Friday, July 12, 2013

SDCC 2013

So should I say I'm going to San Diego this year? I should. 

I have little idea what I will be doing there. My con experience is pretty much BeerFest stuff from the volunteer end of things. I've been to the local Boston con, the last Milwaukee GenCon, and beer cons galore. 

I be the dude visibly in the middle part of the Venn Diagram of soccer and nerds insomuch that I have a pair of Game of Thrones jerseys.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Clark Kent, World's Worst Chiropractor

So yeah, I saw Man of Steel and am maybe knee deep in the sturm and drang surrounding it. I didn't hate the movie, but the more I think about it, the more I feel it was the result of a wish granted by that twisted Monkey's Paw. "I wish Superman would punch something!" we wished after Superman Returns. The Paw's index finger slowly curled down. "I wish there was a big fight!" The middle finger followed. "Ungh. Superman has a kid? What's with that character development? Wish they didn't do that!" The thumb presses against the dry, leather palm.

Man of Steel is the result of our wishes, twisted by the horrible power of the Paw. There are still two fingers left, two wishes that can be granted at great cost. Those fingers are already trembling - Man of Steel 2 and the Justice League Movie have been fast-tracked for 2014 and 2015 respectively.

According to recent interviews, the whole Killing Zod thing was Snyder's doing. "How can you know you don't like something if you haven't tried it?" is a line I use on my three year old, not one that should be used for iconic characters. If Snyder wanted something to make Superman wake up and say, "No more death at my hands!" maybe he could have used the estimated 129,000 people killed in the fight in Metropolis as the broccoli? Sure, Supes didn't kill all those people (the stompy World Engine did that), but I'm sure a handful of survivors saying, "So remember when you threw Zod through that building? My wife was in there." or "Superman, will you help raise these orphans? Their Mom and Dad were having breakfast at that IHOP." would get him to reconsider the blood on his hands.

With Zod, though, they really wrote themselves into a corner. By not having him get sucked up into the Phantom Zone, they really did leave themselves with no other option but the whole 'it's you or me' thing. That's no excuse, mind you, as they are the ones who set the stage. Even if you agree that just having Zod get sucked into the Phantom Zone with the rest of the Kryptonian Cenobites unsatisfying (although that has allowed Pinhead to keep coming back for years and years), there has to be a better way to solve the Zod Problem than having an iconic character betray ideals 75 years in the making.

Quick Ideas:
- Zod, upon realizing that he has failed in his genetically ordained duty to protect and preserve Krypton, kills himself upon defeat. Superman learns something about duty and zealotry.
- Zod is defeated, but the Phantom Zone rift is still open and he's getting sucked in. Zod pleads with Superman to save him as he's the only other Kryptonian left and all he has to do is using his Kryptonian powers to pull him back... but Superman says, "Yeah, I'm going to be human for the next few seconds" and lets him get sucked away (ala Superman II, the no-fault murder).
- Zod is defeated, but needs to be sent away. Hologram Jor-El is still in the scoutship and can take him, sort of a reverse 'rocket escaping Krypton' deal. Superman gets some closure on saying goodbye to father figures and the hologram and prisoner take off, a ghost and a shell of a man.
- Combine the two above and have Holo Jor-El take Zod into the Phantom Zone, shutting it after them.
- Zod threatens innocents, but instead of four random people, it's the entire world. "So you've taking this planet at your home? Then let's see how you like watching it explode in lava like I watched mine." He then digs down to the center of the Earth, kamikaze style. His powers don't hold up. (Main flaw in this plan is that Metropolis's streets are made out of indestructible bedrock ala Minecraft - why else would the World Engine fail to flatten subways or sewers below?)  

