Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We're Off to Southern California!

This morning, it's time for my first real vacation in several years to begin, as my family (comprised of myself, wife Jessi, and kids Tristan and Desi) along with my brother Jeff's family (his wife Kristi and their kids, Steve and Kassidy -- who were our foster kids at one time) head to Sea-Tac Airport to board a jet to Los Angeles for a week-long vacation!

This has been in the works for some time, ever since Jeff and Kristi decided they were interested in adopting Steve and Kassidy back when they were our foster kids. This trip, after all, is our celebration of the adoption, although it happened over a year ago.

We'll be spending three days at Disneyland and California Adventure, as well as a day at Legoland, with another day planned for going to the beach.

I have one primary objective when we hit Disneyland -- the Haunted Mansion. We missed going to it our last trip, because my wife and kids didn't want to go to it the first day there, and the next day it was closed for the reworking it gets every year for the Nightmare Before Christmas celebration (which will be the mode it'll be in while we're there).

Of course, we'll hit all the other classic rides while we're there, although I want to make sure we get to all the new attractions that have been opened since our last trip four years ago. I'll make sure to write up a full report after we return.

In the meantime, postings will continue here as usual, because I've been working on this month's posts every chance I get!

Monday, October 20, 2014

My Characters: The NuClone!

NucloneI figured it was about time I threw a bad guy in here and there!

The NuClone is one of the biggest threats that the Guardians of Justice face, as you might imagine from the picture. I came up with him (originally called the "Nukulon," but years later, I thought better of it and changed the name) because I wanted a threat that would be something huge, massive and powerful, where there could be a real concern that he might not be able to be defeated.

The NuClone began his life as part of a research project based just north of the Bellevue, WA area. The facility was, according to what the public knew, researching ways to regrow damaged organs and the like. But what they were really doing was engaging in illegal cloning of human beings -- and even worse, they were trying to manipulate the clones so that they would be the ultimate soldier -- adaptable to any environment, super strong, super tough. Careful application of radiation was used on the experimental clones along with more direct DNA manipulation, try to create these super soldiers (it's not certain if the project was working with the US military or planned to sell these genetically modified soldiers to foreign powers), but all results to date has been failures, with the gene manipulation causing the clones to die quickly before they could be awakened. One clone only had been doing well with the treatment, but it was still kept in a state of unconsciousness as the scientists tried making him even more powerful with additional treatments.

One evening, as a storm was brewing outside, additional radiation treatments were being done when multiple bolts of lightning struck the facility. Ordinarily, a single lightning strike wouldn't affect anything, but the multiple bolts at once overloaded all safeguards (there were some witnesses to the strike that swore afterwards that the lightning seemed to bend towards the facility, as if some uncanny force was guiding it). As a result, the clone received a massive dose of radiation as well as electricity, and this caused the holding cell the clone was kept in to burst open, and the clone awoke. Up to this point, the clone had resembled an ordinary human, although one of apparent strength, but these twin energy sources caused an effect that made the clone grow larger, and scales began forming on its skin, with the hair falling out.

The NuClone (although he wasn't named this yet) was awake, but his mind was nowhere near human. There had been no education given him, and with the amazing strength it had, nothing could prevent it from escaping. He was motivated primarily by anger, feeling threatened, and he began a swath of destruction.

The newly formed Guardians of Justice (at that time, comprised of LaserAvenger, Avian and Dynamo -- and yes, I know I haven't written about the latter two yet... suffice it to say that Avian has wings and flies, while Dynamo has electrical-based powers) were called to deal with the NuClone, but they were soon able to discover that fighting the NuClone came with a price -- when exposed to a form of attack it hadn't experienced before, he adapts by increasing his strength and durability. This doesn't make him immune to that particular attack in most cases, but it makes him harder to take down. The trio worked on containing the creature as best as they could when a new superhero showed up on the scene, Nightstar, who hoped to join the team. Unaware of the NuClone's adaptive capabilities, she struck using several different forms of energy (as these are among her powers), causing the NuClone to become even stronger and tougher. She had been warned not to attack right away, but she had thought that her fellow heroes were trying to keep her safe, and realized she made a mistake quickly.

