Top 50 Comic Book Heroes V

17 Jean Grey: How do you start with this one? An Alpha-level mutant with telekinetic and telepathic powers, who could rip apart all the X-Men at one time without breaking a sweat, and she has no clue about her powers. In the stories, Xavier (Professor X) is literally tapdancing around his dynamo as he plays checkers with Magneto. Once you realize that, all the X-Men comics, movies, and cartoons take on a whole new depth and color.

18 Hulk: A good man and a scientist hoping to find a way to speed up the healing of the human body gets into an accident. Now, every time he loses emotional control he turns green, becomes huge, inhumanly powerful, and indestructible. And, because he is the strongest creature in the Marvel Universe, the military wants him to experiment on. Which makes him a good quiet man being hunted because of what’s inside him.

19 Black Adam: Granted the powers of the Egyptian gods, he turns bad and is put away for centuries. When he comes out again he is confronted by Captain Marvel, who has been given the same powers. Only after being beaten many times does he try to take the path of redemption. Egyptian gods, good guy turned bad, working for good again. They are planning a movie in 2019 starring Dwayne Johnson. I’m excited!

20 Wolverine: A character that can regenerate from nearly anything. You can stab him in the heart, drown him, shoot him in the head, or try to rip his body apart piece by piece and he just heals , flexes his claws, and comes at you again. And then he’s angry, always angry. The movies have been great, bringing out a reason why he is always drinking and is happiest alone.

21 Ozymandias: The smartest man in the world according to The Watchmen, he is also phenomenally fast. What I like best about this guy is that he isn’t your traditional smart, memorizing things and quoting people. This guy is really intelligent, easily outmaneuvering a being so powerful he can go anywhere in the universe, create multiple versions of himself, and make life.

22 Beast: Quoting every philosopher, scientist, poet, and conqueror I’ve ever heard of, all while effortlessly doing gymnastics or lifting objects of hundreds of pounds. The athlete is not supposed to be an intellect, the intellect is not supposed to be an athlete, but this guy is pure both without the particular talents of an Iron Man or a Lex Luthor or the martial skills of Batman or Wolverine. He might be blue, but he’s everything humans are supposed to want to be.

23 Black Cat: Imagine a beautiful cat burglar. Now imagine her with the Captain America formula. In the comics she teamed up with Spider-Man more often than not, half the time flirting, half the time being unethical, and some of the time helping out (she can flirt and be unethical at the same time, she actually prefers it).

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Superhero Superpowers

One of the reasons I’ve never been able to place comic book heroes in the science fiction or the fantasy genres has been common sense.  Science fiction might take the idea of faster-than-light travel and run with it, but there is usually some explanation as to why they use it (Star Trek says you are traveling through subspace, Stargate has gates all over the galaxy that create artificial wormholes, Andromeda makes use of string theory and the gravity wells of stars to navigate).  They might use alternate dimensions, or alternate realities, but always there is some reason.

The same goes in fantasy.  There are certain types of people who can use magic, and there are always specific rules within the universe that cannot be diverted from; in Middle Earth, dwarfs cannot use Elven magic for instance.  In Narnia, even Aslan cannot break the laws he has set down.

But not with comic heroes.  The one that first bothered me was Superman.  If comic heroes are living in the same universe we are in, but just with superheroes, then they should follow the same rules as we have to.  So, when we learn that Superman’s body is so dense that a single strand of his hair can lift a ton it should seem a little odd that his body is also so light that he can fly.  Not jump, like the Hulk for instance, he can fly.  Alien physiology or no, that just doesn’t make sense in our universe.

Wonder Woman can be dead, but if you bury her in the earth she will completely heal.  How?  If you follow the matriarchal thinking or the New Age magic she might be reborn, but not healed.

Marvel is no better.  If Spider-Man’s DNA was mixed with a spider, why was his brain unaffected.  It would have been a simple storyline to say he got a little dumber, but the multiple eyes and the different approach to life could have been very interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the heroes and I love what Marvel has been doing over the last few years, but sometimes their stuff has some serious holes in it.

So if Batman was raised during the Great Depression (1929-1939), why is he still being put in the latest cars?  I wouldn’t expect that of any fantasy or science fiction character.  There you accept that people age and die.  In the case of the distant future or a magical past they may live longer than us (the Dune universe has people’s life-spans doubled by Melange), but they do age and die.  Not Batman, Namor, Iron-Man, or any of the dozens of major heroes that have been around forever.  Instead, comics use what’s called a sliding chronology.  It allows the comic companies to keep modernizing their most popular characters.

That’s not science fiction or fantasy.  I like the genre.  I see its potential.  It just frustrates me that it can’t be internally consistent.

It’s also frustrating when they add things, but I can live with that.  When Wolverine was introduced in the 1970s he was paired with Captain America on occasion.  Obviously he had never been in the World War II Captain America comics, so he had to be added retroactively.  I’ll not get upset with anyone for not seeing ahead 25 or 30 years.  Nor will I be upset if science one day concludes that all the extra dimensions (there are probably 11 you know) are too small for interstellar travel.  They could never have known that when Star Trek first came out in 1966, and though things are going that way now we still aren’t sure.

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I have a miniatures collection.  It consists of Star Wars Force wielders like Sith, Jedi, and the occasional independent.  I also have Marvel and DC comics figures; no minions just the heroes and villains themselves.  I plan to get some of the Tolkiens, too – dragons, wizards, and stuff like that. If they make miniatures for Dune, or Matrix, even Dark Angel, Buffy, or Highlander, I’ll probably grab them as well.  After all I’m a writer of fiction, and though my problem with any writing is the occasional run-on sentence, my biggest flaw in creating stories is describing characters.  I need them as a reminder that it’s more interesting to know what they look like.

My little universe is filled with concepts and characters no one has tried to build a book around.  Of course I have to keep to archetypes, there are only so many different personalities and roles a character can play, but the world I write about is new, unexpected, and hopefully thought-provoking.  When I think of all the people who created the great science fiction I envy their successes and hope to emulate their brilliance.  Those tiny figurines are always in my room for that.  DC invented comics, Stan Lee gave them depth, Tolkien created the first universe of extraordinary beings, with Lucas perfecting the work and Herbert, the Wachowskis, Cameron, and Widen have added their own neat tidbits.

When I write, I need to be alone.  Beethoven can be good for the concentration, or a medley of fun songs can help with a few ideas or to get me in a fun mood.  No people though – nobody I have to pay attention to while I’m trying to sync up characters, plot, and entertainment.  Well, people are good.  They can be comforting and nurturing; like little voices in my head pushing me on to something deeper or more intricate.  Miniatures are good for that.  They are my silent friends.

I also like them.  Each character has a story, and many have a plethora of tales about them.  To hold one in your hands is to somehow feel like you are a part of that story, and a part of the universe they are from.  I won’t ever be an actor in any movies about them, nor will I likely meet their creators.  In this small, insignificant way though I can be a part of them all.

When I sit in my study working, I have miniatures.  They are at my desk, on my bookshelves, all around really.  They watch me, without commenting.  They allow me to look over them, without shying away.  They represent something greater than themselves, without putting on airs, even though they are only made of plastic.  They comfort me, they nurture me.  To someone without a knowledge of the universes they come from, though, they are nothing more than little toys.

I suppose that just makes me a little kid coming up with excuses to have dolls in his room.

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Isaac Asimov

So, the “Grandmaster of Science Fiction”.  I’ve read his stuff.  His descriptions of technology are generally lacking (though the positronic brain idea is pretty cool) and his character development seems nonexistent.  I recently read The Foundation, which focuses on one character alone, and realized I knew nothing about Mr. Hari Seldon apart from the facts that he was uncertain about his ideas but very intent on exploring them fully.  He had a wife, an adopted son, his entire family, and yet nothing was more than touched on.  Honestly, if I wanted either I would have better luck with any of the Star Wars writers, and though good none of them have been given the same accolades Isaac Asimov.

Yet Asimov is the most impressive Sci Fi writer for a reason.  Actually, several.  The big reason for me is that he managed to create a realistic view of our future, one where the explorers went out, experimented, improved, and developed better technology to live on different worlds while those who stayed behind stagnated.  In his series dealing with the most immediate future there is always a conflict between the Earthlings and the “Spacers”.

Second were two intriguing and even at the time unusual notions.  One was the idea that robots might be nothing but a benefit to humans.  It is easy to ride the bandwagon and go the other way.  Since we first started developing machines with basic reasoning skills there has been science fiction about the machines taking over and killing us – the Terminator and Battlestar Galactica franchises have only been the most successful at the concept.  Asimov believed that robots were both inevitable and would help us, and in fact his robots are often more beneficial to mankind than the humans in his stories.  With his original three laws concept (Robots cannot hurt humans, robots must obey humans as long as it does not involve harming humans, and robots must protect themselves unless doing so might harm humans) he made the idea of robots rebelling and exterminating us seem a little ridiculous.

The second idea is bizarre, fascinating, and possibly even feasible.  It is the idea that the future on a large scale can be predicted.  Asimov called his theoretical science “psychohistory”, but it boils down to a very scientific approach.  Knowing where a group began, how it developed, and its current direction, psychohistory theorizes that it can guess the group’s future accurately.  More than that, it might be able to guide the direction.  So, for instance, the creator of psychohistory realizes that the human empire he is a part of can’t be saved but begins a plan that will greatly reduce the time of chaos between it and the next galactic government.

Asimov was not a great writer, he does not portray scenes, characters, or even technology in a way that gives the reader a picture.  What Asimov did have was a great deal of knowledge (Having written a critical edition of Shakespeare and the Bible as well as work in the hard sciences) and a fertile imagination.  He put it to great effect in building and showing us his personal literary universe.  May another Asimov emerge again one day.

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Sequels, Prequels, and all that Rut

I admit to being a little behind, but I just watched Agents of Shield last night.  I was already impressed with the interwoven plots of the Avengers movies, but this, timed with the aftermath of The Winter Soldier, was amazing.  I can’t wait to see what they do next, and I am getting more and more excited about what they might try with their resources, Lucas’ mind, and … Star Wars – I shudder to think.

Which got me to thinking.  When Lucas first threw Star Wars onto the silver screen (he later renamed it) the concept of a sequel was not a popular one.  Every once in a while a wildly popular movie had invited a sequel, but they had almost always been dismal.  Because of that, scripts just weren’t written with a sequel in mind and as a result, the sequels that did get made were either repeats of the original plot or pathetic attempts to go somewhere new.  Instead, studios relied on their bankable stars.  Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Paul Newman, and a handful of big names made movie after movie.  They always had the same basic character traits (it seemed) but they were put opposite different co-stars and in different settings.  That was the way Hollywood made money.  And it worked.  Though you can’t really identify any of the old stars with one particular movie (well maybe, but they don’t spring).

Lucas changed that.  By writing a story and dividing it into three acts he had a ready-made sequel before his first one hit the theaters.  Consistency was there, the plots were in no way forced.  The original Star Wars trilogy amazed from episodes 4-6.  After him, sequels were sometimes planned in advance, but more often room was made for them when writing a first movie.  Sure, one shot wonders were still made with a follow-up sequel later.  Indiana Jones can be watched 1-2-3 as easily as 3-2-1, but can you imagine the Matrix trilogy working like that?  Or how about the new trend in Young Adult movies – Harry Potter/Divergent/Hunger Games/Maze Runner?

Then we get to the latest improvement in the cinematic experience; a series of four franchises all working in concert with the Avengers movies.  They are adding in one T.V. series and at least one new franchise (Ant-Man) that I know of, and who can be certain of how Guardians of the Galaxy will fit into all this in the future.  What Disney has done over the last few years has been something I would have thought to be an impossible task of contracting egos, manipulating scripts, and avoiding problems.  Yet they have in producing at least two worthwhile movies each year for awhile now.  Considering where we were for the nearly hundred years before Lucas, what movies have accomplished in the last forty years is amazing, and in the last ten absolutely miraculous.  I hope the Star Wars Franchise again leads the way beginning in December of 2015.

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So What Would You Choose?

I have ranted about comics, science fiction, fantasy, and even the occasional historical fiction (Don’t get me started on King Arthur!) during my blogging career.  But tonight I would like to pose a simple question. What historical period would you like to see stories about?  I realize that’s kind of a blanket statement, after all we already have over 40,000 years of history, and 10,000 of that has been with “civilization”.  So, to help a little I’ll throw out a few options.

-The Heike Wars in Japan (1100s):  The Minamoto and Taira clans fought for control of the shogunate, the ultimate power.  Battles were highly ceremonial and opponents were matched by pedigree and accomplishments.  Minamoto Tametamo was the great hero of the period, he was the best warrior and invented the act of seppuku, or ritual suicide.

-The invasion of the first patriarchal clans into Europe (8,000-10,000 B.C.E.):  A clash of cultures when the settled and stable matriarchal groups were confronted with starving tribes migrating from the desolate steppes of the period.

-Greek trading (8th century B.C.E.) Greek adventurers traveled the Mediterranean in fragile crafts in search of trading options.  They would have run into feral tribes, hazards at sea, and always unknown customs along with exotic goods.  The same idea might also work with their predecessors the Phoenicians.

q-Native American migrations (10,000 B.C.E.):  Hunters following the game animals crossed the Bering Strait at this time, coming upon a new land.  What would be very neat would be to add in the Native American element, that the Americas had been peopled before but that they chose to take the form of animals in order to peacefully give way.  They would continue to act as spirit guides.

-Charlemagne (800):  Three hundred years after the fall of Rome, Charles the Great rebuilt the Western  Empire, forcing Christianity on the northern pagans, holding the Muslims back at the Pyrenees, and establishing his own group of heroes in legend focusing around Roland.  What a story.

-Assassin’s Guild (1200):  There was among the medieval Muslims an assassin’s guild so feared and deadly that they were renowned throughout the Muslim world.

-Minoan Civilization (2500 B.C.E.):  The Minotaur, the tribute of seven male and seven female youths, and Theseus is all just a convenient myth to explain how the Myceneans overthrew their culture.  It might be nice to see what really happened.

-Toltecs (?)  Not much is known about this group, though recent years have revealed some interesting theories – like descent from Africans.  An original settlement of or contact with them might be a good spot for a story.

-Rise of the Nazi Party, or Biography of Hitler:  I know these are two of the most hated subjects in the world, but there is definitely a story there, and a lesson to be learned if we can stomach some of the actions both were responsible for.

Cast a vote, or throw out an idea of your own.

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Influences:  Frank Herbert

I think everyone who recognizes Frank Herbert will know Dune and its universe, which was synonymous with him.  Six books, and a saga left unfinished that was and continues to be fleshed out by his son.  But Frank wrote a great deal about Dune, but he wrote many other books.  I’m reading The Green Brain, he also four books about life forms on a planet settled by humans (Destination: Void), and dozens of other stories about Native Americans, genetic tampering, and the power of nature in general.  I’ve never been much for Herbert’s writing style, but his respect for the living earth and his understanding of ecosystems is a little overwhelming.

What impresses me about Herbert is simple.  Arthur C. Clarke was a brilliant man who came up with ingenious ideas about star travel, time, and God.  Asimov gave us stories about robots and a new technology to foretell the future.  A dozen other Sci Fi writers have created their own niches in the genre, but Herbert did it by focusing on a respect for nature.  Every story touched on some aspect of it.  Of course to read Dune is to be familiar with every aspect of the subject – but he went into so much greater depth in his other works.  Maybe not as brilliant as the two grandmasters of science fiction, probably not as interesting in his plots.  His characters have depth, more so than Clarke’s, but they are not much fun to read about.  What he did have was a singular vision of the future and the present and he used his imagination and his knowledge in novels to spread that vision to science fictions readers througout the world.

I have made a point of reading all of the Dune novels so far, and collecting all the other stories he published.  The technology is generally not that interesting (apart from their form of space travel) and even the theme of the destined hero is not done as well as it might be.  What attracts me are his insights on all aspects of a planet’s natural workings and his thoughts on genetics, politics, and even religion.  When I read other science fiction writers I am reading intelligent men who found subjects that an audience might find appealing.  When I read Herbert, it is a man who had an overwhelming passion and would not have cared if his following had never exceeded dozens.  Integrity like that I can get behind, the writing doesn’t have to be as good, the plots and characters don’t need to be as strong.  Reading Herbert is worth it.

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Fantasy has had so many outlets over the last few decades with Star Wars, Narnia, and Tolkien and with comics from Marvel, DC, and several independent stories like Conan, R.I.P.D. and Watchmen.

Science Fiction has had a harder time.  It’s difficult to make up an entire universe for a time well in the future and then make storylines that fit it.  Star Trek has been successful, as had Stargate.  Even in these cases, though, there have been small cheats necessary to get there.  Star Trek’s “Treknology” is infamous for being only loosely based on science.  Stargate is based in our timeline, with a single piece of totally unexplained technology to start with and a minimum of technology introduced to the early series.  They generally added on as they needed to, same goes with “Atlantis”.  Foreign cultures were either of inferior technology or almost nothing was shown of their superior toys.  It was only with “Universe” that something more detailed was really shown.

It’s not that science fiction has a lack of creative persons.  Arthur C. Clarke thought of the idea of satellite communications.  Isaac Asimov spent an entire career writing about friendly robots.  Roddenberry may not have created an entirely new and feasible technology but he had the idea that not only different cultures but different species could get along in a common and mutually beneficial federation.

