Friday, November 30, 2007

Christmas with the Kents

December starts in about 25 minutes, so to start getting into the mood for the impending Christmas season (which I observe secularly despite being an atheist; I'm sorry if I offend), here's one of my favorite scenes from Justice League, from the episode "Comfort and Joy."

Enjoy, and happy holidays.


It occurred to me just now that Watchmen, Kingdom Come, and DC: The New Frontier form a neat trilogy or circle on the development of the super-hero over the last three decades, from deconstruction to reconstruction to new wholeness.

Am I all wet or am I on to something?

I Hate Cartoon Network

David Willis hits another one square on the head.

Seriously, what is up with Cartoon Network's bizarre scheduling issues? I used to get my anime fix on [adult swim] watching Fullmetal Alchemist, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Cowboy Bebop and they'd show like two new episodes before going back to reruns with no warning for months on end. And the shows they did show on schedule were obnoxious surrealist crap like Tom Goes to the Mayor and The Squidbillies plus other shit that weren't even cartoons (how the hell could they show Saved by the Bell on Cartoon Fragging Network?!). And the way they just casually belittled their viewers, like, "Yeah, we're so hip, we can insult our fan base, and that's cool 'cause it's postmodern." I FUCKING HATE CARTOON NETWORK.

Eventually I realized it'd be less frustrating to just rent the damn anime myself.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Oh, and while I'm here:

Lord Flashheart!!!


Speaking of D&D...

This is my first time playing, actually. Well, not technically: A friend in 7th grade invited me to join a game in the cafeteria once, but I was out as soon as he found someone cooler to play. (Heh.) I enjoyed reading both the rulebooks and the tie-in novels, and hung out on several D&D online communities, but because my social life (or lack thereof) precluded it, I never had a chance to get involved in an actual gaming session until my friend Michael invited me to join his online campaign with his wife Natania (also an old friend of mine), her sister, and her sister's boyfriend.

It's not quite the real tabletop experience (I sorely rue the lack of pizza, Cheetos, and Mountain Dew), but I'm still having an incredibly fun time. :) I'd been involved in role-playing before (see my award-winning post, "The Secret Origin of Filby Pott!"), but the thing about RP in a setting based on a book is that you're just not allowed to do anything notable that would change the setting in a meaningful way. Especially if you're a hobbit. On the other hand, RP in D&D is all about you, so there's no such limitation.

I'm also thinking of maybe -- just maybe -- starting my own D&D campaign once I feel confident in my grip of the game rules. That would be fun.

Just on the border of your waking mind...

I already posted this before, actually, but no one was reading my weblog at the time, and it's just awesome enough to post twice.

From the people who brought us Neon Genesis Evangelion and FLCL: Feast your eyes on the Holy Grail of anime fandom, circa 1983. It's all been downhill from there.

Monday, November 26, 2007

What Vow of Celibacy?

So I'm playing D&D today, and my character is a woman, when I get in a fight with another character, who is also a woman (but disguised as a man with a spell) because she called me a fool and a coward. So one of the other characters, a male cleric, casts create water and drenches us both.


Goddamn it, my foremothers didn't win me the right to vote and own land just so I could get leered at by some nerd in a robe!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Four-Color Politics

I've been thinking about writing this post for a very long time now, but my last post got me thinking, so now I've finally gotten around to it. It's weird, I know, but I enjoy trying to extrapolate political views from different fictional characters, and comics are no exception. Yeah, I have too much free time on my hands, wanna make something of it?

So without any ado...

Superman: Clark Kent votes Democrat, no question. His core guiding principle is that ordinary people can't defend themselves against certain things, be it alien invaders or poverty, and that it's his duty to help them. He's also a journalist, which is a traditionally liberal occupation. Given that he's a farmboy from Kansas, he's probably a Christian and part of the Religious Left, like Jimmy Carter or the late Martin Luther King: He believes his faith compels him to help the needy, but not to try and convert others or sign what he believes to be right on a spiritual level into law.

Batman: The (city) government is Batman's enemy: Like a criminal organization, it's got its fingers in everything; it's hopelessly corrupt, serving only its own ends. Batman believes he knows what's good for people better than they do. People need to be protected, but they don't need to know they're being watched. Plus he's a wealthy industrialist. Bruce Wayne is definitely a Republican.

