Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cut! Guts! Elec! Bomb! Fire! Ice! Proto! ATTAAAAAAAACK!

All right, time to tap into the Movie Tavern Mug and see what burning questions you have for me.

"Which member of the Protomen would you like to reveal their true identity, and why?"

Ah yes, the Protomen. To properly answer this question, I'm going to have to give a little bit of background information for those of you not in the know. I know it'll be thoroughly interesting to all of you and-


Wait, where's the other guy who usually objects to me getting rambly? Y'know, the one what qwacks?


How the Hell did he get to Tijuana?


Nevermind, I don't want to know.

So, the Protomen. So, you've heard me talk about them a little bit before, how they do Rock Operas based loosely around the Mega Man video game franchise. And you've heard me go on about how the music is excellent. The lyrics aren't campy, and the tone of each song matches the situations well. The songs that take place during fight scenes sound like they go with wholesale asskicking. Songs that depict someone leaving an old bar to ride around a futuristic city capture that well with the dichotomy of piano and synthesizers.

But what do we know of the band itself?

Well, we know that they were originally a group for the Middle Tennessee State University graduate level recording program. That's about it. That's right folks, the Protomen are a school project that took on a hilarious life of its own. But why this relative lack of information about the band members themselves?

It's because they aren't just musicians: they are characters, and the show doesn't end if they can help it. Everything remotely related to the band becomes part of this fight against the power of the tyrannical Doctor Wily. Absolutely everything. Did the car they use back into a fire hydrant and fall apart, necessitating a replacement with a tour bus? Hell no! The car was clearly eaten by a Graboid that was genetically engineered by Wily's forces, and they salvaged what they could to make their Mark II SUPER Battle vehicle? Did the lead singer contract strep throat? No, Wily infected him with nanites in an effort to stop the Protomen from spreading their message of hope! Do members leave the band? Are you kidding? They die heroically saving the other members of the resistance from a fire brought on by an attack from Wily! Was the shipping of their second album delayed due to the glue press that puts the labels on the CDs being broken? Any idiot can tell you that clearly the sheer power of ROCK was nigh uncontainable, and that they had to find a better way to control it!

Naturally, this framing extends beyond the band's activities to the members. Each and every one of them has a code name, and an elaborate character (which I was regrettably not able to find more information on in the short amount of time I spent researching for this). They've had zombies, robots, ex-soldiers, and people whose age numbers into the hundreds as members of their fighting force. And, with one notable exception, they refuse to reveal their true identities.

The fans don't just enjoy the Kayfabe. They get into it themselves! Groups of fans will get together and form squads (such as the Chamethrawer Squadron), each with their own characters and highly improbable (and often hilarious) backstories. Why? Why not?

But, the side effect of this is, we know very little about the actual musicians of the Protomen. So, which member would I choose?

Well, most people would go for one of the singers, Raul Panther or Turbolover. However, Panther is not the only songwriting force in the band, and Turbolover (aka Neil O'Neil) is the one exception to them never revealing their identities, due to him being in a couple other Nashville area bands, such as Cheer Up Charlie Daniels, and Adam and the Couch Potatoes.

No, the guy I'm curious about is this guy, the Commander.


The one on the right. Who looks like they'd be in some sort of psychotic rock band. Putz.

So, why the Commander? He's one of their Synthesizer players, which are a big part of the Protomen's sound, sure, but Panther plays them as well. So why him?

Well, the albums don't give a lot of info on individual song writing credits, giving credit to the entire band. But it does mention info on recording. The Commander is one of the people listed (alongside Panther and Heath Who Hath No Name, guitarist and original producer, currently on a secret mission). This leads me to believe that he's more than just another one of the musicians (although there's CERTAINLY nothing wrong with that), but one of the creative forces and one of the men behind the production of the albums. He's also the primary one who updates the news posts on the website (which show a great deal of creativity), and he's one of the ones who creates and peddles the Protomen Merchandise. All while wearing bandoliers covered in bullets. How could I not wonder what makes this guy tick?

The next ones I'd be curious about would probably be Panther, lead singer (and apparently the only one who actually knows all the words to all the songs) and keyboardist, and Heath Who Hath No Name. Neither of them have quite as ridiculous characters as some others, but let's face it, they've got to be as crazy (if not crazier) than some of the people they've recruited.

If you're further curious about this band, go to their website and check them out. And if you like 'em, buy one of their two albums.

Well, that's all for this post. This is J. K. Lantern, a beacon of Light in the Darkness against Wily! Keep fighting the good fight!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sing a Song

Hey ho, folks. So this isn't one that I was specifically asked, but it was one I was thinking about while talking to someone. You've seen me reference various songs and musicians throughout these blogs, but just what are my favorite songs?

Well, I'll be the first to admit that the list of my favorite songs is very dynamic, changing with my mood. And while there are plenty of songs I adore that everyone has probably heard at one point or another, I thought I'd go with a few that you were less likely to have noticed.

1. Breakthrough by Richard Wright

When most people think of Pink Floyd, they think of three people: Syd Barrett, the original song writing force who suffered from severe psychological problems, Roger Waters, whose dark and domineering lyrics shaped albums such as Animals and The Wall, and guitarist David Gilmour, who has been called "the voice of Pink Floyd." People still debate about which member was ultimately the most important to the Pink Floyd experience, but one person they always seem to neglect to mention is the late, great Richard Wright. And I think that's a shame; his backing vocals complimented Gilmour's lead, and his ethereal keyboards really tied the songs together. In fact, I dare say that without Richard Wright, Pink Floyd wouldn't have sounded nearly the same, or as good. Additionally, he was an important contributor to the songwriting up until Animals, contributing sufficient portions of Shine on You Crazy Diamond, and being the main force behind Great Gig in the Sky and Us and Them. He was certainly a wonderful musician.

Like many members of multi-platinum monsters, Wright tried his hand at two solo albums, neither of which garnered much attention. This song is the final one from his second album, Broken China. The entire album was a dark tribute to his wife's battles with depression, but it ends on this beautiful and hopeful note. The original studio version featured vocals by Sinead O'Connor, but for some reason, I like this live version with vocals by Wright better. I guess I'm just weird like that.

2. This Tornado Loves You by Neko Case

I'll be honest. I know next to nothing about this musician. I know she's from Virginia. I know she's a "she" rather than a "they." That's about all I got.

So how the heck did this song hop onto my list of favorites? Well, a friend sent it to me. And it just clicked. Something about the sound reminds me of home just East of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. And there is something simultaneously sweet and dark about the lyrics: a monstrous force of nature that can only destroy trying to demonstrate its love for someone. Something about that appeals to me. And the background harmonies, oh the background harmonies! I definitely should look more into Neko Case's work.

And the fact that it reminds me of this friend, well, that's just a bonus.

3. Folk Song by Jack Bruce

The ones of you who are familiar with Jack Bruce probably know him best from his work in the original supergroup, Cream. And let's face it, his work with Cream was excellent. He is one of my favorite vocalists, his bass lines are complex and beautiful, and the songs he cowrote with poet Pete Brown, such as I Feel Free, Sunshine of Your Love (with Clapton), and White Room are awesome. It's a shame the band didn't last long, but when Eric Clapton is your shining example of modesty and balance, you know that your group probably isn't going to last long. Tensions between Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker led to the band breaking up in the late Sixties, after being together for only about two and a half years.

