I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Friday, September 30, 2011

The New DCU: September 28, 2011 - A Simulblog

The following is a simulblog with Chad P. of Political Jesus, Josh Toulouse of Fat Train, and Arthur of Arthur the Lesser. You ought to be forewarned: there will be spoilers.

Chad's article, "Savage Nerdery: Week Four of DC's new 52: Simulblog Reviews," can be read here.

Josh's article, "The New DCU: Sept. 28, 2011, A Simulblog" can be read here.

Arthur's article may or may not exist in the future.



The final set of thirteen new titles were released this week: All-Star Western #1, Aquaman #1, Batman: The Dark Knight #1, Blackhawks #1, The Flash #1, The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men #1, Green Lantern: New Guardians #1, I, Vampire #1, Justice League Dark #1, The Savage Hawkman #1, Superman #1, Teen Titans #1, and Voodoo #1. If you've been following along and dedicating yourself like I have, then you've just finished reading all fifty-two of the new first issues. What do you think? As you know, I don't do issue-by-issue run-downs, but I'd love to hear your opinion. Let's get some good discussion going today.

Like my first post, the only thing that this post is concerned with is the Justice League. And there was a lot of Justice League this week. Aquaman, The Flash, The Fury of Firestorm, and The Savage Hawkman are all considered Justice League titles by DC's web site. Justice League Dark is not included on this list, but it features a recent variation of the Justice League (Batman, Zatanna, Wonder Woman, Superman and Cyborg) while also replacing the Justice League in a way with magical individuals. Batman: The Dark Knight, Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Superman feature individuals who have, at least at one point in time, been quintessential members of the Justice League. Teen Titans is like a baby Justice League. And finally All-Star Western gives the background of Gotham City, potentially impacting the back story of Justice Leaguer Batman.

I do not believe that we get a lot of important information this week regarding the battled between Superman and Batman this week. But I think this week was the best at filling in the gaps for the people on the cover of Justice League #1. Furthermore, I think that two of the greatest successes from the reboot came out this week: The Flash #1 and Aquaman #1. The reason that I think these books are successes is that I knew almost nothing about either Barry Allen or Arthur Curry, but after reading the first issues they have become two of the most interesting characters for me. Considering the fact that the goal is to bring in new readers, I think the reboot is at the very least a partial success. Barry Allen is the kind of superhero that I'm not familiar with. Batman is smart. Superman makes you believe. Green Lantern is strong of will. But Barry Allen is a sweetheart. One of two moments of strong emotion for me this week was when Flash was asked, "These things - It's as if they're personal to you?" And Barry responds, "They all are." (The other was the horrible feeling when Clark Kent went to Lois's door and met her boyfriend in Superman #1.) We can tell that he feels the troubles of the people he deals with. And it also seems clear that he's looking for love, which will probably be a really big point for this book. While the plot of the first issue did not intrigue me, I am incredibly intrigued by the character and where he is going.

Aquaman may be one of my favorite books of the entire reboot. Much like Justice League #1, the book is kind of subtle. There are no enormous earth-shattering battles. There is just Arthur Curry, the Aquaman, a half-Atlantean who wants to get to know his human half. The issue begins with Aquaman fighting crime not in the ocean, but in the middle of town. He then attempts to dine with the people only to be interviewed and made fun of. The book is incredibly comedic. When Aquaman orders fish everyone thinks that it is tantamount to cannibalism because they believe he talks to the fishes (and not in the "I got on the wrong side of the mob" kind of way), and when he's interviewed he's asked, "How's it feel to be nobody's favorite hero?" Aquaman #1 gives us an underdog story with a little bit of Little Mermaid added for zest, and it almost steps beyond the fourth wall insofar as it addresses our questions and mockery regarding Aquaman. I'm happy to see that Aquaman is Geoff Johns' new baby. I'm expecting that Aquaman is going to be the best DC comic within the year. I know it's bold. But so is my prediction that the Lions are going sixteen and oh this season. Boldness does not denote impossibility. It makes possibility.

Before giving you my scorecard for the entirety of the DC reboot, I want to tell you which comics from this week I am going to continue reading. All Star Western, Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Superman and Teen Titans easily made the cut. And who here loves how they're handling Kyle Rayner in New Guardians. I do. I do. There were a few shaky titles this week that I am at least going to read the second issue of, but likely no further. Batman: The Dark Knight was by far my least favorite Batman title, destroying Harvey Dent's brilliant Two-Face by transforming him into a titan serum Arkham Asylum video game wannabe. Ick. But I'm giving it one more issue because I'm biased toward Bat-books. Justice League Dark had an interesting villain and I loved seeing the current incarnation of the Justice League getting torn apart, sometimes literally. But I have little concern for the characters who are going to be the leads in this book. Well, except Zatanna. She's pretty awesome. The Savage Hawkman starts with an interesting idea and then turns it into a stupid mix of X-Files and Spider-man symbiotes. And while Voodoo has a lot of sexual exploitation, I felt like it told a decent story. I'm completely done with Blackhawks, The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men, and I, Vampire, though. It was hard for me to complete those first issues, let alone go out and get the second issues next month.

THE SCORECARD

All books are ranked from best to worst within their division of the reboot.

