Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gotta Catch 'Em All

Hey ho, folks, J. K. Lantern here. Let's see what question pops out of my Movie Tavern Mug today.

"J.K., we've noticed that you seem to like Pokemon..."

Gee, ya think?

"...and we were wondering what your ideal team would be for each region."

Oh good gravy God. You just want me to keep talking until you get bored to sleep, don't you? Okay, just real quick: we're using the type effectiveness from Generation II and beyond, each Region I'm only picking Pokemon that were available when that Region was introduced (if it gets an evolution in a later generation, tough titties), and I'm not listing moves for my team because this is going to be long enough as it is. And I'm not doing this entirely by what I think would be best to take out specific trainers in the region, I'm just doing this by mons I like for one reason or another. Also, not including Legendaries because that's too cheap. Ready? Go!


The region of the first game, this is the one that people probably know the best, the one that got the ball rolling. While some of the monster designs may seem lackluster compared to the later ones, and while the original games had balance issues due to type distributions, move distributions, and blatant programming errors, the game designers were still getting their footing. And while some of the Gym Leaders may seem like sissies compared to ones in the later games (in an example I find particularly egregious, the first Gym Leader of Diamond and Pearl, Roark, has the same Pokemon PLUS ONE MORE as the first Gym Leader in Red and Blue, Brock), many of them still remain favorites among players to this day. So, let's take a look at what my team would be for this region.

Jolteon (Electric): I sort of have a love-hate relationship with Eevee's extended family. I have no real reason to dislike the Eeveelutions, except that EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER LOVES THEM AND WANTS THEM ALL. Why should this bother me? Well, I was running a Pokemon RPG at one point, and it swiftly became very annoying.

But, of the original three Eeveelutions, this was the one that I liked best, and of the original three, I've been told it's the one that most resembles me (whatever the Hell that means). It's fast, it hits decently hard, and it learns one of the few moves in the original game that could take out a Psychic type.

Golduck (Water): If this one surprised you, then you're either a new reader or there's just no helping you. Psyduck and Golduck are two Pokemon that my friends happen to think I resemble in some fashion, and they have long been favorites of mine. They can learn a decent spread of moves, have a decent spread of stats, and, in case you haven't been paying attention, are ducks with psychic powers. What's not to like?

Hitmonchan (Fighting): Originally, Hitmonchan was kinda lame, simply because of the way attacks were organized. It had all these Elemental Punches that were based on the special attack stat...and a terrible special attack. Now, however, they've reformatted things and those awesome Elemental Punches are now very usable. So Hitmonchan gets the nod for having cool variations in moves.

Scyther (Bug/Flying): Bug Pokemon come in two general groups.

1. Harass, impede, poison, paralyze, and confuse.
2. Hit somebody.

Scyther comes in the second category, which tends to suit my play style better. This is the closest thing to a Ninja Pokemon (at least in Kanto), and it's one I've always liked, so it joins the team.

Ninetails: Ninetails I'm picking for two reasons. First of all, it's always been a Fire Pokemon I've liked, and since (unlike some other Fire Pokemon in this region I could name) its Special Attack is actually better than it's Attack, it can use most Fire Type moves a little better than its compatriots.

The other reason is that it's one that reminds me of a friend, and apparently I'm getting sentimental in my old age.

Muk (Poison): I'll admit, I don't use Poison Types often. They're only strong against one type (Grass), and both of their weaknesses are used fairly often. But, on the other hand, it's a giant slime monster. Unlike Hitmonchan, in the rearrangement of physical and special attacks, Muk got nerfed pretty hard, most of its moves being changed to special from physical. Still, slime monsters are fun, and Muk has been a sentimental favorite of mine for a while, even if its not the ideal team member.

Plus, it was really funny that one time my brother hacked his game to have a Muk with the move Lovely Kiss.


Johto is the region that everyone seems to love. Introduced in Gold and Silver, it was the game that brought us the Day and Night Cycle (with certain mons only available at certain times, or even certain days of the week) and Pokemon breeding. It gave us one hundred new Pokemon, introduced two new types (Dark and Steel), fixed the error that made Psychic immune to Ghost, and gave some more new moves to help fix game balance. New evolution mechanisms were added (such as happiness and by holding an item), and, as a bonus, we got to go back to Kanto once we beat the crap out of everyone in Johto.

