Reel Talk

X-Men: Apocalypse May be the Platonic Ideal of an X-Men Movie

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There seem to be three inescapable constants when it comes to summer blockbusters. Michael Bay will always be allowed to make his terrible movies, they’ll cut up a young adult book series into more movies than there were books, and they’re going to keep making X-Men movies until we all die. So here we go. Another X-Men movie. They seem to come out like clockwork, despite the fact that they’ve been of questionable quality basically since the beginning. In 2011 things took a slightly positive move when they had a soft-reboot with X-Men: First Class, which worked far better than it should have. A fun prequel that was a period-piece set during the Cuban Missile Crisis. That movie probably shouldn’t have worked at all, but I really enjoyed it, despite some major flaws. Then a sequel inevitably came, set in the 70s, X-Men: Days of Future Past tried to tie the new series together with the old series. It attempted to adapt the classic comic storyline, introduce the Sentinels to the universe, and make sense of all the disparate time-lines and inconsistencies while sweeping away the movies people didn’t really like. Which should have set them up to do some great things. The slate had been cleared, they announced that there would be new, younger versions of classic characters like Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm that could spring-board into new adventures, and the great Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy would return for as Magneto and Professor X. Things sound great! But then thing started falling apart for me. It would be set in the 80s, and feature Apocalypse as the villain.

Now, I’ll say this right off the bat, I’m not the biggest X-Men fan. I mentioned this a bit in my previous Marvel Madness post about that storyline when the X-Men were saved by leprechauns, but the team has never been that compelling for me. I’ve been reading a lot of classic Chris Claremont written issues, and while they’re often pretty fun, it’s just not my cup of tea. Things get too crazy, there are way too many characters with too many powers, and there’s like six books at all times featuring them. It’s too much to keep track of, if you’re also focusing on the rest of the Marvel universe. And that usually carries over to the films as well. They’re alright. most of them don’t really blow me away, and compared to the stuff Marvel Studios is putting out, they’re not really working. And let me tell you, if there’s one thing that I can’t stand, it’s Apocalypse. While the character did come out in the 80s, he’s really the most 90s character that I can think of. And as I’ve said on this site before, the 90s are not a particularly fond decade in comics for me, especially from Marvel. So yeah, having Apocalypse feature as the villain of the movie was a huge red flag for me, and boy was I right.

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The complicated plot starts off in Ancient Egypt with the the people worshiping their God/Pharaoh En Sabah Nur, a mutant who has some sort of technology allowing him to trade consciousness’ with people. And he uses that technology to continuously switch bodies with new mutants, extending his life and reign, and also picking up new powers with each transference. But not everyone is into having this important mutant rule them, so some of his followers betray him and trap him inside his transference pyramid, and cause it to cave in, trapping him in a rubble tomb, forgotten.

We then cut to the 1980s and catch up on our mutants. Since the last movie we see that Professor Xavier has continued to work on his school while getting new students, Mystique is travelling around the world saving mutants from weird German sex clubs/mutant fighting rings, Magneto is working in Poland with his wife and daughter, and Moira McTaggert is still investigating mutant related crimes. We’re also introduced to some new characters, Scott Summers and his newly developed optic blasts, Jean Grey the weird girl in Xavier’s school no one wants to talk to, Storm the Egyptian pickpocket, Nightcrawler who is being forced into the aforementioned mutant cage-fights. The characters all kind of meander around for a while, hanging out together and catching up while noticing that no one seems to be aging over the several decades they’ve known each other. But things start happening when Moira accidentally awakens En Sabah Nur (let’s just call him Apocalypse) from his tomb. He pops out of the ground and starts using all of his ridiculous powers while also learning everything there is to know about the culture he missed by absorbing knowledge from Storm’s TV. And once he’s caught up he decides that he needs to do what he does best, find some random mutants to be his Horsemen and try to destroy the world.

So Apocalypse grabs Storm, Archangel, Psylocke, and after wiping out his wife and kid to somehow make his backstory even more depressing, Magneto, and amps up their powers to ridiculous levels while also convincing them that he’s a messiah that will solve all of their problems. And that becomes an issue when our heroes all meet up at the X-Mansion to discuss Magneto’s reappearance back in the world. And while there they plug Xavier into Cerebro in order to find Erik, and end up accidentally letting Apocalypse know about Xavier and his vast powers. So Apocalypse does what any megalomaniac would do, and uses his abilities to take over Xavier so that he can use Cerebro to make military officials all over the world fire every nuclear weapon on the planet into space. Yep, Apocalypse is pulling a Superman IV: Quest for Peace. And I guess it works, because now that no government on Earth has the weapons to stop him, Apocalypse and his Horsemen are going to destroy everything man has created, returning the world to the Stone Age so Apocalypse can rule them even easier. Which he accomplishes basically by telling Magneto to do all the work. Because now that he’s all amped up, Magneto can pull every bit of metal in the whole world to him, so they start destroying the world while Apocalypse begins trying to transfer his consciousness into Xavier to gain his ability. But the X-Men, led by Mystique, show up to fight off the worthless three Horsemen and make it to the final two baddies. And since there doesn’t seem to be a way to stop Apocalypse and Magneto is ambivalent to the battles going on, they decide to fight Apocalypse in his mind! Which doesn’t go well, until Xavier is able to convince Jean Grey to let her inner-Phoenix free so she can roast Apocalypse in his mind and in the real world, which is aided by Magneto randomly deciding to work with the X-Men again. And once the god is stripped to his bones they head back to Upstate New York and keep on keeping on.

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So yeah, this was certainly the weakest of the new X-Men series, while not quite being as bad as some of the other low-points of the series. It’s mediocre. At best. There are some good parts of the movie, sure, but they are far and few between. Michael Fassbender is great as Magneto, as always, even though the character has very little to do and randomly switches allegiances like he does in all of these movies. The four new kids to the series playing Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Nightcrawler were all pretty good, and if they keep making movies with these kids as the stars, that should work. The Quicksilver scene was great, just like in the last movie, even though it lasted a tad too long. Plus, in the last movie Quicksilver had one great scene and left, this time he sticks around and gets a little tiresome. And that’s kind of it. McAvoy does a decent job as Xavier like he always does, but he mainly stays kidnapped for most of the flick, and there’s a particularly insane moment where they explain his baldness as a side-effect of Apocalypse’s mind-transference machine, instead of something simple like male-pattern baldness. Our two random Horsemen, Archangel and Psyclocke, were virtually not in the movie and didn’t need to be. Mystique still continues to be a character in these movies, despite being one of the most boring and bland characters they have. It’s been said before, but man is the worst thing that happened to this new X-Men series Jennifer Lawrence’s career. When she became a huge start they just kept having to bend over backwards to find ridiculous reasons to make this boring character integral to the plot. And then there’s Apocalypse. Listen, I love Oscar Isaac. The guy is amazing, and basically every movie I’ve seen him in he’s been amazing (I’ve seen both Sucker Punch and Mojave!) and I really think the guy is going to go down as one of the all-time greats. And it isn’t really his fault that the character is such a bore. He does a good job with what he’s given, which isn’t much. Apocalypse is just a boring character to me. He’s a boogie-man with virtually no motivation. They briefly touched on an interesting idea, having him be this weird cult-leader who is scamming weak-minded people by giving them their desires with no strings attached, but he quickly becomes a walking cliche while most of his dialogue becomes standard-issue villain monologue without any real insight into the character.