And those are changes you can make without re-writing big portions of the movie! The Zod killing scene was bolted on at the end, after all. This is what makes the last two fingers of the Monkey's Paw so terrifying: the sequel and the Justice League movie are being rushed. RUSHED. How long was Man of Steel in production and this was the best they could think of? Get ready for Man of Steel 2: Men of Steel! Louis CK plays a computer programmer/criminal who invents some sort AI in a coal mine that, uh, sticks magnets on people's faces and makes them fight Superman for some reason. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


No post this week. I'm based in Boston and the events of Monday have thrown things into a flurry of business. I was not affected by the blast - we had the day off and spent it lounging about at home - but given my office is on Beacon Hill, I had to spend a few frenzied hours making sure that the library would be open and that the university administration knew that we were open. Follow this up with the fact one of my employees was actually there for the blast (she and her family are thankfully physically unharmed, but the shock of the thing is a heavy load for anyone) so I've been covering for her understandable absence and I'm left with not a lot of time or will to ponder the fate of Peter Parker.

So, sorry, stats gathering indexing SEO robots, no new post for you to blindly index today.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Marvel 1962: Stop, Gamma Time

Before we really get into the fate of Dr. Bruce Banner, I think we need to step back and take a look at our friend, The Gamma Ray.

What exactly is gamma radiation and what place does it have in the Marvel Universe? First off, the gamma radiation we're talking about is not your father's gamma radiation (assuming, of course, that your father is, like mine, a physicist) that does boring stuff like cell degeneration and cancer. No, the gamma radiation we're talking about is part of that staple of comics, The MacGuffin What Does Give People Powers.

We've already seen this MacGuffin show up once in the form of the cosmic rays that gave the Fantastic Four their abilities. We'll see it again when we encounter mutants and the X-Gene, the Inhumans and the Terrigen Mists, and random vats of chemicals falling off the backs of trucks onto lawyers. Given Marvel's heavy sci-fi leanings, there are hosts of minor characters who got their powers due to OSHA violations. This faded over the years as the X-Men grew in popularity - eventually you could just call the random thug of the week a mutant and didn't need some tragic backstory that involved them fleeing into a suspiciously unlocked chemical factory or irradiated beach.

Since things are still early in our reboot, I wonder if it's worthwhile unifying all the different ways people get powers in our version of the Marvel Universe? Besides color palette, what's the real difference between cosmic rays and gamma rays? They both have variable, non-repeatable effects, they both change biological matter as opposed to inert matter. So why have more than one?

So let's not. Let's posit that there is some sort of ur-particle behind things like cosmic rays, Terrigen Mists, and gamma radiation. This particle binds with biological matter, raising troubling implications regarding the existence of the soul, that we are more than carbon-based machines. It is the method of approaching this particle that produces the different effects. At its base, it's the same particle, it just depends on what technique you used to access it. The Fantastic Four, though they don't know it, came closest to the most 'pure' form of the particle, and their spot of bother getting home from their Heart of Gold-esque voyage actually bombarded the Earth in it.

So that means if Bruce Banner had run onto that bomb testing range in 1960 rather than 1962, he would have died. Peter Parker would not be remembered as 'puny' so much as 'that kid who died on the field trip.' Flint Marko would have died of cancer in prison. This also explains why there was not an army of super-powered Japanese citizens following the dropping of the atomic bombs - the door had not been opened yet.

This is not to say that our particle, let's call in the Infinite Possibility Particle because, well, it will be used for things like the Cosmic Cube and Infinity Gems later on, has not been on Earth previously. It's part of the background radiation of the universe and has been both intentionally and unintentionally collected over the years.

The Kree knew how to distill it, leading to the creation of the Terrigen Mists and the birth of the Inhumans. Later, after the Kree left Earth, the Inhumans continued to distill the stuff, not 100% clear on what they were doing, treating it more like an act of faith than science (and later still, the Skrulls would finally get their hands on that tech, leading to the creation of the first Super Skrull). 

Turns out our very DNA can soak the stuff up - design flaw? - which lead to the eventual emergence of the X-gene. Still, pre-1961 people with activated mutant genes are pretty rare. The rise in the number of mutants we see through the end of the sixties and into the seventies is largely due to the Fantastic Four's return to Earth.