SUPERMAN

1. Action Comics #1*
2. Supergirl #1
3. Superman #1
4. Superboy #1


BATMAN

1. Batman and Robin #1*
2. Nighwing #1
3. Batman #1
4. Catwoman #1
5. Birds of Prey #1
6. Batwing #1
7. Batwoman #1
8. Red Hood and the Outlaws #1
9. Batgirl #1
10. Detective Comics #1
11. Batman: The Dark Knight #1

GREEN LANTERN

1. Green Lantern #1*
2. Green Lantern: New Guardians #1*
3. Red Lanterns #1
4. Green Lantern Corps #1

JUSTICE LEAGUE

1. Aquaman #1*
2. Justice League #1*
3. Wonder Woman #1*
4. The Flash #1
5. DC Universe Presents #1
6. The Savage Hawkman #1
7. Justice League International #1
8. Green Arrow #1
9. Mister Terrific #1
10. The Fury of Firestorm: The Atomic Men #1
11. Captain Atom #1

THE DARK

1. Animal Man #1*
2. Swamp Thing #1
3. Demon Knights #1
4. Resurrection Man #1
5. Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #1
6. Justice League Dark #1
7. I, Vampire #1


THE EDGE

1. All Star Western #1
2. Voodoo #1
3. Stormwatch #1

4. Men of War #1
5. Grifter #1
6. Deathstroke #1
7. Blackhawks #1
8. Suicide Squad #1
9. O.M.A.C. #1

YOUNG JUSTICE

1. Teen Titans #1

2. Static Shock #1
3. Blue Beetle #1
4. Hawk and Dove #1
5. Legion Lost #1
6. Legion of Superheroes #1

Well, that's it for The New DCU Simulblog. You know what's up. Make sure you leave some comments here and check out Josh's post, Chad's post, and Arthur's posts if/when it goes up. I think I'm going to feel a little bit more lonely with this simulblog out of the way. The question now is: What's next?

Anybody up for a simulblog on X-Men Regenesis?

My Favorite Marvel: Jean Grey


If there is one person who really has his act together in the Marvel universe it is Mr. Sinister. I don't mean that he has his act together in that he's fighting for the right cause or doing anything good in any way. I mean that he just has the best taste in mutants. Mr. Sinister has been obsessed for hundreds of years with the bloodlines of Scott Summers and Jean Grey, and they just happen to be two of my absolute favorite characters in the Marvel universe. For that, Sinister ought to be applauded. He's like a foodie, only with individuals who have genetic mutations that give them amazing and terrible powers. For all the other stuff, Sinister can go... Well, I'm sure you know what he can do with himself.

If I had begun my X-Men experience as a child reading X-Men #1 and continuing throughout the various X-comics, I think my first love would have been Jean Grey. (As it was, my first X-Men experience involved watching X-Men: The Animated Series, and my first love was Rogue. Or was that my first lust? When you're young and being burned alive with testosterone those boundaries can be confusing.) Jean Grey was much like many of my real-life first loves for the boys of the original X-Men team. Many of them had never been noticed by a girl before, much less one so beautiful, and though they were constantly racked with doubt - I'm talking mostly about Scott Summers now, but I'm sure the others had their moments - Jean Grey made them feel really good about themselves when she was there and made them miss her when she was gone.

There was never a better use of thought bubbles than when Jean Grey wondered whether Scott Summers loved her and when Scott Summers wondered whether Jean Grey loved him. Maybe this is the side of me who really adored the first couple of seasons of Dawson's Creek, but the added brilliance of the X-Men comics was that Jean Grey would develop the ability to connect those thought bubbles, to bridge the gap between thought and speech. Originally, her mutant ability was limited to telekinesis, and later she was given a degree of Professor Charles Xavier's telepathy. (Of course, I think that post-Phoenix this was retconned, but I'm not sure about this. The way I imagine the story has something to do with how the X-Men movies told Jean Grey's story. When she was young she was haunted by voices and her amazing power, amped up by a confusing and unknown force that would later be revealed to be the Phoenix force. When Xavier encountered her, he was forced to hide these powers behind a psychic wall. Thus, when Xavier gave her a degree of his telepathy, I imagine that to actually be Xavier tearing down part of that wall, perhaps the part that could have kept the Phoenix from taking over...) With the power of telepathy, one of the most romantic concepts ever conceived came into being, the psychic rapport between the lovers Jean Grey and Scott Summers. Because of their commitment and love, their thoughts would never be separated, regardless of distance and any other intervening factor short of death.

Now, much of this has been my understanding of Jean Grey through ruby-quartz glasses. But there is something about Jean Grey outside of Scott Summers' perception of her that is fantastic. For one, she's possibly the most powerful mutant of all time. But like Superman, her power is accompanied by a great deal of personal strength, of will. The first appearance of the Phoenix power manifested itself in Jean Grey when she was piloting a doomed space craft to Earth. Though there were others who were better pilots, others who were more manly, she sacrificed herself for the sake of the safety of the others. And through this sacrifice we were introduced to the Phoenix force for the first time. It was this show of great strength that brought Jean Grey strength beyond imagination. Once the Phoenix force was established, Jean Grey showed us what we should have been learning from over-powered DC characters for years, that immense power is tempting and terrifying, that it will drive you mad, that you will spend all of your life trying to keep this power under control.

Though Jean Grey represents acceptance, love, power, courage and strength of character, I think the most important thing about her is that she represents life. From the beginning, Jean Grey was the green-eyed lady, and while some associate green eyes with greed, there has always been a kind of folk myth about the ephemeral green-eyed lady, the ones who come and go from your life. Jean Grey is fleeting like life. Once you got used to her being around, she went off to college. Once you got used to her being around again she died. Once you got used to her being around, she died again. I guess it is a little depressing, but then again, so is death. On the flipside, however, let's not forget that one can also encounter acceptance, love, power, courage and strength of character in life. It may not last forever, but it is full of great beauty. Such is the myth of the green-eyed lady. Such is the myth of the Phoenix.

And such is the myth of Jean Grey. Whether you're calling her Jean or Marvel Girl or Phoenix or Red, Jean Grey is simply one of the best characters ever created.

Arnold 365, Day 273 (Kindergarten Cop)


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Banner by Adam Friedli.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cosplay Gallery: Bat-Villains

These Bat-Villain costumes hail from Anime Expo 2011, Montreal Comic Con 2011, and also San Diego Comic Con 2011.

