Metropolis Maria

Monday, December 23, 2013

Twenty minutes into the future: 2013 edition

First off, please understand I am not a fan of A & E network's "reality" series Duck Dynasty. I think it perpetuates a myth that people from the south are loud, coarse, obsessed with hunting, and backward, which then encourages others' belittling attitudes. On the other hand, I do appreciate their strong commitment to their family and their faith.

It is this commitment to faith that has ensnared the patriarch of the Robertson family. In an interview with GQ magazine, Phil Robertson was asked about what he considers sins worthy of death, and roughly quoting from 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, he listed "Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers." Out of that list, people zeroed in on the denunciation of homosexuality, which led to Phil's being suspended from the show "indefinitely."

Immediately pundits on both sides of the issue blew up social media, some referring to Phil as a 'redneck racist homophone hatemonger,' while others decried him being denied his first amendment free speech rights to express his faith without fear of losing his job.

As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of the 1980's series Max Headroom. I have to say, I'm seeing some very disheartening parallels in the Robertson discussion.

First, let's all keep in mind that the Robertson family are pretty well off. A & E needs the Robertsons more than the Robertsons need A & E. The first amendment limits government regulation of an individual's right to speak his mind. The network is not the government, and is therefore not required to adhere to the notion of free speech rights. This means the network can terminate Phil's contract if it chooses to do so.

Second, I can't help but feel as if some folks were looking forward to Phil's fall. The show is unbelievable popular and the family is unashamed of proclaiming their deeply personal faith. They are everywhere: books, calendars, music CD's and even Chia Pets. There just seems to be way too much glee in his suspension. He was asked a question, and he answered in a way only he would, simply and without nuance.  Why was anyone taken aback by his answer? Did anyone honestly expect something different?

So what does this have to do with Max Headroom?  This: the television audience is more worked up about what a celebrity says and the ramifications of his statements than what is happening in the real world. People are losing their lives for their faith in other countries, and the biggest story in the U.S. is that a millionaire lost a side job for affirming his belief in something currently unpopular. This and the furor over the so-called war on Christmas  solidifies the rest of the world's suspicion that Christians have lost credibility when discussing moral issues because we waste time dealing with such frivolities.

Back when I was in high school, Christian supergroups Petra released an album titled Beat the System. One of the songs on that album "Witch Hunt" describes perfectly what I see happening here:

Everybody look, there's a new bandwagon in town
Hop on board and let the wind carry you around
Seems like there's not enough to keep us busy till the Lord comes back
Don Quixote's gotta have another windmill to attack

Another witch hunt looking for evil wherever we can find it
Off on a tangent, hope the Lord won't mind it
Another witch hunt, takin' a break from all our gospel labor
On a crusade but we forgot our saber

There's a new way to spend all our energies
We're up in arms instead of down on our knees
Walkin' over dollars trying to find another dime
Never mind the souls 'cause we really haven't got the time

So send out the dogs and tally ho
Before we sleep tonight we've got miles to go
No one is safe, no stone's left unturned
And we won't stop until somebody gets burned
Bro, bro, bro, bro, bro, bro, brothers
-- lyrics by Jerry Reed, from the album Beat the System (1984)

See also:


Thursday, December 12, 2013

[Review] Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD

If you have been following this blog for a while, you may recall my experience with comic books goes back to my childhood where I was introduced to many characters. One book in particular was an issue of Daredevil (vol. 1, #123) where I first met Nick Fury. In this issue, Foggy Nelson (Daredevil's friend) was kidnapped by HYDRA and was held in HYDRA's secret base beneath Shea Stadium in New York. Not only did Daredevil attempt to rescue Nelson, SHIELD was sent in, led by Nick Fury (as an aside, I didn't remember that Black Widow was also in this book, and so this was also my first introduction to Natasha Romanov).

I love Samuel L. Jackson as Fury, but his is not the Fury I remember from my childhood.  Not too long ago, I was flipping channels and saw this 1998 movie, and realized that David Hasselhoff was cast in the title role. This surprised me, but as I discovered it well into the movie, I didn't stay, as I wanted to watch it all the way from the beginning. And then I forgot about it. Until a couple of things happened. One, Marvel and ABC announced a weekly series based on the SHIELD presented in the Marvel Cinematic Universe films. Another was the debut of the WELCOME TO LEVEL 7 podcast, which reviewed the MCU movies and prepared listeners for the AGENTS OF SHIELD series. The last thing that reminded me of this movie was running across a DVD of NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD.  So, I tracked down an online version, and watched, fully anticipating to hate it.

But, I was surprised. I didn't hate it. Is it great cinema? Hardly. But it wasn't intended to be. Rather, it is cheesy, comic book fun from before we started insisting that things be grounded in reality.

NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD was intended to be a potential pilot for a weekly series, and as such anticipated the current AGENTS OF SHIELD series by a full seventeen years.  It starred David "Knightrider/Baywatch" Hasselhoff, and was written by David S. Goyer. Yes, that David S. Goyer. The same writer who worked on Christopher Nolan's DARK KNIGHT films and the recent MAN OF STEEL.
The story is a simple one, with a plot that could have been lifted straight from the comics. The daughter of a classic villain, Andrea von Strucker (Baron von Strucker's daughter, also known as Viper), is preparing to release the Death's Head virus over New York killing the population of the city and surrounding areas. Nick is pulled out of a forced "retirement" to deal with the threat because he is the only one willing to do what it takes.

There is a lot for fans to appreciate in this TV movie:
A Helicarrier!
LMDs! (and, following Chekov's Law, we do see it in action)

This is the eye patch rockin', cigar chompin', wise crackin' Nick Fury I remember from the old comic books at my aunt's house. This was before he looked like Samuel L. Jackson. While there were a few breakdowns in his portrayal, Hasselhoff nails the characterization I  remember from the comic book.

I didn't care for the way that the actress playing Viper (Sandra Hess) chewed the scenery. She comes off even cheesier than the Hoff. In fact, her characterization is so broad that I thought her accent was horrible. I later learned that she really is from Zurich, Switzerland.

Also, another character, Dr. Arnim Zola, feels horribly underwritten, as if the producers wanted to include him, but no one really understood how.

It's easy to see why it failed, but if it had been picked up, it would have been insanely expensive, so I can't imagine that it would have been successful.

Hasselhoff has recently slammed Samuel L. Jackson's portrayal of the character in a way that really makes him appear bitter and petty.  As I mentioned, I thought he nailed the character as I remembered him, but that doesn't necessarily make him the definitive Nick Fury, as Hoff apparently believes.

In short, this is a cheesy, fun movie that Marvel fans can enjoy and compare with the new interpretations from the MCU.

