Monday, January 29, 2007
Around about the time I was 5 years old, I saw an episode of the animated Star Trek titled The Practical Joker. The only thing I remembered was the crew being trapped in a holographic “rec-room” with a raging snowstorm. Later, I managed to catch three more episodes: one where Kirk and Spock get turned into amphibians, another where Spock gets a giant clone, and finally an episode where the Enterprise ends up in a reversed universe. If you think webbed and giant crewmembers seem weird, the reversed universe episode was the most bizarre, with black stars, a white void and people who age backwards; i.e. you’re born elderly and then grow into an infant. Weird huh. My memories are so vague, I'm still not sure if I saw the cartoon or the original series first.
So, I liked the animated Star Trek well enough as a child but basically forgot about it, particularly after the movies and Next Generation showed up. Over the years, though, I found myself getting bored with the various incarnations of Star Trek. Sure the FX improved greatly, but the space anomalies, the techobabble, and the Rick Berman style became too much to take. Naturally, I became drawn to the original Star Trek series again for its simplicity, straightforward sci-fi, and cheesy fun. A few years ago, I picked up a used VHS tape of the animated Trek to satisfy the urge for more TOS episodes and to see if the old cartoon held up. It has Shatner, Nimoy, and most of the regular cast so it must be worth a look right? Well I have to say I was intrigued, especially because the video featured Harry Mudd, but I didn’t buy anymore and waited for the DVDs. Sure enough, after driving Star Trek into the ground with Enterprise, Paramount finally decided to release the animated series on DVD for Trek’s 40th anniversary as it had nothing else sell. So, with the help of an Xmas gift card I picked it up.
To be honest, I found the series quite fun to watch despite the clunky animation. The best part is hearing the voices of the original actors. But beyond the reunion, there’s all manner of weird new aliens, strange vistas, new technology, and odd adventures that would have been impossible in the original Star Trek. I particularly enjoyed the new crewmembers, the feline M’Ress and the six limbed Arex.
There’s a nice sense of continuity with the first Star Trek as it has several episodes that are sequels to original shows: Cyrano Jones and the tribbles return in More Tribbles, More Troubles; Harry Mudd’s back with a love drug in Mudd’s Passion; and the vacation planet from Shore Leave (remember the white rabbit) returns in Once Upon a Planet. The first two are notable as the actors who played Jones and Mudd reprise their roles for the cartoon versions. A prominent aspect of the animated Star Trek is that it opens things up visually. Star Trek TOS can get a little claustrophobic with the small sets, and forced perspective backgrounds. So the strange cartoon vistas on the animated show are a welcome respite from the usual cramped design. It’s about outer space so the feeling of wide-open space is an advantage the Animated Star trek has over the original.
Star Trek the Animated Series holds the distinction of being quasi canon, meaning that it has been mined for ideas for the later live action series but is not completely part of the ‘real’ history of the Star Trek Universe. The episode Yesteryear is often cited for its importance in developing many details of Vulcan society while fleshing out Spock’s family history and childhood. Other tidbits from TAS include: the appearance of Robert April the first captain of the Enterprise, first use of a ‘holodeck,’ the fist time Tiberius is mentioned as Kirk’s middle name, and the only “Beam us up Scotty” ever uttered. The series is also interesting for having the first Native American crewmember, Uhura taking command of the Enterprise and the appearance of the aquashuttle.
The Animated Star Trek may not be for everybody. There are goofy elements like the inflatable Enterprise decoy for example. Basically, you have to like Star Trek, and not hate 1970’s slow animation to get the most fun out of it. But TAS does extend the life of the original by capturing the iconic nature of Star Trek that we’re familiar with. The simple features of the animated crew do strangely look like the original cast and the sci-fi technology is consistent with the sleek designs of the live action Trek. Plus there is some really fun sci-fi concepts on the show. This is due mostly to the use of the original series ‘bible’ and from the participation of Star Trek writer D.C. Fontana.