Eventually, the NuClone was subdued enough to be taken prisoner, and held in a facility especially designed for the incarceration of super-powered criminals... but he would return. The NuClone's first return resulted due to the actions of an attorney who took on the NuClone's defense on a pro bono basis, arguing that the NuClone couldn't be held without undergoing a proper trial, and that it wasn't mentally fit to stand trial. While the judge handling the case agreed with the Guardians that the NuClone was a danger to the general public, this attorney somehow got a release for the NuClone anyway, and when revived, it started a new rampage, which the Guardians fought to contain, although that rampage ended when the NuClone vanished before their eyes. It was hoped that somehow the NuClone's internal energies had caused him to be destroyed, but that was not the case.

Instead, the NuClone had been teleported to the stronghold of Death's Head, a villain who seeks nothing less than the death of all superheroes. Having had less than successful results using his Death-Droid mechanical soldiers, he had moved on to recruiting super-villains to work for him. Somehow, Death's Head was able to reach the primitive mind of the NuClone, and was able to keep him calm and contained until he was needed. After this point, whenever Death's Head's plans called for the need for mindless violence, the NuClone was brought in.

As a result of the mutation process, the NuClone's appearance has the tendency to change over time. These changes are usually a direct result of some form of attack made against him -- for example, the use of a sonic-based attack caused the ears to mutate so that these attacks were less effective. He continually grows stronger and tougher, while still apparently maintaining a very primitive mind. He appears to be unable to grasp language in any form, although can respond to a tone of voice (this may be something he'll adapt to as time goes on, as when the Guardians found themselves transplanted to an alternate reality where some of their friends were foes, while some foes were friends, the NuClone of that world had at least some intelligence and was able to speak, making him an even greater threat than the one on their world).

Trying to contain the NuClone if he can be subdued and captured is an ongoing issue. The first imprisonment involved the use of knockout gas to keep him sedated (there was no way to administer anything through injection, and nobody wanted to risk keeping him awake enough to put sedatives in his food), but this turned out to be a bad idea, as he was able to adapt to the point where a massive amount of gas would be required to knock him out -- a quantity that would endanger anyone downwind from the attack. He's too strong to simply be imprisoned, and research has been ongoing to find some way to keep the NuClone safely away from the public in a way that he can't escape from. Ideas have ranged from stranding him on a deserted island (discarded, as he could swim away unless an island could be found that would provide him with enough resources that escape would not be desirable, and even then it would have to be monitored carefully), launching him into space, or even somehow stranding him in an alternative dimension. It seems to be impossible to kill the NuClone, as his adaptive nature allows him to heal from wounds at an amazing rate, and even damaged organs adapt to be more durable when they heal.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Geek TV: Far Out Space Nuts!

Concept: Two NASA maintenance workers, Junior and Barney, are loading food into compartments to prepare a rocket for an upcoming mission when they accidentally launch the ship into deep space. The duo soon befriend an alien, Honk, as they make their way through space having various misadventures.

Total Episodes: 15

Original Air Dates: September 6, 1975 - September 2, 1976

Original Network: CBS

Characters:

Junior (Bob Denver): Seemingly dim-witted but uniquely clever maintenance worker.

Barney (Chuck McCann): Grumpy, short-tempered co-worker and friend of Barney's.

Honk (Patty Maloney): Furry alien friend who makes horn sounds instead of speaking.