And here’s where we get to that crazy article title. Now, I’m going to say this again, but the X-Men have never quite been my thing. But what I’ve read from the 80s and 90s is pretty baffling. We can complain about the weirdness of all their costume designs, with all of their pouches, guns, bulging muscles, and exposed cleavage, but it’s much more than that. It’s a story thing. Reading X-Men comics from the late 80s and the 90s is just a confounding experience. There are too many characters to keep straight, the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired, plenty of characters just stand around to look cool without actually doing things, and you just generally feel like you’ve missed an issue or something. And honestly, this movie kind of nailed that aesthetic. This movie kind of felt like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. There was just too much going on, and it wasn’t properly edited together in a coherent way. Yeah, there was more heroism and it wasn’t so goddamn bleak and cynical, but it made just about as much sense. Even though this movie wasn’t particularly good, and felt like a complete mess, it pretty accurately captured the feeling of the comics from that era. So…it’s a success? Yeah, sure, why not. This one was kind of a swing and a miss, but the pieces are in place to make a fun movie next time. That is unless the call their bluff of a teaser and actually submit us to having to watch Mr. Sinister in a motion picture.

X-Men: Apocalypse was written by Simon Kinberg, directed by Bryan Singer, and released by 20th Century Fox, 2016

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S10 E13 – Homer to the Max

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Okay, first things first. This week is kind of rough. We end on a really emotional episode that made me tear up at the end, but for the most part, this week was kind of a drag. And after yesterday’s Super Bowl episode, let’s see Homer change his name and meet rich people!

We open up with the family eagerly preparing to watch some mid-season replacement shows, which Homer for some reason expect to be of any passable quality. Homer anticipates all of the shows to be great, and even has a score-card printed up to grade them. Although we do get a great gag about how easy animation is, and how you can change voice actors without even noticing, which is told to us by Ned Flanders, with a noticeably different voice. But Homer’s night starts to fall apart right after seeing a terrible comedy called Admiral Baby, that’s exactly what you think it is. This kind of bums Homer out, but they decide to keep going, and give a new police procedural, called Police Cops a shot. And it changes Homer’s life.

Police Cops is just a crazy procedural buddy-cop type show, with two exceedingly competent cops who murder a bunch of people who are stealing a bank. The family think that the show isn’t half bad, but what really starts to blow Homer’s mind is the fact that the suave, millionaire, playboy cop is named Homer Simpson. And because Homer has never encountered a fictional character with his name, he flips shit. And honestly, so does the rest of the town, who begin calling Homer to congratulate him on having a famous name, because Springfield is stupid. There’s even an article in the newspaper about it, which is hilariously buried deep in a paper with the headline “It’s War!!”

And as the town gets even crazier about the whole name thing, Homer starts to milk it, even wearing the signature scarf that the show Homer wears. And it all culminates in Homer and his friends gathering around Moe’s bar to watch the second episode of the show. However, it becomes clear that the pilot wasn’t quite working, so they shook some stuff up, and the Homer Simpson character has gone from a competent police officer, to a bumbling idiot comic-relief character. Which horrifies Homer. Especially when the rest of the town instantly turns on him, and starts to treat him like the idiot character.

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Homer quickly starts to go crazy, even after Lisa tries to explain the difference between fiction and reality, and how television production works. But I guess he has good reason, because everyone around town starts assuming he acts just like the character. Hell, the Plant workers even start to watch him while he works, assuming that he’ll do something dumb. He does, but that’s beside the point. Thing even get so bad that Homer start shunning the outside world, mainly because people just harass him at the mall, and he decides to become a weird recluse in the attic.

However the rest of the family aren’t on board for Homer becoming an insane person, and they recommended he maybe goes to talk to the producers of Police Cops, and see if they would change the character’s name or personality. So Homer gets over to the television studio, and has a meeting with the writers and producers of the show, as he starts to beg for his dignity. They don’t really listen to him, and only care about his exit when he walks into a cactus, giving them a new gag for their next episode. And when it becomes evident that they aren’t going to change the name of the character, and Homer is going to be trapped in this terrible world, he decides to sue the makers of Police Cops! And when that fails, he decides a better decision is to change his name to Max Power!

So Homer heads home, with his new name, and informs the rest of his family about his crazy life-change, without apparently even telling them. As usual, Marge isn’t happy that Homer made this ridiculous decision without her, but that’s not going to stop him, especially since he’s created a whole new shitty personality for Max Power, which quickly puts off the rest of the family. Although it does lead to the amazing scene of:

Homer: “There are three ways to do something. The right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way!”

Bart: “Isn’t that just the wrong way?”
Homer: “Yes, but faster!”

Great. And even though the family aren’t really on-board for Homer’s new name, it seems like everyone else is. Hell, even Mr. Burns remembers his name now.

But being Max Power really starts to pay off when he runs into a guy named Trent Steele at a department store, and they being appreciating each other’s names. Steele invites Homer and Marge over to some sort of fancy party for rich and important people, assuming anyone with the name Max Power has to be important. So they head out to the party and start rubbing elbows with the likes of Woody Harrelson, Ed Begley Jr, Lorne Michaels, and even Bill Clinton.

Homer and Marge start to have a good time, hanging out with all the famous people. There’s even a great scene where Bill Clinton starts hitting on Marge, only to leave because “Quebec has the bomb.” But the day takes a sour turn for Homer when it comes out that the real goal of it was to raise money and awareness to save trees. Homer pitches a bit of a fit, and that gets worse when everyone apparently has to go and chain themselves to trees in protest. Homer and Marge aren’t that happy about it, especially when the cops come. Eddie gets ready to swab Homer’s eyes with mace, and he freaks out, running away from Eddie. And since he was chained, that running starts to cut into the tree, until it comes down, knocking them all over like dominoes and decimating the entire forest. So Homer’s made an ass of himself, he’s kicked out of Springfield’s elite, and apparently changes his name back to what it belongs as.

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I’m not really sure how I feel about this episode. I remember really liking this one when I was a kid, and I think it was one of those that have been coming up more and more that played on syndication like crazy. But it just fell flat for me this time. Honestly, the part of the episode before he becomes Max Power is pretty great. I love the idea of Homer freaking out, and throwing his entire identity on some terrible show, because it used a character with his name. That’s a really solid joke, and one that probably could have played out the whole episode. But then he changes his name, and the episode just kind of fell apart for me. The whole Springfield Elite thing just didn’t work for me, and it felt like this could have been a goofy episode about Homer dealing with having the same name as a character, or an episode similar to “Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield,” where Homer is trying to get the family into the upper crust by changing his name. But as it was, there were two halves that just didn’t add up to much for me. Who knows, maybe I was in a weird mood. I usually love John Swartzwelder penned episodes, but this go-around didn’t click for me.

Take Away: If you have the same name as a fictional character, don’t let it ruin your life. Oh, and don’t change your name for virtually no reason.

 

“Homer to the Max” was written by John Swartzwelder and directed by Pete Michels, 1999.

 

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Lifetime of Simpsons

S10 E12 – Sunday, Cruddy Sunday

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Oh boy. Look what washed up today. A football episode full of weird and needless cameos, two of my least favorite things? Huzzah?

We start things off with something I assume everybody can relate to. Having to endure a field trip to the post office, also known as the most boring thing in the world. The Postmaster does his best to make it fun for the kids, which is a pretty Herculean task, and all he ends up teaching them about it zip codes, murder sprees, and the fact that mailmen steal your birthday money from cards. Which wasn’t really that entertaining for the kids. But he makes it up a bit by taking them to the dead-letter room where they’re all allowed to take one piece of undeliverable mail home. And Bart unfortunately pulls a coupon book.

Obviously a ten-year-old doesn’t really have any interest in a coupon book, so he gives it to Homer as a birthday present. Homer is stoked, even though it becomes clear that the coupons are all pretty terrible. But that’s irrelevant, because Homer is excited and heads out for a tango lesson, some terrible pizza, and a nice refreshing colonic. However, before he gets to all that, he stops by a garage to get his wheels balanced, which obviously leads to the mechanic claiming Homer needs four new tires, and a whole bunch of needless crap.

