, really liked the finale). After watching it I think it'll be interesting, but I can't see how it can sustain as a series for much longer than a season. It seems (and I'm basing this at least partially on the teaser poster I've seen everywhere around the city) that they're going to be exploring the "original sin" that started the Human/Cylon war, or at least the most recent iteration of it. The thing that most struck me after watching it was realizing how there were absolutely no teenagers on Battlestar, and how they play such an important part on this show. Teenagers are annoying.

• It was actually weird to watch SyFy again - I've barely turned it on since they lost Doctor Who to my new favorite cable channel, BBC America. Right now they're showing my favorite Hitchcock film, Rear Window. I love you, BBC America.

• If you're still interested in buying a copy of my book, it's now in-stock and shipping from Barnes and Noble. Thanks again to all my friends who Tweeted about it.

• I didn't watch Conan's last episode, but I read the transcript of his farewell speech. That guy is a class act.

• My buddy Sean T. Collins just put up a downloadable mix of his Best Songs of 2009. Even though our tastes don't seem to overlap...barely at's definitely worth checking out. This set off a spate of mix-making amongst my friends that I'd love to get in on, but I've literally just been listening to the latest albums by Vampire Weekend and Phoenix over and over and over lately.

• And finally, I got really depressed this past week about events in the political realm, but I found a comforting thought Friday night that helped me, and I figured I'd share it in case anyone else out there is having a hard time. Basically, it occurred to me (and it's fairly simplistic) that if you pay attention to every election and poll and decision and all that, things can seem very discouraging. But if you pull back...WAY back...and just look at the flow of human history, things are always improving. I look at it this way: if you could be living in any time period, not as a royal but just as a regular person, when would you live? I think I'd choose right now. Brooke says that she'd live as a Baby Boomer, because they got everything easy and then kind of ruined everything for the rest of us. She might be onto something there...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Doctor Without Borders

I know the rest of the world took a break from writing about Doctor Who a couple of weeks ago, but what can I say? I’m slow. I will say that even though we saw the end of David Tennant’s reign as the Tenth Doctor back in early January with the broadcast of “The End of Time, Part 2,” Brooke and I haven’t stopped thinking about Doctor Who since. If anything, it’s gotten more intense.

I’m a Johnny-come-lately to the world of the Doctor, but for Brooke it’s part of her earliest memories. She can remember the show being on around her, if not her actually watching it, from very early childhood, and the haunting theme song and the blue box feel like they’ve always been a part of her life. So back in 2006 when I got my hands on an early set of the DVDs for the first season of the Who reboot, even before it aired on SciFi Channel here in the U.S., I knew it was a chance to get in on the ground floor with Brooke on a show that could potentially mean a lot to her.

It ended up meaning a lot to both of us. Fans certainly have their complaints about Russell T. Davies’ recently completed run on the show (I could have done with fewer farting aliens myself), but he certainly made the show come alive for a new generation of fans. If nothing else (and there’s plenty else—his method of slowly weaving hints to the final conflict for each season throughout every episode has had a big impact on how I’m approaching long-form storytelling), his casting instincts were impeccable.

I’ve since learned that, from our vantage point in the States, it’s hard to understand how big an institution Who is over in England, or how crazy some of his ideas must have seemed at the time. We first met Billy Piper as Rose, but in England she was a washed up teen pop star, and Catherine Tate (Donna Noble) was a well-known comedienne. Imagine if someone over here were to make a sequel to the Star Wars trilogy, then cast Joey Fatone as Luke Skywalker and Kathy Griffin as Princess Leia and you’ll get the idea.

But both Rose and Donna (and Martha, and Mickey and even Donna’s grandfather) were excellent companions. And as for the Doctors…I know Brooke and I thought that Chris Eccleston would be irreplaceable by the time they did replace him at the end of the first season. It’s to Davies’ credit as much as David Tennant’s that, now that he’s left, the fact that he’s being replaced seems not just unthinkable, but heartbreaking.