Still though, every once in a while a new story comes along that is science-based and manages to knock your socks off.  In 1968, one of the great moviemakers of the time, Stanley Kubrick, and one of the great science fiction writers of all time, Clarke, got together to make 2001: A Space Odyssey, one of the most moving and difficult movies ever filmed.  Before that, Orson Welles used radio to manufacture an alien invasion that sent the entire world into a panic.  The story of that famous Time Machine has stayed with our society through the decades, being told and retold several times and in many different ways.

I watched Interstellar already impressed with Nolan’s body of work (see a few weeks ago), and his storytelling just as good if not better than I saw in the Batman movies and Inception.  In those movies the characters have a vitality and depth that goes beyond being interesting, you understand everything about them.

What made it beautiful science fiction is another key feature of Nolan’s movies, his use of fractured time.  In the past he has jumped backwards and forwards in time, using flashbacks to tell a continuous story.  In this story there are only minimal flashbacks, but he uses some beautiful science fiction to accomplish much the same thing.  A black hole, a time-space room.  It’s rare that a new story comes out, more rare when it comes out fully formed.  Imagine an idea like Battlestar Galactica first appearing as it did in its second version.  Now try to think of a genius like Arthur C. Clarke adding in the science.  That’s what Interstellar is, a fully developed and beautifully articulated idea that was accomplished the first time around.

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10,000 B.C.

I suppose this blog will make me a ranter, but I watched the movie named above in silence.  It occurred to me, if the Ice Age was a time when mankind’s very existence was in question how could there be massive cities built by large cities of them?  Then I recalled, the earliest settlement is supposed to be Jericho and it is dated to 8,000 B.C.E.  The great monuments of Egypt are traditionally dated to the third millennium before the Common Era.  Even the most liberal scholars has never hazarded a guess much before 8,000.  And of course the creme de la creme were the mammoths that did not survive until 10,000 B.C.E.

It irritated me, I’ll admit, that someone took the time to build a plot and used so many items that were obviously impossible.  But 10,000 B.C. is hardly the first movie made that is placed in the ice age.  Conan lived in what is called the Hyborean Age which ended in roughly 10,000 B.C.E. according to his creator Robert Howard.  To name off just a few things about the three movies under that title that come to me as I write there is:  The issue of large cities existing in a period when there were none.  Kingdoms did not develop until roughly 5,000 B.C.E., and then only in areas that could support a dense population like Mesopotamia, yet they figure prominently in all the stories.  So do horses and swords, both of which were not made use of till 4,000 B.C.E.  Well, not swords.  We might call them large daggers really.  They were made of a copper and tin composite and were even shorter than the weapons in Troy because metallurgy had not developed that far just yet.

Do the inaccuracies detract from the stories?  I suppose not.  However, I think they are an opportunity lost.  Howard once said that he had intentionally placed his hero in a period outside of history so that he could do what he wanted in his world without the need to conform with what was happening in real cultures and kingdoms.  Our understanding of our past has exceeded his writing now, however, and working in that sort of a fantastical prehistory is no longer possible.

What did 10,000 B.C.E. look like?  As I said at the beginning of this blog, it was an era when the very existence of our species was in question.  Clans of our species, no more than 20 or 25 individuals, roamed the Earth, finding caves to shelter themselves while they scavenged the area for food and moving on when they had exhausted the local flora and fauna.  There were a few permanent settlements, but these were the rare places that had valuables which could be traded for food or that themselves had food or some valuable goods in plenty – obsidian deposits and lakes heavily populated with fish.  Life was hard; the northern hemisphere was covered in glaciers while the southern was in a permanent drought and only a narrow band of land seems to have held a healthy balance between the two.

Warfare is absent in the record, there is absolutely no record of battles, raiding, or even an exchange of yelling between two groups.  They were humans, so tempers inevitably flared and actions were without a doubt taken that could not be taken back, but there was peace on a large scale.  From what we know in the archealogical record, clans gathered at local high points during the solstices and equinoxes for trading of goods and ideas, and probably also of people who wanted to be with different people for any of a number of reasons.

There is nothing of a saga in that setting, I know, no great evils to overcome or monsters to defeat.  Still, there must be stories in a world like that.  A fight against hunger perhaps, the testosterone of killing a saber tooth tiger with nothing more than spears in 20,000 B.C.E.  Perhaps something could be made of their religion, one that featured an odd worship of their prey, a fertility statuette, and red clay.

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Will the Real King Arthur Stand Up?  Please!

I think I grew up with King Arthur.  I knew all about Lancelot, Tristan, Gawain, Kay, and all the other knights of the Round Table before I was out of Middle School and I had a list of every one I had come across.  I even managed to order them by their fighting skills.

Then I got to high school and I realized there was much more to him than that.  There was an historical context in post-Roman Britain 410 to 600.  That led to a great deal of reading about the source materials, their flaws, their dates of production, and a whole lot of insecurity about the topic.  The fact is that there is so much we can never know about Arthur, his men, his battles, his location, the dates of his career.  We won’t ever know what he looked like, the details of his last years; such is a perfect opening for a fiction writer.

Which is why I don’t get Arthurian movies at all.  In King Arthur he and his men are Sarmations?  But that tribe hadn’t been active for centuries by 410.  In his opening dialogue Arthur speaks about a contemporary named Pelagius; but Pelagius had been excommunicated and outlawed from all Roman regions before 400.

Then there are the more subjective flaws.  Arthur allies with Picts (of the Highlands) while fighting against the Saxons who have landed on the southern coast.  This in the fifth century, when all government had fallen apart and traveling the length of the island would have been a feat in and of itself.  Rome was dead before Arthur was active, he could never have been its servant.  Oh, and he might have had the money for metal body armor, but not one of his men would have, leather armor, wooden shields with leather or metal plating, and iron swords were the armaments of the day.

Tristan is made out to be a falconer.  Warriors didn’t do that, knights of the later Middle Ages did.  Besides, Tristan was a figure of myth who was added to the Arthurian cycle later and all we know he did was slay a dragon.

Numbers are an issue, too.  The economy of fifth century Europe had fallen apart, and farming was ragged.  There was no means of supporting a large group of warriors, and farmers would not be asked to fight in a standing army until the modern era.  That the Battle of Badon could have happened in any way as it is portrayed is laughable.

First Knight is no better with its shiny knights and high morality.  A post-Roman king who didn’t kill a man who looked at his wife would have lost the respect of his warriors.  If Arthur hadn’t conquered a kingdom with a weak ruler or no male heirs someone else would have.  That covers my issues with Lancelot and Guinevere.

Tristan and Isolde?  I can’t help but smile.  Originally the story involved a dragon, a knight who took credit for Tristan’s (Drust’s) kill, and the maiden who healed him and fell in love.  That movie is an awkward combination of the romance as first seen through Thomas of Britain and a post-Roman Britain that could never have existed.

Can’t we just have a movie involving Arthur where everything we know to be true is kept to and the poetry is in the plot, the characterization, or even the politics of the period?  It would be so refreshing for a change.

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Most Interesting Science Fiction Characters 5

1 Balthazar’s Angel:  Is she in Balthazar’s head?  Is she part of his programming or a symptom of psychological disorder.  Is she real?  Why can’t anyone else see her?  This breathtaking blonde was generous, cruel, absolutely devoted to the one god, and had a perfect vision along with the will to follow it through.  Her character, her state of being, even what side she was on, was maintained perfectly from the very first episode to theconclusion of Battlestar Galactica.

2 Data:  An android living in a human world.  One would think that the subject had been covered after decades of writing and t.v. materials on the subject.  But our introduction to Data, attempting to whistle, proved that assumption wrong.  Through seven seasons and four movies, Data never stopped showing us what is was like to look at the galaxy through the eyes of an artificial life form.  Interviews from the cast and crew have revealed he was responsible for large portions of many episodes and one can truly believe it.  When Data died, the movies were over.

3 Dr. Who:  The storyline is unique in all of t.v.; a man who travels through time and space, exploring worlds, stopping threats, and correcting the time stream.  That inevitably makes the lead interesting.  But the lead changes every few years and each actor has brought his own unique characteristics; who can forget Tom Baker’s scarf and jellie babies?  The ridiculous smile of Christopher Eccleston?  The always running David Tennant?  The characters themselves have been interesting.  They are all fun, energetic, and brilliant (except of course for Hartnell, but he was a good introduction to the character).  And there is that crazy way they all seem to take the obvious or the smart remark and come up with something brilliant and life-saving.

4 Prot:  The lasting image of this “alien” is him grabbing a banana and eating it, unpealed, as a psychologist studies him for some pathology.  He threw out one far-fetched explanation after another.  It’s almost like he doesn’t want to be believed.  So when we find out he is linked to some poor devil who had suffered an emotional trauma we have every reason to believe he is just a man who has lost his grip.  That is, until he disappears on a sunray.

5 Dr. Balthazar:  Brilliant, arrogant, a survivor, the president, a religious leader, responsible for the near-annihilation of his race, a sex addict, immoral, unethical – did I mention he was smart and cocky?  Whether he was having sex with an angel only he could see, having a dual conversation with only one response to each person’s statements, accidentally doing something to help the human race even as he was working only to save his own life, Balthazar was fascinating to watch week after week.  To have made his character so intriguing amidst such a spectrum of actors was even more impressive.

6 Paul Atreides:  Fated to end an empire and cost millions of lives, watching the struggle between his visions of the future, the political needs of the moment, and his desire to be free of responsibility made for an incredibly rich character.  He walked through life knowing how and where each tragedy in his life would take place because he had chosen those events over others in order to ensure the best possible future for his race.  His son would completely cut himself off from humanity with his enigmatic “Golden Path, but Paul allowed himself to feel everything.

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Most Interesting Characters in Science Fiction 4

7 Robert Neville:  Imagine surviving an apocalypse because you are the only person who is immune to a plague that changes the human genome into something feral.  Now imagine watching your wife, child, and even your dog dying because of it.  Try to see yourself working in the middle of an infected city trying to find a cure for your race even as the victims stalk you, knowing that they have killed everything you loved and your only mission in life must be to save them.  Will Smith made me want to cry as the movie slowly revealed the depth of his pain.  For me, his character represents the best our species has to offer.

8 Fox Mulder:  Handsome, highly intelligent, and so engrossed in chasing aliens and conspiracy theories that he doesn’t notice how every woman around him is falling at his feet.  Yeah, there was some jealousy in watching the X-Files star, but listening to how his mind worked week after week was great, and noticing that he always seemed to be watching porn made him just human enough that I could keep that jealousy in check.

9 Riddick:  In some way the movies are dumb; Riddick somehow has superhuman abilities, two monster movies, bad guys who worship death as an induction into their armies, an elemental race that is clearly human, and weak plotlines.  However, Riddick makes them interesting.  He’s a bad guy who never kills except in self-defense or revenge.  He’s not a good guy, he doesn’t join causes, but he manages to generate loyalty in others and he is a survivor.

10 Neo:  Sure, the superpowers are neat.  The ability to change reality both inside and out of the matrix was fun to watch.  And the theme, of a chosen one finding his destiny, was nice even if it has been overused.  What intrigued me about the character, though, was his personal development.  He began as an isolated individual who had no concerns in life apart from money and the mysterious Morpheus.  As his powers revealed themselves he found love.  His abilities continued to develop even as he lost – first his vision and then the love of his life.  He went back into the matrix that final time knowing he probably wouldn’t come out but absolutely certain of what he needed to do.

11 Starbuck:  In the original Battlestar Galactica series, Starbuck was a simple character, a hot pilot who liked women.  As a woman, the new Starbuck started off as much the same type of character.  As the show progressed, though, the chip showed up on her shoulder only to be pushed off.  The anger became confusion as her past was explored, and that turned into fear as her destiny became more clear.  Of all the characters on the show I wound up empathizing more for the “best pilot I’ve ever seen” than anyone else.  To know that she alone had survived the destruction of her entire race in a previous life must have been such an awful burden.

12 Odo:  This detective from Deep Space Nine may seem like an unlikely choice, but when you imagine what could have been done with the part and how the actor carried it you realize how intriguing he made it.  He is not a trickster or a criminal, he is a cop.  When he realizes the nature and philosophy of his people he doesn’t join them, he remains independent and loyal to the people he knows, to the same people that on some level he despises.  Odo was a complex character that I enjoyed watching from week to week as the old curmudgeon found some intriguing observation of mankind or pushed his own species to the edge of their good will.

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Most Interesting Characters in Science Fiction 3

13 Jack Harkness:  The immortal Jack, polysexual, fun-loving, lover of the Dr.  Sure he started off as a time agent, but how many times did he save the world?  He ran Torchwood, all the while flirting with any sentient male, female, human, insect, fish, or plant he came across.  And to see how he dies, well, was heartbreaking and satisfying at the same time.

14 Leto Atreides:  A “pre-born”, he had the ability to foresee the future and guide humanity.  As the son of the Universe’s emperor, he additionally had the burden of rule to worry about.  What intrigued me about Leto was his vision as well as his humanity.  He had the weight of billions of people to concern himself with and the only way to do so was turn himself into a sandworm, forever foreswearing children and any real contact even as he embraced a near-immortality.

15 Max Guevara:  Dark Angel ended after two seasons, not because of some neat ideas about the future (America as a third-world culture, the theft of Episode 8) but because, in my opinion, the lovely Jessica Alba couldn’t pull off the transition from bad-ass loner to a mother figure for her mutant brethren.  Still, the idea of a human with strands of DNA from all over the animal kingdom who is designed as a killing machine but won’t touch guns is a very intriguing idea.  Oh, and Eliza Dushku was the first pick for the lead.  Very interesting character.

16 Caesar:  The product of drug-testing for the defeat of Alzheimer’s, he was at once the father of his people, their leader, and by the very drug that made him intelligent, the destroyer of mankind as the dominant species on the planet.  Caesar was raised by humans and so respected them, and yet he was superior to them intellectually as well as physically.  I am very curious where the character will be taken.

17 Malcolm Reynolds:  The lead character of another failed series, Firefly, Reynolds was a trusting, honorable, devious, no ego character with an inflexible moral streak that liked to think of himself as a rogue.  His crew knew better, occasionally protecting him from his own limitations.  Two things I loved about him, he had his off brand of English and of course that scene where he was sitting alone and naked in the middle of nowhere with a smile on his face.  Yup, the villain had stolen his ride and taken his clothes but he had gotten her.

18 Ba’al:  Stargate was characterized by totally over-the-top villains, which made this guy stand out.  Elegant, aristocratic, but at times even diplomatic and subtle in his machinations.  It was fun to see him die time after time, though he was hardly symbolic of the baddies that he was the last of.

19 Ellen BSG:  She starts off as the worst humanity has to offer – a sexually starved drunk who lies, steals, and schemes for the easier life of her and her husband Saul.  Then we find out she is one of the final five Cylons.  She becomes the voice of reason among the five, a bridge from the other seven Cylons, and a balance to her husband.  I never saw that coming, and the depth it added to her character was amazing.

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Most Interesting Characters in Science Fiction 2

20 Tyr Anasazi:  Left for dead as a child, this gray character from Andromeda always had two or more plans for every occasion.  What made him so intriguing was that his objectives were always so straightforward and he made no secrets about them.  He wanted to prove himself so that he could reproduce, take control of his own clan, kill all his enemies, and eventually have hundreds of grandchildren.  It was a delight watching him scheme on the flagship.  I only wish he could have been given an equally worthy death.

21 Zoe Graystone:  The most brilliant character on the failed Caprica series, she spent the entire series dead, living in a virtual reality.  She mastered the ins and outs of virtual reality, remaining sane even as her counterpart completely lost her mind and devolved into the Cylon mind.  Neat stuff!

22 Spock:  The original Vulcan – coolly logical, very strong, split between two cultures and embarrassed by his human half.  When I was growing up I always wanted to have his strength, his great intelligence, and his amazing control over his emotions.  Now that I am older I see him as my first exposure to an intellectually superior race and his character as a Sci Fi version of a mixed race person.  Definitely a character of multiple levels.

23 Jake Sully:  The character itself was pretty dry, an ex-soldier who has lost the use of his legs.  The position he was put into was great though, being shown how black and white the situation was, seeing that his species were clearly in the wrong, that was great.  His exploration of a foreign culture, one so clearly like the Native American, made not only the character three-dimensional but made the movie as exceptional as it was.

24 Dr. Daniel Jackson:  He started off as the geeky, talks too much member of Stargate SG-1 who had somehow wound up with a beauty.  Daniel’s anger over his wife’s abduction, his willingness to sacrifice himself, coming back to help his friends after his death and his resurrection all represented great development.  In the first episode, Jack O’Neill is constantly cutting him off, by the last he is the group’s spokesman.  Just one question, when did he get into lifting weights and shooting P-90s?  

25 General Jack O’Neill:  Playful, handsome, athletic, the perfect rebel against the man disguised in the uniform of a U.S. Air Force officer.  Quips and bad jokes were his specialty.  Still, watching the character develop from suicidal man overwhelmed with guilt at his son’s death to the clown/second-in-command of Stargate command was a neat ride.

26 Vala Mal Doran:  Kooky, sexy, happy-go-lucky, guilty at her former godhood, loud and obnoxious, in need of love, a liar who desperately wants to be trusted.  Vala came on in the last two seasons of Stargate and she filled up the scenes.  She was so much of a pain and so loveable playing the part.  While the surviving characters all seemed to be fully developed by that time, she was the only unpredictable one and I am sorry we did not get to see her evolve.

