Tuesday, October 28, 2008
World Fantasy Convention
Monday, October 27, 2008
The Pit of Ultimate Darkness
"Evil, evil! Impolite, and evil..."
Sunday, October 26, 2008
More Imaginary Stories
In fourth installment of an ongoing interview at Newsarama, Morrison reveals a little bit of the behind-the-scenes work that went into the series, and illustrates one of the key elements that makes this series so remarkably good.
In the third issue of the series, Lois Lane is given superpowers for 24 hours, and gets to fly around Metropolis and elsewhere as Superwoman. Naturally, a pair of space-and-time-travelling strongmen see this as a perfect opportunity to woe her away from Superman. Enter Atlas and Sampson.
This isn't the first time that the characters have made an appearance in a Superman comic, far from it.
These are throwaway antagonists and rivals in All Star Superman, to be used in a single story and then never seen again. What's remarkable to me is that Morrison has treated each as though they are the stars of their own stories, who've been off having super-adventures in never-published comics we'll never see.
It occurs to me that this approach of working out in some considerable detail the backstories of characters we'll never see again--preceding from the assumption that they've gone through all the sorts of character beats as the stars of published superhero comics--isn't a million miles from that Morrison used in his revamp of the old "Club of Heroes" characters in a recent Batman arc. In some sense this is related to the imaginary "Astro Comics" that Kurt Busiek uses when working up the backstories of Astro City characters, but almost seems the inverse in some way that I can't quite articulate yet.
While I’m at it, I should also say something about Samson and Atlas, halfway between old characters and new.
Samson, Atlas and Hercules were classical mainstays of old Superman covers, tangling with Superman in all those Silver Age stories that happened before he learned from his friends at Marvel that it was possible to fight other superheroes for fun and profit, so I decided to completely “re–vamp” the characters in the manner of superhero franchises. Marvel has the definitive Hercules for me, so I left him out of the mix and concentrated on Atlas and Samson.
Atlas was re–imagined as a mighty but restless and reckless young prince of the New Mythos – a society of mega–beings playing out their archetypal dramas between New Elysium and Hadia, with ordinary people caught in the middle – and Superman.
Essentially good–hearted, Atlas would have been the newbie in a “team” with Skyfather Xaoz!, Heroina, Marzak and the others. He has a bullish, adolescent approach to life. He drinks and plunges himself into ill–advised adventures to ease his naturally gloomy “weighed down by the world” temperament.
You can see it all now. The backstory suggested an unseen, Empyrean New Gods–type series from a parallel universe. What if, when Jack Kirby came to DC from Marvel in 1971, he’d followed up his sci–fi Viking Gods saga at Marvel, with a dimension–spanning epic rooted in Greek mythology? New Gods meets Eternals drawn by Curt Swan/Murphy Anderson? That was Atlas.
Samson, I decided would be a callback to the British newspaper strip “Garth.” Although you may already be imagining a daily strip about the exploits of time–tossed The Boys writer, Garth Ennis, it was actually about a blonde Adonis type who bounced around the ages having mildly horny, racy adventures.
(Go look him up then return the wiser before reading on, so I don’t have to explain anymore about this bastard – he’s often described as “the British Superman,” but oh...my arse! I hated meathead, personality–singularity Garth...but we all grew up with his meandering, inexplicable yet incredibly–drawn adventures and some of it was quite good when you were a little lad because he was always shagging ON PANEL with the likes of a bare–breasted cave girl or gauze–draped Helen of Troy.
(Unlike Superman, you see, the top British strongman liked to get naked. Lots naked. Naked in every time period he could get naked in, which was all of them thanks to the miracle of his bullshit powers.
(Imagine Doctor Who buff, dumb and naked all the time – Russell, I’ve had an idea!!!! – and that’s Garth in a nutshell.
(Sorry, I know I’m going on and the average attention span of anyone reading stuff on the Internet amounts to no more than a few paragraphs, but basically, Garth was always getting naked. In public, in family newspapers. Bollock naked. Let’s face it, patriotic Americans, have you ever seen Superman’s arse?
Newsarama Note: Well, there was Baby Kal-El in the 1978 film...
(Brits, hands up who still remember the man, and have you ever not seen Garth’s arse? Do you not, in fact, have a very clear image of it in your head, as drawn by Martin Asbury perhaps? In mine, Garth’s pulling aside a flimsy curtain to gaze at the pyramids with Cleopatra buck naked in foreground ogling his rock hard glutes...).
Anyway, Samson, I decided, was the Hebrew version of Garth and he would have his own mad comic that was like an American version of Garth. I saw the Bible hero plucked from the desert sands by time–travelling buffoons in search of a savior. Introduced to all the worst aspects of future culture and, using his stolen, erratic Chrono–Mobile, Samson became a time–(and space) travelling Soldier of Fortune, writing wrongs, humping princesses, accumulating and losing treasure etc. Like a science fiction Conan. Meets Garth.Fortunately, you’ll never see any of these men ever again.
Hulk at the Tropicana, 1965
We'd already seen the "Message from Adam Rex" that he posted to YouTube to promote the second Frank book, but until Irene Gallo pointed out the following this morning I had no idea he'd done any other YouTube posts.
Behold, "Hulk at the Tropicana, 1965."
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Mad props to Allison, who ended up hacking the store-bought costume all out of recognition when Georgia found the synthetic fibers of the costume unbearable to wear. Allison cut off the skirt portion and rebuilt the whole thing from the ground up, including the hair-tie. The only part that survived unscathed are the wings (which, naturally, blink with lights when activated), but even those have been modified with ties to make them fit better.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Rudy Rucker reads from The Hollow Earth
Sci Fi Wire on Iron Jaw and Hummingbird
Thursday, October 23, 2008
SF Signal Mind Meld: The Future of Science Fiction
Free Fiction: "Mirror of Fiery Brightness"
Lost Season 5 Trailer
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Art Adam's Agents of Atlas
How awesome is that?
The Secret Saturdays, Kirby-style
Has anyone else been keeping up with the show on Cartoon Network? Georgia and I are absolutely hooked on it. There's just something about getting up on Saturday morning with her every week and having that pure awesomeness waiting for us on the Tivo that reminds me of watching terrific old adventure cartoons when I was her age on Saturday mornings. Only now, when the show's over we don't have to suffer through PSAs about how we should eat cheese or avoid littering or something, but can just rewind back to the beginning and watch again...
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Watchmen: The Bride of Manhattan
Here's how Levell describes it:
I wanted to do a rework for Attack of the 50ft Woman but somehow it didn't quite work out like that. I started sketching but couldn't help thinking about the bit in Watchmen when Dr. Manhattan is 50 ft tall blasting things to bits with his fingers in Vietnam. (issue 4 pg 20 for ref)Check out Levell's blog for more goodness.
This was my natural progression of those two thoughts...
I love the whole 'B' movie spoof stuff and the word Bride seemed to carry the right sort of connotations with it for this.
Watchmen is a one-off complete story and it struck me that the (giant monster) money-making-machine that is Hollywood could plough headlong into franchise mentality if the upcoming film is a success. I think this might be Alan Moore's worst fear and part of the reason I added the 'Wizard of Northampton' desperately running away from the horror of it all.
Secret Services: Section Zero
Back in the heady days before the dot-com bust, all sorts of ambitious plans were floated, and one of them was Gorilla Comics. The idea was that a capitalized internet startup would fund a raft of creator-owned comics by some of the best writers and artists in comics--Busiek, Waid, Perez, Wieringo, etc. Sadly, the startup was a nonstarter, and the titles already in production were left without a home. With their funding evaporated, the creator's ended up self-funding and publishing what they had through Image Comics. Most of the titles only ran for a few issues each, but they offered tantalizing glimpses of what might have been.
One of those titles, and the one that resonated most with me as a reader, was Karl Kesel's and Tom Grummett's Section Zero.
What is Section Zero? Well, according to the inside cover of the first issue, there's no such thing...
There is no Section Zero.Here's how Kesel described the outfit in an interview at the time:
Section Zero isn't a secret section of the United Nation's charter. It does not perpetually fund a team of experts and adventurers to investigate the fantastic and unknown. The idea that this "team" looks into such things as UFOs, Monsters, Lost Civilizations, Time Travel, Ancient Gods, and still-living Dinosaurs is no more than an urban legend. After all, none of these things exist.