Star Trek the Animated Series might be an acquired taste even for a trekkie, but if you long for more adventures with the original cast and crew, it’s just what the doctor ordered. Doctor McCoy that is. Plus, who wouldn’t want a six-limbed crewman on the bridge, right?
Sunday, January 21, 2007
If you like history, mystical quests, astral travel, divine possesion and obscure religious references along with a big dose frenzied pop culture, then the Promethea comic world is for you! The title bar link goes to the Wikipedia entry on this cool comic, and also has the best to-the-point discussion of Promethea's complex universe under "References" and "Common Themes".
This comic is chock full of pagan thought and imagery, particularly the Tarot and an off-shoot of Jewish Mysticism, called Kabbalah. In order to really appreciate this comic, you'll need to know a little bit about the author, Alan Moore. He's an anti-authoritarian Pagan, who decided to develop his own religion, and many of his own interpretions of a multitude of pagan tenets are presented.
I was lucky, I'd already been poking around looking at various Pagan sites, and just reading anything and everything, so I was familiar with some of the material, as well as some of the famous, (or infamous), names in Pagan circles - like Aleister Crowley, John Dee and others.
Probably the most important information you'll need is on the Sephirot, perhaps better described as the Jewish "Tree of Life". It's an extremly complex system describing one's journey through life and one's relationship with the divine during this journey. Numerology plays a huge role in interpreting the Sephiroth, and in Promethea as well. The above Sephiroth link at Wikipedia also includes a diagram - consult it while reading the series, it makes alot more sense that way!
Of course, there is alot to enjoy without all the high falutin' uber metaphysics show too. I especially enjoyed the some of the first part of the series, which deals with the various incarnations of Promethea throughout it's comic book history-the artists,and the writers in particular. Moore's work is what I like to call "nutrient dense" - unlike a McDonald's meal of the usual comic superhero, Promethea always has a deeper and more sustainable level of satisfaction for the reader. In addition, this comic is undeniably feminist, in fact, Moore's work in Promethea is described as Ecriture Feminin, (French for women's writing). Perhaps that's why I like the character so much....
Of special note, the comic is outstandingly illustrated, and again, has many levels, from the purely aesthetic to arcane symbolism worthy of a proto-renaissance painting. The picture just above references Alphonse Mucha. Many other illustrations echo masters of bygone (and not so bygone!) days, so some knowledge of Art History won't hurt your appreciation of Prometha either.
Now for the most important part of this post - the trivia question!
What is the connection between Promethea, and myself?
Friday, January 19, 2007
Battlestar Galatica, hmmm… I have to confess, I’m getting bored with this show. I was really into it for a while. The apocalyptic vision, the deep drama, and allegories to current political disasters were engaging, but now I’m burned out. Maybe, I’m getting a wee bit tired of the heavy-handed emotional flip outs by the characters. I dunno. I watched... heck, I bought the original mini-series that jumpstarted the new re-imagined BSG, so I knew what I was getting into. I understood the tone and enjoyed it. So why would I suddenly find myself losing interest in it now?
Well, three possibilities come to mind. The first is that several elements of the show have been grating on me of late, the second lies in the fact that I am a crossover fan, meaning I was a fan of the original BSG but decided to give the new show a chance, and third, is the current reality of the world.
As BSG has rolled along into its third season, I realized that it has no real direction. This program has the illusion of direction in that the human survivors are trying to find earth, but Ron Moore and his staff really don’t have a plan for the over all series. It seems that the characters are floating from one angst-filled episode to the next. Examples of this lack of planning include Boxey who just disappeared after the miniseries (why have this character if you don’t want to use him), the two sharons, and Helo, a throwaway character that that Ron Moore liked so much he decided to shoehorn him in even though he was left to die on Caprica. I understand that things change during the run of a TV show, but I just don’t believe BSG has any significant direction, beyond plot points that are just dropped in and maybe used later. I feel this contributes to wild swings in character behavior like: Tom Zarek the ‘freedom fighter’ creating secret panels to execute collaborators, and the sudden adultery between Lee and Kara just to mention a two examples. That’s why when it says “…and they have a plan.” during the opening sequence, it strikes me as very ironic.