27 Six:  She starts off as simply a tall blonde Cylon who was instrumental in the near-annihilation of the human race.  But even there she is interesting, because the accidental act of killing a baby in a city she has already doomed brings her to tears.  Six becomes an apologetic leader trying to make up for her crimes and find a way to come together with the humans, along the way she manages to bridge the gap between the natural and artificial species.

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Most Interesting Characters in Science Fiction 

Science fiction in the visual media has really come into its own in the last twenty-five years, but it has had a long history of some very interesting characters – many of whom have been wonderfully explored but a few of whom we were left wanting more of.  Below is a list of the last eight in my personal favorites.  One note, I’ve tried to keep Sci Fi, Fantasy, or comics separate, so anyone with Force powers or magic is out, as are anyone living in a universe of monsters or immortals who can’t die unless they lose their heads.

28 Korben Dallas:  A former special forces man who has retired to become an unsuccessful and unlucky taxi cab driver until the fifth element shows up in his cab.  She brings him into trouble after trouble but instead of reacting he just gets through it.  This is a character only Bruce Willis could have played.

29 Samantha Carter:  A great break from the stereotype, this blonde had big blue eyes, a lovely physique, and a warm personality.  She was also the resident expert in anything involving science in the entire Stargate universe, could handle a gun better than most and took out more than her share of baddies in hand-to-hand.  I only wish she could have held down a boyfriend, the other title characters found someone during the course of the show and she was certainly worthy.

30 James T. Kirk:  From a time when the title character had to be in nearly every scene, Kirk could fill one up.  Kirk could beat a legendary Vulcan at chess consistently and could singlehandedly outwit any foe he came across.  He was invincible in the oldest tradition of a hero, and Sci Fi fans loved that about him.

31 Teyla (Atlantis):  A beautiful, sweet, honest woman who could take out any of her team members with her Filipino Sticks, she was a wonderful complement to the military approach of Shepherd and his lieutenant and later Ronin, and a natural buffer between them and Rodney McKay.  It was interesting that all four of them came to her for wisdom.

32 Teal’c (SG-1):  A more perfect straight man could never have been invented.  Working with the rarely serious O’Neill and company, Teal’c knew nothing about Earth culture or language.  That fit in perfectly with O’Neill, who often left the Chulak warrior wondering what had just been said.  Then there was his own sense of humor.  Does anyone remember the joke about the warriors of Anubis, Set, and Osiris?

33 Neelix (Voyager):  Always energetic, this alien from the Delta quadrant seemed to be able to cook with nothing and knew every species on sight.  He was also the most annoying, self-absorbed, helpful, know-it-all in the entire Star Trek universe.  How could you not love him?

34 Jason Bourne (Bourne movies):  A uniquely skilled killing machine, brainwashed and then trained as an assassin by the U.S. Government, but now with a restored memory he is living off the grid and being hunted by the criminals and shade organizations of the world.  He is honest and avoids killing when he can.  Can we ask for a more intriguing dichotomy?

35 John Shepherd (Atlantis):  Handsome, playful, doesn’t mind getting his butt handed to him in combat practice oh, and is a member of Mensa (to Rodney McKay’s eternal frustration). What isn’t to like about this regular from Stargate Atlantis?

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Wonder Woman:  Feminist Hero?

A few months ago, with the announcement that Gal Gadot would play Wonder Woman in the upcoming DC movie, discussion became very intense about the actress’ physique and her ability to play such a key figure in the universe.  This will be the first real showing of the character (apart from an abortive t.v. show and a short) since the 1970s, so I have what I would consider a more important question:  Is she going to be portrayed as a feminist hero or as a typical male hero with breasts and long hair?

For the uninitiated there might not be a clear differentiation, or worse you might think I’m referring to some man-hating ogre.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Wonder Woman comes from an island where women are not allowed because they are not trusted and I suppose you could build on that theme if that was the direction you wanted to go.  But I was thinking a little more practical and much more likeable.

Superman and Batman are patriarchal heroes in the traditional sense.  Both are intelligent, but they are also strong and combatively proficient.  Just like the mythical heroes of the Greeks, Norse, Russians, Sumerians, Chinese, and Japanese they are successful because of their fighting.

Does a female hero have to be heroic by the same means?  If so, then Gal Gadot will be given a short backstory involving Themiskyra and she will spend the rest of the movie bickering/bantering and/or fighting alongside Superman and Batman.

For me, it would not be very pro-woman role, and for the general public it would be a missed opportunity to make the character more interesting.  For me, good heroines have always been more complex than their counterparts.  The reintroduction of Wonder Woman would be an excellent opportunity to bring that out.

Several weeks ago I suggested several characters that made for good examples – Julia Roberts in Consipiracy Theory, Athena and Cassandra from Greek myth, and Willow in Buffy.  I’d like now to go over some of their less traditional but very productive qualities.

-Adrenalin:  They are not governed by it and do not employ it unless they are put into a situation that requires it.

-Non-Confrontational:  That’s not to say that Willow hasn’t stood up to vampires or Athena didn’t back Poseidon down for Athens, it’s just that when there is a perfectly workable way of doing something that doesn’t involve combat they take that route first.  And really, why take a risk in a fight when there is no need?  She’s Wonder Woman, she has nothing to prove.

-Supportive:  As a goddess, Athena could easily do many of the things her heroes did.  Instead she helped them to accomplish them without her.  Cassandra leaves the actions to her brothers and Willow leaves the glory to Buffy.

-Ego:  What ego?

I admit that a little butt-kicking would be fun to see out of Wonder Woman, but simply adding another butt-kicker to a collection of butt-kickers won’t be nearly as interesting as making Wonder Woman a combination of all the above qualities.  I hope they make the effort in building her character.

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Lovecraft and Heroic Mythology

I’ve noticed two intriguing trends over the last few years.  First is the superhero tale.  Of course the big story there is Marvel, every summer since the first Ironman movies the studio has dominated the cinema scene.  Star Wars and DC comics are coming on, however, with episode 7 in 2015 and the promise of spin-offs coming soon thereafter and the Batman movies followed by Man of Steel and its sequel due out next summer.  There are also mythological and fantasy heroes – the Titans, Immortals, Conan, Hercules, and so forth.

Second is the tendency toward Lovecraft’s views of the universe in dramas.  Lovecraft, if you are unfamiliar with the name, was perhaps the father of modern horror.  His stories stories revolved around another world filled with supernatural beings and ancient gods that were older than anything man had ever seen.  It’s a neat universe to work from, and since he never really defined the extent of the universe, the nature of all its denizens, or even a backstory it has been used consistently since he developed his “Lovecraft Circle”, a group of writers who used each other’s ideas and borrowed heavily from Lovecraft.  Robert Howard was probably the most famous of the group and he based his Conan stories on Lovecraft’s ideas.  Many of the sword and sorcery novels take their cues from a similar starting point.  As mentioned above horror writers have based many of their ideas off of his premises, Stephen King among many others.

More recently, however, Lovecraft’s ideas have went beyond strictly horror into more mainstream shows such as Charmed, Buffy, Angel, Supernatural, and various vampire shows and movies.  It’s also been done more elegantly and interestingly than ever before.

Both Lovecraft’s Otherworld and Heroic Mythology seem to be very popular at the moment, they have a variety of applications, and have attracted some great actors.  But wouldn’t it be great to combine the two concepts?  To get the best of heroes – Superman, Captain America, and so forth – and combine them with the wonderful horror of Lovecraft’s otherworld.

The Japanese have their own otherworld, filled with all nature of monsters and godlike creatures.  It isn’t quite what Lovecraft saw, but it is remarkably dark and similar to his vision.  The Japanese also have their own heroes from their legends and mythology.  Take for instance Yamato.  Born into the imperial house, his stories involved the supernatural as well as battles with human villains.  He also had a sidekick, a giant monk named Benkei who is famous in his own right.

And the Japanese have a medium that lends itself to both the heroic and the otherworld – anime.  With anime, the stories could be cheaply made and the creativity involved in showing it would never be limited by money.  I personally would love to see a series or group of movies that explored anything like what Lovecraft dreamed up all those decades ago.

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Medichlorians.  They are the key to the Star Wars universe.  Roughly 3,000 and you can be trained as a Jedi, Sith, or in any of a number of other Force groups.  Over 20,000 and you are a chosen one.

As I have directly said and inferred on a number of occasions, the Bogan/Ashla of the Force and all of the powers derived from it are an exaggeration of martial arts developments.  But not medichlorians.  Strictly speaking, it is not an element in the blood that makes a great karateka, it is a combination of raw intelligence, athleticism, wisdom, and persistence that can come in many different formulas.  Theoretically speaking, we are all capable of becoming exceptional martial artists.

It might be argued that martial abilities run in a family, just like Medichlorians.  That might be true, but so does intelligence, athleticism, and wisdom.  And honestly, any household that has a high level martial artist is going to have some obvious and daily advantages over every other family.  They will see it, it will be explained to them from early childhood, it will be a part of their identity.

Bruce Lee might also be mentioned as a person simply destined to be exceptional, i.e. possessing great numbers of medichlorians.  After all he is considered the greatest fighter of the twentieth century and mastered styles in less time than it takes most people to learn a dance, and had died at only 33 in a field of study where a person is normally not considered a master until they are in their 50s.

But on the other hand the man was brilliant – creating his own martial arts style, writing scripts, creating the concepts behind ‘Kung Fu’ the series, and of course learning new karate styles in the time in takes most people to learn a new dance.  He was also a physical specimen; in an era when muscle definition was nothing like it is today he was always in perfect condition.  Most important was his wisdom.  As a young man he developed the idea of the modest Kung Fu master traveling in the Old West, only fighting when he needed to and healing wherever he could.  In his movies and unique to the period, his characters never initiated conflict and always resisted it.  His ‘Circle of Iron’ is perhaps the most matured martial arts movie to ever be written.

In the real world, what’s in your blood has nothing to do with your ability to learn and employ martial arts.  I suppose that’s one flaw I see with the Star Wars universe.  But I understand why it is so.  Medichlorians are a dramatic device, a piece of alien technology that focuses importance on the hero, Luke in the original trilogy but also Anakin, Nomi Sunrider, Revan and a host of other characters in the EU stories.

You see, at the core of Lucas’ story is the hero seeking his path/destiny in the Joseph Campbell tradition.  But you can hardly claim that an untrained and untested boy (the classic hero according to Campbell) is destined to save the world or the galaxy without something specific going for him.  In mythology, that something is descent from a god.  In Star Wars there are no gods, so the fatherless Anakin has the medichlorians to act as his marker for greatness.

Medichlorians a flaw in the Star Wars universe or another element of George Lucas’ brilliance?

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Orson Scott Card 

Walt Disney was rascist, and yet he created one of the most beloved children’s franchises in the world.  J.F.K. was a notorious adulterer who led our nation through the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Babe Ruth was a drunk and a womanizer whose contributions to baseball are felt to this day.  None of these things were public knowledge in their lifetimes.

Today, unfortunately, we do know everything about our public figures.  When Tiger Woods was caught cheating public sentiment was so strong that he lost several endorsements contracts as a result.  Bill Clinton most likely cheated on his wife, while in office, got caught, and damaged the presidency while trying to remain in office.  And then there’s Orson Scott Card, whose stand on homosexuality is embarrassing and backward-looking, without any background information on the genetics behind it.  Tiger had been an icon for minorities, and being so dominant in a sport that is traditionally almost exclusively white made his participation even more important.  Clinton’s efforts in foreign affairs were so effective that we are still reaping the benefits of his efforts in China.

I watched Card’s Ender’s Game some time ago.  I was impressed with his concepts of education, leadership, morality, and ethics there.  Since then his various novels have all been highly recommended to me and I intend to follow through with them.  His ability to make social, political, and ethical statements through his characters on the screen was stunning.  I look forward to collecting everything he has written in science fiction so I can follow how he continues to develop those themes and statements.  If he has as much to say about education in the books as I saw in the movie I think that every educator on the planet could learn a great deal from him.  The same goes for leadership and generals and ethics and politicians. 

If I ever met Orson Scott Card in person I’m not certain how I would react.  Would I shake his hand, jaw slack, and stumble over some statement of awe about his farsighted vision of the future, or would I be tempted to denounce him as a man with his moral blinders on?  I don’t honestly know.  I do know that when he puts pen to paper in his stories he makes social statements that are in the best traditions of science fiction.  Orson Scott Card is a novelist, like Disney was an entertainer, Kennedy a leader, and Ruth a baseball player.  Yes, he is a flawed human being.  Yes, those flaws stem from an absolute reading of the Bible that lacks any knowledge about its history and context.  But I do not believe that all he has created should be condemned because of this.  Like a savant, his gifts should be appreciated even if his inadequacies cannot be overlooked. 

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Unsatisfying Dolls in the House

Last night I watched the series finale of one of Joss Whedon’s abortive follow-ups to Buffy and Angel.  The series had started off with a great gimmick – technology that gives people different personalities and skills that are imprinted on their minds and then erased for each assignment.  Between jobs and while these people are in a childlike state they live in a sanctuary.

Whedon provided some excellent plot twists.  Rarely do I find myself at all surprised by so-called “reveals”, but the series had me wondering what was next most of the time.  Better yet, the twists were done so well I could never go back to any misdirection and claim an inconsistency in the writing.  I loved it, loved the series, and wish it was still going.

But it didn’t.  The themes were often a little too intellectual for any but the Whedon faithful and unfortunately that particular cult didn’t number enough to warrant a continuation of the series, which in all only numbered 27 episodes.

And so I was left with a rushed conclusion that took place ten years into the future.  As I watched it, I researched the series’ history.  I read that the series was in trouble from the start but that it was actually cancelled only two months before the last episode aired.  That was obviously enough time to produce make a couple episodes that led to an ending, but in no way was it enough to make that ending very satisfying.  Now I know that there were comics written about the missing years between 2010 and 2020 and several viral pieces but I find myself irritated with the t.v. station for shutting down such a culturally important show.  I personally had a few questions for the genius behind it.  The conclusion would have been much more satisfying with them answered.

-How does Alpha go from being the bane of everyone’s existence to one of the central characters in the resistance?  How does Echo manage to care for him at all?  What makes him so sensitive that he gives Echo such a beautiful parting gift?

-I realize you like your female heroes to be strong on their own, but why did Echo have to lose Paul?  She had proven she was strong, the strongest human on the planet.  Would it have been so wrong to allow her to have strength and a little happiness?

-DeWitt made the apocalyptic technology available by handing over a finished product to the bad guys.  Why didn’t she go up and set off the explosion that set things right?  Toffer created it, out of pure curiosity of what the bad guys were doing.  And having done that, his personality development suggests his next step would have been to counteract the technology.  He was not to blame.

-The techie rebellion just before Toffer set off the explosion was kinda under-setup, yah?

-Why the masses of people trying to kill everyone?  The technology effected some people with insanity?  Chaos lovers?  Was it a reaction to Rossum people abducting them?

-The personality of the little girl who played Caroline, where did she get her first personality and what was it?

-Please tell me that in your universe they had cloning vats and there was one with Paul in it.

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Demi-Gods; the World’s First Superheroes

This spring and summer we have Spider-Man, Captain America, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy.  Next summer promises to be even better with Avengers 2 anchoring and Star Wars Episode 7 in the fall.  Sure we have romances, action, fantasy, sci fi, and comedies but the superhero movies are quickly becoming the blockbuster mainstays.

It’s interesting to see where we’ve gone since the first superheroes, the demi-gods; men and women descended from gods who were much more than mortals but nothing like their parents.  They led armies against mortals, expeditions against the monsters of man’s creation, and they were looked on as divinely empowered kings.  On rare occasion a great hero like Hercules, Perseus, or Bellerophon might even fight a pet of the gods and beat them.  There was, however, no denying that they were allowed their accomplishments by the gods, no doubt that it was a world of gods first where humans only shined when the gods accepted it.  Hercules had a club, Zeus had thunderbolts.  Achilles was invulnerable apart from his heel, but the gods all had impenetrable armor and weapons that were beyond men.  In the ancient thinking, gods were to men as men were to ants.

Not so today.  Thor is one of the Avengers, and while we no longer think of him as a god of a real religion, his powers are not diminished as a Marvel character.  On the contrary, the superheroes have become  powerful enough to match them.  Captain America stood toe to toe with Loki in the first Avengers, as did Ironman with him and Thor.  Hulk tossed them both around like they were rag dolls.

And what of the villains.  In the myths, evil was so powerful that heroes often had to go through a period of discovery in order to gather the tools needed to fight the enemy.  Perseus needed Medusa’s head, Bellerophon needed Pegasus, Sigurd was given the necessary information, Culhwch had King Arthur.  Not anymore.  

What have we lost in empowering our heroes to godhood while allowing the villains to remain static?  I would argue a sense of awe.  The gods represented primeval forces that observed our actions but rarely partook in them.  When they did so, their actions were definitive and final – Odin tapping Sigmund’s sword so that it snapped just when he was being rushed by the enemy.  A divinely guided arrow that hit Achilles in his one vulnerable spot.  Now they are nothing more than a measuring stick for the latest superheroes.  With comic heroes so powerful, shouldn’t we just call them gods?