The team is led by the smartest woman in the world. Her name is Doc Challenger. She belongs to a long lineage of adventurers. Her right hand man is Sam Wildman, who’s our loveable rogue character. Everything comes effortlessly to Doc Challenger and everything is a struggle for Sam. He can’t walk across the street without getting beat up by ninjas. That’s the sort of life he leads. Adding spice to the relationship is that they are ex-husband and wife. As the series progresses, we’ll learn more about the backstory there. There’s also a childlike alien being named Tesla who has vast, vast, vast powers but, thank God, he only has the mentality of a 6-year-old, otherwise he’d be running the world. We also have a 14-year-old Cambodian boy who has one of those cursed tattoos. You know all about those! If he rubs this bug tattoo on his arm, he becomes a bug boy character for exactly one day, so his name’s the 24 Hour Bug. He gets a big bug head and these big bug arms grow out of his back. Obviously, he’s not really thrilled with this power. It’s not a power that really wins the girls. That’s kinda where we start and we move off from there. There’s a few other members who’ll join the team as the 6-issue mini-series progresses. It’s one of those stories that starts out pretty small. There’s some sort of animal or creature killing sheep in the Australian Outback, and they go to investigate this. But as it often happens in comics, this is a small pebble that creates massive ripples. By the end of the mini-series, nothing is the same.Elsewhere, Kesel has talked a bit more about the origins of the idea. Early last year I mentioned how, while looking for something else entirely, I stumbled upon these interesting comments Kessel made a few years ago on something called Monster Blog Mailbox:
"Twice I've tried to interest Marvel in series that would feature these monsters and misfits. The first was the Marvelmen— a Challengers of the Unknown-type group who fought giant monsters. The second was a Giant-Man pitch that would have had him involved with adventures so out-there that even his fellow super-heroes didn't believe him— in other words, tall tales (appropriate for a giant, I thought) or Tales to Astonish— and a lot of the stories would have involved the Marvel monsters. I actually wrote and got paid for a plot to the Giant-Man story before Marvel decided it wasn't really their cup of tea.And then, in response to another reader's comments, he goes on to say...
1) The Marvelmen would have had their origins in the early 60s, allowing me to do period stories, but would have also had a modern version of the team. I recycled this approach when Tom Grummett and I created “Section Zero.” As for art— hard to say. I think a lot of artists today would do killer versions of the classic Marvel monsters, and I'd love to see 'em, so maybe there would be some way to set up a comic with a lead story by one recurring artist and self-contained back-ups by a rotating roster. If there ever was a Marvelmen comic. Which there probably won't be.(Interestingly, this prefigures much that I dig about Agents of Atlas, as well as covering much the same ground as Roger Stern's similar concept "Monster Hunters", which came in between.)
2) I created the Marvelmen in 89 or 90. I was trying to ride the coat-tails of Marvel's Monster Masterworks trade paperback, and even pitched the idea to the editor of that book— Marc McLaurin. With the assumption that the only Marvel monster stories most readers would be familiar with would be the ones in that trade paperback, the Marvelmen were characters from stories reprinted there: Lewis Conrad from TABOO, the scientist from SPORR, and Chan Liuchow from FIN FANG FOOM. There was also one MarvelWOMAN, but I created her new since I didn't know of a Marvel monster story where a woman was the hero. (Are there any?)
In an author's note in the back pages of Section Zero #1, Kesel adds another bit of detail, that in itself is even more telling.
"Then I noticed--about thirty years after the fact--that the [Fantastic Four] were a natural, creative outgrowth of the Challengers [of the Unknown]. And I thought, well, what if one actually did evolve into the other?"And it's there that the book's essential charm, at least for me, can be found. This kind of metafictional play, encoding the history of genres inside genre stories, are my bread and butter. (More about this in a moment.)
The original members of Section Zero, who had to contend with "atomic power, giant insects, [and] little green men", were Everest Pike, Sarina Ursari, "Gorgeous" Georges Seine, and Bernie Cork. As another character says of them, "Those four faced the fantastic, and unknown... yet none of them had any special powers!"
By the 1970s, the lineup of the team had changed. Everest Pike still lead the group, but he'd been joined by Tele Moteka, Sargasso, and Jesse Presley (who seems oddly familiar...).
By the 1980s, Tele Moteka was in charge of a team that consisted of Johnny Colossus, Artifax the mechanical man, and A.J. Keeler.
By 2000, the team consisted of Dr. Titania "Doc" Challenger, Samuel Wildman, the alien Tesla, and Thom Talesi, the 24-Hour Bug.
This kind of metafictional "genre history as fictional backstory" was not new with Section Zero, of course, far from it. In fact, Kesel's friend and Gorilla Comics studio-mate Kurt Busiek had previously done something very similar with his Astro City, and in particular with the First Family.
Around that same time, Kesel and his Section Zero collaborator Tom Grummett did a similar take on a Kirbyesque quartet of adventurers with Challengers of the Fantastic.
The book was part of the second "Amalgam Comics" intercompany crossover, in which DC Comics and Marvel Comics "merged" their titles for a single month, producing books featuring characters like Super Soldier (Captain American merged with Superman) and Dark Claw (Wolverine and Batman). Challengers of the Fanastic were, naturally, the Challengers of the Unknown merged with the Fantastic Four. The Challengers in this merged universe were were scientist Reed "Prof" Richards, SHIELD agent Susan "Ace" Storm, her daredevil brother Johnny "Red" Storm and fighting senator Ben "Rocky" Grimm. Together they faced Doctor Doomsday (Doomsday and Doctor Doom) , Galactiac (Brainiac and Galactus), and others.
Kesel seems to have a real affinity for this kind of thing. In the Fantastic Four Annual 1998, with art by Stuart Immomen, he has Ben Grimm visit an alternate universe where, instead of having been formed roughly ten years before, the Fantastic Four first got their powers in 1961. This is a Marvel Universe that operates in real time, and in which Franklin Richards is now a grown man with a child of his own on the way (married to a character first introduced in Roger Stern's "Monster Hunters" mentioned above, btw), Johnny Storm and his wife Crystal have a teenaged son and daughter, and Reed and Sue Richards have mostly retired from adventuring to concentrate on research. (Kesel's Marvels Comics: Fantastic Four, with collaborator Paul Smith, is also worth hunting down; supposedly a reproduction of an issue of the "Fantastic Four" comic published within the Marvel Universe, the licensed magazine mentioned so often by the characters back in the Lee and Kirby days.)
John Byrne has played with similar ideas in the past. In What If #36 he answered the question "What If the Fantastic Four had not gained their super-powers?" The answer?
They became the Challengers of the Unknown, naturally.
Later, in his all-too-brief Danger Unlimited, he played with the idea of a family-based quartet of superpowered adventurers in real time (though interestingly, here the model for the characters before getting their superpowers was not the Challengers of the Unknown, but instead Jonny Quest and company.)
Danger Unlimited remains one of my favorite of Byrne's comics, and I've always thought it a shame that he never returned to the concept.
But what does all of this have to do with Secret Services, you might ask? Well, very little, to be honest. But it's this metafictional aspect of Section Zero that intrigued me, far more than the "occult investigation" business, I'll confess.
In that post early last year I mentioned above, I talked a bit about the influence that Section Zero had on me. To avoid repeating myself, I'll just quote myself instead.
With someone as obsessed with Wold Newton-type stuff as I am, Challenger and Wildman were names to conjure with. The clear suggestion in Section Zero is that Doc Challenger is the grand-daughter of Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger. And with that being the case, how much of a leap would it be to assume Sam Wildman is some relation to James Clarke Wildman, Jr. (better known as Doc Savage)? There were scattered references to challenging the "unknown", and facing the "fantastic," which served not only to evoke the Jack Kirby series Challengers of the Unknown and the Fantastic Four which served as the comic's inspiration, but also offered the tantalizing suggestion that the Section Zero teams in past decades might have themselves served as the "real world" inspirations for the "fictional" teams Kirby and collaborators depicted in the comics. (That makes sense in my head; does it make sense out in the world?)And there you have it. In any event, backissues of Section Zero can be found without too much difficulty (Mile High has them on discount), and they're well worth picking up, if you don't mind the frustration of being left with only tantalizing glimpses of what might have been.
In the end, unfortunately, the series only ran for three of the projected six issues, along with a five page preview that ran in another title. And while in those issues we only got the barest glimpse at the backstory Kesel and Grummett had worked up for the team, it was clear fairly quickly that I was reading too much into off-hand references, and that the series would have headed in very different directions than I'd originally anticipated.