Wonder Woman: Since she holds a title of royalty in another country, Wonder Woman can't be an American citizen and vote in our elections. She's not a monarchist, since she turned her duties as the Amazons' sovereign (back when her mother, the queen, was out of commission) over to an elected chancellor. She's strongly feminist and environmentalist, is a vegan, and has pagan religious beliefs. Diana can't vote for them, but I'd say she's probably an advocate of the Green Party.

The Flash: I can't say much about Barry Allen because he died long before I started reading comics, but it's been established in-continuity that he was a moderate Republican in the mold of Dwight Eisenhower, and it fits. He came from a small town in Illinois, was pro-capital punishment, and was socially conservative.

Green Lantern: Green Lantern was often paired with the far-left Green Arrow as a staunch moderate who never really questioned the status quo. I'd guess Hal Jordan is a swing voter; given his philosophy of rugged individualism, he probably leans toward Republican.

Aquaman: Atlantean monarchist. ;) I don't know much about Arthur's history, but he seems to rule Atlantis as a benevolent dictator.

Martian Manhunter: Thoroughly non-political. Though he's been on Earth since the '50s, J'onn J'onzz lived for much longer on an alien planet with a communal, telepathic social system that just doesn't map to anything we humans have come up with. If you reaaaaally stretch it you could call him an anarcho-communist.

Green Arrow: As mentioned above, Green Arrow is very far-left. He's the kind of pinko liberal your parents warned you about. In fact I'd say Oliver Queen is a "stealth" Socialist who votes Democrat in the same way Ron Paul is a Libertarian in Republican's clothing.

Hawkman: Very far-right. He believes in strict social rules, that the poor need only pick themselves up by the bootstraps to get ahead, and is intensely hawkish (groan) in his views on foreign policy. Carter Hall is undoubtedly a Nixon Republican. I'd bet he listens to Rush Limbaugh every day. In fact, scratch that: He probably has Rush Limbaugh on his speed-dial.

The Question: I doubt any of my non-comics-reading friends have ever even heard of him, but I can't leave him out. It's no secret that the late Vic Sage was a radical objectivist conspiracy theorist with an acute distrust of anything vaguely resembling government. Not a Libertarian -- even further than that. "Ayn Rand? Ayn Rand didn't go far enough!"

Captain America: As the "ultimate American" I think it's dangerous to tie Cap down to any one political ideology. That said, I think it's been established that Steve Rogers was a WWII-era New Deal Democrat, and that makes a certain amount of sense to me, given that he was a young lower-class New Yorker. He'd be more militarily inclined than modern Democrats and believe in the use of force, but still believe in social programs to help the poor.

Iron Man: Tony Stark is a billionaire weapons manufacturer, so there's no way he's anything but Republican. Possibly leaning towards Libertarian since he's not the type to push his ideals on others, but since he's all about his own power base he'd throw in with the GOP for the greater support they can give him.

Thor: Being a physical god, he's pretty much above human politics, much like the Martian. I don't know enough about his former alter ego, Donald Blake, to gauge his politics.

Spider-Man: Peter Parker is a middle-class high school teacher from New York, so he's probably a Democrat. That fits with his role as the protector of the little guy.

The Hulk: Hulk hate federal government. Hulk just want to be left alone. Hulk vote Libertarian.

You tell 'em, Hulk!

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And to think, all this time I had Hulk pegged as a Libertarian.

Gaming Idiocy

A hat-tip to Ami Angelwings.

I think this story pretty adequately sums up just why I avoid video game culture like the plague: It's filled with pathetic, small-minded men with the mentalities of 15-year-old boys.

I think the thing that bothers me the most is that these people don't realize that saying,

"That professional woman deserved to be harassed because she wore cute dresses in front of repressed nerds. She brought it on herself!"

is the same line of thinking that leads to,

"That rape victim deserved what happened to her because she wore revealing clothes. She brought it on herself!"

or, if you want to take it to its extreme (and I realize this is hyperbole),

"That rape victim deserved to be stoned to death in the name of Allah because she inflamed her attacker's passions by her feminine nature. She brought it on herself!"

See what I mean?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Haruhi Suzumiya: Two Songs

I'm at a loss for anything serious to write. I've got math finals next week and have to start reading Oedipus Rex (which I already studied in high school... feh), so I don't feel up to any in-depth posts. So in lieu of such, here's a cool video with brief commentary.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya was pretty much the anime smash-hit of 2006, proving wildly popular with fans worldwide. What follows is my favorite scene from the series, from episode 12. To my knowledge this is the best animation (from a technical standpoint) to grace the small screen in the history of the medium. Seriously, just watch the detail on those drums and guitars.

The music's your typical J-pop fluff, but hey, it's pretty damn rousing.