Shouldn’t they take on that title?  An unloved movie called Hancock was set in a universe with two beings who were basically unstoppable.  What is to stop them from being worshipped as gods.  Who is to stop them from taking control of the planet.  In The Watchmen, one being can control matter and the creation of life.  With so much superiority over humans why doesn’t the character dominate us?  Morality?  At some point such a being stops thinking of himself as like human (as he should).  As a Marvel villain once put it “Morality doesn’t even enter the picture.”

Or maybe we all want beings out there who are far beyond us, who control us, or maybe someone who could do but does not because it is a way to implicitly praise the superiority of the human species.  I don’t know.  Maybe I don’t want to.

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Isaac Asimov

For nearly forty years that galaxy “far, far away” has been an icon of Western civilization.  I should know, I’ve studied every aspect of it – technological, spiritual, cultural, and its many diverse characters.

For nearly a century the universes of Superman and Wolverine have helped shape our culture with their reflections of our social concerns and hopes.  The latter created a new set of characters to accomodate our changed perceptions after World War II.  The former has made such an impact on our everyday life that its characters may live on well beyond our civilization.

Dune, first as a series and then presented visually, has presented a picture of the distant future that is hard to ignore in scale or depth even with the mysticism that accompanies it.  It envisions a universe of innumerable planets, subspecies of humans, and vibrant religions that awe a person as they watch the stories unfold.

Genii such as Sam Raimi, Chris Carter, and Joss Whedon have created their own niches as well.  They are full of interweaving plots, lively characters, and strong underlying themes that are at the core of science fiction.

Dr. Who is one of those magical stories as well.  The series has survived in one “regeneration” or another since the sixties, with the passed few years seeing it reach a new height in popularity.  Its commentary on how individuals, flawed and anonymous as they are, contribute to history as much as famous people is the genre at its best.

Who can forget Gene Roddenberry, a man whose positive vision of the future was not to be undone in the 1960’s and cannot be stopped in the twenty-first century.

However, there is another major universe in Science Fiction/Fantasy, one that’s hardly been explored but which has as much potential as any of the above universes and more than some.  It is a universe from which Dr. Who was tapped for a great deal of its information – that of Isaac Asimov.  It’s true, several movies have been made from his library of stories – I, Robot and Bicentennial Man being the most widely known, with a dozen or so others made on low budgets or simply without the technology to bring them to life.  With as much modifying and alteration to fit various limitations, it’s safe to say that his unified Robot, Galactic Empire, and Foundation universe has never really been brought to the big screen.

This is an age where the entire Marvel universe is being put into movies, with characters and themes interconnecting in a way previously not even seen in cartoons.  What greater challenge, and how much braoder the reward, to bring to life a universe that spans thousands of years and contains hundreds of intriguing notions about humanity and our ability to adapt?  How fascinating would it be to have a visual storyteller bring his characters to life and share it with billions of people?

I’m going to take the next week to reorganize my blog a little better.  See you soon!

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An Epitaph of Sorts

1992 saw the launch of a series that never should have been.  The X-Files was a Sci-Fi show that generally had no gadgets in it, it was a fantasy show that had two people trying to explain everything, one of whom was constantly towing the mainstream line.  In fact, the critic of the two, one Dana Scully, was so close-minded you often wanted to strangle her.  And there was no sex.  By that I don’t mean there wasn’t at least one gratuitous scene every week, I mean none of the characters seemed to have a sex.  Mulder watched porn, but it was more of a running gag than anything.  Scully didn’t wear anything sensual.  There was never the addition of a strikingly attractive woman to keep the audience interested (a la Star Trek).  The two characters never even kissed while the show was running.

And yet it was a hit!  A big one.  And new subgenre was born, one that bucked traditional wisdom about Sci Fi/Fantasy.  Even better, many of the episodes made the audience pause every once in a while.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer shouldn’t have worked either, but it has its own cult following.  Same with Angel (consider the premise, a gorgeous guy who can never be happy and who has to avoid any female relationships).  Hercules had possibly the worst lead actor since the Original Star Trek and its scripts were often intentionally corny, yet it was on top of its time slot when it went off the air.  They each had different outlooks, attacked societal concerns in different ways, poked fun of themselves and others through the sense of humor of their creators, but each were unique and in their own way priceless.

Something changed around 2000, though.  The mainstream found a way to absorb many new elements of the subgenre while steering clear of those elements that gave the shows their edge.  I suppose that is the way of big business t.v. and it admittedly it has produced intriguing television; Being Human comes to mind.

I am just sad for what we’ve lost along the way.  Cleopatra 2525 might have proven just as interesting and thought-provoking as Hercules if it had survived a couple seasons.  Dark Angel’s exploration of the government and fresh technological developments made for a tantalizing show to lose (and it with a stunning pair of stars).  The grime of the scenery and the questionable intelligence of Firefly’s hero could not be overcome with the catchy dialogue; even filling the screen with an ever-present fear of zombies wasn’t enough.  Dollhouse was simply too intellectual.

There will always be shows that have appealing aspects for fans of what we lost; banter is easy enough to generate with an intelligent cast and an excellent actor can improve any show.  And an episode once in a while that hits on deeper themes is acceptable on a popular show.  What that subgenre had, however, was priceless.  Ideas and subjects that were not developed to appeal to a broader audience but were nevertheless both intelligent and fun.  I miss them, and I hope that a time comes when shows like them can stay on the air for more than a season or two.

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The Aging Gene in Sci Fi

A few years ago scientists discovered what has since been called the aging gene.  It’s a simple thing really, a gene that controls the rate at which our body matures from infancy to adolescence, adulthood, and beyond.  From an evolutionary perspective, aging makes certain we cannot reproduce until we are developed enough to be responsible, while providing adults with a sense of urgency to have children while we are still capable.

However, its potential applications in science fiction are endless – beings with an aging gene that has been shut off or that works in reverse, stops or pauses at various points would make for interesting stories.  And writers have not avoided it.  The idea has been used once in recent memory, last year as a main part of the movie In Time, but its scope was so limited and the theme (while an excellent use of the science fiction genre) interfered with an exploration of the topic.  Still, that it is the only movie based on such a cornucopic idea seems like a great waste.  I know of several other ageless beings in science fiction, presumably who also had deactivated aging genes.  In order of appearance they are Flint in the Original Series of Star Trek, Vandal Savage of DC comics, Apocalypse from Marvel, and the main characters of the Highlander franchise.  But these, too, are limited in their scope.  Flint leaves Earth in search of death and love.  Vandal Savage makes for an interesting villain against Superman because he has lived long enough that he has learned to predict threats to his mortality and has developed enough wealth, power, and influence to have his hands in anything he chooses.  Apocalypse is perhaps the most interesting being of all.  Because of his condition he has developed a sense of separation from the human race.  Using foreign technology he stumbled upon, he periodically tests our species to verify its continuing right to exist.  The concept behind the original Highlander is intriguing, but the movie only touched on the concept’s true potential and each sequel simply reinvented the same universe.  The series made some use of what could be done, but was so focused on morality, life-and-death swordplay, and simple plots that there was no underlying exploration of the concept of agelessness.

Then there are the rare occasions where the issue is skirted entirely.  My single complaint about Battlestar Galactica is that we are given nothing about the Final Five’s perspectives on the last few thousand years.  Or Avatar, where the planet itself is aware and ancient beyond reckoning.  Two-way communication with that entity would be incredible.  I truly hope that is an aspect that is explored in some of the coming movies.

Despite the lack of attempts, there is so much more that could be done with the idea of the aging gene.  How about beings who helped to shape our civilizations.  The inspiration for the first pantheons?  Perhaps a secret society, manipulating world events from behind the scenes for centuries?  An individual with this condition could be an excellent historian if he chose to be.  Perhaps an exploration of immortals socializing with each other, or the perspectives of an immortal observing mortal lives and interests (The Eyes of Heisenberg would make for a good reference in exploring that possibility).  Even something more substantial about the views on mortal lives could be intriguing in the right hands.  Or something mundane, like a person who thinks he’s a freak and disappears to the streets on the day he realizes he isn’t aging.

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My Icon

I am taking the week off, but I thought it was odd that no one has asked about the symbol that’s always near my name.

It is, simply, a swastika.  Now don’t think goosestepping, Jew-killers for a moment.  The swastika is an ancient symbol, predating the historical Mesopotamian civilizations.  There it represented fertility (think water swirling into a drain, now think about the water swirling outward).  This particular symbol I found associated with Indian beliefs.

The mace is from one of my favorite characters; he walks around the ice age world with a club laced with obsidian blades.  I had considered putting it in a corner and making it smaller, because my mace character always seems to get upstaged/embarrassed/defeated by someone more peaceful/calm/wise.  But I figured if I minimized it no one would even be able to tell what it was.  Hence the symbol.

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Force Powers:  Physical and Mental Enhancements

I have mentioned the physical manifestation of energy of Force users in the past, the really neat stuff that gets people’s attention.  But that, as with martial arts, is only a small portion of the whole.  Another aspect of Force users, something that gives them serious advantages in their dealings with other beings, are their superior senses.  And again, the origins of that can be found in the martial arts.

While sparring, a combatant eventually picks up on an opponent’s tendencies – a hitch before a punch, looking where he’s striking, a preference for one technique over others.  In time, this can develop into a heightened perception which is applicable to social situations, employment, driving.  Occasionally, a student might be blindfolded and asked to spar someone, forcing the student to focus on their own hearing or perhaps their sense of smell.

Advanced students can focus these abilities at will.  In Star Wars, the senses of sight, sound, and smell are so highly developed among Force Practitioners that they are able to use Farsight and Force Sight, they can feel what is happening a great distance away and they can tell if a person is good or bad, happy or sad, open or cryptic on sight.  Precognizance, the ability to anticipate actions before they occur, is often a final level of achievement for martial artists.  Force users have it, too.  One could suppose Yoda’s ability to sense future events is a huge extension of that gift.

The ability can be magnified through meditation – the technique of using breathing to focus the mind.  Meditation can also be used to slow bodily functions – cardiac and respiratory functions among the basic.  For the more dedicated, brainwaves.  Martial artists are often able to mask their presence to a limited extent.  In the East, the health of the body can also be explored; in sensing disease or other physical flaw, and eventually feeling the health of a patient’s body.

Meditation can similarly be used to improve fluidity through repetition until the transitions of technique and stance become tremendously fast.  This can also be applied to other activities.  Paul Molitor is perhaps the best example of speed in a technique in baseball; his tight, crisp, hip-rolling swing allowed him to lead the league in several batting categories during his forties.  In the Star War universe forms 3 (Shii-Cho) and 7 (Vaapad) allow for dozens of blocks and strikes per second.  Obi-Wan Kenobi and Mace Windu, as masters of both styles, probably would have had nothing to fear from a direct attack by their troops.

It is also believed that focusing the mind on one simple, purely physical goal can also enhance the body’s natural ability.  In the Star Wars universe speed, jumping, strength, and scream can all be enhanced with the Force to levels beyond anything the human body could be capable of.  Instead of moving slightly faster than normal, they can move several times faster.  An enhanced vertical leap becomes the grace to jump stories.  Additional pounds become multiples of their body weight.  A scream attack changes from something painful to the ears to a gale wind.

George Lucas, it should be remembered, was a student of Japanese film.  The genre had a fascination with the samurai.  The 1970s are also noteworthy for the Kung Fu films coming out of China, of which he must have been aware and with which much of the U.S. population was fascinated.  He would have been a fool not to integrate aspects of both into his Jedi and Sith.

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King Arthur:  The Movies

King Arthur.  The phrase conjures images of fair maidens, brave knights, chivalry, and twelfth century armaments.  The fact is that everyone’s favorite British king lived in the fifth century.  He probably had hand-me-down armor, sword, and shield.  He may not have spoken Latin, but he knew enough about the past to respect Rome.  His life was hard, consisting of poor hygiene, bad diet, and battles as a part of everyday life.  

I say all this by way of an introduction.  In our era of realism, where every period from the Trojan War up to the present day is portrayed with accurate weapons, tactics, and technology, the Arthurian period is still waiting on something resembling the real article.  Till then, I’ll keep you occupied with a list of Arthurian period movies and some of their more irritating traits.

King Arthur is probably the most accurate we are likely to get for the period.  I read someplace that the horse paraphernalia is inaccurate.  I can live with that.  If I wanted to be difficult I would mention the contemporaneity of Pelagius and Arthur, 

No, let’s stick with the bad stuff.  Arthur is a Latin name, yet he is called a Sarmatians.  The Sarmatians were Germanic and had faded from history by 400?  Arthur is sent to guard Britain for a predetermined number of years by the Romans?  But Roman mercenaries settled their entire tribes in the areas they protected.   It makes no sense to even connect Arthur with the Romans; he was most likely born long after the Romans left Britain.

Tristan and Isolde is technically not an Arthurian film.  The story itself is mythological and involves a dragon.  Still, the movie is set in the ancient world, and of course Tristan, Isolde, and Mark – or rather Drust, Iseult, and March, are considered Arthurian characters.  Though the storyline strays badly from the legend itself, the movie has the gritty, bloody feel of the period much like King Arthur.

The big problem with it is the fortress which is Mark’s stronghold.  The castles of the period were hill-forts, nothing more than a hill that took advantage of natural rock formations to construct a wall.  Within it there was normally a hall that could seat all dozen to a hundred warriors, a granary, perhaps a smithy and several huts and merchant buildings.  Everything was made of wood.  The multiple levels of the movie’s fort could not have existed at any time before the tenth century.

The movie is too civilized as well.  A meeting of all the major kings?  A contest between them?  The period’s kings were more like gangsters in how they dealt with each other and their subjects than any royalty we would be familiar with.  To see them acting like modern statesmen is painful – and insulting.

First Knight.  Where to start.  The machine which brings Lancelot to Arthur’s attention?  The twelfth century armaments?  The plot twist that Meleagant was once a member of the Round Table?  That stupid theme about the man with no fear (no warrior worth his weapon is afraid to die, but fear is what keeps a person sharp on the battlefield)?  It isn’t even a good adaptation of the famous poem “Le Chevalier de la Charrette” on which it was based with the absence of the intriguing character Bademagus and the minimization of Kay.

A good Arthur movie has a great deal of potential, whether one based on the literature or the history.  There is the obvious love triangle of Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot and the lesser one of Mark/Isolde/Tristan.  There is the obnoxious knight who made the butt of other knights’ valor.  In Palamedes there is the bad knight made good, in Perceval there is the great fool made wise.  Such a plethora of good stories are there to be told from a literary standpoint, and the best we can manage are bad interpretations or insulting historical adaptations.!/entry/is-warner-bros-prepping-not-one-not-two-not-five,52e6cca3e56d0bb8534c6429

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Origins of Force Powers

With the main cast of Episode 7 now decided, talk has been focused on the placement of the movie in relation to the original trilogy, the story-lines that will be followed, and the nature of the primary antagonist.  I won’t bother adding my own voice to the mass because so much has already been said and there are now so many ways the series can go.

I will, however, take this opportunity to write on one of the most interesting aspects of the Star Wars universe, the Force Powers.  In a previous article I explained that they are in most cases simply an exaggeration of those skills that advanced martial artists attain.  Here I’d like to lay out some more specific relationships.

The Chinese call it Ch’i, the Japanese Ki, and the translation is inner strength (not will power, though, the body’s power beyond muscles).  It is the basis of everything in martial arts, and is at the core of many Force Powers.  This inner strength is supposed to come from a point roughly one inch below the navel.  In classical karate it is generated by beginners through the proper use of the hips in throwing punches and kicks, blocking, throwing, weapon striking, and maneuvering one’s opponent in wrestling.  Done properly, a small boy can safely throw a man several times his own weight (I know this from personal experience).

Advanced practitioners can channel that energy selectively.  They can transfer the impact through objects to a target, so for instance they could strike a stack of boards and only break the last one, or a human stomach and do damage to the person’s back.  They can also channel the power in their bodies to manipulate energy lines.  Eastern medicine is based on the use of energy lines.  Acupressure and acupuncture are two techniques used to manipulate them, while many of their medicinal remedies often work on similar premises.  A person with great martial arts ability in Eastern Asia is believed to make the best healer (anyone ever seen Kung Fu Hustle?).

In the Star Wars universe, the channeling of impact is magnified to a Force Push and Force Pull which can be effective from many meters away.  Both light and dark sides (Ashla and Bogan) can use this application, or the more difficult technique of articulately moving objects – for instance Luke’s X-Wing on Dagobah, C-3PO among the Ewoks, or Amidala’s food during her dinner with Anakin.  

The channeling of energy results in a number of powers.  With the Bogan the result is raw, unrestrained lightning.  It seems that the more powerful the individual is the more powerful his lightning, which is why Dooku is easily deflected by Obi-Wan and absorbed by Yoda, but Mace can hardly keep Sidious at bay even while the Sith Master is holding back.

Luke also uses lightning, though he controls it so that it can be used for non-lethal purposes; he calls his version of the technique Green Lightning.  Similarly, the body’s energy can be used to heal persons by correcting the patient’s energy flows with subtle changes to their energy lines.  Many Jedi are known as healers, and most have the limited ability to heal themselves and others.  Considering the delicacy involved and the giving nature of the technique, it’s no surprise the Sith don’t normally have this ability unless they were first trained as a Jedi and only converted later.