So now that the IPP is out there, how can it be drawn out? High energy is one way, and there's no better way to get energy in 1962 than a gamma bomb. The bomb itself was designed just to blow stuff up. It wasn't until Bruce Banner was exposed to the detonation that it was found that gamma radiation was a great way to knock loose IPPs and switch them into an active state. In that state, tinged with green, IPPs react to not only biological matter, but spiritual consciousness as well, twisting the physical form into something more reflective of the inner. There are some standard effects, of course, like increased strength, healing factor, and a green hue, but how those effects manifest varies by subject - thus Abomination's scales, Harpy's feathers, and Leader's big ole noggin.

As for Hulk himself, we don't need to do a lot of tweaking. He's been tweaked constantly over the years - grey to green, nocturnal transformations to rage bases, slave of a teenager to slave of rage, etc - so we can go with the most popular and widely known version. Bruce Banner is a scientist with some inner rage problems. After exposure (I actually typed "explosure" there which makes sense) to IPPs on the back of gamma radiation, he turns into the Hulk when he gets angry, upset, or otherwise stressed. As the Hulk, he's the strongest there is. Hulk is not a dumb brute - he's fierce and clever - although as he gets angrier (and thus stronger) he gets more savage and much less likely to listen to reason.

Banner's bomb goes off in May of 1962. The Hulk spends the first few months of his existence rampaging around the American southwest, chased by the US military. It will take some time before anyone understands him to be more than a force of destruction, and even with the Avengers speaking up for him most of the world is dubious.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Marvel 1962: Pym

On the heels of the Fantastic Four's return to Earth, we have the arrival of another Man of Marvelous Science, Dr. Henry Pym. How can we wedge this ever shifting character into the Marvel Drewniverse? Start him out as Ant-Man? Giant-Man? Goliath? Yellow Jacket? Whackjob?

Thing is, looking back at Marvel's publishing history, Pym didn't become a superhero until 1963. His first appearance was more in line with Marvel's standard science fiction one-off stories of the day - Scientist discovers Science Thing, Commies and/or Nazis try to steal Science Thing, Accident Occurs, Uh-oh, Scientist uses Science Thing to triumph in the end. This is one of Marvel's go-to plots (Scientist = Pym, Science Thing = Shrinking Chemical, Accident = Chemicals spill, Uh-oh = Bees, bees, bees) used almost as often as the "And Then Aliens Show Up" plot.

Pym was never a popular character with Marvel. Actually, looking back, he seems to be more of a plot device than anything. To be fair, though, when you compare stories where on one hand you have a guy hassling gangsters with bugs while on the other you have a stretchy guy scaring off God with an electric toothbrush, it'll be hard for bug dude to gain some traction with the fans.

This lack of fan affection is why Pym went through so many different iterations. Fighting bugs not dramatic enough? How about fighting giants?! No? Uh... Well, what if he's, uh, edgy? Like a real jerk in yellow? Edgier, you say? Okay, he also smacks his wife around. And makes a robot that will kill us all. Twice.

Seriously. wot

If I was doing this reboot like I did the DC one and was working on a title-by-title basis, Pym would not get one of his own. I'd tack him in with one of the supergroups (much like Marvel does) and call it a day. I think I'll do something similar here.

Dr. Henry "Hank" Pym was never Ant-Man.

Sure, in 1962, he discovers the Pym Particle which controls basic atomic functions like size and mass and stuff. Sure, some rat-fink Commies try to get their hands on that research by strong arming Pym's boss, Dr. Vernon van Dyne. And of course things go wrong and van Dyne dies. We can even have that original accident where Pym gets shrunk and has to run away from bees or whatever.