While Jack Bruce's solo career wasn't as noticed as Eric Clapton's, nor did his life end up as unusual as Ginger Baker's (who has, in fact, been chased out of countries), I love a lot of his solo works. His piano and vocal album Monkjack remains one of the jewels of my music collection to this day. This song of his is one of my favorites, but it isn't the only one worth listening to. If you can, look him up. His music, while primarily jazz and blues influenced, does come in a wide array of flavors.

4. Secret World by Peter Gabriel

A while ago, a friend of mine described Peter Gabriel as only having one song. I thought to myself, "Okay, he probably means Sledgehammer, Gabriel's biggest hit."

Nope, I failed dramatically at that one. He meant In Your Eyes. He then proceeded to ask the question, what else had Peter Gabriel ever done? Clearly, this one hit wonder had never been part of anything important, like, say, the band Genesis. Nor did he dress up in ridiculous costumes on stage to get over his stage fright. Nor did he remove his former band's single from the number one spot on the charts with Sledgehammer. And he clearly hasn't been a force devoted to protecting and incorporating the sounds of world music. Nor is he one of my favorite vocalists or anything like that.

Now that I've just delivered a giant middle finger to one of my friends, go listen to the song. There's something hauntingly beautiful about it.

5. Keep Me In Your Heart by Warren Zevon

Some of you were probably expecting something completely different from this. Heck, even if some of you who know me guessed a Zevon song would show up on this list, you probably wouldn't have picked this one. So what's the story here?

Well, in the early 2000s, Zevon went to the doctor about some shortness of breath. He got some tests done, and was diagnosed with Mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer. When the news started to spread, musicians and friends who liked him and loved his song writing gathered to see if they could do anything for him. He decided to record one last album. And what sort of guest musicians are we talking about? Who thought that he was brilliant? People like Bruce Springsteen, most of the Eagles, Tom Petty, and many others. And this was the masterpiece of the album.

This was the only song he completely wrote after getting the diagnosis, and after being told that his days were numbered, a final message for those he loved. And he saved its recording for last; it was almost literally recorded in his death bed. It's a truly beautiful song. Take a listen, and prepare to hear something different from most of his other works.

That's right. No Bowie. Deal with it. This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sympathy for the Devil

Hey ho, folks. Sorry I've been scaling back on the number of posts I've been doing. Anyway, let's see what's in the Movie Tavern Mug this time.

"Hey, J.K., can you tell us about some people who have been described as evil that maybe, just maybe, weren't quite so bad?"

Well, there are many I could choose. I mean there's Lex Luthor, depending on your interpretation there's Doctor Wily-



"Real people."

You people just want to get me in trouble, don't you? All right, I'm going to preface this by saying I'm neither a hardcore member of the left or right. I'm not entirely thrilled with either U.S. political party. Furthermore, this blog isn't intended to be promoting some political agenda, but rather lighthearted fun. I have neither the qualifications nor a desire to be the one to say how this country should be run. I am just a guy who grew up in the woods. I have no desire to start a political debate in the comments section. Does that cover everything?

All right. There are plenty of historical figures who get a bad rap. We label them as the clear bad guy, just to simplify things in our own minds. The fact of the matter is, while there are some leaders who take actions solely to attain power for its own sake, the overwhelming majority have good intentions when they take these questionable actions, and the situation is rarely as simple as your eighth grade history textbook makes it out to be. So, that said, let's look over some of history's more controversial figures.

1. George W. Bush

I've got a lot of friends on the left side of the political spectrum, and this is one they like to throw around a lot as an example of unmitigated evil. "OMGz War in teh Middle East economic downturn Patriot Act evulz lol butts!!!11!!!1"

Well, I remember back in the early 2000s those days just before the decision was made to send troops over, both in Afghanistan and Iraq. People were angry. People were scared. People wanted something to be done, someone to be punished. Now, imagine you're the most powerful person in the world, given the unenviable task of protecting and leading a very finicky people. Your country has just been attacked by a terrorist cell that you know is based in another country. People are clamoring at you to do something. What would you do in that position? Probably the same thing he did. Hell, I even remember some of my friends who took a strong anti-war stance later were, at the time, itching for ol' Uncle Sam to go out and kick somebody's ass in the face of this tragedy. He wanted to prevent something like this from happening again, and he took the brute force approach.

As for the economic situation, this is something all Presidents tend to get stuck with, even though it's not really them. See, the primary force that sets up the budget and approves funding for various ventures is Congress, and the effects of the decisions they make can take years before the impact are felt. And it wasn't all just government officials; there were plenty of bankers who made poor decisions, along with plenty of everyday folks.

Now, am I saying that Bush was a good President? I don't personally think he did that great of a job, but he's certainly not the Devil incarnate like a bunch of people I know like to make him out to be. Ultimately, he's just a man who got stuck in a bad position, and attempted to handle it the best he could. Whether he succeeded or not is an entirely different can of worms.

2. Ho Chi Minh

An important figure in another controversial war, Ho Chi Minh was the President of North Vietnam. And while he didn't live to see the Vietnam war to the end, he was one of the driving forces that had the "communists" going after South Vietnam. Even today, the Vietnam war brings up a lot of bile, and there are a lot of veterans out there who hate the Vietnamese people. And let's be honest, a lot of good people died during the war, a war we got into to stop the spread of a communist bloc.

But, the war was never really about communism. That was something we just didn't get.

The Vietnamese have always been a proud and independent people. Back around the the Twelfth Century or so, they got conquered by Imperial China, the biggest kids on the block. Who led them to independence? Was it a general? A philosopher? No, it was a couple of angry housewives. Vietnam didn't ostensibly go communist out of some belief that it was the best economic system. No, they went that route because people like Ho Chi Minh thought it was the best way to gain independence from colonial powers like France. During WWII, in the Pacific theatre, Ho Chi Minh was even trying to make friends and cut a deal with American GIs to help the nation get independence from its colonial state. As you can probably guess, we didn't exactly go for it.

So, why did we go to war in Vietnam? Well, we were afraid that if Vietnam "fell" to communism, they'd make an alliance with other nations in the area, or conquer other nations in the area, and form one giant communist bloc. The fact of the matter is, they didn't want to have anything to do with those surrounding countries, and had no desire to spread communism further. They were just an indigenous people looking for freedom from their European masters. Can't entirely fault them for that, can we?

3. Yoko Ono

Ah, yes. The woman who broke up the Beatles. She grabbed John, wrapped him around her finger, and yanked him away from the rest of the group, and it was totally her fault.

Except, is that really how it went? I mean, her influence and her relationship with John almost certainly had an impact, but even at this point, the primary song writing duo of John and Paul was drifting apart stylistically. Don't believe me? Compare Maxwell's Silver Hammer, primarily a McCartney penned piece, to Lennon's Come Together from the Abbey Road album. Two very different sounding pieces, no?

And what of the other two members, George and Ringo? Well, both of them started wanting to have more input into the creative process as well. In Abbey Road, the last recorded (although not last released) Beatles album, we see more works by George Harrison, such as Something and Here Comes the Sun.

So, basically, what have we got? Egos bubbling up and brushing against each other. And as anyone who has ever lived in a frat house can tell you, egos are very territorial creatures. So the breakup of the Beatles isn't entirely on the shoulders of one woman.

4. Joel Schumacher

Who? Well, some of my nerdier readers may recognize this name. He was the director for both Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, and is blamed for killing off the Batman franchise with the latter movie. While he takes complete responsibility for that abomination unto Batman, was it really all his fault?