Harley Quinn



Poison Ivy



Scarecrow


Reboot City: X-Men

Everything is either a reboot or a sequel. Sequels for franchises that are still making money and still have remotely fresh ideas. Reboots for failing franchises who are losing viewers. This discussion is a discussion you've heard from every angle. But I'm not going to take what I would call the hard party line on this issue. I believe that reboots are a great idea. In much the same way that Marvel and DC comics have to start from scratch every so often in order to invite new readers to read their books, movies need to reboot every so often. Whereas Sam Raimi's Spider-man films were my Spider-man films, the upcoming Spider-man reboot will belong to the next group of viewers. They'll fill a row at the movie theater like we did and make Spider-jokes (Spider-ouch!) like we did.

While each artistic take has value, I sometimes wish that the films made by Marvel or DC would get it right. I've seen too many not-good superhero movies. "Reboot City" is my attempt to give my own two cents on how the next reboot ought to be done. And since I've been an X-Men fan for longer than I've been a fan of anything else, I think we ought to discuss the future of the X-Men franchise.

When it comes to rebooting comic book characters, I think that there are three names that always come to mind as champions: (1) Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-man, other Ultimate Marvel books), (2) Geoff Johns (Green Lantern, Aquaman, Justice League, Hawkman), and (3) Grant Morrison (Batman, Superman). What these three individuals have in common is that they innovate the characters while being incredibly reverent to the past. Geoff Johns, for example, took non-sensical elements of Green Lantern such as his entire history as Parallax and the Specter and Green Lantern, not to mention the weakness to the yellow element, and he wrote some of the most fantastic stories I've read to make sense of these things. I think that something like this has to happen with the X-Men films. (I think I ought to note right now that both Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon have worked toward tying these threads together for the X-Men in the past.)

One of the most central elements about the X-Men is their historical significance. In the 1960s, alongside the civil rights movement, the labor movement and the women's rights movement, there was also the mutants' rights movement. Professor Charles Xavier and Eric Magnus Lehnsherr were the two champions of mutant rights, Xavier a "dreamy" type like Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed in peaceful methodology (while training a militaristic group of teenagers, an issue that would have to be addressed), and Magnus a militant supporter of mutant rights by any means necessary who recalls, in many ways, Malcolm X. Furthermore, Eric's transformation into Magneto could not have happened without the horrors he witnessed during World War II.

If you've seen X-Men: First Class then you must believe that I'm preaching to the choir. The prequel was set in the 1960s and it dealt with many of these issues, and yet it didn't make any sense. The timeline with the other movies was confusing, and people knew one another in the past who didn't seem to know one another in the present. But I think the real problem is that we didn't have enough recognizable mutants in this film. Why should Cyclops and Jean Grey and Storm be so important in the original trilogy and yet not exist in the past? The answer is easy: While comics are expected to exist in a universe where aging is slowed, movies cannot. Cyclops is not sixty years old in X-Men. I wish that X-Men: First Class had the balls to declare itself a separate entity, to say loud and clear that it is a reboot instead of a prequel. I wish that it had divorced itself from the continuity so that it could present us a new view on some of our favorite mutants.

Who would I have on the original X-Men team in the 1960s? My first thought is to include the entire original team, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Angel, Beast and Iceman, with possible additions of Havok and Polaris. (Of course, if we go that way, there would have to be some discussion about how a civil rights leader could construct a team of white kids. That was one of the biggest problems with the original batch of X-Men.) Or we could go the route of Ultimate X-Men, which featured Wolverine, Storm and Colossus of the second wave of X-Men in its original team. But here's the kicker: We do not see the events of the movie from Wolverine's perspective. When you're telling a story you want to see an established team from the perspective of a new-comer. That much was right in the original X-Men films. But I have seen way too many movies and television programs told from the perspective of someone who has no memory of their past. It has become a cheap way of introducing a character to a new story. There was a time when our conduit into a story was a young individual who didn't understand what was going on, and we even had a little of that in the original X-Men trilogy with Rogue. For me, I'd choose Kitty Pryde. She's one of the best characters ever, and I think audiences would relate to her. She's one of the biggest influences on Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and probably Veronica Mars, too), and most people know who she is.

Of course, there is the fact that Wolverine is what sells a movie. My friend Zac mentioned that X-Men: First Class, despite being one of the best X-Men movies to date, underperformed in the box office precisely because it did not feature Hugh Jackman as Wolverine as a primary character. It may not have done as well as it did (despite the best portrayal of Magneto that I can imagine) if it weren't for Jackman's cameo in the film. But I'm not talking about booting Wolverine from the film. In fact, I think that you have to have Wolverine in the reboot. One of the reasons that I think it would be interesting to see things from Kitty Pryde's perspective is because it gives us Wolverine as an established character, a brick wall of toughness and gristle. It makes us, the viewers, want to know more about this guy. This is how Wolverine was introduced in X-Men: The Animated Series (with Jubilee as the person through whom we see the team) and it worked fantastically.

And honestly, I think we need to see the Sentinels as the first enemy, or at least the Sentinels as the soldiers of the United States government, an entity that cannot be directly assaulted (unless you're Magneto). This would prove to be a perfect wedge between Xavier and Magneto. And who doesn't want to see the look on their faces when the humans realize that they've sent a big metal robot up against the Master of Magnetism.