 (Note: this review was originally featured on the SpiritBlade Underground podcast with Paeter Frandsen:

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Hands, Head and Heart of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

In an earlier post I explained my theory of the tripartite composition of man. In short, I believe that people can be explained as being governed by their heads, their hands and their hearts. I believe that this composition is visible in the ensemble cast of Marvel's AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.:

Agents Ward and May are the Hands, i.e., they are people of action; they get things done. In episode 2, "0-8-4," Ward even says that he is trained to be the 'solution.' The first two episodes very clearly revel them to be action-oriented.  They do not speak much, but let their deeds do the talking for them. 

People of action often act and then consider the consequences afterwards. They  live by the motto "shoot first, ask questions later." Indeed, Agent May appears to be suffering from regret for some (as yet) unspecified action.  Agent Ward is still young and gung-ho, and perhaps we will see May help him reconsider determination to always act first.

Fitz and Simmons: Although its still a little early yet, and their characters are still being fleshed out, these two represent the Head to me. They are the lab rats, the ones who use their brains to figure out the problem using smarts and SCIENCE!  There is concern that they are not prepared for field work, especially if there is violence present and that they are no good to the team if things get messy. But in their home environment, they are tops, and everyone else is lost (note how many times Ward asks them to "speak English").

Coulson and Skye: At last we come to the Heart of the series. Coulson is the team leader. He is the natural bridge between the Head and the Hands, those figure things out by studying, and those who get things done by hard work.  In his review of THE AVENGERS (and before he knew that Coulson would return), Daniel Butcher, one of he co-hosts of the excellent WELCOME TO LEVEL 7 podcast, lamented the fact that when Coulson was apparently killed by Loki, director Joss Whedon and the producers "ripped the heart out of the film."

It has been noted by Butcher and his co-host Ben Avery that in the Marvel films leading up to THE AVENGERS that Agent Phil Coulson (a character previously unknown in the comics) functions as a sort of stand-in for the audience member who is learning what is going on here with these superheroes suddenly appearing and making their presences felt.  We see this new world through his eyes.  He is humble and down to earth. While Ward and May and Fitz and Simmons are characters that we dream about being, Coulson is who we really hope to be.

In the TV series, Coulson is a little more aware of what is going on, and a little more serious. I agree that he is sill someone we can identify with, but he is also now a little more assertive, especially with his team when they offer hopeless assessments ("Don't ever tell me there's no way!") or when he reminds his bickering team of their capabilities and then tells them to "figure it out" and learn to get along.

It should also be noted that as the main protagonist of the series, Coulson also fulfills many of the other parts of the team. he can be clearly seen thinking through the problem, and taking action when necessary.  Still, I think his primary function is that of the heart of the team.

Skye, then, is our new point of entry to the world within the series. She is an idealistic hacker who views SHIELD as a faceless monolithic government agency that keeps the people in the dark about the wold around them. She is also like Coulson, the Heart. She feels deeply for the disenfranchised and powerless and is seeking to do something about it when she is recruited by SHIELD. She becomes conflicted when her neat, preconceived ideals about what SHIELD is doing is faced with the reality that actually talking to the other agents presents her. It is a strong reminder that dialogue is better than prejudice.

Again, the series is still new, and I understand that the characters are still developing. It will be interesting to see the different directions he writers, directors and producers take the show. But for now, I like what I see and am certain that this, like nearly all of Joss Whedon's projects, has a great deal of depth behind the fun, action-adventure comic-book series facade.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Agents of SHIELD premiere: The Day After

Note: last night I live blogged the premiere. Now that I've slept on it, I've put together a little more coherent review. Be Warned - there ARE mild spoilers.

Okay, so its a day later. I've read some initial responses to the premiere, ranging from "it was awesome," to "it was underwhelming.". I'm falling along the awesome side of the continuum, though not necessarily saying it was perfect. Strong, yes. Perfect, no.

What I liked:
I loved the way the events of THE AVENGERS were tied in to the opening, establishing a world where superheroes and aliens are now revealed in full.

I enjoyed the way Agent Coulson was shown to have somehow survived. Stepping out of the shadows and making a quip about a "bulb out" was perfect.

The writing was fun, especially the dialogue. Joss Whedon has a golden ear for the spoken word.

The message about character, responsibility and who you are trumping what you have gave me a lot to chew on.

A cameo by Ron Glass and a "special guest" appearance by Colbie Smulders made me smile.

The effects were almost too good for television.

One word: Lola.

What I wasn't crazy about:
Actually not much.

I didn't care much for the hints that Coulson doesn't the whole story of his near-death experience. I'm worried where they might go with that.

I was concerned that the story was almost too connected to IRON MAN 3.

I do plan to watch the premiere again before episode two to refresh my memory and follow the story better. A very, very solid effort, and one of the best new shows on TV.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Premiere

Tonight, I'll be live-blogging the premiere!

Nice cameos of the Avengers!

A hero is a guy running into (or climbing up) a burning building when everyone else is running out...

Special guest star Colbie Smulders

No wonder this guy gets recruited by Level 7

"We stand between the world and a much weirder world"

And there he is!

"When you get shanked by the Asgardian Mussolini you can tell it your way."

What is the Rising Tide?

Ron Glass!

He can never know what?  My wife is afraid he might be a LMD....

"With great power comes...a ton of weird crap"

That IS a nice bus!

And there's Lola!

So Skye is "The Rising Tide?"


Love the drones checking out the lab!

Great truth drug!

But a hero doesn't kill....(not even Super- oh, wait)
So, this centipede device is messing with his moral compass?

I'm not liking this origin story.

Extremis. Huh. So they're coupling this with IRON MAN 3?  And Extremis is a reverse engineered Super Soldier serum? Tying all of the stories together. This could be very good or very bad.

"Don't ever tell me there's no way!"

"Nobody's nobody, Mr. Ward."

Great message. Its not what we have but what we do with it that matters. It matters who we are on the inside.

LOLA IS A FLYING CAR! "Lola can handle it!" You bet she can!

Friday, September 6, 2013

[Fandom Friday] Six-Gun Gorilla Reborn!

Oh, my.  I'm actually giddy with anticipation.  I just received word that a character that I'd considered nigh-legendary in the sub-sub-genre of speculative fiction, that of the Weird Western, has been rebooted.  I speak, of course, of none other than Six-Gun Gorilla.

Regular readers of the stuff I throw up on this virtual wall will recall that I have a short list of characters that I would love to see rebooted.  As of now, what I have written about are radio characters, like Chandu the Magician, Rocky Jordan and the lead characters from the Ghost Corps.  I never expected that Six-Gun Gorilla would get a reboot in the form of a comic, because, while I loved the idea, I thought he was such a niche figure that almost no one else would be interested in him.  In my mind, he would remain a lone pioneering figure, back when the idea of the Weird Western had not been fully articulated as it is now.

The plot is simple. An old west miner has a pet gorilla that he teaches to do things, including shoot guns.  The miner is murdered by claim jumpers, and the gorilla embarks on a quest to avenge his friend's death.  Pretty much a standard Wild West story, except that the main character is an honest-to-goodness gorilla. 