When the original show wasn’t continued but re-imagined, I was terribly sad that the BSG I knew wouldn’t be coming back. Especially when it came so close to being a reality with Bryan Singer’s Battlestar Galatica project. But I put these feelings aside as I dove into the grim and grittiness of Moore’s new show. But over time, the fact that the new BSG is a drama first and a Sci-Fi show second has worn me down. The naturalistic style means no heroic adventures. With only humans and the humanlike cylons in the entire galaxy, there is nothing to discover but the void. There is no hope as the survivors travel from one empty planet to the next. That’s not to say that there aren’t things I like about the current BSG, it just means that the show has become an emotional slog. Moreover, I miss the old cylons. The clunky armor, the synthesized voices, they were just good fun. I had this weird feeling that the BSG crew would stumble across the old cylons at some point as a lost group, but because Moore abhors the old show this isn’t going to happen. Although, the old style cylons do appear in the new BSG comic set between current storylines. So I guess my weird feeling was for the comic book version.
Finally, with all the bad news in the real world, the grim militarism and political assassinations on BSG are becoming too much of a downer. I guess I want a respite from the turmoil rather than such a direct reminder of it. The show’s allegories seemed an important expression of the shock of 9-11 and the war in Iraq, but now not so much. I just need a little more fantasy in my science fiction entertainment right now. Although I gotta' admit, some of those new cylons are hot.
With my interest in the show waning, I still don’t think BSG should be cancelled. The Sci Fi Channel currently has a dilemma as the show’s ratings have sunk, that’s why they moved it to Sunday nights, but to not provide a proper ending for BSG would alienate what’s left of their base viewership. Remember the PR disaster the cancellation of Farscape caused? I suspect that Battlestar Galatica will get a fourth season regardless of ratings as there is nothing to replace it and a forth season would solidify the show for reruns. I just personally won’t be as concerned about skipping episodes anymore, besides I can just download them anyway right? I read on the Sci Fi forums that the more that Battlestar Galatica moves away from the premise of the original show, the more it’s audience shrinks. That makes me wonder if a continuation would have been more successful. We’ll never know. All Sci Fi can do now is move forward with the current BSG. Boy, that’s an allegory all by itself.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Who doesn't like the SuperFriends, and who doesn’t like the the movie Office Space. This is a really great mashup! Brought to you by the folks at http://www.idiotwork.com/
Check out their other funny films. (Includes cursing)
Check out their other funny films. (Includes cursing)
Friday, January 12, 2007
It’s a great time to be a Red Sonja fan. Dynamite Entertainment has successfully revived her from the comics’ dustbin just in time for her 35th Anniversary (1972-2007). With her new eponymous series a runaway hit, Red Sonja gets a staring role in a new comic anthology with an old title: Savage Tales. This Conan associated title is the forerunner to the black and white comic magazine, Savage Sword of Conan, which Red Sonja appeared in several times. So it’s fitting she is the lead in this new comic series.
The so-called “she-devil with a sword” was a comic book star back in the 1970s and early 1980s, appearing numerous times alongside Conan the Barbarian as well as in her own adventures. Her stories take place in the Hyborian Age; a time lost to recorded history, many thousands of years before what we know as the ancient world. A common misunderstanding is that Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, created Red Sonja. This isn’t the case. Her creator is Roy Thomas, the original writer on the Conan the Barbarian comics. Now, you could say Howard inspired her creation, since Thomas freely adapted the story The Shadow of the Vulture for the Conan comics. Thomas restaged the story about the siege of Vienna in prehistoric Hyboria and greatly changed a minor character named Red Sonya of Rogatino into the low fantasy Red Sonja we know. Her popularity grew such that Sonja became the iconic Sword & Sorcery female warrior. She even had a series of novels. Eventually, She faded from the scene, which was hastened, no doubt, by the horrible Red Sonja movie. Fast forward to 2005 when writer Michael Avon Oeming began scripting her new comic tales and you can see how far she has come. Sadly since the rights to Red Sonja and Conan belong to two different companies, they won’t cross paths anytime soon. In fact, there has been friction between their respective property rights holders; see Red Sonja, LLC Sues Paradox.