Firstly, the two previous Batman films, while awesome, were very dark. I remember I couldn't even watch Batman Returns after the first time way back when I was a wee'un because Danny DeVito as the Penguin scared the everlovin' crap out of me. So, executives wanted to have a more family friendly Bat movie, which we got in Forever. Family audiences seemed to react well to the camp in it, so the executives told the writers (something Schumacher had no part in) to dial the silliness and bad puns up to eleven.

And why did we get so many villains in this movie? Surely Schumacher was involved with that! No, once again, that was the executives. They wanted to have more toys to sell, so this meant cramming in as many characters as possible, without focusing on any one of them to any significant degree. As a result of this, Freeze went from a conflicted, vengeful maniac to a giant frozen goofball, Poison Ivy goes from being a radical environmental terrorist to Hobag McPlantslut, and Bane goes from being the villain who broke Batman to something we're all just better off forgetting.

So, basically, Schumacher got handed a turd, and was told to polish it. But hey, he admits it was not a good movie, and takes responsibility for it, even if it wasn't entirely his fault. Gotta give him props for that.

As for the Bat Nipples...well, okay, those were all Schumacher. Hey, some people are into that sort of thing.

5. Pretty Much Any News Pundit Ever

I know a lot of my friends give various news pundits on both sides of the political spectrum a lot of flak for being loud, obnoxious, one-sided, opinionated, stupidheads, etc. They conclude that these media figures must be evil incarnate. The thing is, though, the image they portray on television, it's a character. They might be portraying their political views, but they're probably being louder and more opinionated, more blunt about them than they actually feel in real life? Why? Ratings. Let's face it, controversy sells. People watch to see their own views reinforced, or to bash on the other side. And when the news pundits' ratings go up, it means it's much less likely that their segment will get canceled, which means they can keep on putting food on the table. Much like me hitting on random friends (poorly, at that), it's all an act, a form of entertainment.


Well, that's all for this journey through the depths the devils dares not dive. This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

What the Fiction?

Well, time to tap into the Movie Tavern Mug, and see what people are wondering.

"J.K., can you tell us some of the biggest WTF moments in fiction you've experienced?"

We all have these moments when experiencing fiction. It could be something we really like, or it could be something we positively can't stand. They are WTF moments, those moments that cause us to tilt our heads to one side and go, "Huh?"

Since I'm pretty sure someone has at least once described me as a Walking WTF Moment, it's only natural that people wonder what throws me off. Well, here are some examples, some of which are bigger than others.

1. The City and The City: Where's the Kaboom?

I love China Mieville's work. The Bas-Lag books are brilliant pieces of fantasy, and King Rat was a fun look at animal folktale archetypes. But then there's this book, The City and the City. It's not bad by any means, and I loved the concept of it, but somehow, it fell a little flat on me. I won't spoil it for you, because it's definitely something I think at least one of my friends should attempt reading, if for no other reason than to help me see what I'm missing.

Basically, the story is a murder mystery, but it takes place in two cities that occupy the same place. No, they're not in parallel dimensions or anything, they just happen to cross over with each other. They have separate laws, separate languages, separate customs, and you aren't allowed to cross over from one over to the other without explicit permission. Confused yet? Yeah, it's hard to wrap your head around. It's supposed to be some sort of political allegory for balkanization or something I think, but it sorta flies over my head because, let's face it, I'm not a hugely political thinker.

Anyway, I had a slow time reading the book, but the entire time, I was thinking, "Okay, there's got to be something supernatural going on here."

And then I flipped the last page.

Dammit, where's the magic? How do the two cities work? How did they form like that? Why would it be so bad if they crossed over?

I guess there are just some mysteries we weren't meant to know, and I guess Mieville left it like that to put us in the mindset of the tourists, who just "don't understand."

2. Street Fighter Alpha 3: SUMO!

Most people don't play fighting games for the brilliant story work, but it can help make a character compelling. For example, within the Street Fighter series, one character is my favorite not due to any level of skill I have in using him, but rather his story. He's an old man dying of leukemia, looking for a fight to go out standing tall. There's something tragic about it, a man who has been fighting all his life, and can't think of any other way to go.

And then there's E. Honda.

E. Honda never really falls into the plot of the "important" characters, and is largely in the games just for fun. And no where is this better exhibited than his story in the Street Fighter Midquel, Street Fighter Alpha 3. Basically, he's going around challenging people to fights to demonstrate that Sumo is superior to all other martial arts. This somehow ends up leading him to taking down M. Bison's criminal ring, and fighting the big man himself. He defeats Bison, and causes him to explode with a flying, charging belly flop.

Wait, it gets weirder.

It turns out Bison had all these brainwashed teenage girl soldiers. Upon Bison's death, the mind control is broken. So what does Honda do?

He takes them back to Japan to teach them the art of Sumo.

I'm sorry, what?

Yes, while most of the characters have serious plots involving rivalries and redemption, this is E. Honda's story. Not the most compelling, but certainly entertaining in a confusing sort of way.

3. Green Lantern Rebirth: Hal Jordan Suffers an Infestation

The nineties were a dark time for comics. Series were constantly ended and restarted to convince people to buy the collector's edition issue 1 of the series. Stories were editorially mandated publicity stunts designed to shake things up and garner attention, without being particularly well plotted or written. Heroes died left and right, only to be replaced by newer, hipper versions.

One of the more controversial cases of this (since the replacement lasted for so long, and actually is still a GL to this day) is the case of Hal Jordan. At the time, writer Gerard Jones was writing all the GL related stuff, along with the Justice League and probably a couple other things I'm forgetting. DC had decided that Hal Jordan as a GL was getting stale, and wanted to make some changes. So, Jones started setting things in motion for a big story, referencing events that had happened in an orphaned plot years ago that involved Hal not having his original ring anymore, but having a villain's stolen GL ring instead. It was going to end up with Hal becoming a living embodiment of GL power and not needing a ring anymore, and from what I've read it seemed like a good concept.

But, DC didn't agree, and got someone else to write GL instead. Enter Ron Marz, a guy who takes a lot of undeserved heat. He was basically told he had three issues to make Hal into a villain, and to come up with a new guy. Luckily, Hal's hometown had just gotten destroyed in the whole Death and Rebirth of Superman thing, so instant motivation! Despite him being one of the most upstanding characters in the DC Universe, they decided that Hal should go crazy at this loss of his home, kick the asses of other Green Lanterns, killing some, and then absorb almost all of the power from all the Green Lanterns in the Universe, so that he could attempt to remake the universe to fix all the problems. It wasn't a bad concept, but it was a little hamfisted, abrupt, and shoddily done. But, one of the cool things they did was Villain Hal's name: Parallax. Basically, the term describes the apparent change in position of an object based on the viewpoint. In this case, the character had become a villain because his view of the universe had changed. IT MADE SENSE!

Anyway, big fights, Hal dies, fans enraged, moving right along.

So, a few years ago, a new regime at DC decided it was time to bring Hal Jordan back, and to bring him back as a hero. Now, when I heard this, I immediately thought the way they were going to excuse it was by having the ring he obtained be influencing him the entire time.