So the comic in my head was nothing like the one that I ended up reading. So what? In a writer's world, nothing is wasted, not even idle thoughts. I had just started work on one of the early Bonaventure-Carmody stories, those featuring J.B. Carmody and the team at the Carmody Institute, and as those stories developed, bits and pieces of the thing I'd thought Kesel's book was going to develop into crept in, gradually. I liked the idea of making a character's figurative antecedents his literal ancestors, which is how J.B. Carmody ended up being the grandson of the very-James-Bondish Jake Carmody, the grandson of the somewhat Doc-Savage-like Rex "King" Carmody, and the great-nephew of the vaguely Tarzan-esque Lord John Carmody. The Bonaventure side of the family (the "B" in "J.B.") developed later on, along somewhat different lines. And in short order JB Carmody's story resembled not at all the idea I'd originally had in mind for it, either. And so it goes...
Monday, October 20, 2008
The Celestial Empire is an alternate world where Imperial China did not retreat within its borders in the 15th century but expanded until a thousand years later it had colonized and begun terraforming Mars. Iron Jaw and Hummingbird tells the tale of two young people who find themselves in a position to bring the corruption of the government to light and improve the fates the inhabitants of Fire Star.And in what I believe is the first review of the book, Publishers Weekly takes a (slightly spoilerish) look at End of the Century:
As a work of young adult fiction I was delighted to see that the characters were given agency. They had opportunity to make the moral choices that drove their actions and they were not saved from the outcomes of bad choices. In what I think was the best part of the book they were even able to think about their actions and change their minds.
This ambitious fantasy combines three very British stories: an Arthurian fable, a Victorian murder mystery and a modern-day YA adventure tale. A strange visitation sends young father Galaad to Caer Llundain in the year 498. American teenager Alice Fell, who gets holy visions during epileptic seizures, makes a similar pilgrimage to London in 2000. In 1897, as Queen Victoria celebrates her jubilee, consulting detective Sandford Blank and his sidekick, Roxanne Bonaventure, investigate a series of brutal murders. The hinted interconnections between the three tales are complex and fascinating, but as the stories come together, the novel disintegrates into a confusing mélange of ancient computers from the future, overlapping characters and objects moving through time and space. Though it jumps the tracks at the end, Roberson (Paragaea) still makes this a rollicking ride.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Superhero Fashion Emergency
Friday, October 17, 2008
Fin Fang Four!
Marvel Entertainment is launching more never before seen digital comic titles exclusively for Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited subscribers.Did you catch that?
FIN FANG FOUR
There was a time when giants walked the Earth! Monstrous creatures! Products of science gone MAD!!! But what happens when some of these terrible titans try to play nice? Find out as Googam, Elektro, Gorgilla and the purple-pantsed Fin Fang Foom himself do the unthinkable and become functioning members of society. Well, not TOO functional…creators Scott Gray and Roger Langridge welcome back Marvel’s favorite enfants terribles in five gut-busting stories sure to unleash the Marvel Monster within!
Fin Fang Four!
The previous collaborations between Roger Langridge and Scott Gray on Fin Fang Foom and company have been some of the best stuff published by Marvel Comics since... well, since ever. This news just might be enough to get me interested in Marvel's digital comics service.
Secret Services: CIB
Ultraviolet was a 1998 British television production created by Joe Ahearne, who has since directed episodes of Doctor Who and Strange, among others. The series was recommended to me a few years later, and I picked up the Region 2 DVD to check it out, sight unseen. I never regretted it.
Ultraviolet is arguably the best show of its kind to date. In the first episode, a detective-sergeant with the London Metropolitan Police (played by Jack Davenport of Coupling and Pirates of the Caribbean) is drawn into a mystery when his partner begins behaving strangely, claiming that he's been targeted by some kind of black-ops government-backed death squad. Davenport's character encounters the "death squad," which includes a former soldier, a priest, and a cancer specialist, who reveal that they really are after his partner--who just happens to have been infected with something called "Code V."
What's Code V? Here's the list of characteristics, from the show's official site:
Code Vs do not show in mirrors, photographs or videos. Their voices cannot be recorded or transmitted by phone. Image and sound can only be detected face to face.One of the terrific things about Ultraviolet is that it's a show about vampire-hunters that never mentions the word "vampire." Not once. The series takes the basic premise of vampirism and treats it with rigorous logic. If vampires don't show up in mirrors, for example, why not mount mirrored sights on weapons, along with a miniature video camera. If a target appears in the video screen but not in the mirror sight, you're looking at a Code V and should open fire. But not just with regular rounds, but bullets of compressed carbon--reinforced charcoal--that have the same effect as a stake through the heart. Then there's the mace that's laced with oils expressed from garlic, and the UV lights used to check a subject's reaction to sunlight. Clever, clever stuff.
They are immortal. They cannot be killed, only reduced to ashes (neutralized).
They can be neutralized by exposure to sunlight or by introducing carbon into the chest cavity (projectile, probe or explosive). Resulting immolation releases enough energy to start fires.
Code V ashes can be regenerated and must be kept secure.
They can be repelled by ultraviolet light (the radiation in sunlight) or by allicin (the chemical in garlic).
They can shield themselves from ultraviolet light with tinted glass.
They can be affected by polluted blood.
When they feed, the host wound heals over in minutes and can only be detected in ultraviolet light. The bite can be treated with lasers. The skin around the wound is burnt away leaving a small scar.
If untreated, a human becomes suggestible and develops aversion to sunlight.
There may also be an aversion to religious symbols. This may be psychological. The effect of religious symbols on Code Vs is unproven.
When drained to death, a human becomes a Code V.
No-one is forcibly recruited. They only take those who want to go.
Code Vs claim to have human-type emotions. This is unproven.
The series ran for only one season of six episodes, a lamentably short run, but those six stories are packed to the gills with terrific writing, great acting, and viciously clever twists. I really can't recommend it highly enough.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Batman: The Brave and the Bold
Cybermancy Incorporated available on Kindle
Here's what I said about Cybermancy Incorporated back in February:
Sooner or later, I'm sure, I'll succeed in tricking some publisher into reprinting the thing, but even then, it wouldn't be this same text. The Bonaventure-Carmody characters started out as part of the shared world of San Cibola in the Clockwork Storybook days, but as they made the transition for the webzine to the novels published by Pyr and Solaris, they got tweaked a bit, moving away from the urban fantasy environment of San Cibola and into a more science fictional world (though admittedly a pulpish one). So the version of this novel that eventually gets reprinted will be one that takes place in some other alternate universe out in the Myriad, with revisions and changes here and there. No longer set in San Cibola, but in Recondito, California, most of the plot will be the same, but there's be some significant differences.If you've got a Kindle, and have ever had any interest in checking out the book, or are curious to find out more about the Carmody and Bonaventure families featured in Here, There & Everywhere, Paragaea: A Planetary Romance, Set the Seas on Fire, and the forthcoming End of the Century, here's your chance.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Secret Services: The Hellsing Organization and Vatican Section XIII
In the world of Hellsing, supernatural monsters like vampires and ghouls are real, and Bram Stoker's Dracula is a more-or-less accurate historical account (though clearly the ending must have been a little different). Someone has to stand in the breach to civilization from being overrun by blood-drinking fiends, and that's where the Hellsing Organization comes in.
Here's the description of the outfit from the wikipedia entry.
More formally known as the Royal Order of Protestant Knights, the Hellsing Organization is a fictional group from the Hellsing universe. The Hellsing Organization was founded by Abraham Van Helsing shortly after the events of Bram Stoker's novel as a response to the threat posed by vampires such as Dracula. The Hellsing Organization is traditionally headed by Abraham's descendants, as they are the only individuals who can control Alucard, the ultimate undead created by the organization for use in their continuing struggle against supernatural threats. After WWII, it was decided that Alucard was too powerful or potentially too dangerous to continue to be used as a weapon, and was locked away in the basement of the Hellsing mansion. Upon Arthur's death, his daughter, Integra Fairbrook Wingates Hellsing, became the director of the organization. Integra's uncle, Richard Hellsing, attempted to assassinate her and take control of the organization, but was defeated in part by Alucard, who was accidentally released on vague instructions from her father. Integra herself fired the bullet that killed Richard. During the timeline of the manga series, ten years have passed since Integra became director of the Hellsing Organization and Alucard was released.