As for sequels, there is a lot to deal with in the 1960s. Perhaps the first trilogy could revolve around Magneto the way the original X-Men movies did. Except that this one would have a concise story to tell from beginning to end and it would be delivered well. And after that trilogy, if things are going well, then let's see what the X-Men look like in the 1970s or even the 1980s. Jump forward a decade every movie, and if Cyclops appears in a cameo in the 1990s, he'll be in his fifties. Wolverine's healing power can justify his appearance in every single movie, so we don't have to worry about losing viewers. Or maybe we could see multiple time periods at once. Maybe we could have side-by-side stories, one from the 1960s and another from the present. There is a lot of room for story development. The X-Men probably have the most room for story development of any single hero or team that has ever been created.

So, what do you think? Is this how the next X-Men films should be done? How would you do the X-Men franchise if you were in control of the reboot?

Arnold 365, Day 272 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)




Banner by Adam Friedli.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Favorite DC: Batman

A couple of the most interesting relationships in the DC universe are that which exists between Superman and Batman and that which exists between Green Lantern and Batman. Both of which are being explored in the first story arc of the new Justice League. While this particular comic won't deal with the relationship between Batman and Superman until the second issue, we know that Superman believes Batman to be fighting the right cause but that Superman does not like Batman's methodology, and vice versa. Justice League #1 does have plenty of time to deal with Batman and Green Lantern by showing that Hal Jordan wants to shine bright and let his enemies see him coming whereas Batman wants to stick to the shadows. Batman sees Superman as a boy scout and Green Lantern as a glorified police officer (and let's face it: Batman has a pretty bad idea of what police officers stand for from living with the corrupt police of Gotham), while they see him as a mistrusting misanthrope dwelling in the darkness. And yet all parties deem the others necessary.

When I lived in Fort Worth, Texas, I was attending a Divinity School. If you don't know what that is, then I guess it's pretty similar to a Seminary. I was attending a Master's degree program aimed toward Christian service, toward service of for the sake of God and man. The further I got into the program, the more I became skeptical and even cynical of Christian ministry, not because of the ministers, or, at least, not for the most part. I was surrounded by people training to be ministers who were incredibly thoughtful, critical and brilliant. They cared about people and were willing to devote their lives to them. But the people in the churches wanted their churches to support their laziness, their decision not to help their fellows in need, their businesses and their political parties. They wanted the Christian message to cater to their needs rather than allowing the radical ideas to unsettle them.

Each and every one of us was given a choice. We could serve in a church and project the light and the hope. We would be constantly hurt by those who chose selfishness of Dallas Cowboys football games over the socially conscious message of the Bible. And we would be paid better and have better job security if we didn't rock the boat. Or we could rock the boat. We could say what we felt called to say. We could do the right thing by suggesting that we ought to help those who have no protector, to do whatever we can to make sure those who have never had a voice can speak for themselves, to question the powers on this planet, the government, the wealthy, etc. Most of my friends have chosen to serve in churches, to hold the banner up, and to do the right thing in the brightest, most visible way. But I felt like I couldn't do that. I couldn't be paid for my service, because I feared that it would corrupt me and silence the voice in my ear that tells me what is right. I had to be able to point out hypocrisy wherever it arose, be it in my country, in my school, in my church, in my apartment complex, in my family, or inside of me. For the longest time, I felt alone because of this. I wondered why I couldn't just be like the other people. I felt sick to think that I was pursuing another degree and adding money to my student loan debt only to emerge without viable job options.

Batman was my way of making sense of all of this. Batman was the individual who was willing to put everything else aside for the sake of what must be done. And I'm not talking about the ends justifies the means sort of stuff that Kiefer Sutherland is always doing when he's Jack Bauer on 24. (Batman does not use firearms. Batman does not kill. And Batman does not torture. He takes the high road, even when it makes everything harder for him. He chooses the smart option and the right option over the expedient option.) I'm talking about the fact that sometimes people have to sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of doing the right thing, the fact that sometimes you have to risk losing friends and you just have to be a prickly individual because justice hangs in the balance.

Now, I am making my way in life. I continue to look for teaching and writing positions, but until then I just have to do hard work where work can be found. I'm starting a family with my girlfriend Amy. And I'm doing everything I can to stand up for what I believe is right. You may say that all of this diverges from Batman's identity, but I think you're wrong. Batman's life is devoted to hard work in the form of preparation and confrontation. And though he's something of a rough individual, he has one of the biggest families in the DC universe. He's mentored a variety of Robins, Batgirls and Batwomen. He's loved, truly loved, a couple of women. And after all of his time playing the surrogate father and mentor to orphans, he now has his own son named Damien to father. Though he's a difficult man, Batman is a beloved member of the superhero community.

In all truth, I think I kind of agree with Green Lantern and Superman. Batman shouldn't exist. He shouldn't have to exist. But, like them, I think it is a better idea to fix the world that created such a difficult man than to try and "reform" the Batman himself. Batman is a mechanism of our broken world, our corrupt world, and his purpose is to right the wrongs of a sick society, not by any means necessary, by the right means. This is why I look up to Batman, and this is why he is one of my favorite DC characters.

Spoiler Alert: Person of Interest S01E01

Person of Interest is, well, interesting. In many ways it is like Burn Notice only relevant (and well-written, and well-acted, and with an interesting story). But it has real heart, too. It deals with people whose lives were changed because of the events of September 11, 2001, and the ensuing war in the Middle East, accompanied by the massive breach of privacy that happened because of the Patriot Act. The show critically deals with the problems that the U.S. government created for its people while reverently dealing with the individual losses felt across the nation by the American people.

I wasn't expecting to add Person of Interest to the spoiler alert series, but it has proven itself. Executive J.J. Abrams has given me a couple of my favorite shows of all time and the best mysteries. Jonathan Nolan (brother of Christopher Nolan) has been involved in some of the better scripted films of the last couple decades (including Memento). And Michael Emerson is absolutely one of the best character actors I've ever seen. My friend Zac said the other night that he doesn't understand why they even make new television programs because they all get canceled anyways. And that's incredibly true. The only shows that seem to make it are the ones that were created five to ten years ago that keep getting renewed because they are part of peoples' habits even when they no longer have anything valuable to offer. Here's to hoping that CBS does not cancel Person of Interest, but also that Person of Interest continues to have something to offer rather than uninteresting episodic drama.