Geek Pedigree:

Of course, given that this was a Sid & Marty Krofft show, there's a whole history of Saturday morning kidvid behind Far Out Space Nuts, going way back to H.R. Pufnstuf. Series star Bob Denver, of course, is familiar to everyone for playing Gilligan on Gilligan's Island, but let's not forget his portrayal of Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, which was adapted into the comics by DC! Bob went on to play other incarnations of Gilligan in the Filmation animated series, as well as playing characters called Gilligan on The New Gidget, ALF, Baywatch, and Meego, among others. Co-star Chuck McCann has even greater geek cred, having done voices for Cool McCool, playing the Projectionist and Captain Flash in The Projectionist, providing the voice of Uncle Oley in The World of Hans Christian Anderson, and later doing animation voices for shows like Drack Pack, Fred and Barney Meet the Thing, Thundarr the Barbarian, and other shows. And let's not forget his appearance as Captain Bellybuster on The Greatest American Hero! I didn't know that he voiced the Blizzard in the 1994-1996 Iron Man animated series, and somehow missed that he was the voice of The Thing in the 1994-1996 Fantastic Four animated series as well, plus voicing the Amoeba Boys in six episodes of The Powerpuff Girls. Honk was Patty Maloney's first genre work, but I can't go without mentioning her playing Lumpy in The Star Wars Holiday Special, as well as filling in as Twiki in a few episodes of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, among other roles, including a few voice parts and an appearance in an episode of Star Trek: Voyager!


Geek Guests: Appearing in one episode was Barbara Rhoades, who'd previously guested on Bewitched, Alias Smith & Jones, Mission: Impossible, The Magician, The Ghost Busters, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and The Six Million Dollar Man, played Elaine in Scream, Blacula, Scream, and later guested on Tabitha and Quark, although I don't recall seeing her on any of those -- I do remember her from multiple game show appearances, however! The legendary John Carradine appeared in an episode, apparently so impressing Bob Denver with his acting ability that several scenes had to be reshot! His career in genre movies and TV is way too long to go into in detail, so here's some highlights: Cameo appearances in The Invisible Man, The Bride of Frankenstein, playing Dracula in House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein (as well as in Billy the Kid Versus Dracula), Mr. Gateman, Herman Munster's boss in a pair of The Munsters episodes, and way too many other roles to list. His final genre role was as Jacob in Buried Alive before his passing in 1988. 

DVD Release: None, although a two episodes were apparently released on VHS.

Website: There's not any real great websites for this show... but there is a Facebook page you could like if you were interested! 

Notes: This was a very cheesy show, definitely low budget, but as a kid, I watched it every week with my siblings. Bob Denver and Chuck McCann made for a fun pairing! This was but one of many sci-fi shows that invaded kidvid around that time, just a few years too early for the big sci-fi boom started by Star Wars.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Essays on Comics Characters: Spider-Man!

I was bound to get to the Web-Slinger sooner or later, eh?

Like with a lot of superheroes, my first exposure to Spider-Man was via a Saturday morning cartoon, the somewhat limited animated show Spiderman (note the lack of hyphen) with it's extraordinarily catchy theme song and extreme lack of webbing on the costume (only appearing on his mask, gloves and boots). As limited as the animation was, they did manage to catch the tone of Spider-Man pretty well, and even included most of the villains that comics readers had come to expect.

I'm not sure what my first Spidey comic would've been, although it's equally likely to have been Marvel Tales as it was Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Team-Up would come later, as would Spectacular Spider-Man). I'm leaning towards Marvel Tales, only because I do have specific memories of reading some of the earlier John Romita-drawn issues, especially an epic battle with the Kingpin.

I'd imagine most of you know how Spidey began in comics, but just in case, here's the story as I recall it: Stan Lee had come up with the idea of doing a spider-based character, but Martin Goodman didn't like the idea of spiders and superheroes. Since Amazing Fantasy was going to come to an end with issue #15, Stan figured he'd put it in there, and went to Jack Kirby for the artwork of the story.