Instead, they decided that Hal was possessed by a never before mentioned giant space bug embodiment of fear named Parallax. Because the term Parallax totally has something to do with insects and fear. Now, I LIKED GL Rebirth, and I knew going in that they were going to have to make one Hell of an ass pull to have Hal be accepted back as a hero, but the space bug Parallax? Yeah, that one kinda came out of left field, and has always been an element I've been ambivalent towards. As much as Geoff Johns tried to make Hal still be responsible for his actions as Parallax, the way Parallax has possessed other characters since sort of killed any possibility of that. And again, GIANT SPACE BUGS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE TERM PARALLAX. AT LEAST HAVE THE NAME MAKE SOME SENSE.

Oh well, we bought it. He's back. And GL has become one of the most popular properties in the DC Universe. I guess it worked, even if I'm still scratching my head on that one.

4. Bill the Galactic Hero on the Planet of Tasteless Pleasures: All of it

So, I'll admit, the first Bill the Galactic Hero book wasn't remotely what I was expecting. I came across it while wandering around used book stores and other tiny shops in Downtown Fredericksburg, saw the title, and concluded it must be a hilariously over the top sci-fi space adventure parody, something along the lines of Buck Rogers (except with a viciously incompetent hero). What I got instead was a biting satire on military life, based on the experiences of a former soldier. Sure, it was transposed to a sci-fi setting, but the way it was written, you could see the story happening to one of your friends. And while it's not one of my favorite books, it was by no means bad.

So, my brother (who had not read the first one) saw this one in a used book store, came to the conclusion that I did on the nature of it, bought it, read it, and then passed it off on me. I thought to myself, "Oh, more military satire. All right, at least I know what's more or less coming."

I was very, very wrong. I should have figured that our when I saw a second author's name under the author of the original.

Instead, what we got was Bill's Journey through what was allegedly the human consciousness, in a whirlwind of horrible puns, that ultimately lead to nowhere. Bill is not really changed by the end, and we It wasn't particularly clever, it wasn't particularly funny, it wasn't even particularly weird. It just sort

5. The Kingdom: Hyper-what?

This one is going to take a few threads to explain. So, at one point DC comics was known for having many, many alternate universes. There was a universe where all the World War II characters (or versions of characters) resided and aged in real time. There was a universe in which the "modern" (at the time) characters existed. There were universes for characters they acquired from other companies (like Charlton Comics and Whiz Comics). And of course, every "Imaginary" or out of continuity story was an alternate universe. Well, around 1985 or so, DC decided that having multiple Earths was cumbersome to new readers, so they decided to have a big event to consolidate everything down to one universe. This was the celebrated Crisis on Infinite Earths. Parts of it may have been a little hokey, but the art was good, and it was chock full of Crowning Moments of Awesome for many characters (including the heroic deaths of the original Supergirl and of Barry Allen as Flash).

So you may be wondering how they explained away out of continuity stories. Like, say someone wanted to have Batman fight Dracula and become a Vampire. There aren't any alternate Earths. How do we explain this away? Answer: We DON'T. We just say, "Look, they're not in continuity, just roll with it." And you know something? We were FINE with that. I don't have any inherent problems with them not giving an explanation as to HOW the alternate stories occur, I just care about whether I like them or not. And among the more notable of these "Elseworlds" series was a four issue look at the future of the DC Earth called Kingdom Come. The story was a compelling look at the changing nature of Superheroes in the Eighties and Nineties, and what that would lead to, it had some beautiful artwork by painter Alex Ross, and plenty of background gags that can keep a good comic book nerd coming back for more. It dealt with dark themes and apocalyptic imagery, but ended on a hopeful note.

Well, DC apparently decided that it was tired of not having an explanation for where these Elseworlds stories took place, so they decided to come up with a half-assed explanation, while attempting to cash in some more on Kingdom Come. The result? A mediocre (at best) sequel known as The Kingdom.

I could go into detail about the parts of it that they screwed up on, but I'm here to talk about the WTF of this story, and that's their explanation of how we can have these out of continuity stories. They decided that it's because of this thing called "Hypertime." Apparently, there is only one timeline/universe/whatever, but sometimes things branch off of it, giving us alternate possible events, and sometimes, they even flow back into the core timeline!

Yeah, no. See, if something doesn't need explaining, like, "How can this story that doesn't relate to the main universe take place," THEN DON'T ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN IT! We'll be better off! Sheesh, if I'M the one telling you this, then you're in trouble!

Ultimately, they pushed the Hypertime explanation under the rug, and tried not to bring it up again. And we really appreciate it.

6. Star Trek Voyager: Liz-ACTION!

You know it's a bad sign when the creators of something refuse to acknowledge the existence of a certain part of their universe. But that's exactly what happened in an episode of Voyager. I can't remember the name of it, but basically, the crew makes an experimental engine to go faster, Tom Paris tests it out, it screws with him, and he starts "hyper-evolving."

Okay, first off, that's not evolution, that's mutation. Evolution occurs across generations and screw it, you people don't care.

Anyway, Tom Paris ends up abducting Captain Janeway, stealing the shuttle with the experimental engine, putting it into full throttle and going to some planet somewhere. But when the Voyager reaches the planet that the shuttle went to, they don't find the Captain and Tom. Oh no. They find to Komodo Dragon-esque things with the residual DNA of Janeway and Paris. And several Komodo Dragon Babies.

Anyone who reads this blog knows I can tolerate a lot in my fiction for the sake of a story. But the idea that moving fast enough causes you to *shudder* "evolve" into an allegedly "higher" being (evolution doesn't really have "higher or lower" animals, but that's another lecture entirely), and that higher animal happens to be a Komodo Dragon looking thing? No, no, no, no, no. Get out, and come back when you know what you're doing.

7. Battletech: Can't See Me!

It takes a good deal of suspension of disbelief to be able to take a sci-fi universe where giant humanoid machines are the most efficient and effective ways of waging war, but sometimes even then there are things that you have trouble accepting. In this case, it's the Phantom Mech ability introduced in the Battletech Fiction.

So, early in the series, writer Michael Stackpole decided he wanted to introduce a new Mercenary unit to the universe, the Kell Hounds. Okay, fine, we can deal with that. They're run by a relative of one of the ruling families who has never before been mentioned, but we're still okay because it's a distant relative. They were at one of the bigger battles in recent history in which the leader of another space realm died (okay, it's a stretch, but we're still following). Oh, and the leader of this unit can't be targeted. Wait, what?

Yes, for some reason that was never actually explained, in about the fifth or so novel that was written in the universe, we learn that Morgan Kell, cousin by marriage of House Steiner, who has never been mentioned before this point, somehow has the mystical ability to be unhittable in his Mech. First off, this isn't really a mystical setting. Secondly, I'd be more willing to buy this if he HADN'T JUST BEEN INTRODUCED. And the Kell Hounds only get more ridiculous from there, getting access to Clan Technology, having some of the best pilots, having their leader live longer than most other characters, rarely (if ever) losing, and practically having their own mini-kingdom. Sheesh, no wonder a lot of Battletech fans don't like these guys.

8. Tommy: Jack Nicholson Harvests a Soul

So, pretty much all of the movie version of Tommy is a giant acid trip. But for me, the biggest WTF was the scene with the Doctor, played by Jack Nicholson. There are two parts of this WTF.

First of all, Jack Nicholson sings.

I'll give you a moment to take that in.

