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Many Frames per Second

Alan Young

A couple days ago I learned that actor Alan Young passed away.

He played a number of roles over a long career in TV and is best known for playing Wilbur, the straight man to Mr. Ed, the talking horse on the sit-com of the same name. He also did quite a bit of voice work for cartoons, most famously as Scrooge McDuck on the fabulous Duck Tales cartoon. (WOO-oo).

However it’s a different show that I will always remember him for, Battle of the Planets.

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When I was in first grade, Battle of the Planets was my favorite show. You hear of kids running home so they didn’t miss their favorite show? This one was mine. The show was a fabulous mix of elements including superheroes and Star Wars, all combined into an animated series that had character story arcs. That’s not unusual now, but in 1978 almost all cartoons were episodic in nature. This was something new, something no other cartoon series was doing. I was hooked.

Alan Young did two voices for the show; the first was the R2-D2-esq robot 7-Zark-7, who was a comedy relief and exposition character. The other was Keyop, the youngest member of the team, who had an odd speech quirk due to being grown in a lab instead of being born naturally.

I adored this show. I watched it on TV over and over and I caught all the reruns I could. I played G-Force on the playground with my friends, and even years after it went off the air I was still drawing pictures and dreaming up stories about the characters.

Years later, when I was an undergrad and diving headlong into the new World Wide Web, I found other fans of Battle of the Planets and its original Japanese version, Gatchaman, but it was devilishly hard to find copies of it. It wouldn’t be until many years later that small collections of episodes made their way to market on DVD.

It didn’t matter how long it had been, I was still a fan. I scooped them up.On the DVD extras they did interviews with several of the voice actors, including Alan Young. Young had a reputation for being a kind and genuine person, and it came through in his interview. Battle of the Planets had been just another job for Young. He came in, read his lines, did a good day’s work, and moved on. He’d never even watched the show and was quite honest that he’d mostly forgotten it. He had no idea that the series still had a devoted following, perhaps small but very dedicated. People like me, who had connected with it in a big way.And he was clearly delighted. Young had an expressive face, which served him well on shows like Mr. Ed, and you could tell that he was surprised and pleased by the questions he was asked and to learn about what this part of his career had meant to people. I don’t think he completely understood it, if anything he seemed shy about it, but watching that interview brought back a lot of memories from my childhood. I was glad to see how much he enjoyed learning that his work had meant something to the fans. 220px-alan_young_circa_1944

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2016 in Movies & TV, Science Fiction

 

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Star Trek: DS9

I finally finished watching Star Trek: DS9.

I always liked the show, but it was in a bad time slot for me and I never got around to watching the later seasons. Now, thanks to Netflix, that isn’t a problem. I can see why it’s such a popular show, with Trek fans of every flavor.

Even with Voyager fans! Which I’m told really exist!

I kid! I kid!

Mostly.

Anyhow, there are plenty of good episodes to rave about, one of my favorites being Sisko’s dream of being a pulp science fiction writer, but I also found tons of small moments that really hit home. These little things would let an episode punch above its weight class and caught me off guard. My favorite was when Sisko explains to Kasidy Yates why he doesn’t like going to the Las Vegas nightclub holosuite that everyone else loves so much. They have a brief but powerful conversation about race, history, and fiction, then went on with the rest of the plot.

That ability to tackle an important, timely social issue in a strong way, and not even make it the focus of the episode? That’s art.

Then came the finale. Quick warning, there will be some spoilers below.

SpoilerSpoiler

*Insert Rimshot*

The last several seasons revolve around the brutal war involving the Dominion and its allies against the Federation and its allies. The war drags on, lives are lost, ships destroyed, and ideals are compromised among the most noble members of the cast. Everything finally comes down to the Dominion’s last stand over Cardassia, which results in the slaughter of millions of Cardassian civilians in reprisal for the Cardassian military changing sides. It’s a long, emotionally tiring story and the audience can feel the toll it takes on the characters and when they finally do stand victorious, it’s a subdued celebration at best.

