Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Ideal Justice League Lineup

Comic book nerds like me often have their favourite team line-ups, often based on the team's composition during the golden age, i.e., the golden age of the comic-loving kid, between ages 6 to 12 or so. For me, my team was the Justice League of America and my line-up was the 1970s league, or as it's often called the "Satellite League" because they operated out of the Justice League satellite orbiting Earth. At this time the League included most of the icons: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and secondary favourites including the Atom, Black Canary, the Elongated Man, Red Tornado, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, and, later, Firestorm and Zatanna. 

I grew out of comics in my very early teens but then returned to them in my late teens, thanks mostly to Stephen Fitzpatrick and his steadfast refusal to shun certain pursuits just because some people regard them as childish. I started reading comics again in late high school and continued reading them throughout university up until...well, now, basically. So I've seen quite a few different Justice Leagues, my second-favourite almost certainly being the hilarious yet dramatic Giffen/DeMatteis League of the late 1980s/early 1990s. It's weird to think of this team as updated and modern considering their adventures are now decades in the past, but this was the first JLA since the Crisis on Infinite Earths that had upset the DC universe's status quo. This new League had a couple of old mainstays like Batman and Black Canary, but also brought aboard New Gods like Mr. Miracle and Big Barda, new-ish character Booster Gold, Earth-4 transplants the Blue Beetle and Captain Atom, Earth-2 transplant Dr. Fate, a new and churlish Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, former Global Guardians Fire and Ice, and an evolving assortment of new and rebooted characters. 

As enjoyable as those stories and teams were, though, I always felt that they could be improved upon with the addition of certain characters and the subtraction of others. Like any fan, I imagined how awesome it would be to have a Justice League composed only of my favourite characters without the distractions of the ones I found annoying. (Mature readers understand the importance of not being pandered to, but this thought experiment is about wish fulfilment.) Think of it as fantasy football or fantasy baseball, but for geeks. 

So, without further ado, the JLE, or Justice League of Earl: 

Superman
Of course Superman is going to be on my team. He's the prototypical superhero, the embodiment of truth and justice. His boy scout attitude is both inspirational and provides more pragmatic team members with a source of frustration and amusement. Plus his powers are fun to explore - always versatile and interesting, if written properly. 

Wonder Woman
The prototypical superheroine is a great match for Superman, with a fascinating mythological backstory and a compelling dichotomy between loving compassion and ruthless warrior instincts. 

Green Lantern
As in the superb Justice League animated series, I'd go with John Stewart rather than Hal Jordan or one of the other Earth Lanterns. But I'd make sure to return him to his roots as an architect with a love of Streisand, rather than the stereotypical US Marine he's characterized as these days. 

The Atom
Every team needs a brilliant scientist, and Ray Palmer not only fills that role, he's a great catalyst for adventures at the subatomic level, for that, of course, is the Atom's super-power. He's also Jewish, which adds a touch of diversity. 

Green Arrow
Angry 1970s diehard liberal Green Arrow was the social conscience of the League, and he could be again. 

Black Canary
She has guts, brains, she's tough, sexy, determined, incredibly skilled and passionate, and her bickering with the Green Arrow is often a lot of fun. 

The Elongated Man
I like Ralph because he's often underestimated. His stretching power is a little goofy, but people forget that he's a fine detective. He also has a public, rather than a secret, identity, and he's married, which has, in the past, led to some fun domestic drama. 

Zatanna
Every team needs a mystic, and Zatanna has an interesting backstory, a funky gimmick (the backwards spells), and a tragic past. She's the gateway to stories of myth and magic. 

Firestorm
As a composite of two people - a young jock and a middle-aged scientist - Firestorm combines atomic angst with the pressures of growing up and a very interesting surrogate father/son dynamic. Plus his powerset is very cool and unusual. 

Red Tornado
Red Tornado's 1970s look is one of the great character designs of the era, and like Firestorm, he has a versatile and interesting powerset. He's also an android built by a League enemy, which offers fertile storytelling possibilities. 

Black Lightning
Schoolteacher Jefferson Pierce is one of my favourite characters, an angry black man straight out of the blaxploitation era. Another hero with a great costume design and cool powers, Black Lightning comes with a tragic past to rival Batman's. 

Blue Beetle
Ted Kord was a great source of humour in the 80s League; he's also a rich guy with a lot of high-tech toys. He's sort of like Batman, but less troubled. 

Doctor Light
The first Doctor Light was a villain, but Kimiyo Hoshi took the name (and a similar costume) during the Crisis, and joined the 80s League a few years later. She's a single mother and a medical doctor, as well as a healthy dose of offputting arrogance. 

Captain Atom
Great powers, fantastic "costume" (really a shell of alien metal), excellent supporting characters and a military mindset, which works nicely in opposition to liberal characters like Green Arrow and Superman. 