So Homer has to sit in the waiting room, on his birthday, defeated, as he struggles to keep his sanity. And that’s helped when a fellow sucker wanders into the waiting room, Wally Kogan. Homer and Wally hit it off pretty quickly, and decide to go grab a beer together at Moe’s, since the mechanics just keep laughing at them. And it turns out it was fate that Wally walked into Homer’s life, because we find that he’s a travel agent with a charter bus and free tickets to the Super Bowl, which happens to be in the next week or so. He then offers Homer the tickets and the bus, as long as he finds enough people to fill it. So Homer has a mission! We also get the ridiculous gag where they keep holding beers up to their lips and saying the names of the teams and the presidents, as if they were planning on airing this episode every year with updated names. Which baffled me as a kid.

Homer quickly gets to work, and ends up roping basically every male secondary character into the trip, even people whose names he doesn’t actually know. And once they have all the dumb guys in town in one place, they pile onto the bus, and head out to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Marge and Lisa need a plot, and they decide the only thing to do is make arts and crafts. So they start going through a bunch of craft-kits that they have, and Lisa shoots down the ones involving leather or clay. However she does find something called Vincent Price’s Egg Magic, which is the obvious winner.

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Unfortunately we can’t just stick around with whatever weirdness is going to be in that Vincent Price product, and we have to go look at the Springfield guys get to the Super Bowl. They get out of the bus, having made it disgusting, and start wandering around the fair that’s grown up around the stadium. We get a bunch of weird cameos from football players, like Rosey Grier hosting some sort of religious sermon in the Porta-Chapel, Troy Aikman doing caricatures, and Dan Marino tossing spirals to people.

Snooze. Let’s get back to the eggs! We cut back to the kitchen and see Lisa and Marge painting goofy little faces on some eggs. And when they’re done, the only thing left to do is attach the painted eggs onto some little plastic feet. However, it turns out the feet are missing! Oh no! So Marge calls up the company, and talks to either a recording of Vincent Price, or he’s survived death and is some sort of metaphysical monster. Either way, they order some feet, and screw with the people who actually care about what state the Simpsons live in my acting like it was about to be Ohio, but it turns into Oh-hi-ya Maude! So great.

Sadly that’s the end of the egg plot though, so let’s go back to the Super Bowl, where things aren’t going well. Turns out, as we learned earlier, Wally is a sucker, and the tickets he have aren’t real, which is proven by the fact that they don’t have the hologram, they claim a team called the Spungos is playing, and they’re printed on some sort of cracker. And the men of Springfield obviously respond calmly and with sanity. Psych! They start beating up Homer and Wally. However Homer isn’t ready to give up, and talks the guys into sneaking into the game. So they push over some guards and start running through the stadium, only to be caught immediately and put in a detention facility, where they continue to beat up Homer and Wally.

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We’re then treated to a hilariously skanky Super Bowl ad for the Catholic Church, which was truly hilarious. But after that’s over we cut back to the idiots in Super Bowl jail. They struggle to get out of the cell to watch the game, and the day is saved when Dolly Parton comes wandering by, and happens to know Wally. She busts them out of their cell before flying off to the Halftime Show, leaving the Springfieldians free to run around hooting and hollering.
They start looking for somewhere to watch the game, and just happen upon an empty private box. They flood inside, and start eating and drinking, since everything about a football game that isn’t the actual game is far more interesting. However, things hit a snag when the owner of the box shows up, and turns out to be billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch. He summons goons to attack our heroes, who run off again into the stadium, only to get swept up by the winning team. So they missed the game, but they get to party with the winner, and apparently steal some rings. The episode then ends with the hilarious nonsensical ending with John Madden and Pat Summerall recapping the episode, which is my job, before getting a bus ride home with Vincent Price, even though that “doesn’t make a lick of sense.”

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This episode. I don’t know, it doesn’t work for me, but it could be because it revolves around something I find so ridiculous. Stories about football and the Super Bowl aren’t really going to resonate with me, and this episode really didn’t have that many great jokes in it, at least as soon as they get on the football path. I really love the colonic joke, but once Wally shows up the episode becomes a pretty bad bore. Except for Rupert Murdoch, that stuff was hilarious, and I love that they actually got him to voice this weird caricature of himself. There is one caveat, and that’s the ridiculous egg subplot. You may have thought I was joking while discussing it in the rest of the article, but I really love that silly-ass plot. It’s so dumb, and the bizarre inclusion of Vincent Price, who may or may not be alive, was so funny and strange, and I love it so much.

Take Away: If you’re going cross-country to watch some stupid football game, maybe check to see if your tickets are legit. Oh, and don’t trust any product endorsed by Vincent Price.

 

“Sunday, Cruddy Sunday” was written by  Tom Martin, George Meyer, Brian Scully and Mike Scully and directed by Steven Dean Moore, 1999.

 

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Bat Signal

Issue 471 – “The Dead Yet Live”

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Welcome back everybody, it’s that time again to dive into the back issues of Detective Comics and pull up whatever weird little story my random number generator decides needs to be read. And today’s lucky winner is an odd little story from the late 70s, back when Batman was essentially a caped James Bond, travelling around the world solving crazy crimes. But this time we get a pretty simple story with Batman just hanging out in Gotham, dealing with some crazy doctors and evidently a man who can pull his own face off. Yep, there’s a lot to  take in with that cover, most importantly the fact that there was some kind of contest to be in the Christopher Reeve Superman movie, which sounds pretty rad. But that’s not important, let’s figure out why the dead are alive.

The issue starts off with a collection of gangster led by Boss Rupert Thorne, hanging out and complaining about how Batman always ruins their plans. This was apparently just after a couple-issue story, so the gangster fill each other in on the plot of the previous story, which basically revolved around some new villain called Dr. Phosphorous, and how he tried to kill Batman. The gangster complain about having to work with freaks, especially when it didn’t actually lead to anything. Batman apparently took down this Dr. Phosphorous, who had some sort of radioactive touch, and just ruined all of their plans, like he always does. Thorne then suggests that it’s time to quit playing around, and that they should just kill Batman. Basically everyone else in the room is pretty against that logic, and even mention the fact that Batman has never been able to bring them down, and that he’s always busy messing with the freaks in Gotham, so why rattle his cage and get him on their scent? It’s a legitimate question, but one that’s passed right over by Thorne, who is all about killing Batman at this point. Luckily though, Batman is aware of this conversation, because even though he’s still nursing some radioactive burns along his torso from his fight with Dr. Phosphorous, he’s still manages to shove himself down Thorne’s chimney to listen to their malevolent plans.

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Ho ho ho

So Batman hops out of the chimney, irritated that these gangster are planning on killing him. But instead of planning an elaborate comeuppance involving a fake funeral, he just decides to deal with that another day, and heads off to take care of his radioactive burns. Which really does seem like something you shouldn’t put off. So he hops down to the Batmobile, and drives downtown to the main building of the Wayne Foundation, which is apparently where the Batcave is in this era. He heads own a secret entrance in Finger Ally, which is great, and gets down to the cave where Alfred is waiting. The two commiserate about Bruce’s radioactive burns, and they agree that he needs some outside help. Luckily, some rich friend of Bruce’s has told him about an exclusive hospital for the super rich called the Graytowers, that works on some sort of “no questions asked” basis, and that should be able to cure his burns quietly. Which is weird, but whatever. So Bruce gives a call to his longtime love interest Silver St. Cloud, who we haven’t come across yet in this series, and lets her know that he’s breaking a date to go to the hospital.