And now, the characters:

1. Person of Interest / Mr. Reese

Jim Caviezel's Mr. Reese is the "person of interest" to which the television's program refers. Of course, Mr. Finch reveals that this is simply one of several identities and we see a driver's license that reads "James J. Manzione," so it appears clear that one of the overarching concerns of this program is going to be to figure out who Mr. Reese really is.

What do we know about Mr. Reese? Instead of getting mugged in the subway by a gang of twenty-somethings, Reese beats up every single mugger and is brought to jail for the crime. The viewer is likely to think, "Where did he learn to fight like that?"


The police officer who interrogates Mr. Reese believes that it is clear that he spent some time in the service, but believes that his skills go beyond Army to Special Forces or Delta. We are lead to raise the question of whether he's a good guy who is poorly adjusted or a man who has done evil things? When his fingerprints are found at several other crime scenes, he is called "the angel of death." Is he good or evil? If this is anything like the other works of J.J. Abrams, the answer is that he is both or neither: he is human.

At first, Mr. Finch describes Mr. Reese as someone who has worked for the government, had doubts about the government, faked his death, tried to drink himself to death, and who has contemplated suicide. It is revealed that Reese was "with the agency," which we might be able to presume means the CIA. (If he was with the FBI, we would say he was "with the bureau," for example.) Of course, in the flashback with Jessica we hear about him going "back to base" and then subsequently quitting, which suggests that he had military connections as well.

2. Jessica

In the beginning we are shown a flashback where Mr. Reese is with a woman named Jessica, a woman he describes as his "one person." We later find out that they had known one another for six months and that they were spending a long weekend in Mexico. Jessica has not told her family about Mr. Reese, so this is a secret affair. During the series of flashbacks, we find out that this trip happened during the same week that the attacks on the Twin Towers happened.


But Jessica was taken from Mr. Reese. By whom? We cannot know. What we do know is that Jessica was killed while Mr. Reese was half-way around the world. Was she kidnapped (taken by someone) or killed (kidnapped from this mortal coil)? We haven't seen a body, and this is a J.J. Abrams show, so there's always that chance Jessica could be alive somewhere.

Another question to ask is whether or not Jessica was the only one killed. Mr. Reese says, "I don't have any friends. I don't have any family either." Were they all taken from him, or is that just something you say when you feel alienated, when you've faked your death and started an "untraceable" life. My guess: he's still got some old friends and family life, and we're going to meet them at some point.

3. A Concerned Third-Party / Mr. Finch


Mr. Finch is a wealthy man who made a lot of money prior to September 11 in the private sector. When the government began massive surveillance on its people due to the Patriot Act, Finch designed a kind of filter that is capable of dividing possible threats into relevant and irrelevant. The only relevant threats were those that could result in massive loss of life, and those were presumably forwarded to the NSA or the FBI. (This poses the question: Were they really forwarded to the NSA or the FBI? Or is there some other party involved?) But people were still being hurt as a result of the irrelevant threats, and the irrelevant threat list was deleted daily. Finch wishes to help the lives of the individual people that he can now save due to the back door he built into "the machine." He has chosen Mr. Reese as his hero, but why? Finch explains that he's followed Reese for some time and that he believes they have a great deal in common. Finch also explains that he has lost someone. Who has he lost? We're to presume that a member of his family was killed as well, but that seems too easy. I think it's possible that he's referring to the fact that he has lost "the machine" to the government.

A couple of other things ought to be noticed about Finch. First of all, he walks with a limp. Second, while he is climbing the stairs he almost immediately begins to have labored breathing. Something serious has happened to Finch that threatens his health. Perhaps he has chosen Mr. Reese to help him out as something of a deathbed wish. Third, Finch does not like fire arms, which could explain both the fact that he is injured in such a way and the fact that he lost someone close to him.

4. The Machine

Every transition in this program has some sort of surveillance feed in it. It makes one wonder who is watching this surveillance feed. Finch and Reese are often seen through the eyes of a camera or their voices heard through a wire tap. This suggests that someone is paying attention to what they're doing. Is this a particular government agency? Is this the machine? Or is this someone else altogether?


Furthermore, when Mr. Finch talks about "the machine," it seems like it is alive, intelligent, possibly even sentient. This calls upon ideas like those in Lawnmower Man or Eagle Eye. This is why I am considering the machine a character. While its drives are presumably located in a government facility (in the end we see a scene reminiscent of the end of the "Pilot" episode of X-Files where the computer takes up an enormous warehouse), "the machine" is everywhere, suggesting that it is nearly omniscient and its eyes and ears are omnipresent. In a way, this machine is a god in toddler-form. My guess: We're going to see it grow.

5. The Rest

The white kids from the gang who attempted to mug Mr. Reese on the subway appear once again while Mr. Reese is loading up on weaponry later on. This is often a sign that these characters are going to pop up more often. Maybe they're important. Maybe they're not.


Similarly, the lady cop who interrogates Mr. Reese after the mugging appears near the end of the episode. Will she be important?


And finally, the episodic events that happened may have existed solely for the sake of introducing Mr. Reese to a dirty cop named Lionel. Lionel explains that he became a bad guy because Wall Street was robbing everybody in America. But Mr. Reese thinks it has something to do with loyalty, suggesting that he's a good guy after all. Reese wants to keep the bad cop as a contact, and he wants the bad cop to continue what he's doing but not to hurt anyone. I think we can feel pretty sure that Lionel will be a main character, and I would guess that we might have a big Lionel episode coming up next week.