Tomorrow Woman
Another android created by the same villain who built Red Tornado, Tomorrow Woman appeared in only one issue of JLA in the 90s - but it was such a great story that I'd find a way to bring her back. Fun, upbeat, heroic and self-sacrificing, she'd make a great counterpoint to the more dour Red Tornado. 

Bronze Tiger
A fearsome martial artist and reformed member of the evil League of Assassins. 

The Question
Faceless conspiracy theorist and a great foil for some of the more naive characters. Fantastic character design and great for the urban milieu. 

Jonah Hex
Yes, he's from the Wild West, but he's no stranger to time travel, and he'd be hilariously out of place in the Justice League. 

So that's my list. I think I could get a pretty solid two or three year run out of these guys. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ascension Anticipation


Now this looks interesting. In a few weeks the SyFy channel will premiere Ascension, a new SF miniseries presenting an alternate reality in which the United States launches a secret interstellar voyage. I'm particularly taken by the goofy and yet amazingly cool starship, which features nothing less then a Saturn V rocket as its centrepiece. The show could turn out to be amazingly dumb, but I'm a sucker for both alternate history stories and space opera, so I'll be tuning in. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Therapy Dogs Could Send Me to Therapy

The Edmonton International Airport has introduced "therapy dogs" as a means of calming passengers stressed out by air travel. This is framed as a good-news story and so far the comments are all overwhelmingly positive.

"My spirits are up for sure. It just brings me happiness," gushes one interviewee. "And my face is cleaner because she licked all the things off."

YUCK.

I understand that people who don't like dogs are viewed with the same sort of suspicion and unease as, say, supporters of ISIS. What sort of monster could possibly object to our furry friends, these adorable creatures who offer nothing but unconditional love?

We exist. And I really don't object to the program so much as I do to the blithe assumption that everyone is going to LOVE this idea. The newspaper story is completely unbalanced - there's not even a word about allergies, for example, never mind people who simply don't like dogs.

I don't expect to be pandered to, and generally speaking I agree that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. If therapy dogs will genuinely help 99 percent of travellers reduce their stress levels, then by all means therapy dogs should be welcomed at our airports.

But as a person who is both severely allergic to and scared of dogs, this program will make my travel more stressful. I don't like it, but I'll live with it. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fast Company, Familiar Faces

Today I watched David Cronenberg's 1979 drag-racing movie, Fast Company. I watched it for two reason: Cronenberg is a great director and I hope to one day see all of his films (I've seen about 75 percent of them at this point), and I heard that it was filmed in Edmonton.

Fast Company is a solid B-movie and worth watching just to see well-known character actors John Saxon and William Smith deliver their typically passionate performances, but it's especially interesting for Albertans, who will recognize Highway 2, Jasper National Park, the old Edmonton International Speedway, a Western Drug Mart (remember those?), Doug Main playing himself as an ITV newscaster, Michael Bell (from those annoying Brick commercials) playing a reporter from Spokane, Chuck Chandler as the race announcer, and Whyte Avenue circa the late 1970s, with the Princess Theatre prominent (doubling as a street in Spokane). There are also glimpses of 630 CHED's old logo and an Edmonton Oilers sign.

What's even more interesting is that Alberta isn't just a shooting location, but most of the movie (aside from a side trip to Washington state, still shot in Alberta) actually takes place in Edmonton and environs. It's kind of a kick to imagine that John Saxon hung around, and neat to hear Michael Smith say "Wouldn't you rather come back to Edmonton and race with me?" The exciting climax features a funny car chasing a light plane, which crashes into a semi-trailer right on the raceway. If something like that really happened in Edmonton, it would stay on the news for a decade.

On a related note, I followed Fast Company with Cronenberg's other 1979 feature, The Brood. Talk about a complete whiplash in tone, content and impact. Zowie. Let's just say if you're going to run a double bill like I just did, be prepared for some strange dreams afterwards. I certainly am.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

I Am the Man of Constantine Sorrow

Based on its well-executed trailer, I had high hopes for NBC's adaptation of DC's antihero Constantine. But while the show benefits from excellent casting and creepy atmospherics, the pedestrian storytelling cripples what could have been an excellent pilot.

As in Guardians of the Galaxy, the writers attempt to create a sense of drama through backstory. We learn Constantine is so troubled by his failure to keep a little girl from being damned that he's committed himself to an asylum, where he willingly undergoes shock therapy to help him forget.

The trouble is, we're given no reason to care about this little girl. The writers take it for granted that because she's a child there's automatic sympathy and jeopardy. But without proper character development, she's just a plot device, a prop. Nor are we, the audience, shown exactly how Constantine failed to keep her out of the devil's arms; he just failed, without any real explanation.