Secondly, there's a part of the scene where he's just staring into Ann Margaret's eyes for an extended period of time, and then it cuts to an imagined scene of the two of them dancing. Now, I've been able to figure out the symbolism of a lot of the other scenes of the movie. This one I'm never quite sure if I've gotten it. Is it supposed to represent her suddenly feeling attraction for the Doctor because he told her that there's a chance Tommy will be well again on his own? Is it him imagining taking her? Did he just harvest her soul? Or what? Ah well, I still love the scene, and I still love the movie. And I suppose if that's the biggest WTF I have about the movie, then it's not a good sign for my mental health.

9. Spider-Man Maximum Carnage: LOVE BOMB!

So, in the late eighties, Marvel introduced Venom as Spider-Man's new arch enemy, to replace the great personal rivalry that existed between Spidey and the Norman Osborn Green Goblin (who was long dead at this point, and there was certainly no way he was ever coming back). One problem: people liked Venom, and wanted him to be heroic. So, Marvel came up with an even eviller version of Venom in the form of Carnage, and gave him this big event where he teamed up with a bunch of C and D List villains in an attempt to take over/slaughter New York City. It was supposed to be a big thing about the nature of good and evil, but it sort of fell flat. I mean, I liked it when I was small, but having since gotten it as a Trade Paperback, good GOD that story is awful. The dialogue is terrible, the motives are almost nonexistent, the characterizations are inconsistent...yeah, skip this one, folks.

The WTF comes in towards the end of the series. We find out that sound based villainess Shriek has been psychically manipulating the city to psychopathy. So, how does our group of ten heroes nullify this AND defeat the group of five *CRACK* four villains? They build a giant ray gun designed to shoot happy rays that somehow overwhelms and knocks out the baddies.

Yes, it is as stupid as it sounds.

10. Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum: Would You Like to Nickname Your God?

If you read my post on the Pokemon teams I would have in each region, you might remember me mentioning how I thought the Legendary Pokemon in Generation IV were getting a little ridiculous. In Gen I, you had Mewtwo, a genetically engineered monster, and then Birds of Thunder, Fire, and Wind. In Generation II, you had a Bird of the Deep, a Bird of the Skies, and Beasts of Thunder, Fire, and Water. In III, you've got a monster of Flooding and Seas, a Monster of Drought and Land, a Dragon of the Skies, three Golems, and two dragons of nothing in particular. While they were powerful, they were generally primal, elemental forces. You could wrap your head around being able to catch a monster with these sorts of powers

Generation IV pushes that a little farther. You have Dialga, the embodiment of Time, Palkia, the Embodiment of Space, and Giratina, the Embodiment of Antimatter or Other Dimensions or Hypertime or something. Okay, that's stretching it a little bit. But that's NOTHING compared to one of the monsters you can get at one of the special, Nintendo sponsored events. So, they made this beast called Arceus. It has the most powerful stats in the game. And it's stated to have created the universe.

Really, Nintendo? REALLY? You're going to give us an opportunity to go up against the Almighty, fight it, and then shove it in a tiny little ball so we can send it to smite unbelievers (aka people who annoy us)? What the HELL are you smoking? The Protagonists are TEN, they fight with things based on animals (superpowered animals, but regular animals nonetheless) and you're making it so they can not only FIGHT God, but DEFEAT God and bend it to their will? And not only defeat God, but defeat God with, say, a rat or a bunny? What, have you run out of ideas? Is Pokemon some humanistic allegory that I've just been missing for all these years?


Well, now that you're all thoroughly confused, this is J. K. Lantern, wishing you all a happy banana.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Buckets of Fun

Hey ho, folks. Let's tap into the Movie Tavern Mug, and see what you people want to hear about this time around.

"What is on your bucket list?"

Yeesh. This isn't one I think about often, for a couple reasons. First of all, I'm frankly surprised I lived this long. Even if you're in good health, if you go to a doctor when you're about ten, and they tell you, "Gee, there's something wrong with you that might kill you off at some point," you pretty much start automatically thinking, "Well, I'm gonna be one of the ones who dies early, it's gonna happen to me, it's gonna happen to me." Not the doctor's fault by any means. Just the way we're wired.

Secondly, most bucket lists consist of places that one wishes to travel to. Well, most of my traveling experience has been with my family. Unfortunately, for some reason I don't particularly like going places with my family, so that kinda kills the thought process of, "Gee, where would I like to go to?"

Thirdly, and more personally, whenever I've been through a close scrape, I never think, "But I never got to do X, Y, and Z!" Take, for instance, the tornadoes around Oklahoma the other day. Ice Funnels of Death are touching down all over the state, I hear one might be forming at 33rd and Boulevard, just a few blocks South of the house. I'm in the laundry room with a book and a glass of water, waiting for the storms to pass. I wasn't thinking, "Man, I wanna go skydiving," or, "I should go tackle a penguin." I was really thinking of only one thing, and that is frankly none of your damn business.

All that being said, there are a couple things that have come up in conversation that seem to fit the criteria for a bucket list. Might as well stick them here, no?

1. Screwing with Alan Moore

You've heard me tout the virtues of Alan Moore before, so making an effort to pay homage to one of the best comic book writers of all time should come as no shock to you people. However, perhaps even more notable than his excellent writings and his refusal to have anything to do with adaptations of his works, is his utter and abject refusal to travel more than he needs to. He loves Northampton, he loves his house, and he really, REALLY doesn't like to go anywhere that he doesn't have to.

Okay, Alan Moore. You're brilliant, you're crazy, and I love your work, but how can you expect me NOT to have fun with this? If you stay in the same house all the time, and you're a notable writer, I figure SOMEONE in your hometown knows where you live. And I'd love to do things to mess with you. Maybe some ding-dong ditch. Or putting up one of those plastic flamingos in your yard. Or, if I'm feeling really brave and extreme, sneaking into your house, and rearranging your desk.

Of course, assuming I survived the ordeal without being turned into a stuffed animal, I'd also love to take Alan Moore out to dinner on me after that.

2. Making a Pilgrimage to the Stevie Ray Vaughan Memorial in Austin, Texas

Once upon a time, believe it or not, I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. Who was it that inspired me to attempt this? Was it the acid jazz-blues meld of Jimi Hendrix? Was it one of the former Yardbirds, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, or Eric Clapton? Was it the Southern Slide Guitar stylings of Duane Allman?

Answer: None of the above. I remember the day. My brother and I were going to a Best Buy after school. I saw the Essential Stevie Ray Vaughan on one of the shelves, and remembered seeing his name on some of those lists of Greatest Guitarists. Now, I'd heard a couple of his songs before, but nothing that really wowed my socks off. I decided to give him a shot; my brother bought me the album and I paid for our lunch at the local Checkers.

Two songs in, we were pretty much hooked to his thick, electric, Texas Blues Rock. He may not be my favorite guitarist anymore, but he is the one who really got me interested in music. And since he's no longer alive for me to go to concerts, I figure at least I should go down to his statue and pay proper tribute. What proper tribute would be, I have no idea, but hey, I'm sure I could think of something.

3. Chicago Blues Barhopping

I've been to Chicago twice, and I still haven't gotten to do this one. The first time, I was on a Mission Trip and not old enough to go bar hopping. The second time I was stuck waiting for a flight, and didn't think I'd have time (turns out we very well would have). It seems almost criminal to be in one of the hearts of electric blues land and to not be able to go do this. So at some point, I want to go back there with one or two other people, and just travel from electric blues club to electric blues club, having a few drinks and taking in the music.