So Bruce heads to the fancy hospital, and is allowed in since he’s so damn rich. He meets with the odd Dr. Tophunter, the chief of staff for the hospital, and I guess says the secret codeword that lets him to the fancy hospital. He also meets some woman named Magda, who does’t appear to be a medical professional, and just seems to be eye-candy. But that’s okay for Bruce, who gets oddly flirty, and starts hitting on Magda while she shows him to his room. Unfortunately, as soon as he gets into the room, he realizes some sort of trap has been sprung, and he passes out unconscious, while having a crazy dream that’s visualized with a crazy-ass splash page.

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Look at that! That is some Steranko-level weirdness right there. That shit needs to be painted on the side of a van! And after a night of vivid night-terrors, Bruce wakes up in a strange room, stripped down to his boxers, with a lot of questions. He decides Magda must have knocked him out with some chloroform perfume, and starts planning his escape. Which begins by politely asking if someone would let him out of the room. And that doesn’t go very well, because a surly orderly opens the screen in the door and informs Bruce that he’s a) not Bruce Wayne, and b) in a mental institution. And things just keep getting sketchier, because we see Silver show up to visit Bruce, and then get told that he’s in quarantine for his radioactive burns, and can’t be seen for days. Silver is a little taken aback about the radiation, but just leaves all the same.

Meanwhile, Bruce has gotten to his suitcase…which they didn’t confiscate, and opens it to reveal his Batman costume. So he suits up and starts heading out to figure out what the hell’s happening. He opens his window, and finds that there’s a fake wall near it, which provides air to his room while hiding the true face of the hospital from the outside world. Which is something a normal hospital totally has. So Batman climbs up onto the roof, figuring that he can find some way inside from there. And while that’s true, he first comes across two goons, which may or may not be giants. Some panels they were drawn as if they were ten-feet tall, and other times they were just Batman’s size, so I’m not sure exactly what was going on, but nevertheless Batman beats up two dudes, and finds Magda and Dr. Tophunter peeping out of a window at him. They freak out, especially when Batman comes crashing through the window. At which point Dr. Tophunter decides to abandon all pretenses, and just rips his face off, revealing himself to be Hugo Strange all along. Oh Hugo Strange, what an odd villain. Anyway, Hugo just flat out starts explaining his villainous plan with essentially no provocation, and tells Batman all about how he’s running a fake hospital for the rich with the intentions of hypnotizing them into being his army of millionaires. Which sadly isn’t anywhere near the strangest plot I’ve had on this series, so, good work Hugo. Unfortunately, even though Batman is able to knock Hugo out with one punch, the tables are turned once again when a venomous snake drops from the ceiling and bites Batman, knocking him out yet again. And when he wakes up he’s stunned to find that his mask is missing, and that Hugo totally knows how he is now!

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Oh no! Hugo Strange knows Bruce Wayne’s secret identity! That’s terrible! What’s Batman going to do about…wait…is this the end of the issue? Aw damn it! Another cliffhanger?! I’ve seriously picked three issues in a row that happened to be the first parts of larger stories? What the hell are the odds of that? This is getting ridiculous! I would even be up for reading like, a part two or something, even though that would be confusing there would still be some closure! I mean, once again, I’m going to make the bold prediction that Batman wins, but c’mon, I want to see Batman actually accomplish something! Because the last few weeks have primarily been stories where Batman just isn’t doing well at his job. He keeps getting caught in ridiculous predicaments, because we keep cutting before the finale. I’m barely seeing Batman do any detective work, because he just keeps getting trapped! And this time was a total accident. He wasn’t even meaning to run into Hugo Strange. He wasn’t investigating this sketchy-ass hospital, he was trying to get his crazy radioactive burns treated. The issue started off as if we were going to read about Bruce taking down Rupert Thorne, and instead he got sidetracked on a doctor’s appointment, and ended up getting his secret identity revealed. That’s not really what I expect to happen to Bruce Wayne, that’s more something I could see happening to Ultimate Peter Parker. Whatever. It was an okay issue with some fun 70s stuff, but it was more or less frustrating because of the whole cliffhanger thing. Now i just have to hope that next week I actually get something with a conclusion, because this is getting ridiculous.

“The Dead Yet Live” was written by Steve Engelhart and drawn by Marshall Rogers, 1977.

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This is one of my favorite Batman lines of all time.

Back Issues

I’m Genuinely Baffled by the Freakout Surrounding Captain America

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I don’t really review the weekly comics here on the site. I read pretty much everything that comes out, but for whatever reason I’ve never really been spurred to write a weekly recap of the stuff going on in the world of comics. Everyone talks about the comics coming out that week, I kind of prefer focusing on the crazy older stories that I look at in Marvel Madness and Bat Signal, because they can be more often than not forgotten and not getting the attention they deserve. But this week something happened that finally made me need to talk about a new comic. Because this week saw the release of Steve Rogers: Captain America #1, the new comic written by Nick Spencer and drawn by Jesus Saiz that features the triumphant return of Steve Rogers to the world of superheroics. For the last couple years Steve’s supersoldier serum has been neutralized, causing him to become an old man with no powers. But a couple weeks ago in the fun mini-even Standoff, Steve was blasted with energy from Kobik, a sentient Cosmic Cube that has taken the form of a little girl (comics are weird folks) which resulted in him regaining his youth and abilities. So our traditional Cap is back everyone! Yay! And Sam Wilson is still running around as Captain America as well in his own book from Spencer and Saiz. Yay! But what’s the problem? Well, the first issue ends with a bit of a twist, and it’s pissing off a lot of stupid people who don’t understand how comics work.

There’s a lot going on in this story. I’ll say right here and now that I really love the work of Nick Spencer. His crazy creator-owned book Morning Glories over at Image is one of my favorite books, and me and some friends have an ongoing group-text that gets dusted off any time a new issue comes out so we can wildly speculate on what’s going on in the book. I’ve also been a huge fan of his superhero work at Marvel, which can vascilate between the utterly hilarious Superior Foe’s of Spider-Man and the Astonishing Ant-Man, to more serious and twisty stuff like his work on Secret Avengers. He does good work, and I’ve been really loving his ultra-political take on Sam Wilson’s Cap book. So I was excited to pick up this new Captain America book, and wasn’t disappointed at all. The plot is twisty, and does a lot of legwork setting up the various plots that are going to be working during this run. We see Steve and his mother in the 20s, fleeing from his abusive father and meeting a modern and self-reliant woman, Steve in the present getting used to his powers and new shield while stopping a Hydra suicide-bomber, we see Red Skull setting up his new Hydra around racism, xenophobia, and other Conservative ideals, the new status quo at SHIELD where Maria Hill may be on the out and Sharon Carter on the in, the return of Jack Flag and Free Spirit as Cap sidekicks, the return of Rick Jones and his new place at SHIELD, and probably most hilariously, Baron Zemo’s pathetic attempts to create a more supervillain oriented Hydra and a new Masters of Evil. And all of these plots converge at the end when Cap, Jack, and Free Spirit attack Zemo and his new gang of losers. They have a fight, and Zemo escapes. Cap gets on board his escape plane, and so does Jack Flag, unbeknownst to Cap. And this is where the issue people are having occurs. Because we suddenly learn that that woman from the 20s was a member of Hydra, recruited Steve and his mom, and we cut to the present to see Cap throw Jack from the plane, turn to the camera and say:

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Cap’s in Hydra! He’s joined up with a group of villains that’s a thinly veiled ripoff of SPECTRE! Or are they Nazis? Or a centuries-old cabal of evil magic worshipers? It’s hard to tell, Hydra has meant so many things over the years, and changes rapidly. Kind of like how Red Skull and Zemo are each running independent organizations called Hydra in this issue? Yeah, Hydra is confusing. But one thing is for sure, THIS IS AN ABOMINATION, AND IT MAKES ME SO MAD, AND I’M NEVER GOING TO BY MARVEL COMICS AGAIN! Or, at least that’s what I would be saying if I was one of the legions of morons tweeting Nick Spencer death threats for this twist. Because let me tell you, people are pissed.