No, the real hero (and future Avenger) is Janet van Dyne. She's the one that has the motivational tragedy that most superheroes need to start their careers. Pym can provide her with the abilities - A Pym Particle belt that lets her shrink and fly, wasp-wings that are used more as a shield than flight control (Pym remembers being almost stepped on and how Not Fun that was), and even her stingers which are basically little balls of shrunk matter that expand on contact like mini-explosions. Armed with Pym's tech, Janet is able to avenge the death of her father and bring the bad guys to justice.

As for Pym, he quits the university and goes to work as a consultant. He charges big fees to big companies for working on making their stuff smaller. The money goes to finance his own research. He's got some additional financial backing from Janet (the van Dynes are Old Money) and she sticks around to help protect her investment. Pym does not go out into the field more than a few times over the course of his career. He's a lab rat, he builds stuff.

Stuff like Ultron.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Marvel 1961: Fantastic Four

It begins with a golf game.

Two old academic frenemies are out on the links for their annual game. It's a lovely day in May. Dr. Martin Goodman is feeling especially, well, good about the day because at long last he thinks he can finally put the long game of one-upmanship he's had with Dr. Vernon van Dyne to bed: Goodman has just been named the new President of Midtown University. Surely being the leader of MU beats out whatever van Dyne's been working on over at Empire State?

Not so.

Goodman barely gets a chance to boast about his success when van Dyne launches into an enthusiastic account of the discoveries a member of his faculty, a Dr. Hank Pym, has made. Goodman, who has always been aware that he's not a good a scientist as van Dyne (but a much better bureaucrat and politician), barely listens to his golf partner's description of particles and claims that Pym's discovery will alter the course of mankind. He just stews, knowing that such a leap forward will put Empire on the map and blow the  achievements of Midtown University's science department, the department he built by the way, out of the water.

So after losing the golf game and choking down a few highballs in the clubhouse that taste of poison and failure, Goodman rushes back to campus, bursts into the labs, and corners the first promising young idea man he can find.

Reed Richards.

Richards is an interesting choice for Goodman, but the older man rarely thinks things through and just tends to go with his gut. Sure, Richards had that 'incident' with a dorm mate last year that lead to that other fellow dropping out and heading back to Eastern Europe, but he's a bright kid - eager, intelligent, and best of all for Goodman's purposes, naive. In his riled up state, Goodman doesn't really explain what Pym is working on, instead he just focuses on what he wants out of Richards - something big, something life changing

Something fantastic.

In return, Richards can have all the funding he wants. Doctorate? No problem. Whatever you build will be your dissertation. If it works, you have your PhD. If it works well, works big? You have a job with tenure. Whatever you need, whatever you want, just make... something.

That's the sort of blank check that a young scientist like Reed Richards can't ignore. Given free run of the science facilities, he dives into his work. He's not sure exactly what he'll work on, but who cares? There's an entire universe of possibilities out there. Hrm. Universe. Now there's an idea. Let's go see the universe.

Early on, Reed decides to skip the Moon. It's just a dead rock, right? People have been watching it for centuries and it hasn't done anything of interest. No, Reed wants to make a ship that can go anywhere, a sort of phasic ship that can skim the cosmic radiation of the universe and go anywhere almost instantly. He gives his list of requirements to Goodman who wastes no time in pulling resources from other parts of the university to support Richards. Sorry, Dr. Octavius, but we need your nuclear power core. No, Doctor, technically it's university property and if you don't like it, you can leave. Okay, bye, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Richards works on into the summer. He builds a Cosmic Beacon, a way for his ship to find its way home from the outer fringes, and even has a bit of a mental breakdown. When Goodman learns that all his eggs are currently in a basket that might be warping under the pressure, he brings in the daughter of an old friend of his, Dr. Franklin Storm. Frank fell on some rough times and Sue could use the work to help support herself and her brother.