See you next week!

Arnold 365, Day 271 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)




Banner by Adam Friedli.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Why You Couldn't Be Batman, Part Four: Crime Alley

Part One: Introduction can be viewed here.
Part Two: Those Wonderful Toys can be viewed here.
Part Three: Of Fists and Feet can be viewed here.

A really big thing happened within the last couple of weeks. DC rebooted its entire universe and released fifty-two brand new issue ones, fifty-two ongoing series restarted from scratch. Of course, "from scratch" isn't exactly accurate. All of the Superman books, as well as Wonder Woman and Aquaman, it seems, have been completely re-imagined, but some of the other, more successful books, have been rebooted in a different way. The series Batman and Robin begins after the events of Grant Morrison's ever-so-long run on the series. This reboot is more subtle, but in ways it is more profound. Throughout the narrative of Batman and Robin #1, Bruce Wayne / Batman describes to his son Damian that he will no longer return to crime alley in order to mourn, that the entire community is about to be transformed. Batman will no longer dwell on the past or the present, on the sadness and the anger and the need for vengeance. Instead, he will focus on hope, on life. In other words, he will emerge from the darkness.

Of course, if you're not a huge Batman fan, this takes a little bit of context to understand. The reason Batman has been known as the Dark Knight is that something horrible happened in his past. The reason he was offered a Sinestro Corps ring for his ability to strike fear was because he experienced a moment of great fear when he was only a child, a moment that is only now potentially ending. When Bruce Wayne was young, his parents took him to see "The Mask of Zorro" at a theater in the district that was once called Park Row. As Bruce and his parents exited the theater, a petty thief with a gun, a man named Joe Chill, attempted to rob the wealthy family. When his father Thomas showed courage and stood up to the thug, both parents were shot, leaving orphaned Bruce Wayne to cry over their dead bodies. As a result of this incident, Park Row was transformed into Crime Alley. As for the boy Bruce Wayne, he was transformed into something else entirely.

The DC reboot also brought us Nightwing #1, which features Dick Grayson as Nightwing, protecting the streets of Gotham after the destruction of Bludhaven and the completion of his time as Batman due to Bruce Wayne's "death." In this issue, we are given an interesting perspective into what happened to Bruce Wayne after the death of his parents. Dick Grayson reflects on his time as Batman by saying how different it was to maintain Bruce's two personae. What he suggests is that both Batman and the public image of Bruce Wayne are masks that Bruce Wayne wears, and that both require work to stay up. After Bruce's parents were shot down in front of him, it seems like his identity disappeared. An angry boy, amorphous and ever changing, left Gotham City in order to learn how best to protect her. He returned with a mask, a banner for justice but also a dark avenger, and this Batman that he created became wed to Gotham, in sickness and in health until death do them part. But also, in order to protect the Batman and free him to do the most good for the sake of his bride, Bruce Wayne put on the mask of the playboy millionaire. He became exactly what everyone always expected a spoiled millionaire to become. Though he had found his destiny, it seems like any real identity was completely sublimated. He had no person any more. All he had was a spouse and a duty.

This pushes us directly into the question that ought to be asked, "Is Batman crazy?" If crazy is defined by acting against the status quo of society, Batman is certainly crazy. If crazy is defined as taking risks in order to accomplish something that, for all intents and purposes, can never be completely accomplished, then yes, Batman is crazy. If crazy is defined as a mental aberration, then we have an interesting discussion. Batman certainly could be crazy. All of the ingredients are in the right place in order to cause a mental instability. He witnessed the brutal murder of his parents. He left the rules and confines of society and trusted only the voices and images inside of his head (including a terrifying bat that has haunted him since childhood). He continues to risk his life on a nightly basis. He wears a costume and lives a life entirely composed of pretending. His second sidekick, Jason Todd, was murdered by The Joker. And on that note, Batman is surrounded by the criminally insane. He is not just kicking and punching them daily and bringing them back to Arkham Asylum. He engages in games with them, conversations. He is pushed by them. And in the end, there is a serious question of whether or not their insanity and criminality is merely an extension of his insanity. Would there have been a Joker if there had never been a Batman? Are they two sides of the same coin? (Yes, that was a blatant reference to Two-Face. Harvey Dent ought always to be thought of when it comes to Batman and insanity.)

In the end, perhaps we need only read Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, where it is suggested that insanity is just one bad day away. The Joker may not know who Batman is or what created him, but he does know that Batman had a bad day once.

Even if we decide that Batman is certainly insane, the discussion does not end there. There is now the question of whether Bruce Wayne merely suffers from psychological issues or whether there is something more, some metaphysical / spiritual entity in Gotham that has chosen him, that has haunted him and even possessed him. There are many sources that refer to some evil bat entity existing in the thoughts and dreams of residents of Gotham. The Arkham family, famous for making the Arkham Asylum in order to treat the criminally insane, have a taint of insanity in the blood, and they speak of some ancient bat beast. It is entirely possible that Arkham Asylum itself houses this spirit and others in much the same way that the Overlook hotel in The Shining housed so many psychic impressions. Scarecrow, the fearmonger scientist, has also been haunted by the bat, and if what I mentioned above is true, such is also the case for every villain Batman has ever sent to Arkham.

In the end, however, it is hard to tell whether Batman is insane or merely dedicated. I believe that sanity and insanity are always in tension in the mind of Batman. Neither truly takes complete hold over his mind. Both are needed. Both are also detriments. I want to believe that the good in Batman will win, and I believe that it has time and again, but I also do not believe that the issue will ever be settled.