Which brings me to today. I saw a notice about the comic, which apparently has been out for some time.  According to the companion blog site, issue #1 is available via email for the low, sweet price of $1.99.  I could not help myself. I had to order it.  

I will be reviewing this in an upcoming post.  Look for it under the heading of [Monday Reviews].

Thursday, August 29, 2013

[Theology Thursday] Hope and the Superman Myth

Note: this post will contain major spoilers from THE MAN OF STEEL film. If you haven't seen it yet, feel free to watch it and come back. I'll wait.

In the film, Kal-El (not yet called Superman) calls attention to the fact the symbol that looks like a big red "S" to American earthlings is actually the symbol for his family on Krypton, and that it also stands for hope there as well.

Throughout the film it seems as if writer David Foyer and director Zack Snyder are going to reinforce this theme: several times in the course of the film (presumably due to the upbringing of his adoptive earth parent's the Kents) he is seen finding a way to save lives.  Indeed, this has been a major refrain of most reviewers that I've heard that it is this stubborn refusal to end a life that marks Superman as an iconic comic book hero.
So what happened in the third act? Why was Superman not able to save both the family in the Metropolis train station and General Zod?1 Why do we get an odd snapping sound effect followed by an anguished cry of despair?

Some have postulated that The Man of Steel is the first of a trilogy that explores the development of Clark Kent/Kal-El into Superman.  This is plausible in that they do not call him Superman in this film. Perhaps he has to earn it. It may be that he has to learn the awful consequences of taking a life for himself.
If this is not the case, if the creative team of Goyer, Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan were not looking ahead when they sketched the film out2, then they painted themselves into a corner that they couldn't figure out how to extricate themselves from and keep the theme of hope intact.  The film is shot in very bright tones, quite opposite of the brooding and dark tones of Nolan's Batman films, but the visual tones do not sync up in the third act climax, and one is left with a disconnect between what has just happened and how it is presented to us.

I would not be surprised to see a third option at work here. Much has been made over the years of the comparisons that can be made between Superman and Jesus: they both came to earth as a baby and grew up to be truly good men, sacrificially giving of themselves for the greater good of mankind. This similarity was even shown in the film itself, between many of the lines of Superman's Kryptonian father Jor-El and John Kent (his adoptive earth father)3, as well as several visual elements Snyder chose to put on screen. In addition, the studios even courted pastors to incorporate clips from the movie in sermons, including someone to put together a resource pack for pastors full of Bible studies and sermon outlines that highlighted the similarities.

But at the end of the day, I have to wonder if the third act climax that caused so much discussion among Superman and comic book fans is due to the fact that Goyer, and Snyder4 just can't bring themselves to believe in an all-good, all-powerful hero. It is theodicy writ in four colors and projected on a screen. In this film, it appears that the producers believe that their hero must be able to fully enter into our human condition in order to truly be one of us.  This flies in the face of the Christian understanding that sin us not natural to humanity, that mankind was created in the image of God, and that by willfully turning away and rejecting that image within them, evil, pain and death entered the world. A messiah who is like us in this way cannot save us.

This is where the "Superman as a picture of Christ" metaphor breaks down. Jesus, in the words of the writer of the letter to the Hebrews "...understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin!" (4:15 CEV).  On other words, Jesus fully entered into the human experience. The earliest Christian credal statements affirm the truth that Jesus was in every way God, and yet in every way man, including experiencing first hand what you and I take for granted.5  The Apostle Peter, one of the ones who would have been an eyewitness to Jesus, writes in his second letter quotes from a passage in Isaiah to describe Jesus, saying that He never sinned nor did He lie. (1 Peter 2:22).

Superman may ultimately be able to save the world from the plots of supervillains and aliens bent on destroying the world, but he cannot save the world from what plagues us the most - our own sin and  inhumanity. Only Jesus can do that. So hope will only by found in Him, even if He doesn't have a big red "S" on His chest to say so.

1 Or for that matter, all of the folks in the Metropolis skyscrapers? I myself walked out of the theater thinking that the events portrayed would have absolutely bankrupted the insurance industry.
2 I am inclined to believe that they were
3 I have several thoughts percolating about how The Man of Steel promotes and celebrates fatherhood, but that is another post.
4 As I was writing this, the fine folks over at Strangers and Aliens pointed me to this story which indicates that Nolan was not at all on board with the plan for the third act climax.
5 See the Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Creed

Friday, August 23, 2013

[Fandom Friday] Ben Affleck and Nerd Rage

"OMG Casting Ben Affleck as Batman just set us back another 10 years in our efforts to cure cancer, end poverty and bring peace to the Middle East. OH WAIT IT'S ONLY A MOVIE" - Berin Kinsman, from his Facebook Page (used with permission)

Why do we in the geek/nerd community get so bent out of shape abut things like the recent announcement that Ben Affleck has been cast as the new Batman in Zack Snyder's upcoming Batman/Superman film?  People have been bringing up disastrous Affleck films like Gigli, Daredevil and Armageddon. Others have defended the choice citing his recent directorial triumphs like last year's Argo, which won him an Oscar for Best Director.

Me? I'm willing to give Ben a chance, although I must admit he was not my first choice.

But the question remains: why the vitriol here, when other things are so terribly wrong with the world?

To begin, I'm not sure that individuals in the geek/nerd community were not outraged by the recent charges of Syrian gassing women and children, or any of the other ills we deal with. I have a feeling their voices were mingled with many others. It is only in announcements like this that we can tell who the geeks/nerds are.

But I think there may be a more subconscious idea at work here. Many people have a sense of powerlessness when facing the evils of the word around us. That often translates into silence and inaction.  However, in the geek/nerd community, we remember that a letter writing campaign by fans of the original Star Trek series managed to save it not once but twice, and got the first space shuttle prototype named Enterprise. Also, fan loyalty to the cancelled TV series Firefly led to the feature film Serenity. Finally, a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign raised enough money to greenlight a Veronica Mars movie.  So, there is a sense in the geek/nerd community that even though I may not be able to affect the rest of the world, I can affect the entertainment properties that appeal to me if I make enough noise.

But my friend Berin is right. What could happen if the amount of energy poured into railing against Ben Affleck as the new Batman were directed locally to issues of social justice, for example? If members of the geek/nerd community can save Star Trek, maybe they can make a dent in homelessness.

(Update: Apparently there is a now an online petition at calling on WB to recast the role, dropping Affleck.  What's really disturbing is that there are, as of this writing, over 13,000 signatures.)

(Update #2, 8/26/13: Some folks have been so upset by the news that they made death threats, though apparently not against Affleck himself)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

[Theology Thursday] The Nothing New Lament

In a recent article in USAToday, writers Scott Bowles and Andrea Fuller report on the idea that original stories seem to get eaten up by "sequel-itis" and "reboot raves".  To bolster their argument, they bring out an impressive assortment of statistics:

  • Original films accounted for just 39% of box office from 2003 to 2012, down from 65% in the 10 years before.
  • So far this summer, original stories account for just 30% of sales.
  • Original movies accounted for less than half (47%) of the top summer releases from 2003 to 2012, down from 70% the decade before.
  • Pacific Rim cost the studios $190 million while only earning $94 million as of the publication of the article.