Now, somewhere in here, Joe Simon asserts that he'd come up with a spider-character himself... the Silver Spider, which was somewhat of a cross between the original Captain Marvel and the later Fly (at Archie -- in fact, this concept would be reworked into The Fly). And apparently Joe had done a logo up of "Spider-Man" (possibly without the hyphen) and may have shown it to Stan Lee -- at the very least, he likely showed it to Kirby, who may have mentioned it to Stan (since the only people who are still around from back then are Stan -- known for his spotty memory -- and Steve Ditko -- who doesn't talk much at all to the press -- it's unlikely that a completely truthful story of how Spidey was created will ever really come out).

Anyway, Kirby went and did a drawing of Spider-Man, possibly the entire story, and gave it to Stan, who wasn't impressed. Kirby had naturally drawn Spidey like he drew most of his heroes, muscular and heroic in proportion, and that wasn't what Stan had in mind -- he wanted a lithe, more gymnast build on Spider-Man. So he went to Ditko.

It's entirely likely that Stan didn't figure he'd ever get Spidey in the comics again after this issue (although there's apparently evidence that the stories that later appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #1 were intended for Amazing Fantasy, so perhaps it just got the plug pulled an issue or two earlier than Stan thought, with #15 being the last issue).

Anyway, the cover was drawn by Kirby instead of Ditko (because I guess Stan liked Kirby's cover better, although the Ditko version has also seen the light of day since then), and featured Spidey swinging over the city with a criminal under his arm, saying, "Though the world may mock Peter Parker, the timid teen-ager... it will soon marvel at the awesome might offf. Spider-Man!" I guess he figured the criminal wouldn't have been paying attention.

The origin story itself was one of those instant classics. We're introduced to Peter Parker, a glasses-wearing science nerd who has been raised by his kindly and elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben. The two dote on Peter as if he were their own son, and Peter wishes he could pay them back for all they've done.

At school, Peter's a complete washout socially. The other kids in his class tease him, calling him "Puny Parker," and never want to invite him to anything fun. When Peter tries to get some of his fellow students to go to a science exhibition with him, nobody wants to come along, so Peter goes himself. The exhibition is about radioactivity (that standard go-to for powers in that era), and nobody notices a tiny spider being exposed to the radioactivity. The spider drops on the back of Peter's hand, biting it before it dies. The bite hurts, and while Peter notices the spider glowing, he doesn't think that much of it because he starts feeling sick.

He leaves and wonders what kind of effect the bite will have on him when suddenly his Spider-Sense kicks in for the first time, letting him know that a car is about to hit him. He reacts instinctively, leaping out of the way, and landing on a wall! Amazed, he climbs up the wall, accidentally crushing a pipe in his bare hand when he reaches the top of the building. Peter realizes the radioactive spider bite has somehow caused the spider to pass on its abilities to him, giving him the proportionate strength, speed and agility of a spider.

Instead of choosing to use his new powers to fight crime, however... he chooses to try to use his powers to make money! Donning a mask and sweats, Peter tries out his new powers by going to a wrestling match, where there's a cash prize for staying in the ring with "Crusher" Hogan. Peter easily wins the fight, and collects his dough... and is approached by a man wanting to manage him in show business!

Peter goes home and makes up his Spider-Man costume... and also develops the web-shooters (either of these would be amazing for the average high-school sophomore to manage, Peter seems to do both in one night).

Soon, Spider-Man becomes a television sensation, demonstrating his powers and abilities to the public. However, after one TV appearance, as Peter prepares to go home, he lets a crook run past him, who'd been chased by a security guard. All Peter had to do was trip him to stop him, but he's decided to look out for number one now!

Later, Peter arrives at his home to find it surrounded by police. A burglar as broken into the Parker house, and Uncle Ben has been shot and killed! The police tell Peter the burglar's been cornered at an abandoned warehouse, and Peter goes after him.

It's a very condensed timeline here, obviously!

We all know the rest from here... Spider-Man confronts the burglar and captures him, realizing to his horror that it's the same burglar he'd let get away at the TV studio. If he'd only stopped the guy when he had the chance, Uncle Ben would still be alive, so Peter Parker has realized that With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.