In the Hellsing universe, the organization is an integral part of the true power-structure of Great Britain, which is, according to the story, still ruled by a hidden aristocracy and the monarchy. The organization is tasked with defending the country's shores from any and all supernatural threats and often faces controversy over the highly unconventional methods Hellsing chooses to do this, such as the use of "anti-Christian" powers and creatures. In the TV series, Hellsing is portrayed much more like a paramilitary or counter-terrorist organization armed with Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns and GKN Saxon or VAB APCs used to transport Hellsing soldiers to areas where there are reports of supernatural outbreaks in Britain. The paramilitary aspects are rarely mentioned in the OVA or the manga.
But the Hellsing Organization isn't the only clandestine monster-hunting outfit out there. There's also the Vatican's Section XIII to consider.
Also known as the Iscariot Organization, Section XIII (and there's that familiar prime numeral again) fields "paladins" with swords, holy water, and holy writ to dispatch vampires and other nasties. Naturally, they take a dim view to the Hellsing Organization's pet vampires, Alucard most of all. And given the history of friction between Catholics and Protestants in the UK, there's some doctrinal tension between the two organizations, as well.
If you've never seen the Hellsing anime, but are familiar with Japanese animation in general, it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect. I kept seeing echoes of Vampire Hunter D, myself, in a setting not a million miles from the UK series Ultraviolet (about which more very shortly).
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Ringo Starr's Fan Mail
Here's my question. Not to be snide, but really, who is sending Ringo Starr fan-mail these days, anyway?
(Maybe he's still working his way through old mail. After all, it's only been a few years since he answered Marge Simpson's letter, and that one had a painting in it...)
No Heroics set tour
Remember No Heroics, the ITV series I about superheroes in their off-hours? Well, here's a set tour with creator Drew Pearce. (If Pearce rubs you wrong, just remember what the YouTube posting says: "Drew has asked us to apologise in advance for sounding like a dick.")
I've watched and enjoyed the first couple of episodes of No Heroics, but I'll admit that I hadn't imagined that they'd put that much attention into the background detail. Wow...
Monday, October 13, 2008
Secret Services: Delta Green
The last time I devoted serious amounts of time to role-playing games was in high school, over twenty years ago, and I think I may have played Call of Cthulhu once or twice in there. And while I kept a toe in the rpg waters in the years that followed, occasionally picking up the manuals for new games (though never really finding the time to play them), I don't think I ever came across Delta Green. If I'm not misremembering, the first time I saw the name was in Charles Stross's afterword to The Atrocity Archive (about which more in a while), in which he says that he hadn't heard of it until he was done writing his novel, either. Stross says that having discovered it, the game came "dangerous close to making [him] pick up the dice again."
From what I've read about Delta Green, I'm with Stross on this one.
Here's a brief introduction from the game's official site:
And here's an "in-story" explanation of the outfit.
Delta Green is a game setting for Call of Cthulhu, the popular horror roleplaying game published by Chaosium, Inc. Call of Cthulhu is a game about mystery, discovery, and horror, in which the characters are more or less ordinary men and women who slowly unravel terrible mysteries about the utterly alien powers at work in the universe.
Based on the writings of Jazz-era author H.P. Lovecraft and a number of authors who wrote stories based on his "Cthulhu Mythos," Call of Cthulhu is nominally set in the 1920s, and its scenarios have always been written with a small group of investigators, largely without organization or resources, in mind.
Delta Green brings the Cthulhu Mythos, and the men and women who encounter it, squarely into the modern day. Delta Green postulates a secret group dedicated to investigating alien and supernatural horrors, using the resources of the U.S. government to do so. Originally a unit of the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency), Delta Green is now officially disbanded, its activities patently illegal; but its members carry on no matter what the cost, desperately facing the horrors that threaten mankind.
Delta Green was created by Pagan Publishing, an independent, small-press publisher under license from Chaosium to produce supplements for Call of Cthulhu. Originally developed in a 1992 issue of Pagan Publishing's acclaimed gaming magazine The Unspeakable Oath, Delta Green was published as a massive, award-winning sourcebook in 1997, to be followed by an award-winning sequel, Delta Green: Countdown, in 1999, and several smaller supplemental chapbooks and books of Delta Green fiction.
I can't vouch for the quality of the game-play and such, not having tried it out myself, but from everything I've read it certainly sounds intriguing.
So, I'm a psycho-burnout fed with a death wish. Just the kinda guy Delta Green goes trawling for. Just like you're going to be, unless you get killed first. Why would a covert government agency want a guy like me? Because only a psycho-burnout with a death wish would take a Delta Green assignment.
Did I say "covert government agency?" Is Delta Green a covert government agency? Well, yes . . . sort of.
Or, at least, once upon a time.
Once upon a time there was a group of men who could see clearly and who were willing to take responsibility to do what needed doing. They were called Delta Green. However, while doing what needed to get done, they did it wrong. Hence, Delta Green no longer exists. Officially anyways.
We still see and we still do what needs to get done, only today, if we get caught doing what needs to get done, we'll be doing time. Because no one in their right mind is ever going to believe what needs to get done.
"What needs to get done?" For a start, books need to be burned, artifacts smashed into powder, men need to be silenced, and, ultimately, the future must never be allowed to become the present.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
In the near future I'll be adding subsections that break out the different story sequences, the Celestial Empire, Bonaventure-Carmody, Van Helsing, etc.
Friday, October 10, 2008
In responding to a question about Beautie, the lifesized doll, Busiek had this to say:
I don't think so. In the imaginary world of "Astro Comics" I keep vaguely in my head, she doesn't have her own series; she's a team-member but not a solo series star.A while later, I was looking up some of the characters on Herocopia.com, a kind of Wikipedia for the series, or as it describes itself, "Your Superhero Information Source for Astro City." In the entry for Max Millions, I cam across another mention of the imaginary "Astro Comics":
Much like Max O'Millions had a backup series but not a lead feature.
Kurt Busiek has said that in the imaginary "Astro Comics" line he envisions the Astro City world coming from, Max O'Millions was created in-between the Golden and Silver Ages, during the period superheroes had fallen out of popularity. He had begun as a comic book character in a genre other than superheroes. When the Silver Age hit and made superheroes popular again, he was turned into a superhero.That sent me googling for any other mentions of "Astro Comics," and I turned up a summary of a WonderCon panel with Busiek and collaborator Brent Anderson from February of this year. Busiek touched on the imaginary comic company in the following response:
The writer says he also thinks about when his characters would have debuted in the "Astro City" history, to determine their names and characteristics. "I imagine there's a comic company called Astro Comics, which started in 1930s as competitor with Marvel and DC, and would have been doing comics similar to what they were doing. Then, you get into the, 1960s everyone was doing weird and experimental, so they would be doing weird and experimental," he said. "I also ask things like, did this character ever have their own series, or were they a six-page backup story that failed." He then discussed the contemporary historical and pop-cultural influences that would affect each shift, such as Elizabeth Taylor playing Cleopatra on film, which led to a "Cleopatra" backup feature in DC Comics. "I actually saw a discussion online," Busiek continued, "wondering whether Krypto the Super-Dog was influenced by Ace the Bat-Hound, because he'd shown up in 'Batman' a few months earlier." After further setting up this scenario, Busiek concluded, "Guys: Lassie was on TV! They didn't have to look to other comics for influence, they had TVs."This is fascinating to me. I hadn't previously considered that there might be a second level of abstraction to the Astro City universe, but in hindsight it makes perfect sense. Busiek is one of those comic writers who draws heavily on an encyclopedic (and some might say almost unparalleled) knowledge of the minutiea of superhero comic book continuity. He knows the DC and Marvel universes well enough to find interesting little corners, little explored and often long forgotten, that have untapped storytelling potential. It only stands to reason that in constructing Astro City he would employ a similar tactic of mining a comic company's publishing history, only this time with the added step of first inventing the imaginary comic company to begin with.
I'm currently working on a superhero story for a forthcoming prose anthology (the story wouldn't be set in any existing universe or with any existing characters) , and while I've a few half-formed notions already rolling around my head, I'm early enough in the development phase that adopting a new strategy like this might be fruitful. Mmm...
Floyd Bishop over on the Frederator Studios Blog links to the opening sequence of a mid-70s cartoon that somehow completely escaped my notice at the time.
Long before he wished that he had Jessie’s girl, Rick Springfield was the star of his own cartoon, called “Mission:Magic”. The show was produced by Filmation, and was supposed to cement Rick’s place as a teen idol.