Can't wait for the second season...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Seven Things You May Not Have Known About Filby

I was tagged by DJ Black Adam some two weeks ago and am only now getting around to it. Exam season's a bitch, I tells ya.

Please follow the rules of this game to the best of your ability. The rules of the game are:

A). Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog...

B). Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself...

C). Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs...

D). Let each person know that they've been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Facts About Filby

1) I'd really like to call myself a Democrat, but as long as the Congressional Dems keep being such spineless paper tigers I'm ashamed to do so. Until times change, I'm alone in independent Nader-land...

2) I first got into anime when I saw Fullmetal Alchemist, Record of Lodoss War, and Project A-Ko all in the same week by chance.

3) I got into comics because I was hyped about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie (boy, was I let down) and read Alan Moore's graphic novel of the same name. I got into DC specifically when I read Kingdom Come on a whim the week after that.

4) I think that Mister Terrific really should team up with Zauriel sometime. The angel and the atheist, tell me that isn't a great story waiting to happen. They could hang out at a bar and have deep theological discussions or something.

5) My favorite president is either Abraham Lincoln or John F. Kennedy, depending on the day. My least favorite president is Warren G. Harding (Dubya comes in a very close second).

6) I'm pretty picky in my taste for music. I can't stand country, rap/hip-hop, metal, religious music, punk/emo, or the Beatles. I do like Canadian folk rock, though.

7) I cry easily at movies. Like, when Sam carried Frodo up Mount Doom, man, I was bawlin'.

I elect to break the rules and tag NOBODY! Mua-ha-ha!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Whisperer in the Dark

"And he shall put on the semblance of men, the waxen mask and the robe that hides and come down from the world of seven suns to mock..."

Check this out. It's a trailer for an adaptation of one of my favorite weird tales, Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness."

Pretty classy, huh?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thoughts on El Goonish Shive

Be aware that THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. You have been warned.

The week before last I spent about four days plowing through the archives of El Goonish Shive, a webcomic by one Dan Shive. I'd heard it mentioned in passing across the geeknet and seen it linked to from numerous other webcomics I enjoy but never felt inclined to look into it. It wasn't until I read John Solomon's negative review (which I admit is a redundant description and again, that review also contains spoilers), which basically boils down to "This comic is shit but not utter shit," that I decided to give it a try out of morbid curiosity to see just how bad it was.

And I ended up liking it.

You read that right: John Solomon made someone a fan of a webcomic. The end times are here.

"One big awkward moment." Shive himself describes EGS as such, and it fits. I'll be perfectly honest here: Some weird shit goes down in this comic. Men turn into women, women turn into squirrel-women, people shrink... there's clones and goo monsters in there... it's just blatantly obvious that the comic came into existence mainly as a means for Dan Shive to express his weird sexual kinks, albeit in a highly self-censored PG-13 manner. On the one hand, I've got to respect the guy for being true to himself and not caring what others think of him.

On the other hand, ewwwwwww.

A word on the title, "El Goonish Shive:" It means nothing. As Shive notes in his FAQ, he just couldn't think of a better title and took his high school nickname ("the Goon"), stuck it in front of his surname, threw in a little Spanish, and called it a day. Probably not the most auspicious start for a webcomic, but at least it's distinctive.

I should elucidate on the plot. From its beginning the comic revolved around two ordinary high school juniors, Elliot and Tedd, getting into bizarre sci-fi/fantasy situations. We quickly find out that they're not very ordinary at all, though, as Elliot is a practitioner of mystical anime martial arts and Tedd is a mad scientist who enjoys turning himself into a girl for jollies. And I never thought I'd ever type that sentence. They're joined in short order by Grace, a mysterious girl with bizarre powers and no past; Nanase and Justin, Elliot's fellow martial artists; Ellen, Elliot's opposite-sex clone (!); Susan (real name: Tiffany), a dour man-hating feminist (blah); and Sarah, a genuinely ordinary high school junior who just happens to hang out with them. If all of that sounds downright bizarre and/or offensive... well, it is. Bizarre, anyway. The offensiveness depends on your tolerance for weird shit.

I will never understand "furries" (ie, those fixated, sexually or otherwise, on anthropomorphized animals). If it ain't human I just don't find it attractive. I make an exception for elves (just humans with funny ears, really) and I don't have a problem with characters like Tigra for instance because she's still human but with a few extra parts glued on (it's not like she has a goddamn muzzle), but straight-up furries, animals walking like humans, that's just a huge turn-off. And it just so happens that Grace is a human-squirrel hybrid. A weresquirrel, I guess. She spends most of her time as a human, but the fact that her boyfriend (and apparently Shive's vicarious stand-in, at least in the earlier strips) Tedd is incredibly turned on by her... rodentness... weirds me out.