Turns out, bringing in Sue Storm as Richard's assistant was a masterstroke of management. Reed's behavior calms down - he even stops claiming to have been visited by extra-terrestrials when he first turned on the Cosmic Beacon - and he's able to refocus on his work. Sue proved adept at managing Reed's attentions, knowing when to kick him out of the lab and make him spend time his his friends and when to let him work through the night. The two become close and fall in love.

Sue is the one that notices signs of Reed starting to crack again, but this time it's not because of his work. His best (only) friend, Ben Grimm, joined the Air Force some time ago and it looks like he's about to be deployed in an 'advisory capacity' in the recently turbulent theatre Vietnam. She's the one who goes to Goodman and suggests that the young pilot is someone that Project Fantastic needs, not only to fly the ship, but to keep Richards on an even keel.

Ben Grimm, who was Richard's roommate in undergrad, is a bit put out that he's missed an opportunity to help his country, but in the end he comes around. He actually proves to be really helpful - having spent enough time in a cockpit, he knows what a pilot needs. As Sue gets more and more involved in the project, her brother Johnny steps in as well. Just as Reed needs Sue to keep him grounded, Sue needs Johnny. Besides, Goodman pulled the strings that are paying for Johnny's college education, so helping out at the Midtown University labs is really just some sort of workstudy job, right?

Of course, this sort of thing can only go on so long before the University's Board of Trustees start sniffing around. Where is all this money going? Why are tenured members of faculty complaining that their resources are being usurped by a 24 year old? In October of 1961, the Board steps in and puts a halt to Richard's work. At first, Goodman fights them on it - just look at what the kid has done in a few months! A Cosmic Beacon! Sure, it doesn't seem to do anything practical for the moment, but in time it will put humanity's stamp on the universe! Just a little more time!

But then Vernon van Dyne dies under suspicious circumstances and the fight goes out of Goodman. What's the point if the one person he wanted to show up is gone? Maybe the Board is right. Throttle down the crazy pace. Yes, yes, Richards, you can still work on it. Here, you can even have your doctorate like I promised. The university simply can't commit unlimited resources to Project Fantastic any more. Your ship will still fly, just not for another decade or so. I don't care if you are so close. We need to wind things down by the end of November.

Reed Richards, having grown used to his frantic research pace, is not ready to slow down. How many years will be lost while the University seeks to partner with other institutions? How will the project change if the government gets involved? With the project wound down, Ben will have to go back to Vietnam...

No. Ef that. We'll go into space. We'll see the universe. And we'll do it soon.

So it's over the long Thanksgiving weekend that Reed, Sue, Johnny, and Ben slip into the lab and ready the ship. The Beacon is activated and the ship launches, phasing up and out through solid matter, up into the sky, out into the great unknown. The four succeed. They see the universe! Everything! Stars and galaxies and... life? Is that really signs of life they see? It's hard to tell, phasic travel is so confusing. It's like you're everywhere at once with only the Beacon to keep you grounded, to give you a sense of up and down, of here and there.

And then someone shuts it off. It's not really Stanley Lieber's fault. He's just a guy working a night custodian job to earn some money until his writing career takes off. He just walked into the lab, saw it empty with all the lights on and machinery humming, and shut it down, whistling, before moving down the hall.

Without the Cosmic Beacon, the four travelers are in crisis. Currently, they're Everywhere. How can they get back to There without the Beacon? It's a close run thing. It takes all of them working together to guide the ship through extra dimensional space back home. Without the Beacon, they take the Long Way Home, passing through the very edge of creation itself.

That the craft crash lands in Upstate New York is a testament to Ben Grimm's piloting skills. Imagine threading a needle with a pin from ten feet away while drunk and dizzy. To even hit the needle with the thrown pin would be amazing, and that's just the equivalent of the four finding their way back to our solar system.

We all know what happens when the four emerge from the craft. They've changed. Rocky features, flaming skin, invisible body, elastic form. But still, they're alive, the four of them and they've returned from a fantastic voyage.

And the world will never be the same.  