Brooke and I rewatched the Christmas Invasion recently, which is Tennant’s first full episode, and Davies uses a really amazing device to get us past our initial reticence about Tennant—he spends nearly the entire episode comatose. By that point we’ve gotten to know and care about Rose, and she’s feeling just as cagey about this new guy as we are. But when she and her family our placed in danger, she comes to want the Doctor to save them, no matter what he looks like. By the time Tennant finally wakes up and swashbucklingly saves the day, we’re so thrilled we don’t care what he looks like, either.

Over at his blog United Monkee, I recently got into a comment discussion with my friend TJ Dietsch about the Series 3 two-parter Human Nature/The Family of Blood. TJ had high hopes for it because it was written by Paul Cornell (writer of fantastic comic books like Captain Britain and the MI-13—if you’re a Who fan reading this, go pick up the trade paperbacks!), but he found himself let down by it, because (again, much like Christmas Invasion) the Doctor is absent for much of the two hours, even though this time Tennant is onscreen the whole time. For me, this is one of my favorite storylines in the whole series, and when Brooke and I recently went back and started rewatching episodes after End of Time aired, it was the first one I chose. (And Brooke went along with it, bless her, even though she finds the end truly heartbreaking and upsetting.)

If nothing else (and, again, it’s plenty else), it’s certainly an acting showcase for Tennant, who reminds us he can do much more than just play brilliant and scattered and on top of things. Here we see the Doctor as a mere man, not very brilliant and definitely not on top of things. And though, once again, we need him to come back by the end of the second episode and fix things, we’re not quite so thrilled to see him come back this time. Because this human persona, John Smith, has developed a life and a love of his own, and he’s not so thrilled with the idea of forfeiting it all just so some wacky alien can take over.

TJ’s main complaint about the two-parter was that it’s one of those things, like Christmas Invasion, where they keep the main character away from it to make you realize how cool he really is, but by this point the audience is well, well aware of how cool the Doctor is. I feel it’s the opposite—the audience is SO used to the Doctor being cool, that it takes an episode like this, showing you what the Doctor ISN’T, to remind you that his coolness and brilliance and zaniness and everything we love about him sometimes disguise one important fact. He’s alien, more alien than he seems sometimes, and though he admires humans he can’t really understand us on an emotional level, and in some way that makes him even more frightening than his Time Lord powers and near-immortality. He claims that humans look like giants to him, but here he’s given a chance to lead an amazing but normal life as a man, and he can’t bring himself to take it. Like I said, heartbreaking.

Now Tennant’s all done, and it’s up to the new kid (and I do mean kid—he’s younger than me!) to carry on however he can. I (and much of the rest of the world) would be a lot more nervous if the man taking over for Davies weren’t Steven Moffat, who’s been responsible for a lot of the best episodes of the recent run (not to mention the BBC mini-series Jekkyl, which I believe is available on Netflix Instant Watch and you should really go instant-watch it right now). (Speaking of Moffat and Instant Watch, is anyone else having trouble getting his episode Blink to load on their Xbox? We wanted to rewatch it, but for some reason it’s the only episode we can’t get to work).

Part of the reason I’ve spent so much time thinking (and now writing) about the older episodes in the past couple weeks is that I found Tennant’s last two-parter, the End of Time, so disappointing. (BEGIN SPOILERS NOW FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T CAUGHT UP) I could go on and on about it, but suffice to say: the villains were anti-climactic, the scene with the face-off and the gun made absolutely no storytelling sense because either of the people the Doctor was pointing a gun at could have blasted him at any time at no harm to themselves, and the long, drawn-out death scene, although obviously intended as a victory lap and acting showcase for Tennant, did him no favors. Eccleston’s regeneration was brief, memorable and dignified. Tennant raged against the dying of the light and ended up coming off as petulant, nearly souring some of his tenure in retrospect. Which is why I choose to ignore The End of Time and pretend it didn’t happen, starting…now. Boy, wasn’t it great when Davies wrapped up all his storylines at the end of Series 4’s The Stolen Earth/The Parting of the Ways (he did), and then Tennant regenerated? SO dramatic. (END OF SPOILERS)

That’s the great thing about time travel (and DVDs)—you can always go back and revisit your favorite periods. And that’s just what we’ll do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Once more, with feeling...