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Tedd vs. Susan. These two panels sum up just about all that is wrong about El Goonish Shive.

The whole gender-bending aspect of the comic (of which there is considerably more) doesn't bother me as much, mainly because at least everyone stays human. Oh, and I sat through seven or eight seasons and thirty trade paperbacks of Ranma ½, so I'm pretty thoroughly desensitized to sex-changing hijinks. And honestly, I think it's a very effective tool for either exploring gender issues (see: Woolf's Orlando) or as comedy (see: Tootsie), so I don't complain. The only thing that bothers me is that it's very much a sexual thing for Tedd (and by extension Shive), which again, I don't get. No matter how attractive "she" may be on the outside, I can't get myself worked up over a girl who's mentally a straight male.

From the way I've spoken of the strip so far, you may come to the conclusion that there's nothing good about this comic. And honestly, the first year or so of strips are really not that impressive. The art was pretty bad and first couple story arcs seemed to exist mainly as a vehicle for Dan Shive's various turn-ons, as noted above.

I think the turning point was the "Sister" story arc. Elliot is turned into a girl against his will by Tedd's plot-convenient MacGuffin transformation-inducing ray-gun, which conveniently promptly breaks, making it impossible for him to turn back until it gets repaired. Prompted to seek out another plot-convenient MacGuffin a magical curse-removing diamond, upon touching it he's split into two separate people -- his old male self, and the living manifestation of his "curse," his female self. Tedd explains that the female Elliot, dubbed Ellen, may fade into nonexistence in a month; Ellen, hearing this, is filled with rage at "her" situation and endeavors to spend the remainder of her short existence making life hell for Elliot for thrusting her into this situation. Before long, however, Tedd learns that he was wrong: Ellen will not fade from reality, and is in fact putting herself in danger by acting so self-destructively. He, Elliot, and the rest of their friends finally manage to talk some sense into her just as she's about to charge suicidally into battle against a monster attacking their school; she has a change of heart, manages to defeat the creature without ending her own life, and finally accepts that she's not Elliot (despite having memories of living as him up to that point) and learns to cope with her new life -- as Elliot's newly adopted twin sister.

There's a certain glimmer of maturity that starts to creep into the comic with this storyline. For the first time the issue of changing one's gender is played straight, as Ellen comes to grips with her existence separate from Elliot and starts to build herself a new identity. It's Ellen's journey of self-discovery, culminating in the later "Grace's Party" storyline, that most gripped me, and by the time I read up to the end of the archives Ellen had become my favorite character.

The next storyline, "Painted Black," reveals to us Grace's origins and continues to build on the comic's newfound depth. Where before Grace had been this pretty-looking cipher whose only role was to indulge Tedd's transformation fetishes, "Painted Black" sheds light on the ramifications (and indeed, the horror) of being a half-human/half-animal creature who was never meant to exist, and forces Grace to take her life into her own hands for the first time as she personally faces the arc's ultimate villain in single combat. Grace's three "brothers" -- Guineas, Hedge, and Vlad; three guesses what animals they're based on -- had up to this point been built up as these shadowy monsters with no motives but evil, but over the course of the arc they're revealed as scared, tortured, and above all human individuals who've been thrust into this life against their will. By the end of the storyline, the three are given a chance at redemption, and contrary to standard conventions, they all take it.

It's the following long storyline, "Grace's Party," that cemented me as a fan of El Goonish Shive. Still reeling from her ordeal in the previous story, Grace sets about to celebrate her eighteenth birthday, and decides to throw a sex-change party. And that's yet another sentence I never thought I'd write. It's to please Tedd, of course. So the whole cast gets together and (minus Ellen, who'd already been through enough sex-swapping by this point) switches genders. Yes, it's a pretty ridiculous excuse to engage in some transformation-fetish fanservice, but Shive also uses the opportunity to get into the psychology of gender, with very interesting results.

One thing I liked was that this was the first time that the female characters switched over to males; up to this point it was strictly male-to-female. That's how it always seems to play out in transgender fetishism: The male body is the norm, and the female body is something "other" to be changed into. Male body: Subject. Female body: Object. Shive finally throws that out the window in this storyline and, as noted, actually goes into how switching sex would affect people of either gender.