They quoted University of Nebraska film professor Wheeler Winston Dixon, who is generally unhappy about the trend: "Films routinely cost $100 to $200 million, and with that kind of money at stake, who has time for originality? It's much safer to bank on a franchise."  On the other hand, Robert McKee who lectures on screenwriting is in the other camp, saying that sequels "have always been around. Homer's Odyssey is the sequel to The Iliad. Audiences love sequels because they get hooked on a character like Odysseus in the first story and want to enjoy him again and again."

I am inclined to agree with both individuals quoted above from the USAToday article. I do like to see and hear about new stories with familiar characters. However, I am also aware that by playing it safe with sequels and reboots, Hollywood runs the danger of becoming mired in needless ennui, or worse feeding us a steady diet of visual junk food.  I was very disappointed that Pacific Rim was not more successful, and it appears that Elysium will follow along in that category.  Having said that, it is helpful to remember that Blade Runner was also a box-office disappointment that has grown beyond cult status into its own legend in the subsequent years since its release.

The cry "there is nothing new!" is, itself, not new. In Ecclesiastes 1:9 Solomon writes"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." (NIV)  It almost seems as if he was seeing prophetically into Hollywood in the second decade of the 2Ks.  Even then, the man who had been supernaturally gifted with intelligence and wisdom was frustrated with what he saw as an endless cycle of the "same old thing."  With all of his insight, wealth and power, Solomon could not enact the creative change necessary to break free.

However, there is Someone who is able to end the seemingly endless cycle of history repeating itself.  It is none other than the One quoted in Revelation 21:5: "He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'" (NIV) Jesus possesses divine creative power, and an immense creative mind, such that the universe in all of its complexity and beauty was created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16).  Christians should be leading the charge for creativity as we seek to lift Jesus higher in all that we do. Not in a didactic or sermonizing way, but in an incarnational way, where His truth, beauty and grace are displayed for all to appreciate.

Larry Wall, the creator of the Perl computer programming language, indicated his faith in Jesus in a great interview on Slashdot. In it he shows how much he understands the creativity and infinite variety of the Divine Mind when he acknowledges that the answer to the question "What Would Jesus Do?" is actually "something unexpected."  This is what we see in His life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection. Jesus was constantly doing something unexpected, and he calls us to follow.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

[PODCAST] Sex, Lust and Video Games - Theology Gaming

Just over five years ago, there were very few podcasts and blogs devoted to exploring geek culture through the lens of faith. In the time since, there has been a virtual explosion in the number and quality of entries. I am very excited by the possibility that the church is slowly embracing those who are traditionally within an often ostracized community.

This past week,  I discovered a great new podcast: Theology Gaming. 

Recently, they had a Theme Week where the various hosts posted individual blog posts relating to the theme of sex, love and lust in video games. They then came together in a round table format to discuss the issue.

I liked their final takeaway that it just seems that our culture is so hypersexualized that it seems as if we expect every relationship to somehow culminate in a physical relationship, that there doesn't seem to be a place for the simple, chaste phileo friendship, but that it must develop into a relationship marked by eros.

This will most likely join my list of recommended podcasts.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Comics and Me

I tell people that when it comes to comics, "I am conversant, but not fluent." What I mean by that is that I am familiar with most of the mainstream superheros (and a few lower tier ones), but I don't regularly follow them on a monthly basis.

I remember as a child visiting my aunt and her family. In their home were dozens of comics, featuring characters from both DC and Marvel, and I read them all for years.  I discovered Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, the Avengers, and many others for the first time this way. From this humble introduction, I watched the Super Friends as a Saturday morning cartoon and the Incredible Hulk and Wonder Woman as live action network TV shows.

As I grew older, I supplemented my awareness of comic book heroes by buying certain books (Spider-Man was always a favorite), or picking up used copies of others.  As a science fiction fan, I enjoyed Marvel's serialization of the original Star Wars film, even though they lost me in the following stories by introducing a giant bipedal rabbit, a character called (no kiddding!) Don-Ki-Ho-Tay and retelling the plot of The Seven Samurai. When I was in high school, I became a fan of Ambush Bug's limited run and early stories of Groo the Wanderer.  Once I discovered role playing games (rpgs), I became fascinated by the world of the Warlord and the limited run of the Car Wars game tie-in comic, Car Warriors.  Also, when I was in college, I discovered a hardback graphic novel of the original Dark Knight, The Shadow (which now has a treasured place in my library).

My late college years and early married life saw me leave the world of four-color heroes for a while, although they always had a special place in my heart.

With the success in recent years of superhero films, however, I find myself being slowly drawn back in.  I doubt that I will ever be a collector of major superheroes, but I might have a few issues of the Shadow laying around, and I will always keep informed of many of the storylines featured in the books due to my on-line relationships with people who are collectors or are otherwise far more fluent than I will ever be.

Future entries related to comics will include reviews of some digital comics that I have acquired, as well as books I have in my library that seek to analyze the genre through a lens of faith.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

In Defense of Bad Genre Fiction, or why I like The Mummy 3

I love bad genre fiction. I enjoy movies like National Treasure and the Mummy franchise, as well as the subpar movies based on comic books and other big-budget, low-rent script CGI-fests. I also like the purple prose of stories from the pulp era of the 1930's and '40's that are long on action and short on logic.

By all rights, this shouldn't be the case. My degree is in film and television production, and I enjoyed classes in film and television criticism.  But I still loves me some low-brow entertainment.

Why is that so? That's a valid question and one I really couldn't answer exactly until after the premiere of the third Mummy movie with Brendan Fraser.  Then, someone who I don't normally agree with actually helped me crystallize my thinking. To be clear, I don't agree with his conclusions, but in modifying his approach, I came up with the following theory: we were wired to enjoy a little visual junk food every now and again.

My theory is based on the idea that we were created with three aspects about us.  This is known as the Tripartite view of man.  This view is founded on scriptures like Matthew 22:37, where Jesus answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.'" (NCV)

My interpretation of this idea holds that the 'heart' (or 'body') is the physical and visceral part of people, where we have the senses to help us process the world around us, the 'soul' represents the spiritual side of man, the ability to connect with God on His level, and the 'mind' is the intellectual ability within think and reason through everything. In Wesleyan Methodism, there is an analysis of how we can know things called 'the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.'  The four 'sides' of the quadrilateral state that we know things based on Scripture or Revelation, Reason, Experience, and Tradition. Three of these sides also support this theory.
Popular culture has been slammed on all sides: the Intellectual community slams it because very often, there is very little to challenge the mind. The religious community rejects it because it often doesn't ask the deeper questions about God, or challenge people to know Him better.  