And I really can’t figure out why. I have noticed a strange correlation where most of the people who are being so loud about their hatred are also people who have recently been trying to convince Marvel to make Steve Rogers gay, for no real reason other than they like their Stucky fan-art on Tumblr. I have no problem with Steve Rogers being gay. I personally think it’s a little strange to randomly decide a character who has 75 years of being straight is now gay, but whatever. It feels like Marvel would be saying that Steve just “decided to be gay,” which is 100% not how that works. But whatever, if they made it a good story and it didn’t feel shoehorned in, I would be fine with it. But I get the feeling most of these people who are mad are more mad that Marvel didn’t bow down to fan entitlement, and change the sexual orientation of a character because they want it for their movies.  My best guess is that these are all people who have either a) never read a comic book before in their lives and are only familiar with the character from the MCU movies, or b) have maybe read a handful of comics after the movies were released, but have never read anything pre-2008. And either way, I would assume that most of these people have not actually read the issue, and are just mad about the last page, because otherwise I can’t wrap my mind around why people are mad. Yeah, Captain America is evil, and may have always been a Hydra sleeper cell. That’s not good, but it’s also the first issue in a new storyline. We know nothing. Anything can happen in the next few issues to reveal what’s actually going on. Because Steve Rogers isn’t evil. C’mon people. He’s been around for almost 75 years as a hero. This story isn’t claiming that he always was and always will be a Nazi. That’s ridiculous. We’re talking about Captain America here. This is a character who has been a werewolf, a Skrull, has traded places with the Red Skull through Cosmic Cube magic, and who has been dead. Yeah, remember, Steve Rogers died a while back! Things like this happen in comics all the time. Hell, a couple years ago during the Axis event, everyone’s alignments changed and all of the heroes briefly became villains. This stuff happens. This is Captain America, a character who has recently been bathed in reality-warping energy that regained his youth and powers. And you’re telling me he’s acting weird? After getting his reality warped? Odd. Oh, how about how his greatest enemy, the Red Skull, has recently weaponized the brain of Charles Xavier, and is using it to brain-wash people? Or how another of his villains, Doctor Faustus, routinely brainwashes people and plants false memories? Or how time travel happens all the damn time in the Marvel Universe, and maybe that woman who recruited them is a Hydra member from the present, gone back to mess with Steve’s past? I don’t know, just spitballing her, like people who actually are familiar with comics are doing.

And listen, I don’t want to be one of those assholes who are trying to discount your passion because you’re only into the movies, and have no interest in the comics. That’s cool, I’m glad you’re liking these characters. But the movies are very different from the comics. No matter how close they get, there’s always the fact that things don’t get as crazy for the movie characters as they do the comics book ones. Heroes rarely die in the movies, they don’t get imprisoned, they don’t get mind-swapped, nothing too crazy has happened in an MCU movie. Consequences don’t really stick. So if you’re only access point to these characters revolve around this notion, where Captain America has only been portrayed as this paragon of virtue and strength, and who has never really had a dark or twisted story, I suppose I can understand the idea of you being mad about this. To a layman, Captain America saying he’s a member of Hydra must seem like the truth. There’s no other explanation, because the MCU has never really lied to you before. But I’m someone who has read an unhealthy amount of comic books. I don’t trust this for a second. We’re pretty close to the 75th anniversary of Captain America, and Nick Spencer clearly loves the character. I’m sure we’re in for a story where one, if not most, of his villains are in on some scheme to rewrite his history. And just in time for the big anniversary he’ll snap out of it, through the strength of his character, and write the wrongs that have occurred to him. He’ll have some issues of course, I’m sure the other heroes will learn of the Hydra thing, and not trust him for a while, similar to what Peter Parker has had to go through since Doc Ock mind-swapped him, but in the end of the day, Steve Rogers will be back to the good old Captain America we know and love. Because that’s how comics work. People tell stories with these characters, and to tell a story you need conflict. Spencer doesn’t want to write just another Captain America story where he fights some random bad guy. It’s been done. The classic stories for these characters always revolve around something more important and crazy happening. Like Captain America thinking he’s in Hydra. So don’t freak out about this people. Nick Spencer is a good writer. We’re in good hands. This story will end up alright. But you need to give it a chance. Just don’t write it off without reading it, and assume you know everything because you’ve seen the last panel. That’s ridiculous. And don’t give creators death threats because they wanted to do something bold and weird with a character you love instead of giving him a male love-interest like you wanted. So give the book a read. It’s actually really good. It has drama, romance, humor, and action, really everything you need from a comic. So grow up, and enjoy a good story that’s only beginning.

Steve Rogers: Captain America #1 was written by Nick Spencer, drawn by Jesus Saiz, and lettered by VC’s Joe Caramanga, 2016

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Bloodhound

Here’s the First Chapter of a Failed Novel!

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Hey there people of the internet. So I’ve been trying my best to keep something up every day of the week here on the site, and it’s been going pretty well. Lifetime of Simpsons comes up every weekday, and Bat Signal every Sunday, so that usually just leaves Saturday to fill, which is usually pretty simple. Movie reviews, Marvel Madness’, or book reviews usually end up on Saturday, but I’ve been sick this week, and just haven’t had time to work up anything else, so I decided to do something a little different. A couple months ago I posted that I was attempting to write a novel, and self-publish through a service called Inkshares. That didn’t end up working, because that service required me to get a certain number of pre-orders, and I just didn’t have the time or skill to market myself well enough. And while I still want to do something with the story eventually, I’ve been kind of focusing on the website for a while, and tinkering with the novel only occasionally. I still want to give it a shot, or one of my multiple other stories, but for now I’ve taken a break from that. And since I had a Saturday with nothing really to put up (except maybe an article about all the stupid outrage over the new Captain America comic, that may end up being written) I decided to just toss up the sample chapter I wrote for my novel. It’s essentially a superhero noir story, revolving around a police detective who works in a city full of superheroes and supervillains. I still really like the story, and have it mostly mapped out, so someday I hope to get back to it, but for now check out the first chapter of Bloodhound, my novel that never really got off the ground.

 

Chapter 1

The rain had finally stopped. It had been raining the whole damn day. He hated the rain. Rain always brought out the worst scents in the city, washing away all the perfume and glamor, stripping it down to its base of urine and bad decisions.

The settlers called the city New Dover after the chalk cliffs they found reminded them of home. The land created a natural harbor which quickly helped establish New Dover as the gateway to the New World, setting it down the path to become one of the largest, most important cities on Earth. By the 21st century New Dover became the cultural hub of the world, the heart of the global economy, and home to the greatest technological and scientific innovations of all time. But since the 1930’s New Dover’s became known for something much different, the metropolis became home to the largest community of what most people call superheroes. The official name for these individuals was still Abnormals, even though civil rights movements around the world fought for more appropriate monikers. But regardless of if you called them Supers, Gifteds, Capes, Freaks or any other countless euphemisms; they would always be thought of as Abnormals.