The cartoon was a strange premise: a teacher uses a cat sculpture and a magic chalkboard to transport her and her students to another dimension, where they meet Rick Springfield travel through time and space, solving mysteries along the way.
The show aired in the US from 1973 through 1975, even though there were only 16 episodes created.
Clearly, it was no "Human Touch," but then what is?
Secret Services: The Diogenes Club
The Diogenes Club was first introduced in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "The Greek Interpreter." Holmes's smarter brother Mycroft Holmes was a member of the club, about which Sherlock said, "The Diogenes Club is the queerest club in London, and Mycroft one of the queerest men." We learn little about the club in that first appearance, getting only the following description from Sherlock:
"There are many men in London, you know, who, some from shyness, some from misanthropy, have no wish for the company of their fellows. Yet they are not averse to comfortable chairs and the latest periodicals. It is for the convenience of these that the Diogenes Club was started, and it now contains the most unsociable and unclubable men in town. No member is permitted to take the least notice of any other one. Save in the Stranger's Room, no talking is, under any circumstances, allowed, and three offences, if brought to the notice of the committee, render the talker liable to expulsion. My brother was one of the founders, and I have myself found it a very soothing atmosphere."Later, in the "The Bruce-Partington Plans", Holmes and his assistant John Watson have the following exchange:
I had some vague recollection of an explanation at the time of the Adventure of the Greek Interpreter. "You told me that he had some small office under the British government."Aside from these tantalizing hints, Doyle never revealed much more about Mycroft's clandestine role in the British government, or about the Diogenes Club itself.
Holmes chuckled. "I did not know you quite so well in those days. One has to be discreet when one talks of high matters of state. You are right in thinking that he is under the British government. You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he is the British government."
In the 1970 film The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Billy Wilder offered an explanation--the Diogenes Club is revealed to be a clandestine intelligence agency for the British government, with Mycroft as its head. It was a clever idea, and one that other writers of Sherlockian adventures would pick up and run with.
Enter Kim Newman.
In his 1992 novel Anno Dracula, the first in the series of the same name, Newman introduced Charles Beauregard, a member of the Diogenes Club and player in the "Great Game," a secret operative of Her Majesty's Government. The novel is, of course, set in a world in which vampires are real, and in which Bram Stoker's Dracula was a bit of wishful propaganda. In this world, Count Dracula has ensconced himself as Victoria's new prince consort, and vampires are the new ruling class in Britain. In later installments in the series, Beauregard and other operatives of the Diogenes Club play a central role. (If you haven't read the Anno Dracula novels, for god's sake, what are you waiting for?!)
One of Newman's strongest gifts as a writer, I think, is his ability to rework and repurpose characters from his own work (and from that of other hands) in new and interesting ways, remixing familiar elements in unfamiliar ways. The Diogenes Club is perhaps the best example of that. Beginning as Doyle's club for silent misanthropes, expanded by Billy Wilder into a clandestine government agency, and then staffed by Newman himself by Beauregard and a host of other operatives, it was with the multipart-novella "Seven Stars" that the Diogenes Club finally took shape.
"Seven Stars" is set not in the vampire-infested alternate history of Anno Dracula, but in a history more closely resembling our own. But, like the characters in Michael Moorcock's Multiverse and DC Comics' "Imaginary Stories", which Newman cites as early influences, the characters from Newman's stories have a habit of spawning off alternate versions in other realities, and the Diogenes Club is no exception. In a history more like ours, then, the Diogenes Club is not merely a clandestine government agency, but is a clandestine government agency that handles all of the cases that the normal authorities can't--the paranormal, the occult, the strange. And that earns them a spot of honor on this list of "secret services."
Here's Newman explaining the story's origins in his own words (from the afterword to The Man from the Diogenes Club, about which more in a moment).
In the 1990s, Stephen Jones edited an anthology called Dark Detectives: Adventures of the Supernatural Sleuths, dedicated to the subcategory of weird tale in which detectives, in the traditions of Sherlock Holmes or Philip Marlowe, tackle cases that involve the supernatural or the strange. The book represented William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, Manly Wade Wellman’s John Thunstone, Clive Barker’s Harry D’Amour and Jay Russell’s Marty Burns. Also in the “magnifying glass and wooden stake” business are Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, Anthony Boucher’s Fergus O’Breen, Bram Stoker’s (and Chris Roberson’s—but not Stephen Sommers’) Van Helsing, The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully, Jeff Rice’s (and Dan Curtis’, Richard Matheson’s, Darren McGavin’s and David Case’s) Carl Kolchak and a run of comic book or strip characters famous (Dr. Strange, Batman in a certain mood), middling cult (the Phantom Stranger, Zatanna) or obscure (Cursitor Doom, anyone? Dr. Thirteen?).It was with the creation of Richard Jeperson that the Diogenes Club really takes off, I think. Since "Seven Stars" Newman has returned to Jeperson time and again, with nearly all of the stories to date collected in the pages of MonkeyBrain Books' The Man From the Diogenes Club (and check out the spiffy John Picacio cover below).
Steve asked me to contribute to the book. I’ll let him describe what happened next. “After I had explained to Kim that the book would be themed along a loosely assembled chronology, we came up with the concept (probably over glasses of wine and beer) that it would be fun to have one serial-like case that would be investigated across the centuries by many of the characters he had created in his earlier novels and stories. These episodes would then be interspersed amongst the contributions from other writers to the book.” Since part of the point of doing sleuth stories is that you can do a whole series—unless, like E. C. Bentley, you kick off with a book called Trent’s Last Case—my plan was to have the serial that wound up being called “Seven Stars” feature detectives I’d written about in earlier stories or novels. The Victorian section (“The Mummy’s Heart”) revisits adventurer Charles Beauregard and journalist Kate Reed, who were in Anno Dracula; a WWII-set Los Angeles interlude (“The Trouble with Barrymore”) uses the anonymous narrator (plainly, a version of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe) who’d been in a Lovecraft-Chandler pastiche called “The Big Fish”; the “contemporary” 1990s section (“Mimsy”) is a semisequel to my novel The Quorum, featuring London private eye/single mum Sally Rhodes, etc.
“The only problem,” Steve says, “was that Kim did not have a psychic investigator for the period covering the 1970s. Of course that was no problem for Kim, who simply went back to his very first efforts at fiction while still a schoolboy and revived the character of ostentatious amnesiac Richard Jeperson, along with his striking associate Vanessa and ex-police constable Fred Regent. Inspired by such TV characters as Jason King, The Avengers, Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who and the novels of Peter Saxon and Frank Lauria, Jeperson made his official debut with the novella ‘The End of the Pier Show’ in my 1997 anthology Dark of the Night: New Tales of Horror and the Supernatural.”
Here's Newman again, on the origins of the character of Jeperson in particular:
When I created Richard, I gave no thought to him as a “typical” character of the 1970s. This wasn’t just because I was eleven: I didn’t think of Sally Rhodes as a 1980s/90s character when I created her, but the stories she appears in now seem to me rooted in those decades. When I went back to Richard, I saw that he was a very 1970s fellow, and I spotted all the influences Steve later pointed out, and made an effort to work in even more. A few remain well-enough known to need no further explanation: The Avengers, a 1960s show well-remembered in the ’70s (and sequelised in The New Avengers), and various incarnations of the Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who or James Bond franchises (even Scooby-Doo’s Mystery, Inc.). But also in the mix that informs Jeperson and his world are less-often-repeated UK TV series: psychic detective efforts like Ace of Wands (little Neil Gaiman’s favourite—about a mystery-solving magician named Tarot and his owl Ozymandias) and The Omega Factor (ESP and spy stuff from 1979—now out on DVD) and Victoriana like The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (with Donald Pleasence in one episode as Carnacki) and Robert Muller’s Supernatural (about a tale-tellers’ institution, the Club of the Damned). While Columbo, McCloud, Kolchak, Rockford, et. al., were busy in America, British television had ’tecs, cops and spies like Jason King (played by Peter Wyngarde in Department S and the sillier sequel series Jason King), Marker (Alfred Burke in The Public Eye), Callan (Edward Woodward—Best Spy Show Ever, it’s official!), Barlow and Watt (Stratford Johns and Frank Windsor, who started in realistic shows like Z Cars and Softly Softly, then moved to poring over historical evidence about Jack the Ripper and Richard III), Paul Temple (Francis Matthews), The Incredible Robert Baldick (a terrific one-off by Terry Nation, starring Robert Hardy), Eddie Shoestring (Trevor Eve) and The Professionals.Sharp-eyed readers may have noticed a few familiar references in there. The Guardians, perhaps? Or maybe Omega Factor?