It's one of the great super-hero origin stories of all time, especially remarkable given that it was so short! This wasn't an issue-length story by any means, yet Stan Lee managed to introduce us to Peter, give him powers, and set up his motivations for the rest of his crimefighting career in that time!

There really were only a few items that were "missing" here from what's considered standard Spidey mythos stuff, and those would get introduced pretty quickly when Amazing Spider-Man #1 came out some time later. Obviously, sales on that final issue of Amazing Fantasy were great, which gave Stan leverage against Martin Goodman in order to get that new book started. Those elements were Spidey's wisecracking sense of humor in costume (this was somewhat touched on in the origin, but not nearly as thoroughly as it would be), his relationship with J. Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle, and his spider-tracers. Of these, I think only the latter wasn't introduced in that first issue of the regular series.

Oh, there were other members of the supporting cast to be added, to be sure... Liz Allen, Flash Thompson, Betty Brant... and while they're certainly classic supporting cast members, none of them were parts of the Spidey saga that, if missing from an issue (or even a run of multiple issues), would make it feel like something wasn't there that was supposed to be.

A lot as been written about Stan's writing characters with the idea of there being an "illusion of change," but Peter Parker's life did go through quite a few changes over the years. His taking photos of himself as Spidey to sell to the Bugle became more than just a part-time deal, he graduated from high school and went to college (seemingly forever), changed apartments multiple times, gained and lost supporting cast members, gained and lost loves... and all these things did have their effect on him. Heck, even Aunt May was killed off for some time (although this happened long after I stopped buying new comics)... to say nothing of Peter marrying Mary Jane Watson!

So change is part of Spider-Man's mythos, and rightfully so. It was rare that things in the Spidey books would ever go back to square one after a major change occurred (unlike other books in the Marvel line... Tony Stark might lose Stark Industries, but he'd get it back; the Fantastic Four would break up or move out of the Baxter Building, but they'd get back together or move back in; and how many times have the Avengers had a line-up that ended up being 3/4 comprised of members from the first nine or ten years, usually in a story called "The Old Order Changeth"?).

It's very difficult for me to read Spider-Man's adventures these days and be able to reconcile them with the Spider-Man I'd been reading most of my life. Some of the changes made to him have been dropped or ignored by subsequent writers -- I recall reading a TPB that had Spidey's powers explained as being some kind of mystical animal totem kind of thing, and this is why so many of his foes had an animal basis, and having Spidey get some new powers as a result, and while some people might've thought, "Hey, that makes sense!" it felt like someone thought, "Hey, this is a cool idea, I'm going to run with it!" and not consider that it doesn't make a lot of sense (good grief, how many animal adversaries have Batman and Robin fought, yet there's not been some storyline in which it explains all this by saying that animal spirits have been causing all of this to happen... well, there's been some stuff involving bat-demons and the like, but nothing like that Spidey story).

Spidey's whole set-up is beautiful in its simplicity, I believe, and trying to put too much thought into trying to have it "make sense" smacks of deconstructivism to me. Some thing just don't require too much rethinking.

So here's how I see Spider-Man, and how he should be portrayed... and just as a slight nod to the current books, I'll even concede having him not being married (although I still think that was one of the best changes made to Spidey ever, because it gave him some real grounding):

Peter Parker is good person. He's learned from his experiences that being selfish doesn't work for him, and he's genuinely concerned about his fellow person. This doesn't mean he automatically feels brotherly love for everyone, but he tends to treat people he meets as though what's on the surface is what's real, and he lets his spider-sense let him know otherwise.