Detective Marvin Morrison had been with the NDPD for close to fifteen years now. A member of the Abnormal Crimes Division, Marv was tasked with mopping up the crimes committed by the incalculable legions of Abnormal criminals. Bank robberies, museum heists, the occasional kidnapping, death ray related ransoms, and every once and a while the odd murder. Most of the time the Supers did the heavy lifting, swooping in in the nick of time to clobber the bad guys and dismantle their evil machinations, leaving Marv to deal with the paperwork and due process side of the equation. The law was a little fuzzy regarding Abnormal heroes, which created a bit of a minefield when dealing with the idiots who thought that they had what it takes to actually succeed at a crime in the city. Officially none of the Supers were deputized, and had no legal authority to arrest anyone. That’s where Marv and the rest of the NDPD came in. On the books the Supers were just well-meaning citizens, making citizens-arrests, letting the police do the actual incarcerations. Laws had been tweaked and rewritten to make vigilantism not-quite legal, but not-quite illegal either. It kept the Supers autonomous and gave the city a modicum of deniability when it came to the treatment the criminals sustained at their hands. But the government didn’t let the Abnormals run wild without facing any sort of culpability. Every Abnormal was registered with the government and given an identification card that listed their name, address, and ability.

And one of those identification cards was currently sitting in a special pocket on the wallet that held Marv Morrison’s badge. It had been a tradition of the NDPD to post Abnormals in the Abnormal Crimes Division, assuming that they would be somewhat more skilled in policing their own kind. But Marv had certainly drawn the short stick when it came to his Super Gene. Not everyone had an impressive power suite of flight, super strength and invulnerability like the Centurion, most Abnormals had much more mundane gifts. There was a subset of abilities that were generally known as “super senses.” And that’s where Marv’s gene had manifested.

Marvin Morrison had a superhuman sense of smell.

He could identify every person he’d ever met by their scent alone, and could track a person across the whole damn city. But it certainly had its downsides. People complained about the stench that came along with such a large city even without enhanced senses, and they had no idea what it was like to have such a delicate nose. Every sewer grate was a barely concealed cesspool that threatened to knock him unconscious. The accumulated smog that belched from the fleets of taxis and buses in the city choked the air out of his lungs with each breath. Nine million citizens were packed into New Dover, each with their own natural scents paired with hundreds of pungent perfumes and colognes, hundreds of food carts and restaurants, and who knows how many different smells from the ocean mixed together to create a miasma of smells that threatened a sensory overload so severe that it could trigger a complete mental breakdown. The Super Gene gave Abnormals amazing abilities, but the human body wasn’t evolved to deal with these gifts yet. Thankfully, Marv’s ability wasn’t constant, he could control in. One of the first things normal people asked when they found out Marv was an Abnormal was “how does it work?” The best Marv could ever explain it was that throughout the day, his sense of smell was just like everyone else’s, maybe a little sharper than the average person, but that was probably just because he was so used to relying on it that he knew how to process smells better than most, but if he wanted to use his ability, he just smelled…harder. It’s almost impossible to explain an ability to a normal person. It’s like describing sight to a person who was born blind. You can’t explain the effort it takes to see, you just do it. So whenever Marv needed to use his ability he just concentrated, and suddenly he could smell everything. It was like night and day. He usually only used his ability is quick bursts, no more than a minute at a time, otherwise he’d get slammed with a migraine from the sensory overload. But when he used his ability, it was incredible. Marv could smell a suspect begin to sweat, he could pick out the pheromones people released, hell, he could even go to a crime scene, sniff out a prep’s cologne and trace it around the room, recreating the path they took. It may not have been a glamorous, flashy ability, but it certainly came in handy.

At the moment Marv was sitting in his beat up sedan, sweating through the rumpled beige suit he wore on the job, and keeping a careful eye on a dingy apartment building across the street. A fat cigar was propped up in his mouth, oozing dark clouds of smoke into the car. A few years ago, an Abnormal who called herself the Panacea left the Omegas, the world’s largest group of Abnormal heroes, and started using her abilities to heal people to travel the globe curing cancer, AIDs, and other incurable diseases. It apparently took an amazing toll on her body to just cure one case, but so far she’d been working over-time, curing as many people as possible, and working with scientists to create a serum from her blood that could potentially have the same effect as direct use of her powers. And just like that, smoking came back into style in a big way. Countless people picked the filthy little habit back up once they were assured that there was a cure available, Marv included.

So Marv sat in his car, trying to find a comfortable position as his wristwatch let him know it was now 10:30 at night, and his stakeout had reached its third hour. That apartment was the home of Byron McGregor, a two-bit con man who had spent most of his life in and out of juvenile halls and jails, usually for running fixed Three-Card Monte tables in the more tourist centric areas of New Dover, and finally upgrading to stealing people’s wallets. Marv was currently staking his apartment out because he’d been on a bit of a robbery spree, breaking into people homes and absconding with hundreds if not thousands of dollars of loot. All with the help of his ability.

McGregor hadn’t been home all day, but his neighbors said he was there earlier in the day, so it didn’t look like he’d flown the coop yet. At least that’s what Marv was hoping. His partner Angie Belmont was out watching the pawn shop that McGregor’s fence worked at, hedging their bets that he’d show up at one of the locations.

Marv leaned back in his seat, a huge sigh escaping his lips. He plucked the stubby cigar from his mouth, assessed its diminutive size, and dropped it into the cup of cold coffee in his cup holder, and it went out with a hiss. He ran his hand through his greasy hair that seemed to be becoming more gray by the day, and glanced up at the rearview mirror, watching pedestrians jaywalking and a flashy sports car make an illegal U-turn. Not his business tonight though. Although it could help with the boredom. As he thought about chasing after the sports car though, he noticed a particularly tall, ginger haired man come around the corner. Marv perked up in his seat, squinting and coming closer to the mirror to try and get a better look. As the man got closer Marv was satisfied that Byron McGregor himself was sauntering down the street, not a care in the world.

Once the man was inside the apartment building, Marv gave him three minutes of peace before he charged in and arrested him, hoping to catch him off guard. Marv drummed his fingers on the dash board impatiently, his eyes flicking back and forth between his watch and the door to the apartment. Finally, he decided he’d given McGregor enough time, and slid out of the car, flapping his suit jacket to get some much needed air to his sweaty back. He hobbled across the street, trying to work some feeling back into his legs. A woman was leaving the apartment as he reached the door, and he slipped in, happy to avoid having to buzz in and explain what he was doing there. McGregor was living on the third floor, so Marv trotted up the steps, not proud at the amount of sweat that that meager workout had brought to his brow. He slipped a battered notebook out of his jacket coat to double check which apartment McGregor lived in. He’d heard of horror stories in the precinct of cops busting into the wrong doors and running into violent Abnormals who were in no mood to deal with the police. And here Marv was intentionally dropping in on a violent Abnormal.

He reached the door that had 305 stenciled onto the ugly burgundy door. The hallway was cramped and dimly lit, the carpet and paint job looking like they hadn’t been updated since Marv had been in college. There was trash littering the hallway, an overpowering smell of Indian food coming from one of the neighboring apartments, and the sound of a squealing child coming from a floor up. Charming place.

Marv leaned his head close to the door, and set his ear against the wood. McGregor was blaring some hip hop song that Marv couldn’t care less about, and from the sound of it, banging pots and pans together. After a moment of listening, Marv took a breath and tried to clear his mind. As he did so he brought his nose up to the door frame. Once he was ready, he brought a deep breath into his nose.