Also, the racks at W. H. Smith’s were loaded with 30p-a-throw paperbacks mingling mystery and the occult, often with a vaguely counterculture tinge and under 120 pages: Robert Lory’s Dracula series (which began, like Richard Jeperson, with an instalment called Dracula Returns), Frank Lauria’s books about Owen Orient (Doctor Orient, Lady Sativa), Philip José Farmer’s racy Image of the Beast and Blown, Peter Saxon’s Guardians series (The Haunting of Alan Mais, The Killing Bone, etc), Richard Tate’s lone “Marcus Obadiah Mystery” For the Dead Travel Fast, anthologies edited by Michel Parry and Peter Haining, Demons by Daylight by Ramsey Campbell (who’d started writing when he wasn’t much older than I was then—and was much better at it), and pulpy New English Library one-offs like Night of the Vampire or Village of Blood. These were the things I read in the 1970s, and which percolated—along with fashions, music, food, politics, jokes, interior design (we had inflatable chairs in our living room, which was papered with pictures clipped from Sunday supplements), attitudes, haircuts, scandals, slang—in my subconscious for the years I wasn’t thinking of writing about Richard Jeperson. When I came to him again, all this stuff bubbled up, and filled out his world. Most of the stories started with me thinking about aspects of the 1970s or vintage occult mystery fiction I wanted to play with—leftover seaside arcades (I remember working dioramas exactly like the execution collection in “End of the Pier Show”) and the brand of hooliganism found in NEL books popular at my school (Skinhead, etc., by Richard Allen—author, under another name, of Count Dracula and the Virgins of the Undead), the changing tone of British smut, brainwashing camps in picturesque countryside retreats like in The Prisoner, something set on a train (a 1960s TV serial had Laurence Payne as Sexton Blake solving a mystery on a train), the huge underground installations blown up at the end of every Bond film, etc.
But the casefiles of the Diogenes Club have not been closed with the 70s adventures of Richard Jeperson and crew. Newman has continued to write stories about Beauregard and the other operatives of the Diogenes Club, and also visited Jeperson in later years and shown the agency in decline. Many of these were collected in MonkeyBrain Books second Newman collection, Secret Files of the Diogenes Club (and below Lee Moyer's amazing cover below), and there are still more coming out all the time. The novella "Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch" in Marvin Kaye's new SFBC anthology, A Book of Wizards, is arguably one of the best of the sequence to date.
As I say, Newman's Diogenes Club stories are a particular favorite of mine, and a significant influence on my own work. I've cited them many times as one of the proximate inspirations for the Bonaventure-Carmody stories, for which reason Newman is one of the three authors to whom the forthcoming End of the Century is dedicated. And one of the principal motivations for starting up MonkeyBrain Books in the first place was so that I could publish collections of some of my favorite stories, the Diogenes Club tales among them. If you're looking for terrific stories about clandestine government agencies that investigate the occult, you'll not find better than Kim Newman's.
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Here's the description from the YouTube posting:
Boing Boing tv's sneak-preview of a television pilot, the AQUABATS! SUPERSHOW!, a live-action and animation program featuring the popular superhero ska band, The Aquabats.How awesome is that?
Jon Berrett of Yo Gabba Gabba explains:
"This spring the Aquabats completed a pilot for a new television show based on the misadventures of rock and roll's greatest super dude men. The Aquabats have been a band for over a decade, have toured the world, and put out 5 full length studio albums."
The excerpt we are world-premiering on BBtv today is an animated portion of the show's first episode, and includes angry mushrooms, vengeful unicorn princesses, and a subterranean paradise with lakes of hot pink lava. The AQUABATS! SUPERSHOW! also includes live performance and real-world hijinks. We think it's pretty awesome.
Secret Services: Vector 13
I'm also leaving out things like the MIB from the Men in Black films, because they really don't do much "occult investigating," but instead simply police aliens on Earth. And I'll be skipping over anything from The X-Files, since a pair of FBI agents working on their own doesn't really constitute a "team" (though I suppose a case could be made for including the shadowy government conspiracy from the series).
Why, then, am I including 2000 AD's "Vector 13"? Because I'm arbitrary, I suppose.
Vector 13 is kind of a corner case. The series which ran intermittently in the pages of 2000 AD from 1995 through 1998 is presented as the "Case histories of Vector 13," a clandestine goverment agency (just which government is never specified) that investigates the paranormal. There's a real kitchen sink approach in the stories, ranging from aliens to demons, from time-travel to cryptids. As Shaky Kane scripts in their first appearance in Prog 951, "Pay close attention. Everything strange is true."
Here's how the outfit was described in later issues.
Do you disbelieve?As much territory as Vector 13 covered, though, they were never really much more than presenters, on the level of Cain and Abel in the old House of Secrets and House of Mystery comics, or even Rod Serling in The Twilight Zone. The Men in Black only rarely had any kind of agency (if you'll forgive the unintentional pun), seldom appearing in the stories themselves, and most often relegated to sitting in darkened rooms reviewing the actions of others. Each of the outings were self-contained shorts, in the tradition of the old "Future Shocks" and "Time Twisters" series, written and drawn by a Who's Who of mid-90s British comics creators--Dan Abnett, Peter Hogan, Nick Abadzis, Gordon Rennie, Shaky Kane, John Ridgway, Steve Yeowell, Chris Weston, et cetera, et al. Many of the stories are no better than you'd expect, but there's some real gems hidden in there, as well.
Vector 13 is a covert Government agency which protects Earth from the truth of the universe. Stored in the Vector 13 case files are accounts of strange phenomena, ranging from the paranormal to the impossible. Every week V13's operatives, the legendary Men in Black, present a fresh case from these frightening files, full of declassified terrors. But whats is the truth and what is mere disinformation? That's for the Men in Black to know and you to find out.
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
The Aquabats' "Pool Party"
So here's my entry. The Aquabats performing "Pool Party" on Yo Gabba Gabba:
(Shouldn't I be working, you ask? Why yes, I should...)
Kung Fu Panda 2D-Animation
Kung Fu Panda was surprisingly good, much better than it had any right to be, but as much as I enjoyed the movie itself (which is really just a pure-quill martial arts film in the tradition of HK filmmaking... that just so happens to star anthropomorphic animals), the 2D animation that book-ends the movie really steals the show.
If you haven't seen the flick, check out these short sequences and you'll see what I mean.
I Love Progress Bars
Secret Services: Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense
The in-story origin for the BPRD is that it was founded in the waning days of the Second World War by Professor Trevor Bruttenholm (pronounced "Broom," of course) to investigate paranormal phenomenon. The actual relationship between the BPRD and the government is a little unclear, I think. In the earliest appearances it seemed to be a branch of the United States government, but with ties to the British government as well. Since then connections to other nations and governments have been hinted, that the Bureau is perhaps related in some way to the United Nations or that it is a private organization that receives funding from various sources, governments included. (In the film version, this is simplified by having the BPRD be a clandestine branch of the US government, founded by FDR at Bruttenholm's suggestion.) Regardless, it is clearly a "governmental agency" of some kind.
In the earliest stories, the BPRD served primarily as Hellboy's supporting cast. Other field agents included the aquatic Abe Sabien and pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, along with regular humans like Kate Corrigan and any number of red shirts that fell before the claws of various and sundry monsters. Later miniseries introduced the homunculus Roger, and the ectoplasmic Johann Kraus.
At the end of the Conqueror Worm miniseries, Hellboy quits the BPRD, in part out of protest that Roger the homunculus was being treated shabbily, and in part in reaction to some of the secrets he'd discovered about his own origins. With Hellboy going off to have solo adventures in a variety of shorts, one-shots, and mini-series, the BPRD was spun off into it's own series of mini-series, scripted by Mignola, Chris Golden, and others.
Eventually the creative team coalesced, with Mignola cowriting with John Arcudi and the incomporable Guy Davis providing the art. With the introduction of hard-bitten former Marine Benjamin Daimo (who goes the eyepatched Nick Fuy one better by having a huge open scar running from the corner of his mouth to his left ear) and the relocation of the team to an abandoned military facility in the mountains of Colorado, the BPRD had really come into its own as a series.