Heck, if I put my mind to it, I could probably make a whole list of things I want to do in Chicago. There are plenty of restaurants I want to go try there, music to experience, just so much to absorb. And what's more, I can think of at least two different potential traveling companions who want to check out Chicago that I wouldn't mind exploring it with. It's a Helluva town.

4. See The Protomen in Concert

It's weird. I turned a bunch of my friends onto this band, and yet I'm the one who hasn't seen them live yet. For those of you who missed my Top Ten Fictional Settings blog, this band from Nashville took the Mega Man setting, and reimagined it into two dark rock operas (with a third on the way) about the nature of heroism and freedom. Now, when I first heard of the band, I thought, "Geez, the music's gonna be terrible, the lyrics are gonna be corny, and this whole listening experience is gonna be painful."

I was very, very wrong.

And it's not just the music that you go see: it's the experience. All the band members perform in character, as a group of people seeking liberation from the Orwellian Society that Dr. Wily has created. Chanting and singing along to songs is not just permitted, but encouraged. They want YOU to join the Light Brigade, and if you're there, you can't help but be swept up along in the fervor (or so I am told by my friends who have gone to see them).

So, yeah, I'd like to finally get to see the damn band, thank you very much!

5. Eat Real Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, from Pat's or Geno's

I ALMOST got to do this one once. ALMOST. But was prevented by the power of family.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not picky about cheese steaks. Meat, cheese, bread, yum! But still, it's one of those things I'd like to experience. I mean, these are the places that started it, and have been doing it for around Seventy Years. I'd like to try the sandwich their way. Is that so wrong? I mean, I'd even make an effort to learn to order the right way (although given the fact that I've learned it about eight times and still have managed to forget, I'm sure I'll find a way to get myself booted to the tourist line).

6. Eat Ju(i)cy Lucy in Matt's Bar or the 5-8 Club

Okay, I'll be honest. If I really put my mind to it, I could make this entire list based around food. I love to cook, and I enjoy eating local regional takes on dishes. In South Minneapolis, that means the Jucy (or Juicy) Lucy, a beef patty surrounding a core of molten cheese. And much like the cheese steak in Philly, there are two major places that compete over it. Ideally, I would get to try both takes on it, as an impartial observer. But you know how it is: your favorite joint's food is serious business, and those competitors are cheating copycats who make an inferior product.

Still, I think I could get away with sampling both.


I'm sure there are plenty of other things I could come up with if I put my mind to it, but I'm afraid I have made myself hungry. So, this is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

We Could Be Heroes

Hey ho, readers. Tonight, I'm pulling out a question someone asked me years ago.

"If you had the opportunity to write a series for any comic book character, who would you choose?"

While there are plenty of big name characters out there I positively adore, there's one slight problem with writing them: wiggle room. People have expectations for characters like Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and if you mess with them too much, well, people start to get upset. Additionally, the editors of these characters are a little reluctant to take bigger risks with their main cash cow franchises.

Now, I'm not saying that it's impossible to do good stories with these characters, not by any means. People like Mark Waid and Geoff Johns have taken things like the Flash and Green Lantern, two fairly well known heroes, and have left their mark on them in a big way. The Flash now has one of the most popular Rogues Galleries among comic book fans, and GL has arguably become more of a cornerstone of the DC universe than even Batman or Superman.

But, let's face it, those characters get a lot of love already, and it's harder to make a movie franchise out of your big names when someone is mucking about with them. What about the characters who haven't gotten a lot of love? Let's hear some of their stories.

1. Johnny Thunder

Right about now, about half of you are saying, "Who?" Quick history lesson. Johnny Thunder was a comedic hero who first appeared in the pages of Flash Comics in the 1940s. Basically, he was a good hearted dimwit, who, through an accident of birth, came into possession of a hot pink genie (more or less) called the Thunderbolt, who would do whatever Thunder asked, after saying the magic words cei-u (say you). Given Johnny's relative lack of wits, his tendency to pepper his conversation with the phrase "say you," and given the fact that the Thunderbolt's vast powers meant it had to take the wishes pretty literally, naturally this meant that hijinks would ensue. He was a relatively minor character in the DC Universe, never having his own series (as far as I know), but he was consistently a member of the Justice Society of America (DC's original super team, and precursor to the Justice League). The character died in the 2000s, merging with the Thunderbolt and passing it on to a successor, Jakeem Thunder.

Now, I'm going to be honest. If I were to write this, it would not be Johnny Thunder's story. Sure, he'd be an important part of it, but in all honesty, I'm more interested in the Thunderbolt. See, the Thunderbolt is an ancient, powerful being, bound to his master by fate. He knows that he is going to outlive his master. We don't actually know how many masters the Thunderbolt has been bound to. One of the things that would interest me is the Thunderbolt through the ages, its interactions with its various masters and mistresses, and how he deals with their inevitable demise.

Additionally, while the Thunderbolt was frequently sarcastic to Johnny, he was pretty much a benevolent being. Most of the other beings we later meet from the Thunderbolt's race (Qwsp, Lkz, and perennial favorite Mr. Mxysptlk) are far less so. This could mean that he's the outcast of his society (hence why he's usually friends with the people he serves). I'd like to see how writing about the Thunderbolt's isolation from his own people would go, (and how he deals with serving under evil people).

Ultimately, I think there's some potential storytelling there.

2. Terrax the Tamer

Some villains start off being credible threats to heroes, but quickly devolve into punching bags to show how awesome a new hero is. Terrax is one of these characters. Much like the much more benevolent and better known Silver Surfer, Terrax was a being who was granted nearly godlike powers by Galactus, Devourer of Worlds, for the purpose of finding planets the being could ingest. However, whereas the Silver Surfer was a philosopher and a pacifist, Terrax was a king, a conqueror, a warrior. And while the Surfer rebelled against Galactus due to a regained appreciation for all the universe's living creatures, Terrax rebelled in an attempt to gain more power. While not as powerful as the Surfer, he still was granted vast energy powers, strength, durability, and his own natural abilities to manipulate earth were amplified a hundredfold. One blow of his axe can be enough to shatter a planet, if he REALLY puts his mind to it.

So, naturally, this powerhouse of a villain is the immediate choice to show off how awesome your new hero is.

So, anyway, what the Hell would I do with this character? Am I just going to ignore all his humiliating, ignoble defeats? No way. That's going to be part of the story. See, Terrax has always been the kind of character who believes power is an end unto itself, and he believes in getting it the old fashioned way. He mainly looks out for himself. The one good deed I've seen him do in comics was freeing an enslaved group of aliens, which he did grudgingly simply because he himself had just been enslaved (alien brain worms, naturally) and helpless to do anything about it. When the aliens refused to accept their freedom, and rushed to bow down to him, he killed them all in a fury over their refusal to stand for themselves.

And of course, being a former Herald for the Devourer of Worlds, Terrax will have people aiming to gun him down. There are, of course, all the inhabitants who escaped the worlds he helped destroy, looking for some small measure of vengeance. And then there are those who hear about this Former Herald, who seems beatable enough, looking to make a name for themselves. And Terrax has made few allies in his time.

He's basically one of those old Barbarian heroes, a la Conan, with cosmic powers. He believes in his own freedom, above all else, and to the detriment of others. And the big question that comes up is, does the universe have a place for that sort of person anymore? Can Terrax exist as an island? Only one way to find out.

3. The Sandman

No, not THAT Sandman. His story is wrapped up nicely, and attempting to bring him back out would only cheapen an otherwise wonderful character. No, I'm referring to the Marvel villain, of Spider-Man fame.