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Marvel Pre-History

So one aspect of the Marvel reboot I've decided on is that I'll be starting Year 0 as Year 1961. This is, of course, the year Fantastic Four #1 came out. It's also the year the words 'Marvel Comics' first appeared on the newstands, but I think you can forgive me for not starting my version of the Marvel Universe with Patsy Walker.

Of course, by starting in 1961 that leaves a lot of Marvel canon languishing in the past. All of the Golden Age and World War 2 stuff, for example, would have already happened before I even get to Year 0. While Marvel (then Timely) didn't have a huge Golden Age when compared to DC, they did have several heroes that came out pre-Fantastic Four. Most of them were relegated to the ash heap of history, occasionally brought out when Marvel is in a nostalgic mood, heroes like Captain America, Namor, and maybe even the original Human Torch, need to be acknowledged.

It's also interesting to note that Sgt. Nick Fury (and his Howling Commandos), though active in WWII, did not come out in comicbook form until 1963. I guess this shows how DC I am when I had sort of assumed that Fury was active in comics in WWII in some form before being brought back in the Silver Age as a super-spy S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. Speaking of S.H.I.E.L.D., HYDRA predates them by a few years, having been introduced in the 50s in Menace doing typically HYDRA things (stealing a bomb that turns people into monsters). Red Skull was from the 40s.

Out of all that mess, we need to do some clean up. If the characters listed above, only Captain America has any real need to be tied into the past. Nick Fury can howl his way across Korea in the early 50s, which leaves him plenty of background before he becomes a spy in 1965. Captain America, though, is just too iconic for his Nazi-punching to be shifted up to the Korean War. Even though they were part of the Invaders, Namor and the Human Torch don't really have the same Golden Age legacy - they came into their own through the lens of the Fantastic Four in the 60s.

So here's the deal: Captain America, Bucky, Red Skull, and all that happened back in WWII. Cap totally punched Hitler in March of 1941, which lead to Hitler authorizing the funding Johann Schmidt wanted for his own superscience programs. He figured that even if they couldn't come up with a counter to Captain America, they certainly could distract the guy with an endless parade of wacky schemes. One of those schemes went awry, which is why Schmidt's got a bit red in the face. Captain America (and Bucky) went missing soon after defeating the Red Skull in 1945 - there was a big explosion at a Nazi base, but eyewitness reports were conflicted. Maybe it was a rocket being launched from the base that the GIs saw, maybe it was just debris.

Namor might have been active during WWII, but if he was, he was just defending his undersea kingdom from German U-boats. No big team ups with him and Cap and the Human Torch (who despite his legacy as being the oldest of the Timely superheroes, I'm sadly confining to the scrap-bin of history - the first Torch anyone cares about will be Johnny Storm).

Red Skull's Sleepers are still active through out the 50s. These are little surprises he put in place when it looked like his beloved Reich would fall. The Sleepers, robots and bombs and so on, could account for the large number of "alien visitors" that appeared in the 50s. Maybe Schmidt knew something the rest of the world didn't? I've always liked the idea that HYDRA isn't just about recapturing the power of the Reich, but instead trying to rebuild and recollect some of the power of the organization's early days. Future leaders Strucker and Zemo know full well that they are living in the Skull's shadow and are agog at the amount of innovations that came out during his leadership (Hint: Step 1 - Create Time Dilation Technology). More on HYDRA to come!

So what about the rest of the Marvel Universe? I've decided that I won't worry about it much until I need to. While I'd love to flashback thousands of years to the creation of the Eternals, the Inhumans, and hell, according to Marvel Saga even Conan is part of the continuity, I'll deal with them when their characters actually step up onto the world stage. Otherwise, I may never get this thing off the ground! In between Chronology entries, I'll do separate ones covering the backstories of some of the setting elements that had just become relevant. No need to go into Asgardian history until it starts to matter with Thor's first appearance in 1962.

Crap, that's coming up soon, huh?