I enjoy reading short stories written during the pulp era of the 1930's and 1940's. They really have little to no intellectual content. Often, they were written quickly and sold on the basis of word count. But they are a lot of fun to read, and for many writers, they were the springboard that launched them into deeper oceans of literary credibility, once they had learned their craft working for pennies-a-word payments.

It is also true that occasionally one struggles to find deeper meaning within works of popular culture.  But I maintain that if one looks hard enough, you can find something to think about, and rewardingly, something that resonates with the hopes and dreams of the culture we live in, however imperfectly realized.  It is an awful lot like 'junk food.' Look on at the nutritional information on a bag of chips. Yes, they may be high in calories, and disproportionately low in nutrition, but no junk food is totally devoid of something good.  One does not, and in fact cannot make a steady diet of junk food without doing irreparable harm.  As a preacher I heard say, "Don't get drunk on the Kool-Aid of popular culture." But at the same time, one can find grains, and even sometimes nuggets of truth even in the cheesiest of media offerings.

But the reverse is true. We should not refrain from treating ourselves to a story that gets our blood pumping as well as filling our minds with ideas and causing our spirit's to long for an awareness of God's presence. After all, God made us completely human, and this includes the body.  It's nice to have a treat once in a while. When we focus on the intellectual over the others, we get dry academic snobbery. When we focus on the spiritual too much, we get either people who are "so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good" or we get a Pharisaical attitude that drains the joy out of what should be a joyful experience. We need all three. When we have all three in one story, I think those are the stories that we can point too as true representations of the Epic. they They fulfill the needs of every part of our being.

Earlier, I referenced the Brendan Fraser MUMMY movie franchise.  When the third film premiered, it was laid low by the critical press. But my wife and I enjoyed it. I can admit that if you've seen one MUMMY film, you've seen them all - the plot is pretty threadbare and similar in all three.  So why do we enjoy it so much? I think its because of the visceral nature of the fun. In this case it is like a favorite amusement park ride: you know every curve, climb and drop. And yet, you still stand in line to experience it all over again. I don't generally like amusement park rides, so I guess I substitute these stories in their places.

I believe those who don't appreciate movies and fiction that serve no other purpose but to be fun have an underdeveloped or even an undeveloped theology of play, as long as one doesn't make a steady media diet of them.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Accountability update

So I'm a little late in my quarterly review of the resolutions I made on New Year's 2013.  But I haven't given up, and again, I want to be accountable, so here we go.  For review's sake, Here is the original post of my Goals and Resolutions, and my first update.

1.  Lose at least 15 pounds. There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is that I didn't really begin walking like I said I would a few months ago, and as a result, I'm not nearer my 15 pound loss goal.  The good news is that I did begin this past week, and I have refined my reasons for pursuing fitness as a goal:

  1. In my everyday life, we move every 3-5 years. We are in year 4. I want to be stronger for the next time we move, and therefore better able to lift boxes without doing myself potential harm.
  2. We are planning an educational tour to the Holy Land in early 2014. I want to have stamina while on the tour so that I can enjoy what I'm learning.
  3. I want to look a little more like the guy my wife fell in love with 20-some-odd years ago

I've also done some things to improve my odds. To that end, I've been watching my diet and being more intentional about exercise, so I've started using apps like fitocracymyfitnesspal, and blogs like nerd fitness and geek fitness and the Jedi workout article on I started added strength training in addition to just getting slimmer.  I'm really, really sore but am determined to keep going.

2.  Read through the Bible in a Year. I'm still running a little behind in my reading through  Word on the Street   But I have been posting passages I found meaningful on Facebook and it is gratifying to see other people finding those passages helpful to them. So, with I'm even more motivated to keep going.

3.  Be More Creative. Still writing, but I need to be more intentional here as well.

4.  Our Dream Vacation. While the dream vacation is on hold, as I mentioned above, we are planning on traveling to the Holy Land on an educational tour. So, that will be fun.

5.  Be more intentional in my faith. Still thinking about the tripartite makeup of man, and will be writing more on that soon.  But as I mentioned in my Bible reading goal, I have been sharing more on Facebook those passages I've appreciated. I do have some other books I want to read that will help in this regard, so those will be going into a reading queue I'll be starting soon.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Thoughts on Podcasting

I love podcasts.

There. I said it.

I enjoy listening to other people's thoughts on subjects near and dear to my geeky little heart. I am thrilled when I agree with them, and disappointed (and occasionally nerdraged) when I don't.

I listen to podcasts when I travel in my car. They have taken the place of traditional radio when I drive anywhere for the most part. I do have a musical playlist of tunes that I love, but I don't listen to them as often as I used to.  In all fairness, I have a pretty good collection of Old Time Radio (OTR) shows I love as well, but its the podcasts that have pretty much locked up pride of place in my listening habits.

I once tried podcasting myself, back in 2007. I produced two episodes of what I called the Geek Orthodoxy podcast, which was designed to explore geek entertainment through the lens of faith.  I had some good ideas, and had basically plotted out a third episode, but Everyday Life interfered with my lofty goals and I let it slide by the wayside.  My most favorite episode was the second one where I identified what I considered the "Patron Saints" of Geek Orthodoxy. These were essentially people of faith who had a major influence on geek culture. The list included the obvious, Tolkien and Lewis, and also Madeline L'Engle and Larry Wall, the creator of the Perl programming language.

I wouldn't mind taking a stab at it again. My degree is in Radio/Television/Film, so I do have an affinity for the format, as well as some experience. But if I ever did, I would have to have a solid concept to wrap my thoughts around and better discipline in recording and editing schedules.

Who knows? I might even try videocast, and take it to the next level....

(Related Post: Recommended Podcasts)

Friday, July 12, 2013

[Review] The Lone Ranger

On the 237th anniversary of American Independence, my wife (who I lovingly refer to as the Princess Bride) and I saw The Lone Ranger.  I had very high hopes for this film, based on the articles I had read and the trailers and other promotional items available.  There were a couple of things I wasn't crazy about prior to the film (like the scene with Silver in a tree wearing the Lone Ranger's hat, and Tonto saying "Something very wrong with that horse"), but for the most part, I was excited.

In a previous post, I discussed the idea of the Western as an "American Fantasy genre," (an idea I credit to the guys at the Strangers and Aliens podcast) and I consider the Lone Ranger character as a highly venerated member of that pantheon.  

A little history is in order at this point. The Lone Ranger began life on the radio. in 1933, on radio station WXYZ in Detroit, The Lone Ranger debuted. It was part of a trio of radio adventure series developed by Fran Striker and George Trendle (Challenge of the Yukon (later, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon) and The Green Hornet, being the other two). It ran on radio for over 20 years and was spun off into other media, including film, television and comics.  In 1981, a disastrous attempt to resurrect the character premiered to dismal reviews and box office failure, and is now only barely remembered.