He's a brilliant scientist, even if he hasn't completely finished his schooling yet (something that, if it hasn't happened in the comics, really should... Pete's been exposed to so much advanced scientific stuff over the years, and been able to deal with it in ways that, to me, should make him considered one of the smartest guys around -- maybe not in a class with Reed Richards or Tony Stark, but certainly up there). This is a guy who, as a high school student, invented his web-shooters and later spider-tracers, plus he was able to convert his camera so that it would fit on his belt! Maybe the only reason he's not made the full 100% commitment to science is that by this time, a lot of it's come way too easy for him, and it doesn't have the challenges he'd expected. In many ways, he's been his own worst enemy holding himself back from a scientific career.

He's also a great photographer when he takes the time to be great. Unfortunately again, he's his own worst enemy, because he lets his camera take pictures automatically in order to get his photos for the Bugle. At this point in his career, he should definitely have gone digital, and perhaps even got to the point where he uses several cameras at once to get a better range of shots when he's fighting crooks.

He has the respect of most of the Daily Bugle staff -- yes, even including Jameson, although you'd never catch Jameson saying so directly to Peter's face (at least, not without taking it back almost immediately). Pete's photos have sold newspapers, and as great as the Bugle has been throughout its life, it seems to me that Pete's photos have probably done as much as anything else to keep the Bugle going as long as it has, when other papers have folded.

There's been stories in the past of Pete working temporarily for other papers -- papers that even paid more -- but he always goes back to the Bugle again. Why is this? Because it's like a second family to him. The money should be better, but everyone in the newspaper industry is facing potential layoffs or salary cuts, so even though he deserves more money, he's not going to get it there. Perhaps there could be more books of his photos in his future.

He's no longer the nebbish he was in high school, nervous around women. He's got more self-confidence than he probably realizes -- this probably ties in to letting the burglar go that killed Ben Parker. Whether he realizes it or not, Pete knows that mistakes can cost him and others dearly, and I think this can be used to explain why he rarely has much of an active social life. On some level, he must feel that anything he puts a lot of time into has to count for something... it's either got to put food on the table or help others. This is probably why he enjoys being Spider-Man so much; it's fun, and really about the only recreation he's got. Exercise can release endorphins, and while he certainly takes being Spidey seriously, he's always admitted that being Spider-Man is fun. When he's been studying and needs a break, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Web-slinging.

I don't think I need to focus too much on his powers... he can be presented as strong as he needs to be, although he's certainly not in the same weight class as Thor or the Hulk (or even Iron Man), he's certainly up there. He's got to be the most agile superhero in the Marvel Universe, being able to avoid obstacles and maneuver in ways that can't be matched. Perhaps he could work on reworking his web-shooters a bit so that he doesn't run out of fluid at critical times (perhaps some warning beeper when a cartridge gets down to a certain point).

His webbing is one of those things that I feel needs to be explored a bit more. Consider the size of his web fluid cartridges, and then consider how much webbing he goes through. Clearly, when he spins his webbing, it can't be the same volume that was stored in the cartridges. Something in the chemical make-up has to react with oxygen or something else in the air in order to get the volume increased. Either that, or the webbing's much finer than is usually depicted (this actually makes more sense -- real spider's webbing is very thin, after all).

As I referenced above, he's a wise-cracker, and while this helps keep him from stressing out too much while fighting powerful villains, it's also one of his great weapons. Many of Spidey's stories have pointed out that Spidey's quips make his opponents quick to anger, and this anger leads them to make mistakes that Spidey can exploit.

While his life has been full of tragedy, I don't think that Spidey's stories should be dark so much of the time. Grim and gritty doesn't really work with the Wall-Crawler on a regular basis, and should be kept to a minimum. His stories should be exciting, and not like anyone else's tales. The great thing about Spidey is that he seems to work well in just about any kind of environment (although I think he's best kept in New York City, he is able to adapt to his circumstances). He's always considered himself a loner, but he's probably teamed up with more superheroes than just about anyone else, although I'm still undecided if I like him being an Avenger or not.

Anyway... I feel like I'm kind of running out of steam on this whole essay by this point, so perhaps it's a good place to start. As always, I welcome seeing your own comments about Spidey!