The "series of mini-series" of BPRD, with the contributions of Mignola, Arcudi, and Davis, has developed into one of the most satisfying ongoing comics currently on the stands. The success of the book has lead to the launch of additional spin-offs. Lobster Johnson, featuring scripts by Mignola and art by Jason Armstrong, recounts the WWII-era adventures of the pulp hero, and was soon followed by BPRD: 1946, in which writers Mignola and Joshua Dysart and artist Paul Azaceta recount the earliest days of the agency with Professor Bruttenholm in post-war Berlin. More recently, a whole raft of miniseries and one-shots spotlighting the various agents of the Bureau have been released, including Abe Sapien: The Drowning, Johann Kraus in BPRD: The Ectoplasmic Man, and Roger the homunculus in the first issue of BPRD: The War on Frog, with successive issues spotlighting other characters.
Impressively, all of these various series and stories, by various hands, all cohere together to form a much larger tapestry of story, gradually revealing a small number of much larger threats that have been slowly building in the background. That is thanks in no small part, I think, to the contributions of still another group of writers, Steve Weiner, Victoria Blake, and Jason Hall, who under Mignola's direction have compiled The Hellboy Companion, a one-volume encylopedia of the Hellboy universe that also serves as a kind of "series Bible" for the franchise.
after Hellboy leaves. I can't recommend the various series highly enough.
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
A Trainwreck Waiting to Happen
Director M. Night Shyamalan said he is on track for a July 2010 release of his live-action version of The Last Airbender.Did you get that? It's almost like he's making an animated movie. What a concept...
"It's going to be really cool," the director said about the Paramount picture on which he is now working. "I'm at the stage where we have [pre-visualized] about the last act of the movie. And because of my normal approach to filmmaking is almost like I'm making an animated movie to some extent, I think out every shot and analyze everything. It kind of lays out really nicely for a big CGI movie."
I finally had a chance to watch the last half-dozen episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender last month, and I'm now prepared to say without equivocation that it is the best secondary world fantasy ever to appear on television, and ranks as one of the most successful bits of sustained world-building in any medium. The show-runners, and in particular head writer Aaron Ehasz, are to be commended for putting together such a successful long-form all-ages narrative, that works as well for an audience of 8 year olds as for an adult audience.
Is there any chance at all that Shyamalan's feature film adaptation won't be a trainwreck? No, not really. It's been years since he made anything resembling a good movie, and each new release since then has been worse than the last. Just how he'll be able to work in one of his patented twist-endings into the story of Aang I'm not sure, but I can't imagine that he won't try.
The entire run of Avatar: The Last Airbender is now out on DVD. Honestly, check it out, you won't be sorry. As for Shyamalamadingdong's forthcoming adaptation...? I don't know about you guys, but I'm planning on ignoring that nonsense altogether.
Secret Services: Bureau 13
I know of the Bureau 13 game only by reputation, as I never played it myself. I think I first encountered the name in connection with JM Strackzinski's Babylon 5, that featured in the episode "A Spider in the Web" a clandestine organization by that name. As he later explained it, JMS had been unaware that the name had previously been used in Tucholka's rpg, and when he was told about the earlier use, he left off using the name. (Though I know I'm not the only one to hear echoes in Star Trek's "Section 31," which first appeared a few years later.)
Tucholka's Bureau 13, which was also featured in a series of novels by Nick Pollotta, was apparently a somewhat tongue-in-cheek version of the "secret government occult investigation agency" idea, and interestingly predated nearly all of the most popular variations on that theme.
Here's the description of the outfit from the official site (where PDFs of the original game and modules are available, should anyone be interested):
Bureau 13 is one of the earlier examples of an organization dedication explicitly to occult investigation was tied to a government agency, following The Omega Factor's Department 7. Marvel Comics's SHIELD got up to similar occult shenanigans as early as the 60s, as I recall, but their basic remit was espionage and law enforcement--Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division--so they don't really count in my book. Interestingly, though, the introduction recently of SWORD--Sentient World Observation and Response Department--a sister organization devoted to extraterrestrial threats, suggests the intriguing possibility that an occult variation is at least possible. As for British agencies in the Marvel Universe that handle such matters, such as RCX, WHO, Black Air, and the current MI-13--and with a familiar prime numeral in the name, to boot--I'll be coming back to them eventually...
The history of the human race is filled with evidence of eerie and unexplained happenings. Our myths, legends, and fairy tales consistently reaffirm that the supernatural exists. This knowledge of the "supernatural" has been with mankind since before the dawn of history. Mostly these occurrences were misunderstood and greatly feared by the general populace. With no organization, it was usually the small mobs of angry peasants that stalked the creatures of the night, and, more often than not, exterminated the supernatural, good and evil.
Always, though, there have been a few who were capable of discerning the passing difference between good and evil.
In the early 1860's, the government of the United States established a secret supernatural investigative agency under the cover of the Civil War. Only a few top officials knew of its existence and it became known simply as "Bureau 13." For the next century, the few employees of the Bureau went quietly about their business of secretly ferreting out and eliminating the destructive aspects of the supernatural.
So successful were their efforts that the memories of the public dimmed and the fear of the unknown was replaced by awe (and suppressed fear) of new technologies. Foreign branches of the organization were established in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
The years have passed and worldwide memories have failed. The public has come to believe that magic and the supernatural are the stuff of children's dreams and nightmares. They are wrong.
Bureau 13, now an ultramodern force, more secret than before, fights to stem the growth of ancient magic and the supernatural that threatens the innocent.
Wherever the supernatural waits, good and evil, the Agents of Bureau 13 will be there but...evil is growing.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Secret Services: Department 7
I came to The Omega Factor late, only discovering it in December of 2006. The series ran an all-too-brief 10 episodes between 1978 and 1979, but thankfully the whole run is now available on DVD. The cast includes Louise Jameson, "Leela" from Doctor Who, and really, what else do you need to know?
The back cover of the show's 1979 novelization describes Department 7 thus:
There is a highly-secret government organisation called Department 7. Its existence is known only to the Prime Minister and some members of the Cabinet. Its brief is to investigate the Supernatural: to discover the Omega Factor. Journalist Tom Crane has been given the same brief by a Sunday newspaper and suddenly finds himself confronting inexplicable and even terrifying situations.
A confirmed sceptic, he insists on finding out why. The enigmatic members of Department 7 are equally interested. For Tom Crane the search for psychic phenomena leads first to a discovery about himself which he is unwilling to face.
The Omega Factor is a stunning new thriller based on a BBC 1 TV series, which explores the eerie world of the occult and the paranormal.
The Omega Factor is about the mysteries behind the seeming normality of everyday modern life; the night and darkness of human experience.
The Omega Factor will appeal to the nervous child in all of us, determined to conquer fear, and find out what is hidden inside a darkened room.
The summary from the show's entry on Wikipedia offers a bit more detail:
The series concerns journalist Tom Crane (James Hazeldine), who finds that he possesses psychic powers which in turn bring him to the attention of the team of scientists who comprise Department 7, a secret "need to know only" government off-shoot investigating paranormal phenomena and the potential of the human mind. The phenomena explored include hypnosis, brainwashing, extra-sensory perception, telekinesis, poltergeist phenomena, out-of-body experiences and spiritual possession.The Omega Factor marks the first time I can think of that a team of occult investigators was explicitly linked with a clandestine government agency. There may have been some influence by the earlier Doomwatch, about a government agency tasked with monitoring various (ostensibly real world) scientific threats, or by Doctor Who's UNIT, for that matter, who mostly shot at aliens--and missed.
Crane joins Department 7 as a means of finding and revenging himself on Edward Drexel (Cyril Luckham), a powerful rogue psychic who is in part responsible for the death of Crane's wife in an automobile accident. His work with the department, and his own psychic gift, lead Crane to suspect a deadly conspiracy by a mysterious organisation called Omega to take over the world using mind control. The members of Department 7 include physicist Dr. Anne Reynolds (Louise Jameson), an old friend of Crane's wife; and the shady head of the department, psychiatrist Dr Roy Martindale (John Carlisle). Most episodes see the driven and impetuous Crane in impatient conflict with the cautious and secretive Martindale, with Anne (who falls in love with Crane, though she also has a brief relationship with Martindale) caught in the middle. Various subplots develop over the course of the series - notably Crane's hunt for Drexel, his growing suspicions about the Omega conspiracy and his developing relationship with Anne.