Constantine's use of magic is pedestrian - he just shouts Latin phrases at demons and they recoil like vampires from the sunlight. In the comics, Constantine's relationship with magic is far more nuanced, and he relies on his wits and his cruelty and his willingness to sacrifice innocents to overcome evil.

That being said, the lead seems well-cast and the show has tons of atmosphere. But without better scripts, it's going straight to...well, you know where. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Kung Fool

At the last Geekquinox a conversation about martial arts erupted, with the embarrassing result that my ignorance of the various styles was profound. Ask me the difference between Kung Fu, Karate, Judo, Tae Kwan Do or any other martial art and I would only be able to tell you "Uh, I guess they use different moves and...uh...have different styles and...stuff?" 

My friends were baffled when I confessed that I didn't know, for example, Karate was Chinese and Kung Fu Japanese (or perhaps it's the other way around). They also claimed that one could tell which martial art was being used simply by observing the fighters, a skill that, frankly, seems like magic to me. I can tell the difference between a punch and a kick and a Karate chop, but only because my Big Jim action figure (doll) could perform those moves. The artists in martial arts movies are generally so skilled that to me the fights are a blur of flying arms and legs, impossible to deconstruct and analyze - at least to my untrained eye. 

Given my well-known love of genre film, including martial arts films, my friends were astonished at my inability to discern between martial arts. My only excuse is that I'm focused more on how the arts serve the story; a kick or a punch, however delivered, is to me a means of advancing plot, theme or character. Of course I understand that nuance is important, and that it's quite possible to deliver a powerful filmic message by having a character choose one martial arts style over another. But it's one of those distinctions I don't have the knowledge or background to appreciate. I have the same problem with weapons in action movies. I understand the difference between a pistol and a rifle and a grenade, but each serves the same essential function in narrative. 

My feeble excuse served only to cause further mirth: "Well, it's like a sport...and I know nothing about sports, so..." 

Yes, ignorance as an excuse for further ignorance. Maybe this is why I left politics - my debate tactics are surely flawed. 

On a positive note, I've learned once again that my ignorance is vast in both breadth and depth, a fact from which I draw great solace, for as the wise man said, the path to wisdom is paved with the stones of foolishness. I think I heard that in a Kung Fu movie once. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Cycle Continues

By now virtually everyone with an Internet connection knows what happened in Ottawa today. While I have my own view of what the fallout from today's tragedy will bring, tonight I'll only say how deeply saddened I am that we live in a world in which violence is still used as a means of addressing grievances, real or imagined. Here's to innocent victims all over the world; may we one day reach a state of true civilization, a day when killing sapient beings for any reason becomes unthinkable. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

2:46

Shot on my Canon 70D using the blue filter thingy. I think it looks kind of cool. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Silverlight Enterprise

I like the silvery sheen the lighting imbued to this tiny Enterprise toy. The model doesn't look nearly this metallic in the real world. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Long Road Home


Just some more experimentation with time-lapse on the iPhone and Magix video editing software. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The First Place I Lived

Grandma's funeral service and internment happened today in Cranberry Portage. It was a lovely ceremony held in the school gymnasium where Hope (and Val) worked as cafeteria servers and custodians for a quarter-century, touching who knows how many young lives with kindness. To my eyes it looked like about fifty members of the community turned up in addition to the family members who made the trip - and fifty people is a considerable proportion of Cranberry Portage's population. 

It was a hard day, but a warm and well-executed event, which made the process easier to bear. 

After we returned to Flin Flon, Mom and Dad took Sean and I on a short drive to see the house where I spent my first couple of years. Unfortunately it sparks no memories for me, though Flin Flon itself remains a strange marvel of the north, with its rolling hills carved into giant rock formations, as well as the iconic smokestack that continues to belch. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Oh My Farthing

Oh my farthing
Oh my farthing
Oh my farthing Ovaltine

Peacocks never live forever
Oh my darling
Ovaltine

Ate a peanut
It was rotten
Dropped it in
My Ovaltine

In the garden
It will harden
And grow a beanstalk
In my dreams

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

D8 Battlecruiser

Great art doesn't explain itself. But then, no art explains itself. This art isn't explaining itself. It isn't great, but it's mine. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Last Time We Saw Grandma

Grandma Woods passed away yesterday. Pictured above are Sean and I with Grandma and her partner of over 40 years, Val Head, in 2009, the last time Sean and I were in Cranberry Portage, Manitoba.

My thoughts are with my family. I'll have more to say after the funeral service. 

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Tomorrow and Tomorrow



I don't normally get too excited about Disney films, but Brad Bird's Tomorrowland looks like it might push my buttons. Was that a jet pack I saw whiz by at the end? 