If you still want to be Batman, then you had better be ready to have your loved ones taken from you and to be haunted, either by memories or by real ghosts, for the entirety of your life. Perhaps you may not be affected for your entire life. After all, it seems that the new 52's Batman has turned over a new leaf, but at the same time he is already completely broken. It is unlikely that he can gain any personal advantage from changing his life at this point. Of course, I believe that this change is not for the sake of Bruce Wayne. It is for the sake of trying to give Damian Wayne a better life than Bruce Wayne enjoyed. Damian was an orphan too, once, after Bruce Wayne was "killed." But that's the cool thing about comic books. Bruce Wayne / Batman is back, and he has a second chance at life. He is a broken man trying to unbreak the world. It's foolish and admirable, and it is ultimately doomed. And that is who you'll have to be if you're going to be Batman.

In the end, the reason that you can't be Batman is because you want to be Batman. In order to be Batman you have to have tragedy thrust upon you, against your will. You have to exist in a state of mental disrepair that pushes you into believing that you either become Batman or you become The Joker. You are the lesser of two evils, and you exist for a purpose. You do not get to have a life, but you are necessary for the sake of the lives of others. If these things happen to you, I feel sorry for you. It looks like you can be Batman. May God have mercy on your soul.

The Guild Index: Season Two

For The Guild Index: Season One, click here.
For The Guild Index: Season Three, click here.

When I watched through The Guild for the first time, I sometimes found it hard to find all of the individual episodes. Maybe I was just an idiot. But if there's any chance that someone else has had the same problem, I've set up "The Guild Index," a season by season collection of all of the episodes of The Guild. This is season two.

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=0184e453-8782-4412-a0a0-8899325f629d' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 1: Link the Loot' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 1: Link the Loot</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=75cdf29e-baec-4bd7-af48-9fbf79e2ad17' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 2: Block&#39;d' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 2: Block&#39;d</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=034e3735-9a17-4a1d-8f9f-8d24ea052922' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 3: Quest Accepted!' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 3: Quest Accepted!</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=f7845621-d7c1-4977-a614-2e62696b02fd' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 4: Heroic Encounter' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 4: Heroic Encounter</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=174c5c5d-9f19-417e-851d-4dfc02fe1cba' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 5: Sacking Up' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 5: Sacking Up</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=8cf3f3f9-9531-4056-80ac-a5b5a1bf2e82' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 6: Blow Out' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 6: Blow Out</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=6d50979d-7956-4ee5-ab1d-d4db5c72aa72' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 7: Panic Attack' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 7: Panic Attack</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=6d50979d-7956-4ee5-ab1d-d4db5c72aa72' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 7: Panic Attack' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 7: Panic Attack</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=82fedaaf-bea7-47ce-855d-fac90ac74148' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 8: Emergency!' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 8: Emergency!</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=fcf9f3ce-ba82-461c-8bd9-663967e31f31' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 9: Grouping Up' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 9: Grouping Up</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=25222875-8ae6-468a-a1f9-58801cd62bb1' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 10: Socializing Sucks' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 10: Socializing Sucks</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=f2deb3fa-5c4a-43a6-942d-0637b8f75912' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 11: Collision Course' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 11: Collision Course</a>

<a href='http://paralleluniverse.msn.com/the-guild/?g=a543b375-8c84-4c9c-843f-eeaaa07917f9' target='_new' title='Season 2 - Episode 12: Fight!' >Video: Season 2 - Episode 12: Fight!</a>

Spoiler Alert: Dexter Season Six

Contrary to True Blood and Fringe, very little carries over from season to season on Dexter. It's more like comedies like The Office and Community in that little bits like character development will continue from previous seasons, but each season has a particular overarching drama that is contained within one season. As such, our setup post will not be as in-depth as the weekly posts are, but we can still spend a little time getting to know where our main character Dexter is.

By the way, there will be a lot of spoilers in this post. It is assumed that you're completely up to date on Dexter.


For some time, Dexter has been seeking to confide in someone regarding the fact that he is kind of a psycho killer the way he was able to confide in his father. In season three, he was able to spill his guts to Miguel Prado (Jimmy Smits) and in the previous season he was able to connect in a way that he couldn't have imagined with Lumen Ann Pierce, but neither of those people are around anymore. Also, there have been more than one occasion where the idea of coming out to his sister Deb has poked its head up. The classic, "Should Batman reveal his secret identity to such and such?" story is central to Dexter's character, and I think we'll probably have an interesting development this season. Why this season? Because I want it now, and because it has been building for some time and seems ready to come to a head.

Also, you may remember that Rita died in season four, leaving Dexter with three kids, Rita's children Astrid and Cody, and Rita's child with Dexter, Harrison. During the events of season five, however, Dexter loses the children to their grandparents. Now, Dexter has the children back, and we're going to see some heavy parenting. But when a serial killer is required to be a parent 24/7, when will he find the time to dish out his "justice" upon the murderers of Miami? Furthermore, I would imagine that this would be a good time to start teasing the nature vs. nurture issue. Since two of the children are not blood-related to Dexter and one of them is, the show can now deal with the question of whether serial killing is passed on by nature, nurture, or not at all. At the very least, we can see Dexter's fears (and hopes) that one of the children might become like him.

There are some other things going on, like the love lives and professional careers of many of the main characters, but I think these are the two deepest strains and the two that will be the most important during this upcoming season. We'll find out for sure when Dexter's sixth season premieres this Sunday, October 2, 2011.

Arnold 365, Day 270 (Total Recall)




Banner by Adam Friedli.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Guide to Video Game Lingo 9

1. Nerf (verb) - to change a video game that reduces the desirability or effectiveness of a particular video game feature.


"In the new patch, Blizzard nerfed the Rogue class."

2. Ding (noun) - a word used to describe the gaining of a level in a RPG game.


"Ding. Now I can upgrade my skills."