But there is a second story running underneath the main one, a war going on between the cosmic beings called the Prophets and the imprisoned Pah Wraiths, who are looked at as gods and demons by the Bajoran people. The chosen one of the Prophets is Captain Sisko, revealed to be the child of a Founder who had merged with a human host. The champion of the Pah Wraiths is Gul Dukat, a war criminal, megalomaniac, and one of the most wicked villains in sci-fi. Dukat further twists the already corrupt Kai Winn, high priestess of the Bajoran people, convincing her to help release the Pah Wraiths.

During the alliance’s final victory celebration Captain Sisko receives a vision and immediately runs to face Dukat and Winn, sacrificing his corporal body to defeat them and lock the Pah Wraiths away for all time.

At first, I was a little let down by this ending. It felt rushed because so much had happened behind the scenes or in short asides. But the more I think about it? The more I love it. The more I realize what a brilliant ending it is.

We have a grand clash of galactic empires, including the shape-shifting Founders who are looked upon as gods. We have drama writ large as planets burn and millions die. Lives are changed, societies are shattered, the history of two galactic quadrants will never be the same.

And yet, on the cosmic scale, it means very little. In the end, the war between the Prophets and the Pah Wraiths was a far more important conflict. Had the Pah Wraiths been victorious then the entire galaxy would have burned, regardless of which side had won the war on the prime material plane.

It was a war waged on another level of existence, fought by three individuals who could barely perceive the battlefield or comprehend the stakes. And in the end there is no one left alive who knows what happened. At least, not alive in the conventional sense.

Those are some serious Golden Age science fiction ideas. That ranks up there with the concepts in Doc Smith’s Lensman books.

Well done DS9. Well done indeed.

Deep_space_9

 

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A List for Mugs and Molls

Here’s a classic web tool if ever there was one.

Twists, Slugs, and Roscoes: a Glossary of Hardboiled Slang has been on the Internet since 1993. As the name suggests, it’s a glorious collection of terms straight out of the noir pulps and movies, and comes complete with its own bibliography. It’s perfect to spice up any gangster-era game.

So glom that list you ginks, before I make you chew a gat.

MF-spy

 

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Justice League: Throne of Atlantis

I’m a big fan of the DC animated movies, so when I noticed that our library had a new one in I had to give it a try. The title sounded promising, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.

Then I realized that this was a sequel to Justice League: War, a movie that I have little affection for. How did this new movie turn out?

I considered summing up the movie in one sentence but I couldn’t decide between, “Not as bad as War,” and, “The fields of Atlantis are burning.”

The characters are not quite as unlikable as they were in War, but I’m still left with the feeling that if these are the heroes defending my world I would not sleep well at night. It’s enough to make me think that Lex Luthor has a point. Unfortunately this is what DC thinks we want in our heroes.

Buried within this mess of sub-plots that go nowhere is a serviceable origin story for Aquaman. One that would be better served if they cut out all the parts with the Justice League and used that time to flesh out Aquaman, Mera, Ocean Master, and Black Manta. It’s a standard plot of treachery, usurpation of the throne, and the true heir fighting to claim his birthright, but there is little time left to connect with the Atlantian characters and the central plot feels rushed.

Among the more glaring plot problems with Throne of Atlantis are several smaller points that bother me:

When on the ocean floor Cyborg and Flash need masks. Hal does not, which makes sense, but neither Superman nor Wonder Woman need them to breath or talk normally. This is never explained.

Several league members are very liberal (one might say gratuitous) with the use of lethal force. This is never commented on.

Superman and Wonder Woman go out on a date in their secret identities. Lois Lane shows up and cattiness ensues, because of course it does. This has no bearing on the story.