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Hercules vs. Hercules

The passed few weeks I have been comparing DC and Marvel characters to demonstrate how making the DC versions so overwhelmingly strong/durable/fast/magical that they have lost a key element in making them more interesting characters.  I had planned on writing another blog, between Superman and Thor, but it would only belabor the point.  One more comparison is all that’s needed; one of sames.

Hercules is a figure of myth, so it is unsurprising that both the DC and Marvel versions of the character have similar powers.  Both versions possess superhuman strength, endurance, speed, and stamina.  And whereas Marvel’s version is able to heal himself and has some resistance to magic, the DC character can shapeshift as well as make use of magic.  I am also fairly certain the DC version is a physically tougher character, but there is no specific data on that point.

That seems to be where the comparison ends.  The DC Hercules is a flat character.  As in the myths he generally follows a cycle of crime, punishment, and redemption.  The writers have tried to make storylines about him interesting, but his character never develops beyond those three familiar activities.

The Marvel character (predictably) is much more interesting.  He begins as much the same individual as he is found in the myths – arrogant and self-righteous.  But he develops, and generally tries to be a positive character.  He is occasionally a member of the Avengers and is a Champion, he makes a movie, he is fooled into fighting heroes but then reconciles and fights with them.  He sacrifices his godhood to save the planet and loses his powers for love.  When acting as an instructor at the Avengers mansion during the most recent adventure, he comments that the older generation have only found war, but that at least some of the younger X-Men and Avengers have been able to find peace.  That is a huge development, and nothing like his counterpart in DC comics.

Early on in this series of comparisons a reader commented that Superman and Batman would always be her favorite, that she preferred her heroes to be super.  And I admit, there is something appealing about idolizing an incorruptible individual that could never have anything to fear from we mortals, especially in a world without incorruptible public figures or super-people.  I find myself wishing for that too, and I find myself very interested in what DC is attempting right now because I want to see Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.

But that’s not the point.  As a great director once said, super-hero stories can’t focus on their super-powers, they have to focus on the struggles of the individual.  And while a nearly invincible hero can have personal struggles, it makes the story less interesting if he is invincible.  As has been seen, many DC heroes don’t even have much in the way of those personal issues.

Will I continue watching DC movies?  Of course.  I grew up with the DC characters.  Nolan’s storytelling technique is astounding, and DC’s approach to introducing its characters might offer something to my own writing that Marvel hasn’t come up with.  But what Marvel has done with the quality of its characters, their vulnerabilities physically, mentally, even socially, has not been equalled.  It probably won’t be.

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Batman vs. Punisher

In the previous two comparisons I have started with a Marvel character and tried to find a DC equivalent.  This week I thought I would start with a DC character – Batman.  His original, and primary, quality is that he is an independent detective.  Batman also happens to be the most interesting character in the DC pantheon for me.  But, by right of his detecting quality, the closest character to be found in the Marvel universe is The Punisher.

So, again to the comparison.  Batman was first seen in 1939.  He is one of the most intelligent humans in the DC universe, comparable to Lex Luthor.  He is rich, too.  He has an endless supply of money to invest in gadgets and travel.  Batman is also the most accomplished martial artist in the DC universe, having learned and excelled at nearly every form of combat in existence.  Add to that he keeps his body at the level of an Olympic athlete and he is nearly unbeatable to any human he comes up against.  He has also worked to master nearly every science known to man, including interrogation and escapology, and is both quick-witted and thinks ahead.  This means that his utility belt allows him to beat even alien and superior opponents.  He is mentally tough, too, able to withstand tremendous levels of pain or the mental attacks of telepaths.

The Punisher was first introduced in 1974.  Though possessing above average intelligence he is about as close to Bruce Wayne as a class valedictorian would be to Stephen Hawking.  He has access to money, but this is limited to the cash he collects from the criminals he hunts.  Not that his income has ever hampered his access to weapons or tools, but then again I don’t see a specially designed suit worth millions in his future.  He also possesses a high level of physical fitness and specialized military training, though nothing like Batman.  Along the way he has learned mission-specific abilities such as acting and has the same level of pain tolerance and mental strength as his counterpart.

Their origin stories have similarities as well.  Batman’s parents were killed in front of him, emotionally driving him to crime-fighting.  The Punisher watched his wife and children get killed.  However, their responses were very different.  Whereas Batman will go beyond the limits imposed on law enforcement in catching criminals he doesn’t kill, doesn’t use guns, and has a sincere desire to help the community he lives in as demonstrated both in and out of the mask.  The Punisher has one goal in life, punishment of the guilty.  There is only one punishment for offenders – death.

Clearly Batman has more assets and is therefore combats and crime-solving are less challenging and interesting for his character.  On the other hand, the dimension of his approach to his childhood trauma is fascinating.  It gives him a complexity that would be difficult to duplicate.  For instance, with The Punisher all he has is simple hatred.  Unlike with the previous two weeks, I can’t definitively say the Marvel character is the more interesting.  Each adventure may be more fun to read with the Marvel hero, but the character of Batman is deeper, more evolved, and more complex than anything The Punisher is capable of.  I find myself interested, despite myself, in the future Superman/Batman movie.

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Telepathy:  Professor X vs. J’onn J’onzz

This week I would like to compare two more primary characters of the Marvel and DC universes, the redoubtable Professor Charles Xavier and the inimitable J’onn J’onzz.  Both are considered among the greatest telepaths in their respective universes.

J’onn first appeared in 1955.  He is an advanced telepath, able to connect with the entire planet at one time in order to locate someone.  He is also an advanced shapeshifter, capable of changing his size and shape to anything he wishes.  His density can be modified at will; he can phase in and out or become incredibly dense.  He can use energy attacks, fly, turn invisible, has x-Ray vision, can create force fields, and has strength, durability, and endurance to match Superman.  He was at one point weakened by fire, but now only certain types of psychic fires have any impact on him.

Professor X first appeared in 1963.  He is also an advanced telepath and one of the most powerful on Earth.  However, apart from telepathy his abilities are nothing like J’onn’s; unaided he can only contact minds within a 250-mile radius.  He can go much further than that, touching every mind on the planet, but he must use his artificial creation, Cerebro, to do so.  

His telepathy has led to other powers.  He is able to learn and teach instantly by touching another person’s mind.  He is able to create psychic bursts, induce paralysis, create illusions, and project himself astrally.  However, the professor only has his mind.  He cannot stand because he is a paraplegic.  His strength, durability, and endurance are also less than ordinary because he cannot exercise like a normal person.  He cannot fly or use any form of telekinesis (movies notwithstanding).  His senses are ordinary.

As with Wally, J’onn’s powers are so far beyond human it is difficult to imagine a worthy adversary for him.  He also has no personality wrinkles.  J’onn is either separated from his people or the last of his kind (depending on the era his story is told in), but no attempt has ever been made to explore that aspect of his personality.  He is another flat character from the DC pantheon of pseudo-gods.

Professor X is powerful, and even more so with the support of his X-Men.  But he is not all-powerful.  He is vulnerable to the most basic attacks; his wheelchair can be tipped over to leave him prone.  He cannot outfight someone with even a minimal knowledge of streetfighting, either.  His crippled state works perfectly for a character whose goal is to peacefully champion mutant rights.  It makes him interesting, too.  It just doesn’t make him a superhuman hero.

So does his humanity.  Xavier’s human mistake of women-chasing in front of his ward allows him to lose Mystique in the fourth X-Men movie.  His ability to empathize with Magneto makes the pair one of the most interesting adversaries in all of comics.  His depression almost loses him the future in Days of Future Past.  Professor X is one of the most powerful of the primary Marvel characters, but he is no match for his counterpart in the Justice League in combat, just as J’onn is no match for Professor in the department of interesting.

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The Flash vs. The Wolverine

On many occasions I have mentioned my preference for the Marvel universe over the DC.  I thought perhaps a point by point comparison might demonstrate this best.  This week, the unaging and immediately healing Wolverine and the unaging and immediately healing Wally West (The Flash).

Wally West was first created in 1960, his abilities include not only healing and a lack of aging, but also speed.  That’s actually an understatement.  The DC universe has what it calls a speed factor, something that controls all speed in the universe.  Speed Factor gave Wally speed beyond all measure.  He has been to the beginning of time and back.  He has outrun death.  He has moved half a million people 35 miles in the 100 picoseconds after a nuclear explosion.

The Flash has other abilities as well.  He has a Speed Force Aura which protects him and any person moving with him.  He has the ability to construct things using the Speed Force; such as his costume.  He can steal the speed of others.  He also can survive in space and has nearly unlimited stamina.  In other words as long as he can see an opponent coming he is unbeatable.

James Logan was first penned in 1974.  His powers are genetic.  In addition to his healing and lack of aging he has superior senses and the ability to communicate on a very basic level with animals.  He can also survive the elements.  As he has spent many years in a feral state over his life, one wonders how much of this is natural ability and how much has been learned in the wild.

Wally’s abilities make him almost boring.  He can’t be hit except by luck and if he is moving at speed the strike will be harmless.  If he is rendered unconscious the only way to stop him is to kill him before he wakes up as his speed makes him unholdable as well.  I cannot think of a reasonable opponent for him apart from someone intelligent enough to kill him before he knows someone is after him.

The Wolverine is by comparison quite vulnerable.  He can heal quickly and has those claws but he can still be overwhelmed.  His healing can be neutralized by a retrovirus, his wrists can be pinned to make his claws useless.

Wally is a typical hero.  He fights the good fight, he gets the bad guys, he goes home.  Wolverine is more than that.  He does what is right generally, but he is a loner.  Everyone he has ever cared about has been killed.  He has gone insane many times and lived in a feral state, only to come out of each experience trying to interact with the human world.  Wolverine, frankly, is interesting.  Wally is not.

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Xiaverse Wiki

As you may or may not know I have been writing some short stories placed in the Arthurian period and at the end of the ice age.  I’ve recently published a novel on Amazon kindle as well.  In tandem with my work I have been building a wiki on my works.  There is character info and historical details about the places and technology involved, but also cultural background for all the cultures involved, a glossary, and a pronunciation guide.  I hope you’ll take a look.

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 The Watchmen

Why aren’t there more movies like Watchmen?  It has realistic portrayals of the psychology behind being a superhero, complex characters, ev en superheroes who generally don’t have superpowers.  The Comedian aged slowly and Ozymandias moved quicker than everyone else.  Extraordinary yes, but nothing like their counterparts Wolverine or The Flash.  And Dr. Manhattan?  He has very original origins and powers.  It was also very nice to see the most powerful individual in a movie not dominating the activities of the others.

But that’s right back to the psychology.  Our sports heroes think they are something special and treat women like they are part of the perks of being good at what they do.  It only makes sense that someone like the Comedian would have that attitude as well.  Silk Spectre might have been one of the great heroes for many years, but as a retired person she was pressured into a standard gender role and naturally hated having her independence stripped from her.  Silhouette was a public figure, which made her open homosexuality a target.  There is mention made of at least one superhero who has gone insane, too; that is a perfectly normal reaction given what these people do and how they do it.  Ozymandias had been a vigilante for years before he went public.  He had gotten used to making up the rules as he needed to.  He was also intelligent enough to disguise his activities so that he wasn’t labeled insane and didn’t become a public target.  The sequence of events he sets in place, of killing millions to save billions, is something a madman or vigilante human might think was the right move, but persons with a socially acceptable respect for life would never consider it.  That any of the other heroes can even consider Ozymandias might be right speaks to the consistency of that thinking.

And Dr. Manhattan is the creme de la creme of the cast.  He has godlike powers.  He isn’t made in the superstrong/superfast/supersmart mold of Superman, but he is truly godlike.  He can kill a person or persons with a thought.  He can create anything he wants wherever he desires.  Wow!  He can make life.  No small wonder he feels a growing disconnection with humanity.

Complexity made for an interesting feature as well in the movie.  A god plagued by doubts and regrets who tells other characters what is going to happen even as he tries to understand what he must do.  Two heroes finding the line between doing the right thing and vigilantism as they fall in love.  A guy who finds dark humor in the world around him and has little respect for any individual but tries to save the planet from chaos at the cost of his own life.  Even the book the first Night Owl wrote made for better dimension; superheroes contemplating the meaning and importance of superheroes to their society.

The movie screamed to me about its realism and grit.  Sure, it’s fun to see a hero able to fly into the sun or lift mountains but the most interesting characters, and the most interesting features of those characters, are limitations.  All of the characters in the movie had them, even Ozymandias.  If he hadn’t been able to neutralize Night Owl II and Rorschach and convince Dr. Manhattan of the rightness of what he was doing he would have had no chance to follow through with his plans.  Did I mention how neat it was to have a hero play the villain, even when he was trying to act heroic?

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Star Wars:  Power Origins

We are all going a little crazy over the developing Star Wars t.v. shows, movies, and speculation in general.  A Boba Fett movie, a special season to finish off animated Clone Wars, another animated Star Wars show, a live-action show, and of course endless articles about Episode 7 and beyond keep the fan constantly buzzing with excitement.

But what is really neat about Star Wars are the Force Powers.  As a seven year-old, I started karate.  A few months later I broke a board, all of an inch deep.  My teacher explained to me that I was focusing all of my body’s energy into my fist and my fist through the wood.  When I didn’t get that he told me that my sister’s head was a few inches under the board.  That worked much better.

As a black belt, a practitioner is expected to be able to focus their ki/ch’i (roughly translated as inner strength or a force) into a strike with the hands, feet, elbows, or knees and to have much more power than a beginner.  This is because of very specific training.

Then there are masters, people whose abilities with ki are such that they can not only focus it to an even greater degree but they can control where it is used.  Someone with this ability can break the last board or brick in a stack (erroneously called Dim Mak in Bloodsport), or damage an organ without leaving a bruise at the point of contact.  There are even legends of grandmasters capable of killing with barely a touch or no contact at all.

Among the Jedi and Sith, the ability to push a person using “the Force” is a common trick.  Luke Skywalker and many Sith can similarly call on their powers to emit lightening from their fingertips.  Both techniques are different ways of focusing that ki.

There are other aspects of the martial arts that are exaggerated in Star Wars as well.  Martial combat and meditation eventually brings a clarity that borders on precognition, though nowhere near what Yoda, Sidious, and their cronies manage.  For many years after the body begins to decline the understanding of martial arts that has been developed more than makes up for what is lost.  However, generally fighters in their eighties and older are not the best fighters as they are in the Star Wars universe.

As you are watching the Star Wars shows and playing its games, it’s important to remember that these aren’t powers based on myths or legends.  They aren’t what some creative kid with no knowledge of science came up with to explain the natural phenomenon around him.  Nor are they simple products of the imagination as has happened with the DC and Marvel comics.  The Force Sensitives of the Star Wars universe are people, not gods.  They have abilities honed well beyond anything on Earth, but they have a basis in the advanced powers of the martial arts of this planet.  That in itself, I think, is more than enough reason for watching anything Star Wars.

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A Feminine non-Prototype

This week I thought I might write about some female characters out of the media, from mythology to more recent movies.  I don’t know that I would call them ideal feminine heroes, but I do know that they all have at least one excellent heroic quality; they don’t let their egos get in the way.

Athena.  The Goddess of Wisdom and the smart deity of War, she had access to the bests weapons, armor, and strategy.  But she didn’t pull out her gear every time she had a dispute.  On the contrary.  The Titans overthrew their father when he tried to kill them.  The Olympians overthrew the Titans when Chronos tried to swallow them.  But when Zeus was warned the same thing might happen to him and he swallowed his lover, Athena, his child did not perpetuate the family tradition.  She sprang from his head and never attempted revenge on her father.

Instead, she guided heroes in their struggles, helping those who deserved it and not helping those who were not worthy.  The scene that most clearly stands out for me happens during the original Seven Against Thebes.  Her favorite, Tydeus, was mortally wounded.  Not wanting him to die she went to get ambrosia.  But when she returned she found him eating an enemy’s brains.  Such barbarity disgusted her, so she did not offer him the drink.  In a similar situation, any gods who cared would have tortured him or sent him to a nasty part of Hades.

Cassandra is another one of the Greeks that seems very much apart.  She was born with a perfect clarity regarding the future, and the curse of never being believed.  She could have used her gift for money or to change world events.  But she understood those things to be distractions from what really mattered.  Instead, she did what she could to save her family; the royal house of Troy.  Now the fact that she didn’t save them is not her fault.  There was that curse.  Nor is the fact that she could not think of a clever way of using the curse to her advantage.  I would call her lack of creativity more of a tragic quality.

One of the best car scenes I have ever come across involved Julia Roberts in Conspiracy Theory.  The moment she realizes she is being followed she pulls over and waves her tail forward to have a conversation with him.  That is definitely not a Hollywood thing and not what the audience wanted.  But it worked better for both sides that she just dropped pretenses and actually talked to the guy.  No ego, no attitude, just good sense.

Finally, I’d like to mention Willow in Buffy.  O.K. yeah, she is shy and lacks confidence.  She is also the most powerful human in the Buffyverse (and do not mess with anyone she is in love with!).  Even after she comes to a full realization of her powers, her personality never really changes.  She is a nice girl, supportive of others.  Buffy can have center stage, Willow doesn’t need it.  One gets the distinct impression that Willow is delighted that she can help her friend in her destiny, and is grateful that she doesn’t have one of her own.