The bare bones of the story is that a company of Texas Rangers were in pursuit of the notorious Butch Cavendish and his gang, when they were ambushed in a blind canyon, betrayed by one of their own.  Nearly all were killed, including the leader of the group, Captain Dan Reid, who is the Lone Ranger's brother. The only survivor was John Reid. He was rescued and nursed back to health by Tonto, a member of the Pottawatamie nation.  Tonto recognized John Reid as the same person who rescued him at the time his tribe was massacred when they were both children.

What I liked:
  • Storytelling framing device - It was a fun way to tell the story from Tonto's point of view. It initially reminded me of one of favorite movies of all time, The Princess Bride. I had hoped that the young boy in the frame would be revealed to have other connections to the story, but I was wrong.
  • Humor - I loved the funny lines. I thought it made for a fun popcorn experience, but there were times that the humor didn't work or made things pretty confusing from a storytelling point of view.
  • Costuming/makeup - I loved the costuming, and the Lone Ranger's outfit looked better in this film than even in the TV series, which I grew up on. I know some folks were not crazy about Johnny Depp's makeup or headdress, but I think the film explained it pretty well.
  • The villain casting - James Fichtner was perfect as Butch Cavendish. For all of the knocks against Johnny Depp as Tonto, I loved his performance.  I thought it worked well.
  • The use of the William Tell Overture - You HAD to have the William Tell Overture in this film. If its not written into Federal Law that any portrayal of The Lone Ranger on radio, TV or Film must utilize the William Tell Overture, it should be. In this film, it was written into the score in just the right places.
  • Using most of the canon, while parts they didn't use made sense to me - For example, I never understood that Tonto is part of the Pottawatamie nation. In my research, I learned that the Pottawatamie lived in areas that are now within the states of Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin. This is not within territory where you would find Texas Rangers normally. However, it makes more sense that Tonto would be a Comanche, which lived in the plains states, including Texas. Also, as the name Tonto in Spanish means "Stupid," it fits in with the character arc in this film (apparently, according to Wikipedia, the name in Pottawatamie means "Wild One."). I also like the "origin story for Tonto." I did appreciate them sticking to the canon for the origin of the Lone Ranger's Mask.
  • Same actor in Lone Ranger and Green Hornet - Tom Wilkinson played Britt Reid's father James in the 2011 movie and was the railroad industrialist Cole in the Lone Ranger.
  • The look of the film is gorgeous - it is a wonderful homage to John Ford-directed Westerns.

What I didn't like:
  • Anachronistic dialogue -  There were two that I recall that completely took me out of the film. The first, and possibly most egregious, was the scene where the Lone Ranger and Tonto are in Red's office trying to get her to tell them if she's seen the Ranger traitor that led the company of Rangers to their death. Really  They had to threaten her with health code violations???
  • Portrayal of all Christians as narrow minded bigots - In fairness, there were a lot of caricatures present (except that, on reflection, it appears that the other Comanches were portrayed much more deeply and sympathetically), so I guess I should just get over that. 
  • John Reid rejecting religion in favor of the "laws of man" - I find it especially problematic that he seeks justice while rejecting the God of justice (see the Lone Ranger Creed)
  • The kid in the framing device wasn't named Britt Reid - I really think that would have made a nice tie in to The Green Hornet. In the Green Hornet radio series, it is revealed that Britt Reid is the nephew of the Lone Ranger.
  • No tie in to Green Hornet - However, Green Hornet did have tie in to the Lone Ranger. Don't recall it? In Britt Reid's apartment there is a Lone Ranger poster on the wall.
  • Johnny Depp as Tonto meant that they couldn't get a stronger actor to play Lone Ranger - Armie Hammer was likable, but played John Reid too milquetoast to be believable. 
  • They didn't really explain why silver bullets - In the original canon, it was a reminder that every life is precious. If they changed the explanation to reflect the Macguffin in the film, then Tonto melting the Ranger star to make the first bullet doesn't make sense.
  • The tag scene during the credits was confusing - Tonto walking away in silence seems to indicate that this is the end of the story. It anticipates nothing, or sets up any possibility of a sequel.
Please don't get me wrong. I didn't hate the Lone Ranger. I actually enjoyed it. But the above list are the problems I had with it. There were times it really didn't seem to know what it wanted to be.  Some are calling it a "Pirates of the Caribbean in the Old West," or a kind of "The Lone Ranger Begins". I think it should have picked one and gone with it.

All in all, I would give it a grade of a B-.

As a bonus, here's a neat, short video review from a couple of other guys.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

[REVIEW] Nickel Children

(Note: this is a review I previously recorded for The Spirit Blade Underground Podcast with Paeter Frandsen)

The Western has been considered by many people as an American mythology.  It features very archetypal tropes like good versus evil and law and order versus crime and chaos. 

In 2010, writer director Kevin Eslinger produced the 16 minute short film titled Nickel Children (not to be confused with the 2005 feature film The Nickel Children), which could be variously called a steampunk or a weird western film.  

The basic plot is that in the late 1800's Kansas, a young orphaned boy is held captive with other children for the pleasure of adults. The boys are forced to fight each other while the grown ups bet on the winners and losers; the girls dance with heavily made up faces to entertain the men.

For a 16-minute indie film shot in only five days, Nickel Children has a lot of promise.  The costuming, sets and effects place it squarely in the steampunk/weird Western realm. Acting is perhaps the biggest weakness of the film, which should not be too surprising since children are such a major focus of the film.  The only exception is with the dancing girls with their painted faces. Even beneath the makeup, Eslinger manages to capture a genuine look of lostness that still haunts me.

Paul Green, who put together the Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns, reviewed Nickel Children for his blog and said how much he appreciated a Weird Western film that wasn't about vampires or zombies. Some viewers might have trouble with a story about child exploitation and trafficking, but I think it makes you really care about the characters that much more.

I wold love to see what this film would look like with more resources and a longer running time, but for now, I'll give Nickel Children a 4 out 5.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Westerns as American Fantasy

(NOTE: I previously recorded this as a response to the "Westerns: The Original American Fantasy Genre" episode of the Strangers and Aliens Podcast)

I never thought much about it before listening to the episode. As a Texan, I grew up with a great appreciation for the Western as a genre; that probably started with reruns of The Lone Ranger and other shows on TV.

Speaking of The Lone Ranger, it started off as an Old Time Radio program. The creators also launched another  OTR program that featured the great grand-nephew of the Lone Ranger: Brit Reid, also known as the Green Hornet

As an adult, I've developed a fondness for the "Weird Westerns," which are Westerns that have been "nerd-troped" by taking the classic Western and adding supernatural, horror, sci-fi and straight up fantasy elements. The best examples of this are The Wild, Wild West TV show and Cowboys and Aliens.

Looking at Western movies, especially those of John Ford, they emphasized the mythic nature of the Western. This plays to the American Monomyth, an interpretation of Joseph Campbell's study of myth based on the American experience.