Non-Hero House blogging will resume soon, with my tragically late thoughts on the David Tennant Doctor Who finale and his tenure as the Doctor. It'll no doubt be epic.

But in the meantime, I wanted to bring you some actual important Hero House news. The graphic novel will be out in stores tomorrow. Yes, I know I said something similar two months ago, but that didn't pan out. This time, though, it's showing up on Diamond ship lists, which gives me extra confidence that it's actually happening this time.

Same rules apply as last time - if you're going to try to pick it up, call your local comic shop first and make sure they're stocking it. Not every single shop ordered it, but if you find it you can be as happy as those two happy fellows at the top of the post. Anyway, thanks for putting up with me talking about it for this past year (or, if you're my wife, these past six years). Stay tuned for me talking about other stuff!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

In This Metaphor, the Movie Theater is the Frog

Brooke and I took our newly four-year-old daughter to see Disney’s ‘The Princess and the Frog’ recently – her first film. It got me thinking about my first film –1983’s ‘Return of the Jedi,’ when I was approximately three. In retrospect it’s a little hardcore for a three-year-old, and on later viewings as a kid I’d always have to leave the room during the Rancor scene. Not because I was scared of the Rancor, but because it always upset me when Luke kills it and the Rancor Keeper starts sobbing for his buddy. I was a weird, sensitive kid.

‘Jedi’ kicked off a lifetime of movie viewing for me that’s only been slowed in recent years by having kids. I always loved the idea of going to a theater, even if a film wasn’t great – just the idea that you’re sitting in a room, in a building even, that’s entirely devoted to entertaining you. I always enjoyed it. But lately, and I know I’m not the only person to be saying this, the nature of going to the movies has changed, and the cost/benefit analysis seems to be swinging against it. I can’t help but wonder if my daughter’s first film won’t lead to a lifetime of filmgoing like it did for me.

Or, it did for me for a while, at any rate. I’ve had my share of movies ruined by uncooperative audiences and compared the price of two movie tickets to the price of a DVD enough that I barely even miss going to the movies anymore. And I was, admittedly, a little nervous about bringing our daughter to the movies. Would the screening be hampered by screaming kids? Would our kid BE one of the screaming kids?

I needn’t have worried. Not only was the audience quiet and cooperative, my our daughter was a wonder. She sat quietly through the entire movie, and the look of wonder on her face just during the previews was worth the price of admission. It took my own princess (groan, ugh, sorry) to remind me that, under the right circumstances, there’s still something about sitting in a darkened theater with a giant screen that no TV, no matter how large nor high-def, can yet duplicate. And when we left, she was already asking to go see another.

As for the movie itself, I loved it. John Lasseter deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for bringing back 2-D animation at Disney, and giving it just a touch of that Pixar magic. When I need to feel inspired, I tend to watch one of the making-of documentaries on my Pixar DVDs. The way those guys talk about and approach storytelling always make me want to write, the way seeing a great band live makes me want to make music (only I can actually write and I’m a terrible musician).

Brooke was impressed with what a beautiful film it was, especially in the Bayou scenes, and it’s true. There’s an organic quality to 2-D animation that CGI still can’t capture. I was really impressed by the themes of the movie, which I found a lot more mature (in a good way) then typical Disney princess fare, which usually is about dreaming big or not judging a book by its cover or something to that effect. Basically, the two main characters are the hard-working New Orleans cook Tiana, who never has any fun because she’s too busy working towards a dream she’s had her entire life, and the shiftless Prince Naveen, who never takes any responsibility because he’s always been too fabulously wealthy and handsome and charming. And the film advocates a middle ground – Tiana has to learn how to enjoy herself, Naveen has to learn how to work hard and care about someone other than himself, and they both learn that no pursuit in life is worthwhile without someone to share it with. It’s not quite a message of “love conquers all,” but that love is the spice that makes a great dish perfect. That’s a message I can get behind.