The show was years ahead of its time, which is probably best evidenced by the fact that it lasted only a single season. Of course, it's early demise can also be blamed on a public outcry about the show's supposed indecency--moralist Mary Whitehouse reportedly called the show "thoroughly evil," which is a ringing endorsement in my book.
I've only watched the first third of the series, and keep meaning to find time and go back and finish off the series, but the episodes that I watched were well worth it.
Secret Services: The Guardians
I have the Groovy Age of Horror blog to thank for introducing me to The Guardians, a series of novels published by Berkley Medallion in the 60s under the housename "Peter Saxon." (Only after reading about it on the Groovy Age did I remember an early 80s interview with Chris Claremont, in which he discussed how the duel on the astral plane between Gideon Cross and an aboriginal shaman served as the inspiration for the psionic duel in "Psi War," which John Byrne illustrated in the pages of Uncanny X-Men #117.)
The Guardians were a team of occult investigators based in London of the swinging sixties. As the back cover blurb of the first volume in the series, The Killing Bone, puts it, "Sorcery, Voodo, Satanism, Witchcraft, Necromancy, Vampirism... wherever and whatever the agents of occult Evil are, THE GUARDIANS are there to combat them with their own more-than-mortal powers." First published in 1968, the Guardians are an independent team, not part of any government agency, clandestine or otherwise, but their basic setup prefigures many of the government-backed secret services that would follow.
In particular, the Guardians sets the standard for later secret services in being composed of quirky individuals with their own powers and short-comings. Not a million miles away from DC Comics' Doom Patrol and Marvel Comics' The X-Men in that regard, both of which featured teams of superpowered individuals brought together by mysterious wheelchair-bound figures; both comics first appeared in 1963, five years before the publication of the first Guardians novel. I don't know enough about the circumstances of the Guardians' creation to say there was any direction influence, but the team functions very much like a comic book super-team, recast in pulp-occult terms. (This may not have been the first time this was done, for all I know, but it most definitely wasn't the last.)
I'll quote Curt Purcell's description of the characters from the Groovy Age blog:
GIDEON CROSS: The founder, the oldest member, and the most powerful in his occult talents. He is the only member who actually lives in their building, in top-floor chambers that are strangely insulated from the bustle of modern London just beyond the windows. He almost never joins the Guardians in the field, and sometimes even declines to volunteer knowledge that might prove valuable on a case. But when circumstances force his hand and leave him no choice but to intervene . . . whoa! I don't think any of the others actually like him, and most feel a vague distrust of him--an uneasy uncertainty about his motives.I've read only the first of the Guardian novels, The Killing Bone, and found it surprisingly good. A clean narrative style and clever characterization rises the text above what its more humble pulp roots might suggest. And the covers by Jeff Jones are particularly striking. I've been meaning to hunt down the other three novels in the series, and after diving back into all of this occult investigator stuff the last few weeks, I may just do so, sooner rather than later.
STEVEN KANE: The leader. Picture a man who would look like a "Steven Kane," and you've got him: dark hair and eyes, athletic and fit, a bit taller than average, refined but with a touch of ruggedness. He's generic enough to invite easy identification from a mostly-male popular audience, but individualized enough to sustain interest throughout the series. Formerly a professor of anthropology, he has modest psychic abilities, and a wide-ranging knowledge of the occult.
FATHER JOHN DYBALL: The obligatory priest, "Anglo-Catholic." Of course he handles the exorcisms, and his prayers are as spectacularly, ridiculously efficacious as they must be in a high-octane horror-action series like this. His stint as the chaplain for a commando regiment gave him the training and toughness to pull his own weight when the rough stuff starts.
ANNE ASHBY: Dark lady, femme fatale. I think that's her on the cover of Dark Ways to Death. At least that's how I like to picture her! Of the active members (that is, not counting Cross), she's the most formidable psychic, and her jewelry consists of artifacts that enhance her natural powers. Naturally, she also kicks ass with martial arts. She has some weird connection with Cross that disturbs the other Guardians. A sexual relationship is hinted at, though she professes a distaste for him. He and she may even have known each other in previous incarnations--and he may have burned her as a witch in one of those!
LIONEL MARKS: This rotund gentleman rounds out the group with his superb talent for mundane investigation. He can get the facts on anyone, tail them anywhere, work his way into their circle, and figure out in his own world-weary manner what makes them tick. He's the most hardheaded and "normal" of the bunch, with no psychic abilities whatsoever. Still, he's one of the best at what he does, and the Guardians couldn't do without him.
"Mirror of Fiery Brightness", Part 2
Secret Services: Introduction
Saturday night, after Georgia had gone off to bed, I watched the pilot episode of JJ Abrams's new series, Fringe. I'd put off watching it because one of my Rules of Television (along with "No doctor shows, no cop shows, no lawyer shows") is "Watch nothing on Fox until it comes out on DVD." After the experience of Firefly, Wonderfalls, and too many others to mention them all, I've been burned by Fox more times than I care to remember, with episodes of new series aired out of order, series bounced around the schedule week after week, until finally being cancelled before all of the completed episodes have been aired. But I've been hearing from a lot of folks whose opinions I trust that Fringe was worth checking out, and after watching the first episode I'm inclined to agree. Allison was out of town for business over the weekend, so I'm tempted to make her watch the first episode, so she and I can watch the others that we have recorded together. It's an Abrams show, so I'm fully prepared for it to fall apart at any minute, but after watching the first episode I'm willing to give it a bit of rope.
In any case, seeing two shows about a team of quirky "secret scientists" who investigate the strange and unknown got me thinking about other treatments of the same concept. I've recently reread all of Mike Mignola's Hellboy and related titles, and have been doing some work on my own "Bureau Zero" for a few projects in the early stages of development. This kind of "investigators into the odd" thing is something that really resonates with me, and it's probably not surprising that I find on the shelves of my personal library a lot of different interpretations on the theme.
I considered doing a post on the topic, but just putting together the images I could use as illustrations suggested that it would make for a long post. So I've decided to tackle it in several parts. I'll try to group them thematically, but fully expect them to become pretty hodgepodge as I go along.
Consider this fair warning, then, that I'll be doing a few image heavy posts on the topic of "Secret Services" over the course of the coming days.
Friday, October 03, 2008
The Secret Saturdays!
Well, the long wait is over, as tonight the premier episode of Secret Saturdays airs on Cartoon Network at 8PM EST/PST. Jay notes on his blog that the first showing will have a little "countdown clock" bug in the corner of the screen for some other show that premiers later in the evening, but that Cartoon Network will be rerunning Secret Saturdays later tonight at 10PM E/P, if you want to watch it with out the counter.
This is a show in the grand tradition of Jonny Quest, about a monster-hunting family of adventurers, with scientist father "Doc Saturday," sorceress mother "Drew Saturday," and son Zack, who has the ability to control "crytids". Accompanied by mutated pet monitor lizard Komodo, and seven-foot "Gorilla Cat" crytid Fiskerton, they are "the World's Greatest Crytozoologists." What's not to love?
A series of Secret Saturday comics have started appearing in the pages of DC Comics's Cartoon Network Action Pack, with the first outing in issue 26 being written, inked and colored by Jay Stephens himself (and with art by animation director Scott Jeralds, famous in our household for his contributions to Krypto the Superdog and Freakazoid, both of which Georgia worships).
Set your Tivos to Season Pass, friends, and enjoy.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
What if the current financial crisis in the U.S. becomes so severe that Americans start to flee the country?Could be worth checking out. Here's hoping it makes it out of development and into production.
Welcome to "Americatown," a Chinatown-like enclave of U.S. immigrants in cities around the world.
HBO is developing the futuristic drama series project, which hails from writer Bradford Winters and producers Tom Fontana, Barry Levinson, Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy.
Set 25-40 years into the future when the precipitous decline of the U.S. leads to a mass exodus of its citizens, "Americatown" takes place in a cluster of newly arrived American immigrants in a big foreign city.
"By presenting Americans as immigrants in the near future, as both underdog and hero in the drama of global dislocation, we substitute a mirror for the rancor that informs much of the partisan debates on immigration," Winters said.
Iron Jaw and Hummingbird
Wednesday, October 01, 2008
Set the Wayback Machine for 2001...
I had almost forgotten that before there was an Interminable Ramble there was the Barrel of Monkeys...
I give you Jean-Yves Blondeau (aka Rollerman ) and his "Buggy Rollin suit".