All four women are put in situations where there are certain expectations.  None of them follow through.  They don’t “fail” so much as they choose their own path.  And their choice is not a path that gives them more wealth, power, or even fame.  They just choose a path that has the best chance of helping others.

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How About a New Approach to the Conan Universe?

Hyborian Age.  The word is barely in the American lexicon but represents the foundations for the sword and sorcery genre.  It was a term coined by Robert Howard in the 1930s.  He used it to describe the fictional historical period his most famous character, Conan, inhabited.  He defined it as the period after the fall of Atlantis and before the Indo-European invasions.  Later writers have specified his words as a period sometime after 20,000 B.C.E. and before 9500.  What Howard was after was a period of history we didn’t know much about so that he could give it the history he wanted.

Howard’s universe has been attractive to many writers, among them several continuators of the Conan story.  But it does suffer from some painful inaccuracies.  For instance the horse was not domesticated nor the sword forged till 4000 B.C.E.  Farming was not discovered until 8000 B.C.E., and obviously there could have been no fermentation of grains before then.  Though communities emerged immediately after we found a stable food source, there isn’t even a suggestion of kings until 5000 B.C.E.  

To be blunt, though reading about a period without any preconceived notions provides a good place for letting an imagination centering around the supernatural to flourish, not having some limitations in the end leaves any creative enterprise without structure.  Small children can’t grasp the concept of kryptonite, untrained youths won’t understand that Superman is a solar hero.  Without those foundations, the defender of truth, justice, and the American way is boring.  Without any boundaries of magic, logic, or science, so is Conan’s ‘Hyborian Age’.

What the 20,000 to 10,000 period consisted of, basically, was surviving the ice age.  With glaciers moving south to the equator and the Southern Hemisphere suffering from aridity and heat life was brutal and often short.  Groups of people came together out of mutual need.  The ice age wasn’t exactly a world of magic.  And with clans no larger than twenty or thirty there could have been no real battles.  However, a setting like that might be worthy of some interesting stories.  Certainly interesting for a loner who likes to travel around the world.

I have a proposition.  Instead of yet another Conan movie/book/comic with an oversized sword and two-dimensional female characters, why doesn’t Hollywood try something a little more interesting?  How about a clever, muscular, amoral man running around the world in the last years of the ice age trying to use the tech of the time to get the girl and win as much money as he can.  We might not generate an iconic figure that way, but the movie would have some serious entertainment value.  Imagine how a loner coming upon a primitive Eleusian Mystery might react.  Or how he might respond to a sacrifice?  Imagine his perceptions of daily life versus the perceptions of a clan fully indoctrinated in their culture.  A documentary, drama, or even comedy would be great vehicles for this kind of story

What do you think?

By the way, I have a wiki up on my little universe.  If you are curious, go to

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Women in Comic Books who are more than Skin deep: #1. Deadly Little Miho.

Psychopath more like, but definitely some depth

Dave's Corner of the Universe

Women in Comic Books who are more than Skin deep: #1.

Name: Miho.

Creator: Frank Miller

Appearances: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, The Big fat Kill, Family Values, And Behind Door Number Three.

Occupation: Protector.

Quote: None, never ever speaks.

Miho a falling leaf.

All my friends know I love deadly Little Miho, and none of them will be surprised to see her on the top of this list. But I am not her biggest fan. The number one Miho fan-boy would be none other than her creator, Frank Miller. When someone like Quinton Tarantino says you have a fetish like relationship with your catcher, maybe you should back away from you work for a bit.  But that love which Miller pours into her is what makes her such a great character.

                Miho is the protector of the ‘girls of Old-town’ in Sin City. She herself…

View original post 620 more words

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1,001 Light-Years Entertainment

I just read this book by Dave Loeff.  If you enjoyed the storytelling, the magic, and the connectivity of ‘1,001 Nights’ (the name is no coincidence) and read the genre of soft science fiction, this book is something you need to pick up.  There is no Sinbad or Aladdin in the book, but plenty of stories within stories and happy endings.  An excellent first novel.

1,001 Lightyears Entertainments

Posted in Reviewed Books, Sci Fi/Fantasy, Science Fiction | Tagged

Pacific Rim Matter Bridge

Pacific Rim is an interesting combination of several genres that have never been readily accepted by the American public; oversized monsters called Kaiju have been a part of Japanese entertainment for decades (Godzilla among them).  Jaegers are a common name for very large robots.  The movie also has elements of disaster films.  Del Toro has bluntly stated that his creation is about overcoming differences of sex, race, and even prejudgment.  All of them are great and nicely meshed into a seamless story.  The director even sidestepped making it look like a war-glorifying film by giving ranks that belong more in a Western than a military film.  But what made the movie intriguing for me was the concept of the Matter Bridge.

The Matter Bridge is not a new concept.  I remember hearing of it first with The One, where two policemen patrol a “multiverse” where every person may have a counterpart in every other universe.  The television programs Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis both also used matter bridges for various purposes.  But the concept was always the same there; the cast was introduced to their counterparts from another dimension/reality.

In Pacific Rim, the Matter Bridge is used to transport an alien species’ Kaiju, cloned war-monsters, to Earth as a prelude to conquest.  This film is not about a neat way for characters to talk with each other, nor does it go into the well-traveled road of alternate timelines.  It is an exploration of an alternate form of travel.

It’s also a feasible.  Recently, scientists have discovered that there may be Matter Bridges throughout the universe.  They are discovering an increasing amount of evidence that dark matter may serve as a type of connector for the universe, helping to keep it tied together and structured even as the galaxies expand exponentially.  According to the theory, Matter Bridges are composed of this dark matter.  It is possible that they span not only galaxies but (perhaps) work on the smaller scale of solar systems as well.  And, if there are other universes or dimensions (a big if), then it stands to reason the dark matter and therefore Matter Bridges would connect them together as well.

In effect, the movie brings to attention not only another hypothetical means of transportation across the stars but opens up another means of potential alien invasion.  Better than that, the suggestion is made that the sea might be the end of the Matter Bridge just as easily as a point in space or on land.

I think that is perhaps the most brilliant detail in the movie; aliens launching an invasion from another dimension with a launching platform in the Pacific Ocean.  There are large stretches of square miles in the Pacific that are so deep we have no ships built to withstand the intense pressures.  The bottom of the Pacific would be a perfect place to launch an invasion.  With our technology as it is, we would never be able to destroy their base.

To sum up, we could be attacked at any time, from a direction we would never expect and from which we might not have the technology to combat.  NEAT!  I can’t wait for a sequel.

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Lightsaber and hand-to-hand Fighting

In an attempt to systematize the fighting abilities of characters from different universes, I have below listed those elements that are considered important.  For instance, whereas the natural swordfighting abilities are of importance in the Star Wars universe, athletic prowess and strength seem to be foremost in DC and Marvel.  In all universes, knowledge of individual fighting styles are significant, though the names of those styles may vary.  I have found that the simplest way to measure and compare abilities is by the following formulae:

Swordsmanship + Damage + style points + DPT + APT

Athletics + Swordsmanship 12345672SwBow4SwWhTK

Forms 1      2       3        4        5   6         7      2Swords Bow  4Swords Whip Empty handfighting

1:1 1:1×2 1:0 2×1:1×2 0:1 1:1 2×1:1×2 2×1:1×2 2×1:1 2×1:1×2 2×1:1 1:1×1/5

Damage = Swordsmanship + Damage bonuses and detriments

1 = -5; 5 = +10; Bow = -5

Yoda                     99 655935400000

Luke Skywalker     97 305650800000

Darth Sidious             94 553655800000

Darth Tyrannus     90 393333300000

Darth Krayt             88 300003540000

Darth Maul             87 300400507005

Mace Windu             86 555555900000

Revan                     86 543700400000

Kit Fisto                     85 901000000000

Galen Marek             85 402460300000

Exar Kun                     84 300430047000

Ganner Rhysode     84 785000000000

Darth Sion             82 500000700000

Naga Sadow             82 360040700000

Kyle Katarn             81 350030600000

Obi-Wan Kenobi     81 308304000000

Kol Skywalker     80 406000300000

Even Piell             79 901000000000

Qui-Gon Jinn             79 400670000000

Anakin Skywalker     78 324540000000

Nomi Sunrider             78 507500000000

Uliq Qel-Droma     78 400060400000

Meetra Sutra             77 333430060004

Voolvif Monn             75 600730000000

Asajj Ventress             74 360003040000

Arden Lyn             74 600004800009

Belia Darzu             74 050300860000

Saesee Tiin             74 500070000000

Lord Hoth             73 503060000000

Shaak Ti                     73 405300220000

Darth Bane             72 450090600000

Darth Nihl             72 000000860000

Darth Talon             72 500030800000

K’Kruhk                     72 406050000000

Lucien Draay             72 705000000000

Mara Jade             71 310200240004

Rakatan Warrior     70 555555507000

Kyp Durron             69 300320500000

Darth Malak             68 350040000000

Darth Vader             68 324560000000

Quinlan Vos             68 320430700000

Agen Kolar             67 440060000000

Plo Koon                     67 900070000005

Depa Billaba             65 555555900000

Mira                             64 304503000000

Thon                     64 506630000009

An’ya Kuro             63 304530000000

Jarael                     63 100000002000

Antares Draco             62 500070000000

Leia Organa-Solo     62 303430540000

Lumiya                     62 320400300503

Shado Vao             62 547040004000

Jaina Solo             61 303020000002

Stass Allie             61 405003000000

Grievous                     60 333333330300

Jacen Solo             58 302060000000

Luminara Unduli     58 305020000000

Rahm Kota             57 405000600000

Visas Marr             57 030000600000

Carnor Jax             56 300020405000

Wolf Sazen             56 406000000000

Juhani                     55 300220000000

Ayala Secura             54 300520020000

Roan Fel                     54 504040000000

Bastila Shan             53 400520005000

Darth Nihilius             53 001700000000

Freedon Nadd             53 330440500000

Roni von Wasaki     53 764000050000

Ki-Adi-Mundi             52 300040000000

Kreia                     52 305000003000

Veda Kennede             52 333333305003

Atris                     51 305006000000

Corran Horn             51 302000000004

Valara Saar             51 500000000007

Coleman Trebor     48 500006000000

Marasiah Fel             48 304020000000

Mical                     48 305002000000

Darth Plagueis             47 533333300000

Sly Moore             47 300000200000

Atton Rand             46 300005200000

Barriss Offee             44 303020000000

Darth Bandon             44 300050003000

Bao-dur                     43 305000000000

Jolee Bindo             43 304000300000

Anakin Solo             41 304303030000

Komari Vosa             41 300003030000

Kazdan Paratus     40 304300000000

Vodo-Siosk Baas     38 901000000000

Cade Skywalker     36 303000300000

Zayne Carrick             36 300000000000

Maris Brood             34 303000040000

Charal                     34 102030000000

Nahdar Vebb             34 402000000000

Cay Qel-Droma     31 304500000000

Roron Corobb             30 303000000000

Zuckuss                     28 200000000000

Ahsoka Tano             26 200020000000

Ferus Olin             25 403000000000

Ephant Mon             23 000010000000

Jax Pavan             22 201000000000

Jagged Fel             19 301000000000

Ulaha Kore             17 100000000000

Soontir Fel             12 100000000000

Wicket Warrick       9 100000000000

Grael                       8 100000000000

Teebo                       7 100000000000

BoShek                       7 100000000000

                     Athletic Strength Primary Secondary Specialty Armor Shield

Blade                     10 4400 0050035 000000300000000 0000000300 2         0

She-Hulk                       9 620,000 0000020 000000000000000 0000000000 150         0

Ultron                       9 200,000 0000020 000000000000030 0004000000 400         0

Namor 9 180,000 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 20 0

Beast 9 20,000 0095040 000000000000000 0000000007 0 0

Miracle Man 9 2000 0000000 040630000000000 0000000000 0 0

Spider-Man 9 1200 0002020 000000000000000 0000000009 1 0

Daredevil 9 200 0000400 008030400000000 0000005000 0 0

Thor 8 500,000 0000070 700000000000000 0000000000 900 0

Wonder Woman 8 400,000 3055000 000000300005000 0700000000 18 0

Loki 8 10,000 0000022 000000000000000 0000000000 900 0

Captain America 8 1400 0606510 000000000050500 0000000090 0 250

U.S. Agent 8 800 0303310 000000000040300 0000000070 0 250

Black Cat 7 900 0050010 000000050000000 0000000000 0 0

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Robin 4 200 0809800 509080080808088 0000080800 2 0

Quake 4 150 5334220 000000000000000 0000000000 0 0

Batgirl 4 100 0024200 603000000000000 0000000000 2 0

Red Skull 4 100 0000000 000000000020000 0000000000  0 0

Storm 4 100 0334234 020232200000202 0000040000 0 0

Hulk 3 900,000 0000050 000000000000000 0000000000 920 0

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Black Adam 3 550,000 0800067 000000000000000 0000000000 100 0

Colossus 3 200,000 3311432 000000000000000 0004000000 80 0

Bane 3 6000 0750090 000500005500006 0000000000 0 0

Aquaman 3 3500 0000030 000000000000000 0000000000 10 0

Moon Knight 3 800 0404040 302330000500000 0000002000 0 0

Rogue 3 600 0040010 000000000000000 0000000000 2 1

Star-Lord 3 600 0430050 000000000040000 0000000000  0 0

Hawkman 3 600 0000000 000000000030000 0009000000 2 0

The Blob 3 500 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 4 0

Cyclops 3 200 4002400 000000000000000 0000000000  0 0

Green Lantern 3 200 0000030 000000000020000 0000000000 0 0

Nick Fury 3 200 0030000 000004000030000 0000000000  0 0

Solo 3 200 0000340 000000200020000 0000000000 0 0

Invisible Woman3 100 0000010 000000000000000 0000020000 90 0

Darkseid 2 650,000 0000020 000000000000000 0000000000 1000 0

Superman 2 600,000 0000040 000000000000000 0000000000 1000 0

Supergirl 2 400,000 0300030 000000000003000 0000000000 1000 0

Ghost Rider 2 50,000 0000020 000000000000000 0000000000 240 0

Iron Man 2 10,000 0000010 000000000000000 0005000000 40 0

Aaron Stack 2 4000 0000020 000000000000000 0000000000 160  0

Ra’s al Ghul 2 200 9993099 730050093309697 0000090000 0 0

Ant-Man 2 200 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 0 0

Blazing Skull 2 150 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 0 0

Sinestro 2 150 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 0 0

Talia al Ghul 2 120 9700775 739560073305643 0000050000 0 0

Cypher 2 100 0000010 000050000000000 0000000000 0 0

Dr. Strange 2 100 0230200 000000002000020 0000020000 0 0

Emma Frost 2 100 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 0 0

Empath 2 100 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000  0 0

Gideon 2 100 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 0 0

Jean Grey 2 100 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 20 0

Joker 2 100  0001010 000000400000000 0000000000 0

Lightspeed 2 100 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 0 0

Raven 2 100 000040 000000000004000 0000000000 0 0

Tarot 2 100 0000011 000000000000000 0000000000  0 0

Apocalypse 1 400,000 4000000 000070000000000 0000000000 500 0

Brainiac 1 100 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000  0 0

Mr. Fantastic 1 100 0000340 000500000000000 0000000000 0 0

Lex Luthor 1 100 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 35  0

Professor X 1 100 0030010 000000000010000 0000000000 0 0

The Leader 1 100 0000010 000000000000000 0000000000 0 0

Mxyzptlk 1 50 0000000 000000000000000 0000000000 0 0

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Hobbits as Heroes

A fan or not, it’s hard to get around the fact that Middle Earth is a font for blockbuster movies.  There have been five so far, each installment getting an extended version, and people flock to watch the movies and buy the videos.  And why wouldn’t they?  With wizards capable of unique and powerful magics, bizarre and neat looking monsters, elves capable of superhuman feats, and even humans wading into these fantastic tales, the stories seem to have something for everyone.

And then there are five hobbits – Bilbo, Frodo, Samwise, Peregrin, and Meriadoc.  They can’t do magic, they are no more clever than we are, they are nothing more than short humans.  And yet it is their successes that allow evil to be defeated.  They aren’t put in unrealistic situations, either.  Each character is drawn as a real person with deep flaws.  Each of them is accidentally thrust in a position of temporary importance during the course of the story.  And all five come through when they need to.

Perhaps Tolkien was a master at making the average person look important.  Maybe the personal aspect of the hobbits’ characters allowed him to generate a much greater feeling of closeness to them than we might otherwise have felt.  But the fact is that hobbits make Middle Earth work.  They are the only characters to be trusted with the ring.  They hide it, they travel with it, they destroy it.  They make the trip to Moria possible, they bring the Ents into the war against Sauron.  They bring the human/elf/human trio into Rohan where they save the king and protect its people from invasion.  One saves the Gondor seneschal’s son.  Others are better fighters, better strategists, better speakers, but without the hobbits nothing happens.

I don’t think that Tolkien had intended it, but it’s easy to see the hobbits as the real heroes of the stories.  Throughout the books, all the other characters do what they do whether that be fighting, talking, healing, or working magic.  But hobbits are farmers, craftsmen, and carpenters.  Simply leaving their Shire was outside their normal life experience.  And that is only the beginning.  The five grow so much in their time away.  They become thieves, diplomats, soldiers, and a dozen other things in their adventure.  Together, they manage to end the eons-old threat of Sauron; the struggles of the rest of Middle Earth are really no more than distractions for that goal.