Now, I know what your thinking, Red Sonja is just cheesecake with a sword, because of her scale mail bikini, large breasts, and erotic poses. While I agree that this is large part of her appeal for male comic readers, it isn’t the only aspect of her stories. Her new adventures are excellent; Oeming has crafted exciting and moving tales with an interesting and sympathetic warrior woman. A good example of his craftsmanship is the current plot, which concerns Red Sonja’s relationship with her patron Goddess, and the rise of her nemesis, the evil wizard Kulan Gath. It is very engaging and I’d be interested to hear female readers reactions to this storyline. So I believe, it’s certainly not only a case of good-girl art.
On personal note, I have a ‘get out of the chauvinist jail’ free card, as my first exposure to Sonja was in the early ‘80s when she wore a slightly more conservative blue outfit rather than the famous bikini. As a boy, I found her very compelling and the world she inhabited completely engrossing, while not knowing anything about her skimpy armor. So I feel, it is possible to see past the 'full figure' to the strong woman... at least that is what I keep telling myself. Regardless of the way she may appeal to the readers, Dynamite Entertainment has begun collecting her adventures in trade paperbacks, so it is easy for new readers to join in the fun. Happy 35th to the She-Devil with a sword; it is indeed a good time to be a Red Sonja fan.
Monday, January 8, 2007
I have this quick, shortcut way of deciding if a sci-fi film is probably good or not. This method doesn’t work as well with TV shows as they have smaller budgets, but with movies it’s usually spot on. Look at the cars. No, I’m not kidding. Look at the vehicles people are driving and riding in during the film. Do they look futuristic, but relatable? Are the buses and trucks something that could exist but also have wear and tear? Now, I’ll admit I don’t know jack about automobiles, but well designed cars demonstrate that the filmmakers have REALLY given a lot of thought about the look and impact of the world they’re creating rather than what would simply be cool. There is an immediate reaction that vehicles engender in an audience since everybody has some sort of experience with cars. Now, I’m not asking for the moon here. There are plenty of B-movie, sci-fi films that pass the ‘car’ test, Mad Max for one. I’m just asking for a little mindfulness in the automobiles, which often carries over to the rest of the movie. Of course if the film is set entirely in outer space you’ll have to look to something else, the plot maybe?
The positive buzz on Children of Men has been impossible to ignore, so I’m sure you know the general idea behind the film: it’s the year 2027, women are infertile, and it sucks to be alive at the twilight of the human race. So, how do the automobiles stand up in Children of Men? They’re fantastic. The vehicles in this latter-day, Orwellian dystopia pass the test. They’re grimy, dirty, and seem like future versions of modern cars we’re familiar with. They’ve got built-in computers, but are in desperate need of a repair parts. Functionality has won out over luxury except for the über-rich. Transportation is rather troublesome in this bleak future and the vehicles reflect this theme with caged windows and worn-out paint jobs. There’s a particularly hellish scene where illegal immigrants have a horrific bus ride that’s disturbingly memorable. One of the reasons being is the sense of entrapment the bus provides. Now don’t get the wrong idea, thinking that Children of Men has great car case scenes. This isn’t an action movie. It’s about society slipping into entropy, so sometimes the cars don’t start. On a personal note, I particularly liked the yellow station wagon-like vehicle driven by the hippy Jasper. It was groovy and futuristic all in one. I realize the cars are a small aspect of the overall production, but they figure prominently in important scenes. So, it’s nice that this gruesome depiction of the future gets the vehicles right.