There was an explosion of scents and information. He could smell the particular brand of curry powder that the Indian family across the hall was using. The child that was squealing upstairs was running with a lemon sucker, and it didn’t appear she’d bathed in a few days. There was a baby who had just soiled its cheap diaper in the apartment next to McGregor’s, and the person next to them had three cats, one of which was incontinent. An old truck that was no longer meeting emission standards was pulling away in the alley outside, and a hotdog cart that desperately needed to change the water the dogs were floating in was being pushed down the sidewalk in front of the door. But he tried to push all of that out of his mind. None of that mattered. What mattered was what was inside Byron McGregor’s apartment. There was an overpowering smell of marijuana. Cheap stuff too. Apparently McGregor wasn’t using his ill-gotten gains on a better class of weed. The potency made Marv assume he was using a bong, not a pipe or joint. There was a minutia of greasy fast food containers throughout the apartment, with various ages on them all. There was an open Budweiser in the same location as the bong, and a slice of microwave pizza. Pepperoni. McGregor had a window open that was letting the hot dog cart’s smell in. And most importantly, there was the tacky cologne McGregor was wearing. It was some cheap swill that they sold in drug stores, and it seemed that McGregor was bathing in the damn stuff. He must have walked into the apartment, lingered at the table with the bong, probably getting it ready, before going into what was presumably the kitchen to get the beer and pizza ready where he waited for a minute, and he was now in another room, the bathroom by the proximity of soap and shampoo smells, having taken a momentary pit stop at the table to have a hit from the bong.

Marv’s eyes snapped open and he staggered back from the door. There was a dull ache in his head roughly between his eyes. The olfactory bulb was right back there, and unfortunately his Super Gene hadn’t strengthened it any, so it was prone to getting overused when he used his ability. He’d only inhaled once, for about four seconds, and all of that information had flooded in. He had met a fellow super-smeller in Ohio who had used a modified olfactometer, a gadget the usually was used to determine the magnitude of odors, but now enhanced the sense even further. He said that when he used the olfactometer he could identify every smell on the entire campus and the surrounding city at once. Shortly after he had a near fatal stroke, and had the olfactometer destroyed shortly after getting discharged from the hospital two months later.

After a moment of recuperation Marv steeled himself for the encounter with McGregor. He heard a toilet flush over the sound of the music and assumed McGregor had come back to the table with the bong and pizza. Marv rolling his neck around, hearing dozens of cracks and groans from the cartilage, and loosened his tie. His fist wrapped against the old door three times. Unlike many of his colleagues Marv didn’t like to bash on the door and yell “police!” It gave the perps too much warning, and spooked them. And when it came to Abnormals who were using their abilities to commit crimes, it was never wise to spook them.

Who’s there?!” a voice yelled over the music.

Marv thought about how to answer, and settled with knocking three more times.

After a pause the same slightly inebriated voice shouted back. “Fuck off!”

Marv took a deep breath and cleared his throat before repeating his knock.

There was a sound of movement and grumbled speech that Marv assumed with profanity. The music was still blaring. The door didn’t have a peep hole, so McGregor was going to have to open the door if he wanted to know who was bothering him. Apparently it didn’t have a chain either, or he wasn’t using it, because the door swung wide open, and Marv was hit with a tidal wave a marijuana odor. McGregor stood at around six feet six inches, just a touch over Marv’s height, but was rail thin. His shaggy red hair hung down to his eyebrows, and he had a patchy beard growing. Battered sweat pants and a stained white wife-beater hung from his lanky frame. There was a look of anger on his face as the door opened, which quickly gave way to confusion at the unfamiliar face that was bothering his high.

Byron McGregor?” Marv asked in a friendly voice, or at least as friendly as his whisky-cured growl would allow.

McGregor looked at him for a moment, still baffled at who in the world he might be, before there was a flash of realization that ran across his dopey face.

Fuck. A cop,”

Before Marv could say anything though, McGregor’s fist whipped up at a speed Marv was not anticipating, and cracked him hard against the nose. The kid had clearly never thrown a punch before, and was just emulating movies, so there wasn’t a lot of effective force behind the hit, all arms and no hip, but it was still enough to bring tears to Marv’s eyes, and blood to his nose. He staggered backward, more in shock then pain, and as he wiped the tears from his eyes he saw McGregor bolting into the apartment, toward the open window and the fire escape that was right outside it.

Taking a second or two longer than he would have liked, Marv sprang into action and ran after McGregor. As he was running across the filthy living room that the door fed into, Marv’s training kicked in and he took a mental picture of his surroundings. The cramped kitchen was to the left of the door, and what appeared to be the bedroom and bathroom was to the right. The living room was primarily just an old green corduroy couch, a small coffee table that looked like it came from IKEA that was holding the pizza and bong, a large flat screen television, and the stereo that was still blasting out the rap. In the corner closest to the bedroom was a pile of random objects that Marv assumed was the loot from last night’s haul. By the time Marv reached the old couch McGregor had reached the window, and thrown himself out the window, right over the fire escape and into the alley between the two buildings. It was then that Byron McGregor used his ability.

After one of the houses he’d robbed had caught a clear picture of him with a security camera, Marv was able to confirm that Byron McGregor was the serial burglar, and after that he was able to access the Abnormal Database and learn about McGregor’s ability. Byron McGregor’s Super Gene had manifested in a category that was known as “intangibility.” Abnormals with this class of ability were able to convert the mass of their body into different states of being. Some were able to turn into water, some sand; there was even an Abnormal in the database who could turn his body into different form of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Byron McGregor could turn his body, and anything directly touching his skin, into a black smoke.

So after throwing himself out of the window, Marv saw the young man silently explode into a massive cloud of hazy smoke, and begin to drift down to the street. He’d been using his ability to turn into smoke, slip through door frames or even the caulking of windows, grab everything he could carry, convert back to smoke, and slip away into the night. It was a pretty good scheme, and until the security camera had gotten lucky the thefts had been stumping Marv and Angie. Intangibility wasn’t a common ability, and it certainly hadn’t jumped to either of their minds. But now Marv had the smoky bastard.

Marv reached the window, and quickly began running down the fire escape to the alley below. He didn’t know how much control McGregor had over his smoke form, but the cloud was slowly floating down to the ground, about at the speed a feather may fall, being rocked back and forth by the wind, and he seemed to not mind that Marv was going to the same location. At each stair case, Marv leapt down as many steps as he could, trying to save time, his shins and knees making him promises of pain and punishment for these measures. He wasn’t as young as he thought he was.

McGregor’s cloud reached the ground as Marv got to the last landing, and the smoke quickly brought itself back together and formed into the gangly ginger that had slugged Marv in the apartment. After taking a moment to get his head together, McGregor started running toward the street. Marv leapt down the last flight of stairs and took off after McGregor, reaching into his coat to draw his revolver.

Byron McGregor! Stop where you are! You’re under arrest!” Marv shouted hoarsely, running out of breath.

McGregor spun around to look at Marv. He was still about twelve yards from the street. His eyes grew large when he saw the revolver in Marv’s hand, but then a smug look of defiance crept across his face.

Yeah right cop. You won’t shoot me this close to other people. Plus, it’s not like bullets do a whole lot of good on me. Maybe you didn’t notice the smoke back there.”

McGregor continued to stand there, mocking Marv’s authority, converting his arms back to their gaseous state as if to demonstrate his ability again.

Marv’s eyes flicked down to his revolver, and he raised the gun up, taking careful aim at McGregor’s core.

Is that so?” Marv asked with a devious grin.

The fear crept back into McGregor’s eyes, and he turned back to the street, turning into smoke as he started to run again.

Marv fired the gun.

But it wasn’t a bullet that came out of his gun.

The problem that the Abnormal Crimes Division ran into with intangibles was just that they couldn’t be held. They slipped right out of hand cuffs, right out of the back of police cars, and even out of jails. It didn’t make sense to hold intangible criminals to some sort of honor code but there wasn’t a better way to contain them. Until yesterday.