A petty thug who is pushed into a life of crime by a desire to help out some friends who had gotten in debt with some bad people, William Baker wandered into a nuclear testing site while escaping from business. Because radiation can do anything, his body is fused with the sand on the beach, and thus a supervillain is born. Except...

Except he deliberately changed his name so his mother wouldn't worry about him. Except he's been known to look out for other villains he thinks need protection. Except he has been known to help Spider-Man, his biggest enemy, out from time to time, and even tried to make it as a hero (before someone went mucking about in his brain). Except when his father was framed for murder, he went to Spider-Man for help.

The Sandman might be a petty thug, but he's not really a bad person. He's just a man who made a few bad decisions in order to help some friends, and things got away from him. And something about that appeals to me. I could picture his comic book series being something akin to Leverage, in which he lives somewhere, and is trying to keep a low profile, but then sees a situation that could use his particular brand of help.

And, of course, he'd probably use some of his contacts with other criminals from time to time, along with other reformed villains, such as the Blizzard, the former Goliath, and the former Beetle. We'd be able to see the relationships between those common street super-criminals. I think the Sandman is one of the ideal characters for this sort of view into the Marvel universe because he's just riding that fence. He has friends in the superhero community (Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four was one of his biggest supporters when he attempted to reform), and at the same time he's been shown to look out for some of his former teammates on the Sinister Six when they've been threatened (such as the Vulture in the often panned Identity Disc).

Would he be above committing crimes? Of course not! He still considers himself a criminal, after all. But he'd tone it down a little, and he'd finally have a place where he could do some good.

4. The Mole Man

I've always loved this character, and thought he was the greatest example of the American Dream ever conceived. His origin: he was an ugly, abrasive nuclear engineer, dissatisfied with his life. He stumbles upon a subterranean civilization, and becomes a King. He has since repeatedly attacked the surface world, and is treated as something of a joke within the Marvel Universe.

But what if he wasn't? What if he wasn't the only Kingdom that was underground? What if he was the only thing keeping forces from underground rising up and destroying all of mankind? What if, each of his attacks on the surface world weren't out of vengeance, but out of some Machiavellian plot to help him maintain his grasp on power, and to prevent more dangerous things from attacking?

While I am not a Machiavellian politico, there have been a couple of series which have focused on Kings ruling unusual realms (Paul Jenkins' run on The Inhumans comes to mind), and the unique problems of being the ruler of superbeings. And I think the Mole Man could be a unique take on this, as the beings he rules over, the things he deals with, few of them even resemble humans. What are their motivations? Why do they follow him? What makes them tick, and how is he able to out think them?

Could be fun to see what's underneath us, don't you think?

5. The Wasp

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like all too often superheroic women get the shaft in comics.

I probably should rephrase that, but I'm not going to. You damn well know what I meant. If a female character has the same powers as a male character, they're frequently considered as, "______, only not as good." Often times, they're required to hold the fort while the big strong men go off and do the really dangerous things, because clearly the men are better, as they are men. Many times, they're given lame powers (I'm looking at you, original power set of the Invisible Girl), or are treated as ditzy for no real good reason. And God help you if they're married. They could have been strong and independent before, but now suddenly they're going to frequently end up as the damsel in distress, and always be touting how much easier the situation would be if their husband was around, even if the woman is, say, a living goddess (Dammit, Big Barda, Mister Miracle does not fix everything!).

And let's not even get into "women in refrigerators."

Yes, the trend is reversing, but let's face it, superheroics is still largely treated as a boy's game, which isn't exactly fair. Let's face it: dudes can be just as clueless and ditzy as dames.

This would be my attempt at having fun with it a little bit. The Wasp (recently deceased) has pretty much spent her career labeled as "Hank Pym's sidekick." Yes, Hank Pym (aka Ant Man, Giant Man, Goliath, Yellowjacket, Tater Salad) was the one who first gave her shrinking powers, and yes, Hank Pym is a great scientist. But let's give the Wasp a little respect here. She was, at one point, the leader of the Avengers, and only stepped down when she decided she was needed on another team. She's gotten some hand to hand training from Captain America (among others), and is by no means a brainless airhead in need of a man. Despite this, she was still considered a weak link in the Avengers by many, and would end up as a damsel in distress. Weeeeeeeeeeak!

So, basically, this would be a fun little mini series in which Hank Pym and a lot of the other big brains in the Marvel universe are doing something sciency. Something goes wrong, they end up kidnapped by Skrulls, Space Phantoms, whatever, and are helpless to escape. It's up to the winsome Wasp (and some other ladies of Marvel) to rescue them from their own stupidity. I'd probably even start it off with Wasp telling them that maybe it's not the best idea to go poking around whatever sciency thing it is ("Gee, doesn't investigating that dimension of horrendous tentacled beasts of doom sound like a stupid idea to you, Hank?").

It would be designed as a deliberately humorous series, and probably make fun of other stereotypes in comics as well. Could be fun.


These aren't the only heroes I'd love to write. But I think I'd be able to leave my own fun little mark on them. Well, until next time, this is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

You Can Call Me Superman

All right, time to pull another question out of the Movie Tavern Mug.

"J.K., can you give us five examples of unexpected game breaking super powers?"

There are plenty of absurdly powerful superheroes and supervillains out there in the wide world of fiction. Take Superman, for instance. He's been known to take on physical gods, to fly through stars, and move planets. Or any of the Green Lanterns. While mostly what you see them do is create objects out of energy from their rings and shoot lasers, it's mentioned that they can do pretty much anything if they really put their minds to it. And don't get me started on anyone with the phrase "Reality Warping" in their power set!

But, some applications of powers are a little less straightforward. And sure, some of them might only work well in unusual circumstances, but others, with a little creativity, can be just as awesomely impressive as anything those living gods can throw.

1. Animal Powers, Animal Man

Compared to people who juggle planets, or who can run faster than the speed of light, a guy who can copy the powers of animals seems pretty lame. Sure, gorillas are strong, and cheetah are fast, but they can't do the things that other heroes do.

Well, sure, if you want to be straightforward about it. But then, who said the writer ever had to be straightforward? Meet Grant Morrison. He had an acclaimed run on JLA that is arguably what led to the Justice League cartoon, along with a controversial run on the X-Men. He's currently one of the major driving forces in the DC universe. But like all writers, he had to get his start somewhere. In his case, it was with a practically unknown, barely used character named Animal Man.

The result was a brilliant (if brief) run, considered to be a brilliant example of metafiction, and a landmark in the British Invasion of Comics (along with Alan Moore's Swamp Thing and Neil Gaiman's Sandman).

But of course, I'm not talking about the stories, now, am I? So, what cool things did Grant Morrison do to show off Animal Man's capabilities? Well, there are two main examples I can think of off the top of my head. First of all, at one point Animal Man had gotten his arm chopped off. He mimicked the talents of an earthworm in the ground beneath him and grew his arm back, in a level of healing that, at the time, even Wolverine would have been a little jealous of.

Secondly, there was a fight with a giant robot. Animal Man appeared to be outmatched. That is, until he mimicked the reflexes and perception of a fly. Suddenly, to him, the robot was moving in slow motion, and he could easily dismantle it.

And Animal Man's powers have only grown since. In the past couple years, his powers were enhanced so that he can now mimic not just terrestrial animals, but extraterrestrial ones as well. This makes the possibilities for his powers limitless. Not bad for a family man who became a hero by accident.