When Ocean Master invades Metropolis he leads off with a massive tsunami, but then casts it aside before it hits the city. I’m okay with this because it’s a great evil villain move. “I’m so powerful I don’t need to flood your city! I have eeeeevil showmanship skills!” However he follows this up with an invasion force that isn’t very large and whose technology isn’t that much better than our own. I was left wondering why the Justice League was needed to repel the Atlantean forces.

Black Manta initiated the war by launching a torpedo attack on Atlantis and blaming it on the surface dwellers. In the process he wipes out many Atlanteans who were out tending their crops. The fields of Atlantis were burning.

The fields… of Atlantis… were burning…

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2015 in Movies & TV, Reviews

 

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It Came from the Blogosphere!

Several very cool things have popped up in my RSS feed lately.

  • The Hack & Slash blog has done an impressive analysis of the various treasure types in the 1st Edition Monster Manual that discusses what each type consists of, what types of monsters are assigned to them, and what the treasure types say about the ecology of the creatures involved. It’s an impressive bit of analysis that’s both informative and interesting to read. The follow up post about how to use treasure hoards in adventure design is also quite good.
  • Dyson’s Dodecahedron has announced that he’s hit his goal of $300 per update via Patreon. Dyson has always offered his maps for personal use, but hitting this goal means he’s making them freely available for commercial use (with proper attribution of course). That’s both cool and generous. Dyson’s maps are excellent and if more people start using them in commercial adventures? That’s a win for everyone. It’s also neat to see someone really leveraging Patreon to do what they love and give back to the OSR community.
  • The amazingly cool Ask About Middle-Earth Tumblr was involved in helping fact check the latest CGP Grey video that does an excellent job of summing up how the rings of power work. I’ve become quite a fan of the Ask About Middle-Earth blog (along with a gazillion other people) and the author’s sense of fun and passion for Tolkien’s works always shows through in her work. Check out her site and definitely watch the video.
  • Lastly, I saw the image below on the Jewel in the Skull Tumblr page and it just makes my Saturday morning cartoon soul just sing. If my Google-Fu is accurate, these links go to the inker and colorist for this geekishly wonderful cross-over.

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Super Shows

Currently I’m trying to keep up with three TV shows, which is a lot for me. It should be no surprise that all of them are based on comics.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – I continue to love this show. I was hooked from its slow and rocky beginnings, when I considered it the Coulson and May show and couldn’t even remember Agent Pretty-Boy’s name. My how things have changed. Ward has become one of my favorite villains and the additions to the cast have been excellent. The guest stars haven’t hurt either and they are taking full advantage of their connections to the greater Marvel cinematic universe. That’s something most shows can’t draw upon and I’m glad to see them leverage it for all it’s worth. It also helps that since the ending of last season they’ve kicked the pacing into high gear.

I like the characters, I like the setting, I like the action, and I like the twisty plots. I’m also very glad that they’re moving ahead with the central mystery. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the show I’m most invested in and I love it.

The Flash – Wow, a DC superhero property that manages not to suck all the fun out of comic characters? Could it be that they’re finally catching on that “grim and gritty” is not the only way to present heroes?

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had pacing problems when it started. Appropriately enough that has not been an issue for The Flash, which dove straight into superheroic action. Giving Barry Allen a healthy dose of Peter Parker-like luck and background hasn’t hurt the story either, making Barry Allen more relateable and interesting. Another interesting difference is that while S.H.I.E.L.D. hides the major plot twists to surprise the viewer, The Flash is telegraphing them. The audience already knows who the evil mastermind is and we get to enjoy watching the chess game between him and the unaware good guys.

They’ve also done a good job of putting Flash up against a strong stable of his classic Rogues Gallery. One of my biggest complaints about a lot of past superhero TV shows is that they lacked supervillains. The Flash does not have this problem, with Barry squaring off against new metahuman challenges each week.