Either that or he's just an equal-opportunity perv. I can respect that.

This is the first occasion on which side-characters Justin and Susan take center stage. I particularly liked Justin's reaction to the idea of being a girl. Justin is a gay male, you see, and there's this widespread assumption in our culture that gay men want to be women (conflating homosexuality with transexuality, which are not the same), but Justin plainly asserts his masculinity. He's eventually coaxed into it out of curiosity (and other reasons I won't spoil), but I really appreciated that character beat.

Susan, on the other hand, eventually embraces the opportunity to see how the other (male) half lives for a few hours, mainly so she can confirm her preconceived belief that men are crude, violent, and lecherous by dint of their genes (as opposed to upbringing or whathaveyou). I'd strongly disliked the character up to this point, but these four pages here (pay no attention to the duck) represent a pretty impressive piece of character growth that made me like her a great deal: It's at this point that Susan makes the transition from a man-hating strawfeminist to a real feminist.

I've gone on long enough now, and should bring this to a close. I'm definitely going to follow the comic from here on out, but I still have a pretty major problem with EGS: The updating schedule, or lack thereof. I spent half a week reading straight through five years' worth of archives only to come to the most recent page, which hasn't updated since. In fact, it hasn't updated since October 24th. It's like running for four days only to slam into a brick wall at the end. Shive keeps posting amusing little filler strips every three days or so, but it's not quite as satisfying as the real thing. Oh, and his scanner's broken. *sigh* On top of that, the story moves incredibly slowly: I read "Grace's Party" in two days, but it took a year and a half real-time to publish those six-to-eight hours' worth of story. AND YOU THOUGHT BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS WAS BAD WITH DECOMPRESSED STORYTELLING.

I'll wrap it up here. Suffice it to say that I'm going to enjoy reading EGS in the future. And after reading this -- if don't mind a healthy heaping helping of weird shit -- maybe you will too.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Correction

I'm embarrassed and humbled to note that a song mentioned in my post the other day, "Ontario Sucks" by the Arrogant Worms, is in fact properly titled "The Toronto Song."

And it and "The White House Burned (The War of 1812)" are actually by Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie.

Uh... that is all.

Christ, that's one of the weirder posts I've made. Damn Canadians.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The More You Know, Eh?

Important facts I have learned about Canada from the Arrogant Worms and Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie:

  • Canada's really big.
  • Seriously, you can put like fourteen Frances into Canada.
  • Canadian mountains are very pointy.
  • Canadian prairies are not.
  • The rest of Canada is kinda bumpy.
  • Canada has a lot of rocks and trees.
  • And water.
  • Members of the Royal Candian Mounted Police don't technically have to be awake to do their job.
  • The White House burned, burned, burned, and Canada's the one who did it.
  • If you're going to be a pirate, Regina's the place to do it.
  • Toronto sucks.
  • Thunder Bay sucks.
  • Ottawa sucks.
  • Alan Thicke sucks.
  • ...okay, everything in Ontario sucks.
  • (Except Ami.)
  • Newfoundland sucks.
  • Prince Edward Island sucks.
  • Nova Scotia sucks.
  • New Brunswick sucks.
  • Quebec sucks.
  • Ontario sucks.
  • Manitoba sucks.
  • Saskatchewan sucks.
  • Each of the territories sucks.
  • British Columbia sucks.
  • Seriously, Ontario really sucks.
  • Alberta doesn't suck.
  • ...but Calgary does.

And now you know, too!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Take Me Home, Country Roads

I always feel a little guilty about my blogging habits when I go too long without writing a lengthly, thoughtful post. I've been working on a good long post for several days, but it's exam season, I've got a paper due on Friday, and I'm just generally worn out lately, so it may be a fair while before I post anything of substance.

To make myself feel like I'm writing more than excuses here, here's some music by John Denver.

I've never been into the whole folk music thing, but I've been on a minor John Denver kick lately. The man had a beautiful voice. A shame we lost him so early...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Two Stories Found

You find a lot of cool stuff clicking around the TV Tropes Wiki. Here's two creepy short stories I stumbled across via some outbound links:

All the Myriad Ways, by Larry Niven. I've been crazy for alternate universe stories (Infinite Crisis, etc.) for years, but not enough of them get into the effects the knowledge of parallel Earths would have on the general populace. This one does.

Daphne and Her Dog, by Rebecca Sean Borgstrom. I've not much to say about this one save that it's a hilarious and terrifying deconstruction of a certain enduring piece of pop kitsch.