Once it became apparent that the burglar was an intangible, Marv had put a call into Mr. Brilliant, a member of the Omegas and reputably the smartest man in the world. A few hours later Brilliant showed up at the precinct with a new invention. It was the size and shape of a bullet, and could be fired from a standard issue revolver. But it wasn’t a bullet. It was essentially a more scientific vacuum. When fired at an intangible, it would let out some sort of electromagnetic pulse that would rapidly attract the molecules of an intangible, then using the Mighty Mite’s shrinking technology, it shrunk them and drawing them into the bullet sized containment device, where the Abnormal would be kept, unconscious but still in their intangible form, until brought back to the headquarters where Brilliant had devised a special cell that would keep the criminals from using their power. It didn’t make a lot of sense to Marv, and he was probably getting most of that wrong, but his job wasn’t to understand the science, it was the catch assholes like McGregor. Brilliant had admitted he hadn’t had time to properly test the device, and urged Marv to run some sort of drill before using it.

This seemed like a good time to test.

The device sped toward McGregor, and once it reached his smoky form, it let loose the pulse, and started drawing him into itself. Marv wasn’t sure if a cloud of smoke could scream, but it sure sounded like it did. After just a moment, the entire cloud had been drawn into the device, and it fell to the street with a clatter that wasn’t unlike the sound of a penny dropping on concrete.

Marv sauntered over to the device. There was a crowd of people forming at the mouth of the alley, drawn by the bark of Marv’s pistol. He looked at them as he approached, and flashed his badge. That did little to dissuade the crowd, who merely took a collective step back, but remained to gawk. Marv shrugged his shoulders, and bent down to pick up the bullet shaped device. It now weighed about thirty pounds, which took Marv by surprise, and after an embarrassing moment, he was able to pick the bullet up.

Well what do you know?” he muttered to himself, rubbing his stubbly chin with his spare hand. “Now let’s see if the bastard’s still alive in there.”

 

 

Lifetime of Simpsons

S10 E11 – Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken

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It’s been a more or less fun week here on Lifetime of Simpsons, so let’s end things with a goofy episode pitting the children of Springfield against the adults, while also having one of the most fun Simpsons song parodies of all time.

The story starts off with the family heading down to the local baseball field to watch the Springfield Isotopes lose yet again. They sit in the stands listening to Cyndi Lauper sing the National Anthem for some reason, and then suffer through a terrible baseball game. Homer bails pretty early, and just waits for the rest of the family, since he knows that the Isotopes suck, and always will suck. We then immediately cut to a couple months later where the Isotopes have promptly stopped sucking, and are now in the championship game. And so, just like most sports fans, Homer jumps on the bandwagon of the winning team, and starts acting like their biggest fan, now that they’ve actually started winning.

So Homer and the barflies at Moe’s eagerly watch the Championship game, and wouldn’t you know it, the Isotopes pull ahead and win the whole thing. Which obviously means that Homer and his friends need to get drunker than they’ve ever been before. They start getting hammered and then take the party out to the streets, joyriding around in Homer’s car, before finally coming across the Elementary School. They briefly drive around the baseball diamond, and then decide to drive around the halls of the school, before ending up with a sing-along in the locker-room showers.

And the toll of that fun night is felt the next morning when Homer wakes up, more hungover than he’s ever been in his life. Lisa asks him what happened the previous night, leading to one of my favorite Simpsons jokes of all time. We see Homer’s memory like an old silent film, and as soon as he starts drinking we gets title card saying “Scene Missing,” a brief scene of him frolicking around a May Pole, another missing scene, and the end. So that’s no help. And things get worse when the news comes on and tells the town about the vandalism the Elementary School endured the previous night. And Chief Wiggum deduces that the horrible destruction had to have been caused by punk kids, and issues a new curfew, making sure no children are allowed out in Springfield after dark, to make sure nothing like this happens again.

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This is obviously not a popular measure with the children of Springfield, but there’s really not much they can do about it. Bart and Lisa are just trapped inside, having to play terrible board games with Marge while Homer’s out enjoying a carnival. Which is really driving the kids crazy. They even begin complaining together at school, trying to come up with a way to save themselves, but nothing really seems possible, since the police are really sticking to their guns, even building a crazy mechanical billboard of Chief Wiggum to intimidate them.

However, they finally find a source of rebellion while watching the TV. After Bart and Lisa briefly suffer through some terrible 90s primetime sitcom, they see a commercial for a new movie playing in their drive-in. It’s a horror movie called the Bloodening that’s essentially Village of the Damned, but if it were produced by William Castle, since the commercial has all sorts of corny promises, like having a nurse specializing in fear there to deal with people being too terrified. Bart starts calling around town, getting all of the kids on board with his plan to sneak out, and watch the movie that night.

So one by one, all of the kids in the town meet up at the drive-in, and get ready to watch a crazy black and white British horror movie, which is surely going to be up a bunch of Elementary School kids’ alley. But whatever, it’s the rebellion that counts. The kids pile up in front of the cars, and watch the movie, which revolves around a bunch of psychic kids revealing all of the terrible secrets the adults in their village have. However, right as the movie is about to end Wiggum and his goons show up, and arrest all of the kids for breaking curfew.

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Their punishment is cleaning that giant billboard, and they get to it, complaining the whole time about how shitty the adults of Springfield are. They begin wishing that they had mind powers like the kids in the movie, so they could put them in their place. But Lisa realizes that they don’t need any powers, because the kids already know all of their parent’s deep dark secrets. And with that realization, a plan begins to come together. The kids split up, and start stealing all kinds of electrical equipment from around the town.

But what are they planning? Well that becomes evident when some night in the future Lisa suggests that Homer and Marge listen to the radio instead of watching TV. For some reason they agree, and Lisa finds a broadcast with Bart doing a British accent where he and the other kids in the little gang start revealing all kinds of juicy secrets about the adults in town, like Wiggum wearing pantyhose, Krabappel stealing cafeteria supplies, and Homer eating from the Flanders’ garbage can. They then promise to keep telling secrets like these every night until the curfew is lifted.

Which obviously pisses the adults of Springfield off. They do what they always do, and hold a Town Hall meeting to discuss what’s to be done about these mysterious kids and their fake British accents. And while the people of the town complain and argue about what to do, Mayor Quimby reveals that Chief Wiggum and Professor Frink are already of the case. The two are driving around town, looking for the source of the radio signal, and they eventually find it at that billboard, since the kids turned it into their radio tower. The whole town shows up to yell at the kids, even though they’re pretty impressed with the ingenuity of their creation. But the kids fight back, and they end up singing a ridiculous song parodying a similar one from Bye Bye Birdie where the two groups basically just insult each other. But it’s brought to an end when Grandpa and all the other old people in town show up, pissed off that people are making so much noise. They threaten to punish everyone, and they do, because we then cut to a couple days later where the seniors have successfully pushed a new curfew through, which ensures that everyone under 70 has to be home by dark. The seniors have taken back the night!

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This was just another really fun little episode, and another one that’s deeply engrained in my mind, probably due to rampant syndication airtime. Honestly, the whole curfew plot is just okay, it’s not until it becomes about the kids trying to strike back at the adults in the town by revealing all of their secrets that the episode really starts to get great. Plus it has that amazing “Homer’s Night Out,” scene, and the great Bye Bye Birdie song, which is infinitely quotable. I really like the idea of the children realizing that their only real power against the adults of the town is to reveal their secrets, because kids really are beholden to the whims of adults. They also really pick up a lot of dirt on adults, because they notice a lot more than adults give them credit for. It was just a pretty solid episode from a rocky period, and I’m going to cherish these little gems as things start to get rougher and rougher.

Take Away: Curfews are dumb, and don’t sell your kids short, they pick up a lot of secrets about adults.

“Wild Barts Can’t Be Broken” was written by Larry Doyle and directed by Mark Ervin, 1998.

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