2. Stretchable Body, Plastic Man

Most people are familiar with stretchy powers, thanks to a member of a certain super family. They are less familiar with this guy, one of the earliest examples of this strechable paradigm of superhero, and I think that's a shame, because Plastic Man perhaps has the most imaginative uses of this type of power.

Most of the time when you see a character with this sort of power, you think, "Gee, they're going to stretch to punch that guy, or to reach that girl falling down a bridge, or wrap themselves around the bad guy to tie him up." One in a while, if you're real lucky, they'll flatten themselves out and act as a parachute, or as a net to catch debris.

Sure, Plastic Man COULD do all this, but why stop there? Plas happily stretches himself in such ways that he can mimic complex machines, and have them FUNCTION (as well as less complex objects). And half the times that he changes, it's largely for his own amusement! The only real limit to the amount he can change himself is the fact that he has trouble changing color!

And with his rubbery, mutable body, comes extreme durability. You hit him, he simply stretches along with your fist. Shoot him, his body stretches along with the bullets. He's been hammered, melted, turned to stone, turned into various animals, and even blown up, and he always manages to stretch back into his crazy old self.

These are just some of the reasons that, in an issue of the Justice League, when Superman-level hero Martian Manhunter went out of control (long story), they tapped this stretchy guy to fight him. Impressed by rubber powers now?

3. Mastery of Magnetism, Magneto

This example is one I was debating on not including, until I talked to some of my less geeky friends. Thanks to a cartoon in the nineties, and a certain movie franchise, pretty much everyone is familiar with this character. But most people I talk to, when they think of his powers, pretty much are of the mindset, "So he can move metal things around. Big deal." Aside from that iron in the blood trick he demonstrated in X-Men 2, most people I know weren't hugely impressed with him. But in reality, there is so much more to the scope of his powers.

Magnetism is not just a parlor trick used to move objects around; it's one of the things that dominates the way the universe runs. See, electromagnetism (as it is more properly called) is one of the four fundamental forces of the universe, one of the simplest ways matter can interact. It's based upon the movement and existence of charge within objects. With the exception of gravity, it's pretty much the main force responsible for most of the things you'll run into in your daily life. Your inability to walk through walls is simply because of the interactions of the electromagnetic charge of the atoms that comprise your body and the atoms that comprise the wall. While it would be silly to give Magneto absolutely unlimited control over this force, you see now that there's more to his power than just throwing metal objects. Like what, you ask?

Well, one of his most basic tricks is his ability to create a force field out of charged particles. This gives him a great level of durability (beyond just stopping bullets, it can stop punches, lasers, and whatever the writer happens to find convenient), and if he put his mind to it, could be used as a deadly weapon. Additionally, he can manipulate various forms of radiation-


I am being serious. Look, radiation as we know it is simply an artifact of moving electromagnetic fields. So light, infrared, UV, gamma rays? When he really wants to, he can manipulate all of them. He is capable of microwaving parts of your anatomy that you didn't know you had. Suddenly, that helmet of his seems a lot less dorky, doesn't it?

And before I get chewed out by nerds, yes, I'm aware Cosmic Boy of the Legion of Superheroes came first, and did some of these tricks before he did.

4. Ice Powers, Iceman

Compared to the later members of the team, the five original X-Men seem a little lackluster by comparison. I mean, you've got Cyclops with eye lasers, fine. Marvel Girl is a telekinetic (a weak one at first), fine. But then you've got Angel, Beast, and Iceman. Angel just had a pair of wings and could fly, Beast was essentially as strong and as agile as an ape, and Iceman could shoot snow and ice beams. Sheesh, no wonder they decided to give four of the five original members upgrades. Of course, they did this in different ways: Marvel Girl/Jean Grey through training and a cosmic level being, Angel and Beast through some mad science, and Iceman partially through the logical physics of his powers, and partially through adding a power to him later.

When most people think of "cold" based powers, they think of it as some form of energy that the character throws at the target. In reality, what we perceive as "heat" is merely random kinetic energy within molecules, so a cold beam is the opposite of that: it's the sucking out or dispersal of random kinetic energy from a location. This is actually why one of the Flash's perennial villains, Captain Cold, has a cold gun. He had no interest in freezing anything, he merely wanted a weapon that would suck "speed" in the form of kinetic energy from the Flash; the icy effects were merely a side effect.

Now, take the concept of that weapon, and make it built into a being. Suddenly, you've got a character who can potentially cease all molecular motion within a system WHO CANNOT BE DISARMED. Suddenly, Iceman seems a lot scarier.

But, of course, that wasn't all they did to him. Up until the nineties, Iceman's "transformation" into superhero mode consisted of covering himself either with snow or with a thing, flexible layer of ice. I believe it was writer Mike Carey (of Lucifer fame) who decided that this was stupid, and gave Iceman an ongoing mutation. Instead of just covering himself with ice armor, he gained the ability to actually turn into a being made of ice. And while he is made of ice, he can still use his cold powers to make more ice, to add to his body, which gives him greater physical strength, to the point that he was able to take on (an albeit powered down) Juggernaut one on one and win.

"But wait, ice melts and evaporates," I hear a few of you skeptics in the audience say. Yes, that is true, but the writers thought of that as well. The few times Iceman has been liquified, he's simply reformed himself with his cold powers later. And at least once, when he was blown up in human form, his body reflexively changed into snow, evaporated, and then reformed at a later date. That's right: we potentially have a super strong, giant, invincible being capable of removing massive quantities of kinetic energy from a system. Who's the chump now?

5. Plant Control, Swamp Thing

Most of you are probably familiar with this character thanks to an awesomely bad movie or an extremely cheesy cartoon from the late eighties, early nineties. In fact, years ago, when my brother told me there was a Swamp Thing comic book series in the eighties, and that it was actually awesome, I flat out didn't believe him. I mean, seriously, what the Hell could a swamp monster d-HOLY CRAP!

To say nothing of the stories (which ranged from topics like the nature of good and evil to PMS Werewolves), Alan Moore took a previously lame character and showed off what you can REALLY do with plant powers when you are, in fact, made of plants. Even starting from the first issue of Alan Moore's run, with the line, "You can't kill a vegetable by shooting it in the head," we begin to see that there was way more potential for this being than just being a generic monster. And it only gets bigger from there. Whenever Swamp Thing needed to travel anywhere from then on, he would simply create a new body out of whatever plant material was available in the area he was going, and then abandon his old body. He even used this to travel from planet to planet. He also at least once caused the plant matter in a meal someone had eaten to cause uncontrollably from within them. And then there was the time he turned Gotham City into a jungle because they had jailed his girlfriend. Batman, the guy who knows how to defeat everybody, gave up in the face of Swamp Thing.

Thanks to Alan Moore, Swamp Thing went from a shambling plant zombie to an implacable, unstoppable force of nature, capable of wiping out civilization and replacing it with a giant, unkempt forest, and yet the stories were still interesting. Be glad Swampy's on our side, folks.


So you see, folks, just because your character doesn't throw mountains or punch comets, or fart moonbeams or whatever, doesn't mean they're any less of a hero than another character. Ultimately, heroism comes from the heart of the character, and a good story is based around some level of conflict and suspense. Still, doesn't mean we don't enjoy seeing creative applications of powers from time to time.

This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now!