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Today's List of Unfinished Projects


  • The Crawling Ear
  • UFO: 2099 (2 versions)
  • Revised rules for Zombies vs. Bruce Lee Game Game
  • Personalized t-shirts for Sean and Sylvia
  • Untitled story from a contest I held on the blog a couple of years ago (!)
  • Submission for Tesseracts 19
  • Family photo negative scanning
  • Finding the best subscription box for Sylvia
  • Chaos/Order spreadsheet
  • Revised Bar Brawl rules

Of these, The Crawling Ear is 75 percent finished, the others...oof. I'm hoping UFO:2099 and the t-shirts will be done by the end of the year. The Tesseracts submission is a must, but I have until February for that. 

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Funky Flash, Man

Flash Fact: The Flash is fast-paced fun! With charismatic feature players, respect for the comics legacy and continuity without being slavish to it, a solid pilot episode with clearly ambitious plans for the future, the Arrow spin-off should become a fast favourite for fans of superhero hijinks with a much-needed dose of hope and optimism. Barry Allen is a perfect foil for the brooding Oliver Queen, as demonstrated in a fun little five-minute crossover that goes by in a...well, you know.

If the pilot has one weakness it's the lead villain, a warmed-over version of the Weather Wizard who doesn't get much character development - he's just an obstacle for the Flash to overcome. But a blink-and-you'll-miss-it nod to Gorilla Grodd promises there's much more fun to come.

All right, I don't think I can write in the Entertainment Weekly style for too much longer without my fingers rebelling, but one last thing: I quite enjoyed this latest effort from the creators of Arrow, and I hope it's no flash in the pan. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

It Is Happening Again: That Gum I Like is Coming Back in Style and There's Always Music in the Air


SOMETIMES MY ARMS BEND BACK!

One of my very favourite television shows, Twin Peaks, died an abrupt and premature death a quarter century ago. I was still in university and at the time the off-kilter world created by David Lynch and Mark Frost spoke to me in a way no other work of art ever has.

"This is what the world is really like," I thought at the time. I didn't mean that in a literal way - I didn't think that Lynch and Frost were describing reality, exactly...but they opened up a window on the world as I saw and still see it - absurd, strange, incomprehensible, bizarre, but also full of truth, beauty and love. The adventures of Dale Cooper, Sheriff Truman, Deputies Hawk and Andy, Dr. Jacoby, the Palmers, the Hornes, Bob and Mike and Bob and Mike, Big Ed, the Log Lady and all the rest captivated me week after week for those two brief, shining seasons from start to finish (well, there was a bit of a lull in the middle there, but no work of art is without its flaws).

It ended with a cliffhanger: Dale Cooper was possessed by the malevolent Bob, and the show's millions of fans howled in frustration when news of the cancellation came.

But now it's back, and just as Laura Palmer predicted - "I'll see you in 25 years" - Lynch and Frost will bring a nine-episode Twin Peaks miniseries to Showtime, set 25 years later.

The only pop culture news that would excite me more than this would be discovering a lost fourth season of the original Star Trek. That's how much I loved Twin Peaks. The wait between now and 2016, when the third season is broadcast, is going to be one long, long stay in the Black Lodge for me. But I can wait. 

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Friday Morning Commute



Unless I've missed a setting somewhere, it appears iMovie on the iPhone renders in 360p, even though the phone shoots at 1080. That can't be right, can it? 

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Revisiting The X from Outer Space

One evening sometime in the late 80s to early 90s, I sat down with Jeff and Susan and possibly Ron and Tony and maybe Steven to watch The X from Outer Space on VHS cassette. I don't remember much about that night other than Jeff's mocking chant: "AAB Gamma! AAB Gamma! Come in, AAB Gamma! Oh no, AAB Gamma!"

I found it pretty funny, because of course that phrase or ones much like it were repeated ad nauseum throughout this curious little Japanese space thriller. In short, a crew of Japanese astronauts (very multicultural, some ethnic Japanese, some caucasian), embark on a rocket flight to Mars, but due to asteroids and UFOs they give up, land on the moon, switch out a crew member, and inadvertently bring the egg of a monster back to Earth. The monster destroys Tokyo, the scientists synthesize a substance to defeat it, and star-crossed lovers gaze at Mount Fuji.

I remember the plot because Sylvia and I just watched it again. Her judgement of the film surprised me.

"Well, what did you think?" I asked.

"Oh, it was good," she said.

"Really?!"

"It wasn't as annoying as some of your other weird crap."

She had me there.


Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Ungood Photo Day: Steve Fonyo


Way back in April 1985 Steve Fonyo passed through Edmonton on his "Journey for Lives" across Canada to raise funds for cancer research. He stopped at the Colosseum and for some reason I was there - possibly a school field trip. Using my second camera, a slim Kodak that used the now-obscure 110 film format, I snapped a couple of photos of Fonyo on stage. As might be expected, Fonyo (in white) and the other gentleman on stage are tiny and unrecognisable, and my flash, given the distance, did nothing. The result is a noisy, blurry, artless photo that reveals nothing of the subject or setting. Photo phail!