Perhaps that is one more layer of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.  That, for him, the hero isn’t necessarily the man who has volunteered and trained to serve his country who is the real hero.  Instead it’s the person thrust into a role he isn’t bred or trained for who manages anyway.  I always like to keep in mind that he and his three close friends were drafted into World War I, a role none of them were ready for, and only Tolkien survived.  Maybe, just maybe, the Middle Earth stories originated as his way of saluting their sacrifice, of recognizing what they could have been, and of bringing attention to the significance of their lives.  In that way, I think he immortalized them all.

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The Traditional Heroine

Last week I spoke about the development of the female hero from a masculinized woman into a woman who is allowed to retain her normal social roles.  This week I would like to focus on the woman’s contribution to adventures.  If women were not traditionally the heroes in the classical sense then certainly they had other roles beyond being the prize or the damsel in distress.

Characters who qualify for study here are reasonably numerous; many are even famous for their alternate functions.  Medea, Niniane, and even Athena spring to mind immediately.  There are more; Signy from Norse myth, Medb from Irish myth, Morgan from the Arthurian corpus among a host of others, but the first three will work well to make my point.

Athena is the goddess among them, it should be remembered of war as well as wisdom.  But she is not a fighter; she is rarely presented as even wearing armor.  What she does do is guide the hero and  provide him with the tools he needs in order to accomplish his quest.  She arranges for Perseus to find the Medusa and for Bellerophon to capture Pegasus.  She helps Tydeus in his career as well.

Medea and Niniane, too, guide and protect their respective heroes.  Medea advises Jason on how to deal with the fire-breathing bulls her father would have killed him with.  She also arranges for the Argonauts’ safe journey from Colchis by killing her brother and leaving his cut up pieces in the sea to be picked up.  Niniane serves as a useful advisor to Arthur in the latter part of his reign, helping him with his decisions and later arranging for his transport to Avalon for healing.

As a rule, the perception has been that a woman (as opposed to a god) had to be underhanded and break ties of loyalty in order to help the hero.  She has in effect been portrayed as a stereotype that we are comfortable with; fickle in her emotions.  Males do this, too.  Loki seems genuinely interested in helping Odin while not hesitating to have Baldr killed and spawning the three greatest threats to Asgard in his spare time.  Midas is one of the best kings of Greek mythology, until he makes that wish about gold.

I’ve chosen these two characters intentionally, they are among the most notorious people in myth and legend for the perception of them as foolish or at least lacking foresight.  But for women such qualities are o.k., because that’s all they can do.

Two things to be taken from this.  First, that women were not traditionally  perceived as helpful in the hero’s quest and so the only way they were acceptable in that role was if they were using deception and cruelty.

Second, the simple invention of the superheroine is a huge step in our social progress, to be sure.  However, I don’t like that we have patterned it after the male superhero.  Women think differently, behave differently, are heroic differently.  I look forward to the day when they are properly represented as different.

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The Superheroine Liberal

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Black Cat, Sue Storm, and Jean Grey.  Your typical female superheroes, right?  Not so much.  I did a quick search of my library and on the internet and learned a very interesting fact; there are only three superheroines in the legends and myths – Atalanta, Caenis, and a warrior from the Mahabharata.  Atalanta and the Mahabharata heroine refused to marry, and when they were finally forced to both women lost their martial abilities.  Caenis was raped by a god and asked in return to be made a man.  Caenis, or Caeneus, is a good symbol for all three women.  To be considered a superhero, a woman traditionally had to give up being a woman altogether.

Not so with the comic book genre.  Wonder Woman was created in 1942, and in that very same issue she fell in love with Steve Trevor.  The feelings were returned, and the couple have carried on a romantic relationship.  In the 1960s and 1970s the Invisible Woman and Jean Grey were similarly able to have marriages, with both women eventually marrying.  Interestingly, in all three cases the women were more powerful than their mates.

Batgirl, Supergirl, and Black Cat have all had more complicated romances, but they have had relationships.  And in no case have they lost their powers because of the fact that they were allowing themselves to love.  With these women, too, they have been more powerful than most of their romantic interests.

In this regard, the development of the superheroine has been a tremendous step forward for women.  That a woman could have both her full abilities and a romantic partner would have been unthinkable before the twentieth century.  The functional fixedness of women’s perception; as either intelligent and forceful or a wife and mother was ingrained not just into the public’s thoughts of their heroines but of society’s thinking toward women in general.

That a woman could be more powerful than her man would have been unthinkable up until the last few decades.  In our society, the thought that a woman could be better, at anything, than a man continues to be an issue.  I just watched Hancock again, and there is a scene where Charlize Theron asks her husband to open a bottle she is having trouble with.  It’s silly, and I laughed at the irony.  But the scene is so honest it’s also frightening.

With all the advances being made, there is still one point in which women are well behind the men – intelligence.  Mr. Fantastic’s powers are no match for his wife, but he is a powerful mutant in his own right.  On the other hand, he is possibly the smartest human in the Marvel universe while the Invisible Woman was a model before she became part of the Fantastic Four.  His brains are why he is the team leader.  Similarly Cyclops is generally portrayed as more intelligent than the more powerful Jean Grey and he is the field leader of the X-Men.  Wonder Woman defers to Steve, despite the fact that she is supposed to be more intelligent than him.  Supergirl is the immature cousin of Superman.  Black Cat is the ethically challenged sometime partner of Spider-Man.  Batgirl only became intelligent when she was crippled.  Comic heroines have moved perceptions of women well beyond their mythological role models but they still have some distance to go.

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Story Promo: De Excidio Gildae

If you liked the ideas in “Age of Arthur”, here’s a chance to read a story set in that universe.  I have been publishing my shorts on and they allow me to make coupons on occasion.  So, go to  which should be the site for “De Excidio Gildae”, type in the code VR95P and download a free copy.  ENJOY!

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Role of the Hero in Society: Enemies

Just as the hero is consistently representative of the dominant culture group, so too his enemies tend to have the same characteristics.  In the ancient past they were a rationalization of the conquered peoples.  The giants among the Norse, the Amazons among the Greeks, and the various little people of the British Isles were all the representations of the conquered in common memory.  Tiamat among the Mesopotamians and the Titans of Greek myth were symbols of the religions they had overthrown.  In all these cases, creating hero myths was a means of  simplifying conquests into a simple equation of good and evil for future generations.

At the dawn of the historical period the role of the hero was adjusted from a means of assuaging guilt into a tool for the development of nationalism.  As such, characters such as William Wallace, Yoshitsune, and Roland now fought real people that the culture group already viewed as enemies.  So, King Arthur may have fought only Britons in his lifetime, but with the rise of this new form of hero he became a British symbol in their fight against the English.  After 1136, the English adopted him as their hero and used him to demonstrate their superiority over all of Britain and the continent.

The newspaper became a powerful instrument in the development of nationalism with the widespread development of reading in the nineteenth century; Bismarck would employ it to unite all of Germany.  But it wasn’t long before the hero had transformed again.  Here in the United States that change came at the conclusion of the Civil War.  At the time, the nation’s pop culture revolved around three types of heroes – Indian fighters, outlaw gunfighters and the lawmen who fought them (and were often not much more legal than the outlaws).  These weren’t, in either case, figures of national importance or even individuals whose exploits were being used to foster a sense of nationalism.  They were instead indications of American’s state of mind.  Years of brainwashing had convinced our forefathers that the Indians were savages and so all activities surrounding them were clouded with that viewpoint.  Indian fighters represented our ability to tame America.  Likewise with the lawmen, whose purview was U.S. settlements.

And it was easy to associate many outlaws with a continuing rebellion against the north because several individuals, the James brothers among them, had fought for the south during the war.  Outlaws could be seen as a rebellion against the civilizing of the west as well in their attacks on the railroads, banks, and stagecoaches that embodied that expanding civilization.

But these types of heroes could only survive in a specific environment, and that environment disappeared with improvements in train travel and law enforcement.  And of course the people who had helped to “tame” the west got old.

In a way, the very tools that destroyed the environment became the new concerns.  The blatant use of power demonstrated by Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan made the American public aware and fearful of the economically powerful.  The very machines that had made life easier were also seen for the first time as taking jobs – and their potential was limitless.  The highly intelligent people who were making these technological improvements had abilities beyond the imaginations of most people.  Concerns about where their inventions might lead were terrifying; the horrors of World War I (mustard gas, tanks, first major use of a practical machine gun) were a perfect justification for those fears.  And they took personified form in the Lex Luthors, the Jokers, and the Brainiacs of the newly forming comic book universe.  But what they are at their core is undeniable; our fears being beaten by our heroes.

The intelligent invent things like microelectronics and the Internet right along with bombs and smaller weapons, their contributions vary with the environment.  Machines are limited in morality and abilities by their creators.  And although the wealthy are capable of great evils in our world, they are not all evil.  

Personally, I would love to see a villain representing the real evils in our society; those controlling the progression of recycling and the use of environmentally-friendly fuels.  Or the people who pay for our politicians.  Someone not necessarily smart or evil, just self-centered and wealthy.

But, I don’t see that happening as long as we need our bad guys to wear all black and twirl their mustaches for us.  How about you?

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The Role of the Hero in Society; Attributes

As an historian, I understand that one of the best ways of understanding nearly any aspect of a society is to understand where it comes from.  Take superheroes, for instance.  Throughout the world they all have some basic features. Now I don’t propose to go all Joseph Campbell, but I do think there is a point to be made here.

One thing that seems to go unnoticed about superheroes is that they have superhuman abilities for their culture.  So for instance Achilles was cut across his Achille’s Tendon and died because the concept of total invulnerability was beyond them.  And Achilles was only so protected because his mother had dipped him in the river Styx.  Even gods were not beyond wounds.  Diomedes managed to defeat Aphrodite and Ares in two separate fights, injuring them both.  Hercules put on a cloak with poison in it, and his mortal half died.  You see the Greeks could not imagine titanium or the concept that anything living was not also capable of being injured.

Second item; throughout the world heroes neutralize and/or trick the bad guys.  King Arthur decapitates Urien, his most difficult personal combat.  Thor kills, as does Yoshitsune and Tametamo in Japan, Roland in France, Sigurd among the Norse, and Arjun in India.  In more recent myth, our own frontiersmen, gunfighters, and lawmen killed Indians, outlaws, and lawmen.  

It’s only in the last century or so that our heroes have attempted incarceration and have tried to save the lives of villains when possible.  Despite Batman’s harsh views of the world, he keeps sending the same people back the Arkham.  That, too, is a function of the culture we live in.  As our concepts of life and the psychology behind antisocial behavior have evolved so has what we consider proper penalties.

Finally, our superheroes represent those people in a society most able to patronize the stories.  This means a culture controlled by Japanese will have heroes who are ethnically Japanese, Hebrews had Hebrew heroes, Aborigine had Aborigine heroes.  The Greeks traveled the Mediterranean, but their superheroes were almost exclusively Greek (exceptions like Hector and Orion come to mind but they were clearly lesser heroes).  The same goes with every culture; superheroes have traditionally been a means for one culture to prove to itself it is superior to all others.  It comes as no surprise the same thing is happening with our own superheroes.  The most important ones in both major comic universes, Star Wars, and Middle Earth are white and mostly male (even Mace Windu was not in the original script).

I recently read an article naming the X-Men as a forward-thinking comic because it had clearly been made with a minority in mind (first link below).  They were initially intended to represent nerds and other outcasts in high school.  They have evolved from that point.  The clear delineation of Xavier and Magneto’s philosophies strongly resemble the approaches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, respectively.  The point was also made that the scene where Iceman reveals his mutant abilities to his parents in X-Men 2 looked exactly like a “coming out”.

The article went on to (rightly) complain that whites as a culture group were using the comic to make their own case about being discriminated against.  Why?  Because the majority of the mutants are white.  The very fact that the comic, and most other comics, are composed primarily of white heroes negates that statement.  On the contrary, it clearly shows that the white culture group is the dominant socio-economic group in the United States.

Should we have more ethnic diversity in our superheroes?  Of course.  Will we?  Only when the dominant culture group (White, Black, Hispanic, Asian) no longer feels that it needs to use superheroes to demonstrate its superiority.  That may be years, decades, or even centuries in the making.  It takes less effort to enforce equality in the workplace than it does to fabricate new and different heroes for a culture.

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Captain America


Captain America
Strength: 700 lbs.

Cap has always been my favorite hero. Like Batman, he has no superpowers. He was given his body, that of the greatest Olympic champions and an equal to the dark knight, but only because his own was sickly. Unlike his counterpart, however, he does not have a superior intellect or a grab bag of tools to rely on. All he possesses is an impenetrable shield and what he knows about boxing, gymnastics, and judo. The thing that makes him so great is his absolute faith in the rightness of what he is doing. He trains constantly and he’s learned to throw his shield like a boomerang.

He isn’t a complex figure. He is not an anti-hero like later heroes. He has no demons in his past like Magneto or Daredevil. He follows a simple philosophy: “Always do the right thing for the right reason.” And he makes it work. The only other comic hero who completely gives himself to what is morally right is all but invulnerable, can move mountains, burn holes with his eyes, and freeze the bad guys with his breath. That guy can afford to have perfect ideals. Captain America’s integrity, faith, willpower, and character are are ideals he should not be able to follow, but he does. His devotion to succeeding at what is right makes me want to emulate him. It might be fun to have super speed or to be invisible, but the only comic hero I would want to be is Cap.

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Buffy the Vampire Slayer

imageAs part of a new project, I will be writing on my favorite comic-type heroes. That won’t strictly mean they are in comic books, but they will have similar abilities, e.g. Strength, speed, etc. This time around, I would like to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Strength: about 1200 lbs
Abilities: exceptional healing, jumping, speed, super senses, vision
The show was about killing vampires, which is simple enough. John Carpenter has done a couple of movies, the Blade comics, and anime has done a great deal with the idea. Further back we have Bram Stoker and the plethora of movies and stories he has inspired.

But Buffy is much more than that. She is more like a comic hero in that the stories revolve around her, her friends, and her life. Sure she has super powers. She has strength, speed, superhuman agility, a natural fighting ability, some kind of a mystical connection to dead slayers and powerful vampires, but those gifts never feature in the stories.

And best of all the language. I don’t know if it was Joss Whedon or Sarah Michelle Gellar who made up the quirky communication between the chief actors, but it is the most fun part of the whole show. It takes the show away from the feel of a weekly horror installment. And with the way the episodes have a way of making fun of the horror genre in general and itself in particular, it takes on a life of its own. You can’t call Buffy a horror heroine, because she isn’t the sole survivor; she helps an entire school to make it through life on the Hellmouth. You can’t call her a comic hero (really), because no comic hero could ever have an origin story as campy as hers. She isn’t really an action star, because she would like nothing better than to be a cheerleader again. She is simply Buffy, a funny, grudging heroine with the abilities of Captain America, the philosophy of life of a valley girl, the wit of The Wasp, and the weight of the world occasionally on her shoulders.

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Monty Python and Holy Grail; a list of scenes they should have added

imageI would very much like to talk about the short stories relating to Arthur that I have published through Amazon, the work I am doing right now, and especially the universe I have been crafting for years now. However, I thought a better way to baptize this blog would be to do something that will characterize my site: What better than Monty Python? Therefore, I offer a list of the things this famed comedy group should have put in their movie about the Holy Grail:

-More rabbits
-Guinevere. And as a French woman from the French castle would be even better
-Meleagant kidnapping Guinevere, but being a wimpy and homosexual character who just wanted some attention
-A quadrepelegic Black Knight at Maiden’s Castle
-Some alien child pretending he is God; which would mean of course that the Holy Grail would need to be a toy or a snack
-A contest between the Knights who say “Nee” and the French. It wouldn’t matter what the contest was, the French would turn it into a battle of wits. Oh, and with King Arthur as the commentator.

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Episode IX

Since Return of the Jedi came to theaters in 1983 I have been hoping for a continuation of the series. The Ewok cartoons didn’t do it, at all. The revised original series only whetted my appetite. The prequels, well, once I saw where they were starting I knew how it had to end. Having the emperor mastermind the entire war and having his dupe order to clones to have and Order 66 was a nice touch, but I acknowledge the Lucas had very little to work with within the confines of what he’d set up in the original series. The best he could really do was give us nods about what we knew was going to happen next and give us some beautiful scenery. This he managed just fine.

What I wanted was a sequel trilogy. Outdoing the opening sequence in Episode IV was great, outdoing the famous cantina scene was a delight, seeing the Falcon fly again made my heart sore. But blending two different generations didn’t work well, and reusing the old theme of a super weapon was not impressive.

The series just died in VIII. Luke as a cantankerous old man who doesn’t really teach anything that cantina owner couldn’t have managed. A storyline that basically involves the Rebel fleet running from the Empire and slowly running out of gas. No lightning in a bottle there, and the primaries’ attempt at a rescue was little more than an excuse to develop them – several interesting characters appeared only to disappear entirely, or to hardly show up in the last movie. Then Snoke dies, by a slight of hand and with hardly a whimper. Disappointing. The best part of the whole movie was a lightsaber battle between a novice and a man who wasn’t actually there. WOW!