Italy and Greece have their myths, the Nordic peoples have their Viking sagas, the Middle East has their 1001 Nights, and the British Isles have their tales of King Arthur and Robin Hood.

The US has the Western, which is a celebration of those individuals who left the comforts of civilization to brave the the wild frontier and tame it.

It has also been noted that the Dungeons and Dragons game has more in common with Western tropes than it does with those of Medieval Europe.  In fact, Western tropes find their way into other genres, the most famous example of which is Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. Kurosawa took tropes from the American Western and applied them to the samurai films of Japan.  His attempt was so successful, it was easy to translate the tropes back into the American Western The Magnificent Seven.  Another film that has taken the Western tropes and imported them into a film that reflects its native culture is Korea's The Good, the Bad and the Weird. It is a great Western fantasy, just not an American Western fantasy

If you want to check out one of the earliest forms of the literary Weird Western, go to the PulpGen website  navigate to the list of authors, and find the Lee Winters stories written by Lon Williams.  (start near the bottom of the page and continuing on for the next couple or so)

Friday, May 24, 2013

Geeky Playlist

In celebration of Geek Pride Day, tomorrow (May 25), I am loading up my mp3 player with my favorite geeky tunes. Below is the playlist (with some additional comments as I felt necessary).
  • A-Team Song
  • Airship Pirate by Abney Park (Abney Park is a steampunk-themed band)
  • Battlestar Galactica Theme (from the original 1979 series)
  • Breathe by Abney Park
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Neil Norman
  • Buck Roger’s In The 25th Century ( this is the TV version of the theme) 
  • Cup Of Brown Joy (Tea Bag Remix) by Professor Elemental (a british hip-hop song extolling the joy of tea)
  • Dragnet 88 by The Art Of Noise 
  • Existential Blues by “T-Bone”Tom Stankus (digs into philosophy and turns the Wizard of Oz on its head)
  • Florin Dance by Mark Knopfler (this is from The Princess Bride Soundtrack –my #2 favorite movie)
  • Green Hornet by Al Hirt
  • Nerdy Girl by Nerdy Girl
  • Istanbul (Not Constantinople) by They Might Be Giants
  • Max Headroom Theme
  • Metropolis Medley by Gottfried Huppertz (the 1927 soundtrack of the original SF epic film, and my all-time favorite flick)
  • Metropolis Soundtrack (by Giorgio Moroder, from his 1983 release version with a rock soundtrack by people like Pat Benatar, Freddie Mercury, and others)
  • Mission by Beats Antique (another Abney Park-style band)
  • Mission Impossible (1988)
  • The Monkey’s Won’t Do from The Animaniacs
  • The Mummers Dance by Loreena McKennitt
  • The Munsters TV Theme
  • One Night in Bangkok by Murray Head (This song manages to make a chess tournament cool)
  • Original Theme Song Batman
  • Paranoimia by The Art Of Noise (featuring Max Headroom)
  • Paranoimia by The Art of Noise (another version featuring Max Headroom. Can you detect a theme here?)
  • Particle Man by They Might Be Giants
  • Peter Gunn Theme (The Twang Mix) The Art Of Noise 
  • Purple People Eater by Sheb Wooley
  • Puttin’ On The Ritz by Taco
  • The Raiders March by John Williams
  • She Blinded Me With Science by Thomas Dolby
  • Sirius by The Alan Parsons Project
  • Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron by The Royal Guardsmen
  • Star Trek Theme Song Remix By Lab Rat
  • Star Trek TOS Introduction
  • Star Wars Cantina Song by the London Symphony Orchestra
  • Star Wars by John Williams
  • Storybook Love by Willy DeVille and Mark Knopfler (the Theme from The Princess Bride)
  • Suspension (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) by Kip Lennon (this is the same theme as the TV series, but with LYRICS!)
  • Time Warp from the Rocky Horror Picture Show Soundtrack
  • Video Killed The Radio Star by Pentatonix (Pentatonix is an  awesome acapella group that does some amazing things in their arrangements)
  • The Wake by Abney Park
  • The Wild Wild West Theme 1965 – 1969 (this is the TV series theme)
  • Winchester Cathedral by The New Vaudeville Band 
  • Witch Doctor by David Seville
  • Wonder Woman (TV theme song)
What are some of your favorite geeky tunes?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

First Quarter Resolution Update

Here we are, closing in on the end of the first quarter of 2013. It has been an interesting year so far, full of busy-ness that I hadn't expected.

However, I did have some expectations for what I wanted to accomplish by the end of this year, so I thought it might be a good time to review progress so far on my resolutions I made at the first of the year.

For review's sake, Here is the original post of my Goals and Resolutions.

1.  Lose at least 15 pounds. Not a good report here. Although I have been monitoring my weight weekly, I have not lost an appreciable weight.  Of course, I have not gained any appreciable weight either.  I'll take maintenance as a positive thing, and since the weather is warming up, I'll start walking my neighborhood soon.

2.  Read through the Bible in a Year. I can't say that I have been terribly consistent with this either, but I rather than beat myself up over the lack of consistency and then quit, I have found that with thWord on the Street paraphrase I can catch up quickly, so I haven't really gotten behind.

3.  Be More Creative. I have recently submitted a new setting to Asparagus Jumpsuit for consideration. However, I can't really count this, as it's a project I worked on a couple of years ago with someone else.  No, I'm afraid I'm more frustrated with this than anything else. I get home from my grown-up responsibilities, and the last thing I want to do is expend more brain power, even if its on something creative that I want to do. I must overcome this.

4.  Our Dream Vacation.Sadly, all of the tours we've looked at are still just out of our price range.  We may have to scale these plans back, at least for now.

5.  Be more intentional in my faith. Again, one that's been hit and miss, although I feel like its been more hit than miss, which is encouraging. I do find that I seem to be more spiritually weak when I'm physically and mentally exhausted.  One of the things I've been thinking a lot about lately is that mankind is tripartite in his makeup.  That is, people are composed of spirit, mind and body (cf. Matthew 22:37).  There is a unity in the three parts that when we focus on one area and ignore the others, we do harm to the person as a whole. So I plan to monitor that and be on guard when that occurs.

This is a good way for me to accountable, so Look for another update in three months or so!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Geeky Childhood Influences

On a recent episode of the podcast The Sci-Fi Christian, the hosts (Matt Anderson, Daniel ‘The Other Guy’ Butcher and Koby Radcliffe) spotlighted their “Top 5 Childhood Influences.” It was a pretty cool episode and got me reminiscing about some of my favorites from my not-quite-misspent youth.

I list them below, honorable mentions first, followed by the top five, ranked from five to one*:

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: The prototypical steampunk adventure movie. It was also my favorite ride at Disneyworld.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Spielberg's classic movie about an alien invasion that turn out to be benign.