Honk, if you feel the end is near. HOOOOONK, HOOOOONK.
Saturday, January 6, 2007
I started thinkin’ about an animated TV show from several years ago called Downtown. I only saw a few episodes but it made a big impression. Downtown aired on MTV in 1999. Unfortunately only one season of 13 episodes was made. I really enjoyed the program’s animation style, the urban dialog, and the realistic characters. It was based on interviews with real urbanites after all, so that’s probably what makes Downtown ring true. It’s kinda’ Ralph Bakshi meets The Real World. The show has an interesting multiracial cast of characters that struggle to navigate the trials and tribulations of New York City. I could go on about what a great cartoon it is, but just take a look:
Another, more personal reason for my interest in the show is that Downtown made me finally grasp that my generation’s pop culture influence had passed. Or rather, that I was no longer the target of youth pop culture. I should have realized this looooooong before 1999, I admit, but I was overseas for a while and culture shock tends to retard knowledge of changes in one’s home culture and changes in one’s self for that matter. I specifically remember a moment on the show where Matt, Downtown’s resident graffiti artist, expresses awe at finding artist tags from the 1980s in the bowels of the subway system. At first I thought: “the ‘80s wasn’t that long ago, why is he’s treating this like an ancient discovery.” But in pop culture time, a decade IS ancient, practically antediluvian.
I’m sure shrinks and sociologists have names for this sudden realization, but I was trying to come up with a phrase or a word that encapsulates this experience. A PopGen Signpost? PCM (pop culture marker)? GenShift? Nothing seemed to fit, and then I thought about the name of the show, Downtown. Downtown is where the cool kids hangout, the culture is bumping, and the possibilities are endless. That’s IT! Downtown. Of course, I still participate in pop culture, I'm just not 'Downtown' anymore.
The first episode
Friday, January 5, 2007
Atomic Romance has a nice ring to it doesn’t it! But where did I, Swinebread, get such a luscious name, a name that drips with such sweetness it burns. Well, it all goes back to comic books as it often does. I was posting to Captain Comics and came across a discussion of the Golden Age, the Golden Age of Comic Books that is. This period dates from the 1930s to the mid-1950s, and is characterized by the creation of the comic format, and the rise and decline of the superheroes. Of course a Sliver Age of Comics followed, but nowadays most comic geeks, including me, believe that there was an age in-between Silver and Gold. Many names have been bandied about, the Atomic Age, the Genre Age, etcetera, but I came across one name in an old Overstreet Price Guide that stuck out, the Atomic-Romance Age. It was a time of nuclear horror and teen love, which comics reflected with titles like: Young Romance, Weird Science, and Tales from the Crypt, so heck, why not call this period the Atomic-Romance Age?
When I mentioned this ‘age’ on the thread, I realized that Atomic Romance would make a great title of a faux comic magazine, a cross between romance and Sci-Fi comic books. So, I created a new thread and made mock covers using parts of real Golden Age comic books. Needless to say, folks loved the idea and I had whale of time making them. I hope to do more eventually.
So, that is where Atomic Romance comes from. I think it is a good title for my blog as I hope to be all over the map with outré observations, especially in regards to digging into our pop culture for layered meanings, real or imagined. Also, I kinda’ like things that have a dialectic nature to them which Atomic Romance has. It’s both funny and scary. Plus, I may want to do something else with it at some point. (…a restaurant chain?). The possibilities are endless.
Thursday, January 4, 2007
Hello boys and girls! Seeing as how Time Magazine picked me as person of the year for 2006, I’ve been feeling a tad guilty about not havin’ my own presence on the web. I expect this blog to be near coherent ramblings with occasional insights into the strange world around us. More to come soon.