However I still have some complaints. The first is that they keep killing off their villains. This has improved somewhat by the introduction of the metahuman prison under the ruins of STAR Labs, but they’ve still killed off most of the villains they introduced. The prison also introduces an ethical question that hasn’t been touched on. Our heroes are imprisoning people indefinitely and denying them any due process. I wish they would at least address this, make it an ethical dilemma, and let them argue about it. Instead they ignore it, and that bugs me.

They’re fallen into “Villain of the Week” syndrome. I do love that they have so many super battles, but so far each villain has been neatly dealt with in one episode. They could stand to have a two-part episode once in a while, or a villain who escapes to come back later. Also they waited way too long before they gave the titular hero his correct name. Until the most recent episode they were calling him “The Streak”. Why they waited this long to call him Flash is beyond me.

Of course we need to have a love triangle, which is a plot cliche I have no interest in. Though I am happy that the other guy is a good character. I like him and I don’t think he’s going to turn evil, which means he’ll probably die.

Constantine – Back when Vertigo Comics first launched, John Constantine’s Hellblazer was the title that I latched onto and couldn’t stop reading. I was a teenager and the anti-hero in Constantine blew me away. He was a jackass, he had crushing self-doubt that he covered with bravado, he would win but take so much of a beating that it didn’t seem like a victory. The plots were graphic, dark, raw, and more explicit than what I was used to seeing in comics. It was also very much a product of the late 80’s and early 90’s, channeling the feel of the black magic horror movies tof the time. Movies like The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Prophecy, and Prince of Darkness.

When I heard they were bringing Constantine to TV I had my doubts. I wondered how well it would translate to television.

As it turns out, not too bad. First off, they nailed the look. From how the actor talks and dresses to the colors that they use, John Constantine looks like he walked out of a comic book. The atmosphere is fatalistic, with foul rituals and dark magic at every turn. Many classic characters from Hellblazer have shown up, including Chas, Zed, and Papa Midnight. John is a jackass, full of himself and milking a reputation that is far more fearsome than his actual abilities. Despite the dark and horrific nature of the world, they also manage to inject a sense of the absurd and dark humor.

Constantine is also not without a few flaws. Stories feel rushed and the characters feel a bit unnatural. I never quite forget that I’m watching actors when I should be connecting with the characters. I also worry that the show might turn modern audiences off due to its irreverent take on various religions, which gives me concerns about its future. There are things you can get away with in a niche comic that won’t fly in the mass media. We’ll see what happens.

*****

That’s what I’m watching, and for me that’s a lot. I’m getting good mileage out of the superhero boom and I can’t remember when we’ve had so many good non-animated genre shows on the air. Honorable mention also goes to Doctor Who, which I don’t so much follow as DVR and binge-watch once the season is over.

What have you been watching?

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2014 in Books and Comics, Movies & TV, Reviews

 

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The Pyramid

This could be fun.

The Pyramid is a new horror movie coming to theaters at the end of this year. The plot synopsis is pretty standard fare; a team of archaeologists discover an enormous pyramid buried in the Egyptian sands. The tomb is cursed, the team ignores the warning, and soon discover that the pyramid is actually a prison meant to keep something in.

Based on the trailer it looks like a medium budget B-movie, which I’m fine with. I love B-movie horror films. It also looks like it’s going to have plenty of shaky cam, which I’m less okay with. This trend and those who promote it can die in fire.

But what really caught my attention is that the archaeology team triggers a pit trap and are dropped into a labyrinth. The labyrinth looks like it contains plenty of death traps for the adventurers… er… archaeologists to avoid. I hope they brought their 10′ pole.

It doesn’t look like The Pyramid is going to be a cinematic masterpiece, but with luck it’ll be something that would qualify for an old school horror host’s show. Or at least fun enough that it would make it to the Satellite of Love. I hope they play up the dungeon delving aspects of the story. That would give it a more unique flavor, aside from appealing to my D&D loving soul.

The Pyramid is scheduled for release in the US on December 5th, 2014.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2014 in Horror, Movies & TV

 

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