Incredible Hulk: This was the second superhero series I saw. I think the recent movies (except for The Avengers) fail to capture the pathos of the character.

Mission: Impossible: I loved this uber-cool spy series that relied a lot on misdirection.

Six Million Dollar Man: The series about transhumanism before transhumanism was ever in the public consciousness.

Space: 1999: Yes, I know that the physics were improbable, the plots were often silly and the effects were occasionally dicey. But the designs of the Eagle transport ships were iconic, and still remain among my favorites.

Star Trek (TOS): This was probably the first live action science fiction series I ever saw. 'Nuff said.

Super Friends: More superheroes, I got exposed to other characters I might not have otherwise.

The Wild, Wild West (TV series): Another espionage series. It merged the iconic American Western with the British spy genre typified by the James Bond series. It also can be considered a proto-steampunk series as well as a good example of the Weird Western. It just missed making my top five list.

Wonder Woman I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This was the first live-action superhero TV series I ever saw, and loved the character.

#5 Tintin: When I visited my grandmother, she had copies of a kids' magazine that had serialized adventures of Tintin. I always found the stories to be rollicking good fun.

#4 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century: Like Space: 1999, Buck Rogers was cheesy good fun, but it had the distinction of being the first current SF series I could watch. It also helped that it connected me to sci-fi's history.

#3 Starlog Magazine: This comes toward the end of my childhood. Starlog was perhaps the first SF fan magazine that really opened m eyes to the breadth of fandom.

#2 Robert A Heinlein juvenile novels: I really got hooked on the possibilities of space travel and the fun inherent in sci-fi by reading Robert A. Heinlein’s novels like Have Space Suit Will Travel, The Rolling Stones, Rocket Ship Galileo, Space Cadet and Between Planets.

#1 Star Wars: And by Star Wars, I mean (for all you whipper-snappers) the original 1977 George Lucas-directed film that you all know and love as “Episode IV: A New Hope.” This was the one that sucked me into the glories of geekdom.

*For the purposes of this list, I am defining “childhood” as middle school and below.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Spiritual Lessons from The Tick

I am the wild blue yonder. The front line in a never-ending battle between good and not-so-good. Together with my stalwart sidekick, Arthur, and the magnanimous help of some other folks I know, we form the yin to villany's malevolent yang. Destiny has chosen us. Wicked men, you face The Tick.

Just the other day, I recently watched the entire series run (minus one episode) of the live-action version of The Tick, starring Patrick Warburton.  I was not familiar with the character, and had never seen either the original comic, the animated series or this version.  My initial reaction was unprintable; not because it contained bad language, but because I couldn’t find the words.

In short, it is a funny, silly take on the superhero genre.  I loved the absolutely blithe innocence that the title character has. He has only one drive and that is to fight crime, wherever he finds it. Along with his trusty sidekick partner, Arthur. Arthur, whose moth-inspired costume gets him confused with a rabbit, hasn’t quite figured out his cool superhero name yet.  In addition, the Tick also partners up with two other characters, Batmanuel, a Latin hero who would rather be a lover rather than a fighter, and Captain Liberty, a feminist do-gooder who is employed by the government.

The eight episodes I watched was an entertaining deconstruction of the superhero genre. They focused on themes like how would superheroes function in the real world, how should superhero teams function (i.e., sidekick or partner?), the question of identity, and many others.  Another fun feature is the Tick’s habit of monologuing everything, functioning as the omniscient narrator of a comic book. His tortured metaphors and simple observations of morality are a joy to watch and listen to.

I couldn’t help but think of some of the themes and how they could resonate within the context of Geekklesia.  Our true identity is one we cannot run from. We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and we were created for the purpose of glorifying God (I Corinthians 10:31) and to do good works in His name (Ephesians 2:10). We are not expected to ‘go it alone’ (Genesis 2:18a), but to work in union with other believers (I Corinthians 12:20, 21, 25) to accomplish God’s ministry of reconciling the world to Himself (II Corinthians 5:20).

If you want a superhero series that is silly fun, you could do worse than the Tick, and I would encourage you to think about the themes outlined above.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Snow Queen

Let me begin by stating up front that I am not a ballet guy.

One reason I started this blog was so that I could explore the themes and tropes that I find in in the stories within the geek culture and see how they relate to what Tolkien referred to as “the True Myth.”  So I enjoy speculative fiction – science fiction, fantasy and the like.  Those themes are indeed present in many, if not most of the great stories – redemption, self-sacrifice, heroism the overwhelming power of good over the seductive yet ultimately self-defeating temptation of evil.

Speaking of Tolkien, he found much of the inspiration for his great masterpieces from what he called “fairy stories,” tales told and retold by Andrew Lang, the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.  One Anderson story, The Snow Queen, has been adapted by a troupe called Ballet Magnificat, a group based in Jackson, Mississippi by Kathy and Keith Thibodeaux. Kathy is the 1982 Silver Medalist at the II USA International Ballet Competition. Keith is a former child actor who played ‘Little Ricky’ on I Love Lucy and was the drummer for the band David and the Giants. Keith and Kathy see Ballet Magnificat as a way to glorify God through the arts.

This was my second year to see  Ballet Magnificat’s presentation of The Snow Queen. At this point, let me state once again that I am not a ballet guy. Having said that, Ballet Magnificat tells an engaging, scripturally rich tale of good versus evil, the commitment love and friendship, sacrifice and redemption.  This is an adaptation of the Anderson tale, but it is not as loose an interpretation as you might think, and the visuals they use to communicate the message as stunning.

Still not a ballet guy, but I would see this again.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Goals and Resolutions

This is a list of the things I’d like to accomplish by the end of this Year of Our Lord, 2013:

1.  Lose at least 15 pounds.  In order to do that, I need to pay more attention to my diet and get off my rumpus and move (i.e., exercise);

2. Read through the Bible this year.  I will be using a reading plan and Rob Lacey’s edgy Word on the Street paraphrase. Yes, I know its cheating, sort of, but I gotta start somewhere, right?

3. Be more creative.  I like to write some, and I’m drawn toward fiction. I’d like to write some short stories for the Ranger Co. X setting that has been recently published by Asparagus Jumpsuit. I’ve also started what was known in the pulps as a ‘novellette’ featuring my favorite characters from three of my favorite Old Time Radio series, Rocky Jordan, Chandu, the Magician, and The Ghost Corps. I really want to finish this one this year as well.

Also, when I was back in high school and college, I used to kitbash models of spaceships and the like using a hodge-podge of model kits and other bits of plastic. I’ve sort of been itching to do that again.

4. Take the Princess Bride off on a dream vacation. Namely, we have been talking about going to Ireland. We just need to do it. This year.

5. Lastly, but even more importantly, pay better attention to my relationship with Jesus. I have allowed myself way too often to become distracted.  I plan to use Jonathan Edwards’ “Resolutions” as well as John Wesley’s questions for self-examination and William Booth’s Eleven Questions.