3. Toon (noun) - another name for a character in a RPG game.


"The server went down and I lost all my tunes."

Spoiler Alert: Fringe S04E01

Can I just say that Fringe has gotten stronger and stronger every single season? Maybe it's easier to write now that LOST has been concluded for over a year. I don't know. It's just good. It makes me happier.

This episode, "Neither Here Nor There," mirrors the very first episode of Fringe. We have an FBI agent named Lincoln Lee who has just lost his partner to some fringe science problem that turns his skin translucent, and this is exactly what happened to Olivia Dunham in the first episode. The alternate Olivia mentions how alone our dimension's Olivia is, and in fact, most of the characters feel more alone. It is even said that Walter has never had anything to tether him to the world, and as a result we see a mad scientist who isn't even allowed to view crime scenes except remotely through Astrid. Also, before "the change" Lincoln Lee and Olivia Dunham knew each other, but during this episode they met for the first time...

It's a different world(s) with different mysteries. So, let's just jump in.

1. The Bleed / The Man in the Mirror

In the beginning of the episode, a Pattern Observer mentions that though Peter Bishop was erased from continuity traces of him continue to bleed through. From the beginning of the episode, Walter and Astrid experience problems - a squawk - with their communication via blue tooth headsets. Perhaps this is just a way to introduce the fact that Walter is not allowed to go to the crime scenes, but I'm banking on the fact that Peter Bishop's presence is blocking these signals.


Later in the episode, Walter emerges from his Altered States sensory deprivation chamber terrified and ranting about hiding from The Man in the Mirror. We can be certain, at that point, that this is Peter Bishop bleeding through. But in case any of us didn't pick up on it, the last scene explains it plain and clear. Peter Bishop appears in Walter's television screen.


And let's not pretend that this is all we saw of The Man in the Mirror. Much as Tyler Durden appeared here and there, spliced as if into a film reel, in Fight Club, so also did Peter Bishop appear in this episode. Now, all I can speak of is one time. I saw a flash of Peter in the background of the scene where Walter and Astrid are talking about whether or not Walternate is evil. My assumption, however, is that I missed more appearances. Did you see any? Here's mine.


Remember how everyone was looking for The Pattern Observer in the background during season one. Well, now we're going to be looking for Peter Bishop. Yes. You heard it here first: The Bleed is the new Pattern Observer.

2. You Did This To Me!

All of the things that have happened so far are, in some way, connected to the actions of the Rogue Pattern Observer, the one who seems connected somehow to humankind, and in particular to the Bishop family. At the beginning of the episode, this Rogue Pattern Observer was charged with erasing Peter Bishop from existence completely and finally. His "boss" explains, "They can never know the boy lived to be a man."


For a few minutes there, I thought this was going to set the Rogue Pattern Observer and the Pattern Observers in general as the overarching enemies of this episode. And this may actually prove true over time. But in the end, the Pattern Observer cannot flip the switch and erase the adult Peter Bishop.


As a result, The Man in the Mirror, Peter Bishop, appears to Walter Bishop. And according to the Prologue discussion between the Pattern Observer it is safe to assume that this is our little speck of hope that adult Peter Bishop's existence will be known. But whether or not he is known of remembered, there still remains the task of fully integrating him back into reality. And the Pattern Observers don't seem to want that to happen.

3. It's Still Quite Dead

When Walter transforms an inanimate bird body into a flying bird, he is asked if he just resurrected a bird. Walter responds, "No, no. It's still quite dead." But later he mentions, "It's a start." It appears that while he may not have restored life, he restored motor functions for a limited time to a bird that was once dead.


It seems like Walter is hell-bent on learning the art of resurrection, and for good reason: two versions of his son died from an unexplained disease when he was young. Will Walter successfully learn how to resurrect a human being? What will the repercussions of bringing someone back from the dead be? Or will The Man in the Mirror convince Walter to let go of his son?

4. Biological-Chemical Hybrids

After two of the translucent villains from this episode's plot arc were shot and killed by Olivia and Lincoln, their bodies were autopsied. Walter finds out that they are biological-chemical hybrids, created using science that isn't available in this universe but which is certainly from the alternate universe.


Walter immediately assumes that these villains are the work of Walternate, but for some reason this screams of a Red Herring to me. I think that they are the work of someone else, perhaps a William Bell from the alternate universe who survived in a world without Peter Bishop. Perhaps someone else entirely. But then again, maybe Walternate is always a bad guy, kind of like Sloan on ALIAS.

5. References

Since this is a J.J. Abrams show, we know that there are going to be outside-references abounding, and this episode is no exception to this rule. I found five references. Maybe you found more:

(1) Walter points Lincoln Lee's attention to the ear that he is growing "under the dome," which is possibly a reference to the Stephen King novel Under the Dome where an unexplained dome appears over a city and all is turned to disorder inside.

(2) Walter later mentions that he read a book called The Spy Who Came in from the Cold while in the mental institution, a book by John le Carre that was made famous for pointing out the inconsistencies between Western espionage and Western democratic values.

(3) When the translucent villain peals his fingernail off, you can be sure that this is a reference to the 1986 Jeff Goldblum film The Fly, which details the terrible consequences of messing with advanced technology.

(4) Whenever Walter sees Peter Bishop in the corner of his eyes, he becomes frightened and begins to rant about The Man in the Mirror. This is no doubt a reference to the Michael Jackson song "Man in the Mirror," in which Michael Jackson teaches that the best way to change / save the world is to begin by looking in the mirror and changing who you are. You want a better world. Make yourself a better person.

(5) Finally, as I mentioned before, the appearances of Peter Bishop in the background mimicked the way that Tyler Durden was spliced into the film Fight Club at various points.

Arnold 365, Day 269 (Terminator 2: Judgment Day)




Banner by Adam Friedli.