Episode IX had no reused themes, no useless asides. It was what a series finale was supposed to be – the end. Those who cannot be redeemed die by their own hand. Those who can, sacrifice themselves for those who are more important for the galaxy. There were elements of both the previous trilogies, there was a sense of unity, and there was a fully developed hero at the end. I could not have been more satisfied with the movie. I suppose some will wonder why there was no requited romance among the primaries, but it wasn’t necessary. Actually, if you’ll recall, the Jedi in the original trilogy wasn’t involved in a romance at the end of that series, either. To have connected Rey to anyone, there, would have weakened the strong and independent character the movie created. Thank you Abrams, for this amazing accomplishment.

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Time Travel

So, interesting thought. Say a historian, let’s call him Berlinghoff Rasmussen for fun, decides to travel back in time from 2500 to the present. Being well-versed in the problems of time travel, he puts his ship in a careful orbit to avoid so much as altering the movement of any objects in space. He gets planetside without the use of a ship so that there is no footprint. While studying us he eats his own food, always collects his own waste, makes sure no one even knows he is present. When he leaves, there is no evidence he was ever there for even the most paranoid person to follow. Then he goes home.

We watch “The Voyage Home”, the third season of ‘Enterprise’, ‘Bill and Ted’, or any other science fiction show that’s delved into time travel and know that no character (not even Berlinghoff) was ever so careful. But the reality is, the time traveler couldn’t actually go home. He’d be breathing air, coming in contact with microscopic life forms, tromping around and potentially killing unimportant things like worms. When the time traveler caught the attention of a single dog he’d be affecting the timeline, ensuring he couldn’t go back to the world he’d known.

When I was growing up, people would talk about proof that time travel had never been invented because it would ruin the fabric of our reality. The idea of that was scary, but the fact that nothing had changed was also reassuring. Now that I realize people could have been traveling back in time since Orson Wells I’m a little more freaked out. Imagine, any person who did that would effectively be eliminating themselves from our reality. Wow, they’d actually be creating their own reality.

Which, come to think of it, might be kind of fun actually. Imagine going back in time to manipulate just the right events so you could get a date with the one who got away years ago. Or think bigger, invent pet rocks, and have the money to rub elbows with the hottie of your teens. Or go Napoleon, take everything anyone ever learned about nineteenth century warfare and the chief actors, and actually conquer the world.

In your own little reality.

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Star Wars: The Sequel Trilogy

A couple years ago, Abrams and Lucas brought us the long awaited sequel to ‘Return of the Jedi’. In a way it was disappointing, we all expected to see Luke’s Jedi school either starting or in full swing and an appropriately dangerous enemy for them to combat. There was going to be new heroes, hopefully some of the people from the various novels and games so that there would be familiarity, but the bottom line was a whole new generation of Jedi with Luke Skywalker going all Yoda on everyone.

What did we get, a single scene with Luke and a movie focused on people we didn’t know from the media (movies, novels, graphic novels, comics, cartoons) of the last forty years. Leia and Han got little more than cameos. I didn’t like it. Nor did I appreciate yet another superpowerful weapon designed to control people. But, I could forgive that. The Sith were at the heart of the Empire and the nature of their power is a lack of control – it only makes sense that they would tend toward more and more powerful weapons. To be honest, empires tend toward that. Sometimes people forget that the U.S. developed the Atom bomb but we only did it because Nazi Germany started it first.

Then the second movie, with the new characters getting developed. Leia is supposedly in charge of the rebellion but they used a plot twist to keep her out of most of the movie (and show off a Force power, thank you Mr. Lucas). Not cool. I get that the new people have to get some air time, but could we get the fun characters a little more air time, one last hurrah?

What I could appreciate was the treatment of Luke. The most powerful being in the Star Wars universe was responsible for the destruction of the original Death Star, converting his father back to the light side (Ashla), and killing the emperor but lets face it he was always a whiney bitch. He whined about not leaving Tatooine, he whined about leaving, he whined about his training, and then he whined that he couldn’t help his friends. After the Sith were snuffed out he was supposed to start a Jedi school, train beings of immense power, and maintain all their respect with his quiet wisdom, knowledge of the Force, and unparalleled power; like he does in the novels.

But that didn’t happen. Instead he tried, had a setback, and ran away from the galaxy – like a whiney bitch. It actually makes a lot more sense that he’d give up at the first sign of trouble, and running away is the best thing for someone to do if they don’t have the courage to try again. Don’t get me wrong, Luke Skywalker still possessed amazing power, so his big show at the end of the movie makes perfect sense and fell right into his pattern of showing up, making use of his raw power, and then fading away. On the other hand the fact that he had no substance explains why he could never train people, not really even Rey. I had expectations about Luke, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that Episode Eight made better sense than anything the novels had managed. Thanks again for that.

Now, what are they going to do with a few dozen open rebels, dozens of quiet cells, and a single half-trained Jedi against an empire of soldiers and at least one true Sith? Should be interesting.

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Resident Evil:  Completed

  1. Resident Evil
  2. Apocalypse
  3. Extinction
  4. Afterlife
  5. Retribution
  6. Final Chapter

The long-lived horror/science fiction series is finally concluded.  To the writer’s credit, we find out about Alice’s past, her real relationship with Umbrella Corporation, and she survives.  I felt like I could finally walk away from the character.  From that standpoint the story was much more satisfying than many good and unusual series I’ve come across over the years, among them Buffy and Angel, Dark Angel, Firefly, and Stargate Universe.

I even enjoyed the return of the two biggest villains for this finale, and deeply relished watching them get put down.  It’s rare that the nature of a universe allows for the same character to be killed multiple times, but I think engineering the metamorphosis of the human race into zombies made this exception perfectly acceptable.

That said, the movie did have its flaws.  I didn’t much like how the story dealt with the supporting cast.  A monologue at the beginning of the film says that the survivors of Retribution had all been killed by a human subterfuge that wasn’t even hinted at in that movie.  Whereas that might be a convenient way to explain away actor unavailability (there was a five year interval between movies due to Milla Jovovich’s pregnancy) it just doesn’t play from a dramatic standpoint.  Two of those characters  (Leon and Ada) had survived the worst attacks of all the movies, additionally Jill had been recovered from an earlier installment.  The way it concluded had suggested that the survivors (Claire, Kmart, and Chris) of the previous films might somehow or other be around for the finale.  Sure I expected that not all of them would survive, but to have them all simply written off in the preface monologue was difficult to accept.  I still don’t want to accept it.

And yet we were treated to one of the previous survivors, Claire.  Alice comes across her in moving toward her finale with the Umbrella Corporation. The backstory sucked, that she’d been captured at the end of Afterlife to be used for experiments but had been misplaced in transport and found her way to a haven of humans safely. Still, she did provide a little of the missing continuity to the other films.

Which generally plagued this movie.  The plot of Retribution laid out a three-way war between a computer whose aim was the total annihilation of the human race into zombies, the bad guys from the previous movies now allying with Alice to save humanity, and Alice along with any other human who had managed to survive so far.  But at the beginning of The Final Chapter the computer is firmly under the control of the bad guys while doing everything in its power to circumvent their orders, and those orders will lead to the death of all humans but the governing body of Umbrella.  No explanation was given for that.

Overall, I liked the movie.  It wrapped up the Alice character, the T-virus, and the Umbrella Corporation.  Sadly though, as long as it took to get this to the screen I think it would have benefited from a little more script editing.  I sincerely hope that some of the deleted scenes in the DVD explain a little more about what happened.

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Crusading Kings 2

I don’t normally review video games, but then again I don’t normally get requests either.  And since I do enjoy both history and strategy games I guess this isn’t much of a stretch.  CK2 takes place over the last four centuries of the Middle Ages. With various expansion packs it includes all of Europe and a stretch from India to Muslim Africa.  As a player you can choose to be any historical character from a major king (William the Conqueror) to a vassal of a minor king.  You then become every ruling member of that dynasty.

What impressed me from the start was the general knowledge base about medieval politics, religion, and strategy.  The breadth of character options is also quite good.  By comparison the long-running Civilization franchise only allows about twenty-five possibilities and they are all kings.  Also neat is the marriage.  Historically, marriage were used to gain territory  and make alliances.  Here choosing the right match will help you breed heirs with specifically characteristics.  No one in the Middle Ages was worried about a woman’s contribution but it does add dimension to the game.

What I didn’t like were details that made gameplay easier.  New dynasties began among the Christians because of the failure to find a male heir or, rarely, because the kings became weaker than the leader of their guards over the course of generations (the Franks come to mind).  In this game it is possible, however, for one of William’s  vassals to usurp the English crown by steadily gaining more prestige than his lord.  While I couldn’t tell you why that never happened, the fact that at one point the king of France only controlled the area around Paris but never had his kingship taken tells me that there was something in place (rule by divine right?  Tradition?  Popular beliefs?) that made it inconceivable. In the game, however, this makes for more exciting possibilities.  If you’re smart you can maneuver yourself into becoming a king.

War here also seems a little more interesting than the reality.  Because of the nature of feudalism and fighting, warfare was not a matter of hundreds of thousands of fighters strategically located in several armies.  Sieges were common but rarely conclusive unless they were drawn out because nothing until gunpowder could destroy castle walls. Very often, the two major players would meet in battle and the winner would win while the loser would die or submit.  The only exception that comes to mind is the Hundred Years War, which was actually three wars and was only really waged when England came to France and when France felt confident enough in its numbers to defeat England.  And yet in this game you can win without defeating the opponent in battle through a scoring system.

Overall this is a good game, with more detail and relevant focus than many other history games out there.  I would appreciate less focus on sieges except as a strategy to draw opponents into battle and the limiting of dynastic improvement to successful marriages, but overall this is something I would recommend.

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The Force … Has been Asleep Too Long

Well let’s get the basics out of the way. Many people loved the movie – the original cast was back in a satisfying fashion, the Falcon was involved in some great stunts, there’s a huge new threat, and that last scene where they find Luke was perfect. Don’t forget how the Episode 4 scene had a Star Destroyer dwarfing Leia’s ship while the newest one dwarf’s a moon. Or the amazing aliens of the Cantina scene and how they were upstaged by the Cantina scene of the latest movie.
A few people simply said “Hmmph, it’s a remake of Episode 4, they just destroyed a superdeathstar on a world. To which I always respond “If you were a galactic empire what would be the best way to symbolize your power – even if you had Sith controlling it?”

So, to the interesting stuff. When Lucas did the original trilogy, he had futuristic samurai monks that everyone fell in love with, but there were other things as well. I have spoken before of his passion for Joseph Campbell’s work on comparative mythology. Specifically, there was a theme of “Six Go Around the World”, six allies who have unique skill sets and help him complete his tasks. Six – Han, Leia, Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Obi-Wan, were there just to help Luke.  
But Lucas built on that with other mythological themes. Han was the imperial officer (look again at his outfit in 4-6) who broke from his training to become one of the Rebels’ greatest leaders, Luke’s closest friend, and Leia’s love interest – a villain gone good. Luke and Leia were twins. Very often one twin would turn bad while the other would remain good and have to confront him. There was a threat of that in the original series but it was never explored.

In the new movie, we have an imperial soldier who quits the empire almost from the start, befriends the Rebels’ greatest pilot (hmm), and has already shown a strong interest in the heroine – Rey. And her greatest enemy is the Sith disciple. Her brother? Her twin brother?
I love that the story is continuing. Even better, I love that the mythological themes are being tapped again. I could care less if they have to blow up another death star in Episode 9 (a la 6), as long as the mythology is respected

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Top 50 Comic Book Heroes VI

Captain America: Super strong, super healing, the athletic abilities of an Olympic level gymnast – powers at their purest. The neat thing is that his personality, everything he stands for, is exactly the same pure. I had always been afraid that any cinematic portrayal of him would come off as flat, but I’ve now seen four movies that have been perfectly pleasing in that regard.

14 Whistler: What a neat twist on an old story; a vampire hunter who takes in a vampire and trains him to kill vampires. Whistler is crippled, cranky, and doesn’t seem to care about anything other than keeping his man supplied with gear. I enjoyed watching him stand up to his superhuman counterpart and then watching the hero back down.

15 Blade: You have to admire Stan Lee’s audacity sometimes. He takes an African-American character and gives him a slave name, but then makes that name, Blade, his chief weapon. And yeah, the theme of redemption from his past is always nice, right along with his fanaticism about a race of beings most people think are myths.

16 Batgirl/Oracle: I never like her much; she’s a spin-off character from Batman who plays off his dark persona, alternately fighting, flirting, obediently obeying him. I am not a fan of The Joker making her a parapalegic either, but it has separated her and helped the character to become a key connection in the DC universe as an information broker.

17 Buffy the Vampire-Slayer: An empty-headed cheerleader who comes to accept her calling as not only a vampire-slayer, but the leader of the slayers. And she entertained us along the way, sacrificing herself for others, making obvious mistakes, inventing her own language for her Scooby Friends. She was probably the most human hero I have ever seen among comics, even if she was several times stronger than your typical man, with healing powers to match Captain America.

18 Batman: What would it do to a person if he watched his parents get gunned down? How would he respond if he was one of the richest men in the world? Most of us have something like that happen to us and we would give up. But for a guy with all the resources of the Wayne family at his fingertips there’s no reason for Bruce to. In a way I think he is an ideal person, not emotionally or personality-wise of course, but in his drive to get better.

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Top Comic Book Characters IV

25 She-Hulk:   The Hulk is in many ways a sad creature. He’s lost his career and is on the run from the government, the woman he loves can’t be with him. Not She-Hulk, his cousin. She revels in being a hulk. The happy, playful beauty uses her alter ego to make her life more fulfilled.

26 Robin: Parents lost in an accident, he grows up in luxury by day and as a partner in crime fighting by night. What’s neat about this guy is that he doesn’t have this need to avenge his parents like his mentor does. That leaves him free to develop social skills and be likeable. The Teen Titans are his creation, something Batman could never manage.

27 Abe Sapien: A geek that looks like an alien. It’s an interesting thought, but you wouldn’t think it had much for legs. Not so this character. With his university manner and sharp quips he is one of the more appealing aspects of the Hellboy franchise.  I think it’s kind of funny that the sidekick is in many way more interesting than the main character.

28 Spike: Starting as a joke vampire, the character killed two slayers, was lover to a third, and sacrificed himself Christ-style so that all the slayers could survive. How he went from wanting to kill Buffy, to living without being able to touch a human, and then fighting to have a soul makes him one of the best developed comic characters I’ve ever seen.

29 Lex Luthor: The quintessential evil scientist, Lex has been around for almost as long as Superman. His knowledge of technology may be well behind the Kryptonians, but he is smarter than his nemesis and a whole lot craftier. Lex has no superpowers and has no martial arts training. When he goes up against the greatest hero of them all he has nothing but his mind. How cool is that?

30 Angel: Gorgeous, tortured, and ageless. In his previous life he was pitiless and extremely creative in how he tortured his victims. Given a soul, he is a champion of justice and all that. His story of redemption makes him interesting, but his snarky way of dealing with enemies and allies alike make him a lot alike. The series ended with an amazing battle about to start. I’d like to watch that play out. And see if he gets the dragon.

31 Mystique: Imagine having the ability morph into anyone. I don’t mean being a Tyrannosaurus Rex or a mouse like Beastboy, but then again she can be anyone. Imagine the possibilities for espionage. Now imagine that character with a chip on her shoulder, and totally convicted. There are some tremendously powerful characters in the Marvel universe, but she’s the scariest.

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Top Comic Characters III

32 Iron Man: Even before RDJ took the character to new heights, Marvel’s version of Batman had a little more to it than his counterpart. A weapon’s manufacturer who realizes what he’s done and decides to do something about it. Not just throwing money to a good cause, he fights the cause himself. In the comics, he eventually becomes the head of SHIELD. He would have been on this list regardless, but after the last few movies and RDJ’s outstanding wit he’s moved up quite a bit.

33 Superman: A refugee from a doomed planet, he comes to Earth. And then we get lucky. He is raised by good people with strong values who manage to impart on him a sense of love and respect for mankind. He should think of us as his pets, his slaves, or even his worshippers. Instead he protects us, especially from ourselves, while hiding his identity and abilities from the public. It’s hard to believe that a character like him is still one of the most visible comic characters in the world. He deserves something for that.


34 Brainiac: There have been a lot of Brainiacs over the years and just as many versions of Brainiac. I like the basic concept though, a sentient machine. In human form, as a cyborg or simply mechanical whether he is sucking up all knowledge or has something more sinister in mind he is somehow more frightening than Superman’s other villains-he is dispassionate above everything.

35 Rogue: She drains the power of whatever she touches, knocking out and eventually killing normal people and borrowing the powers of mutants. You have to love the idea, but what always got me was the life she had to live. She never had any control over her powers, which meant she could never touch anyone. She’s almost like a sadder version of The Thing.

36 Mister Fantastic: The most brilliant person on the planet in the Marvel universe, he is capable of learning and advancing knowledge in any science. His creativity makes his limited ability, being stretchy, one of the most dominant in the universe. And all the while he is the “dumbest smart man” out there, a social moron with the dating skills of a preadolescent. Adorable!

37 Loki: Granted, the movie portrayals have made him a favorite hero for many, but they had some great material to begin with – a god as intelligent as Odin but whose only interest is in mischief and chaos. In the Norse myths, though, he never made any sense because he never did anything useful. The comics, and the movies, have overcome that flaw.

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