Despite all this, Johto is NOT my favorite region. The fact that nearly HALF the Gym Leaders didn't have new Pokemon introduced to this region always bothered me. And I know it's just because you go back to Kanto later in the game, but something about the comparatively low levels of the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four always struck me as wrong. And it didn't help that, in the original Gold and Silver versions, you beat the Elite Four, and then fight the Kanto Gym Leaders who are a good deal lower in level: it takes away some of the challenge of that portion of the game. I think they've done some tweaking of the levels in HeartGold and SoulSilver though, so I guess that's something. Anyway, onto the team.

Ampharos (Electric): So, when I first played Silver, I got my Starter (Totodile, the alligator), and went on my way, excited to find my new Pokemon. I was immediately disappointed that, in the early parts of the game, there just weren't that many new ones, and the ones available were kinda similar to the early ones in Red and Blue (I'm looking at you, Sentret). And while it was possible to get some old faves like Bellsprout, Geodude, and Gastly earlier than you could in previous versions, it just wasn't the same as finding nifty new ones.

And then came an Electric Sheep. Yes, Mareep was the first of the new Pokemon (aside from my starter) that I was excited to find in Pokemon Silver. Thus, it makes the cut.

Houndoom (Dark/Fire): Yes, I know this one wasn't technically available in Johto. It was introduced in Gold and Silver, I'm counting it, so shut up.

So, as I mentioned, in order to tweak the game balance a little, two new types were added in this Generation: Dark, and Steel. Of the two, Dark was the one I was originally more excited about, until I came to an unpleasant revelation: most of the Dark Pokemon weren't actually available until you beat the Elite Four and traveled to Kanto. How utterly infuriating, showing us these new toys and not letting us use them. It's not like they gave us that many, either. And of the Dark types introduced in this Generation, I'd have to say this one was my favorite. Something about having a loyal Hellhound appeals to me. Probably not a good sign.

Kingdra (Water/Dragon): This was the first Dragon Pokemon added outside of the Dratini family. It's also one of those dreaded Pokemon that only evolve when traded with a certain item. Not having people to trade with regularly (either due to a lack of a link cable or a lack of interest), it's always very difficult for me to get one of these. But, I do like it. It's has a certain level of class about it, and really good typing.

Piloswine (Ice/Ground) : Ahem. Mammoth Pig. Do I have to say much more than that? While it's not ideal as an Ice Type, due to low special stats, it's funny looking, and has decent physical attack for most of its Ground Type moves. And did I mention MAMMOTH PIG?

Heracross (Bug/Fighting): Yet another Bug I'm inordinately fond of. This one is fairly straightforward, its main function being to hit things. Hard. Plus there's the fact that you frequently find it hiding in trees. It learns some powerful Bug and Fighting moves, and it has a big freakin' horn coming out the top of its head. It's a pretty popular Pokemon among players, which does lose it some points with me (it gets tiring when everyone uses the same thing), but not enough to get it knocked off the team.

Sudowoodo (Rock): The second generation's equivalent to Snorlax, only funnier. At some point, early in the game, there is a "tree" in your way. When you try to talk to it, it dances. So, you go around a different way, make a roundabout loop, eventually get a squirt bottle, and attempt to water said "tree." Turns out that acting like a tree is a defense mechanism. Which is hilarious, because, being a Rock Type, this thing hates water.

It doesn't have the power behind it that Snorlax does, but it's a fun Pokemon, and one that I enjoy having on my teams.

This region, the setting of Pokemon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, catches a lot of flak among Pokemon fans. First of all, these were the first games that weren't compatible with a previous generation, which cheesed a lot of people off. As a result of this lack of compatibility, many of the monsters (especially in the earlier parts of the game) seemed to the players like rehashes of old Pokemon. Also, since this is the set of games that introduced double battling, it introduced a bunch of Pokemon that only seemed to work well (or at all) in a double battle scenario, which is just a little annoying.

That being said, for some reason this tropical region is my favorite in the games. It introduced a bunch of new type combinations, and expanded previously narrow types such as Dark, Steel, Ghost, and Dragon. It also introduced to us Pokemon Abilities, passive things that change how the Pokemon functions under certain conditions. While not all of the abilities are terribly useful or easy to work, there were plenty that I still think are ingenious conceptually. And also, there were one or two unique evolutions introduced in Ruby and Sapphire that I thought were brilliant. And while the Gym Leaders aren't quite as cool as some of the ones in other generations in my opinion, I still enjoyed them, and the Elite four more than makes up for it. Furthermore, this is the game with my favorite Legendaries in them: they were relevant to the plot, had cool effects, and didn't get QUITE as silly as they did in Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum.

So, what would be my team in Hoenn?

Flygon (Ground/Dragon): In the previous two Generations, you basically had two options if you wanted a Dragon Type on your team: either raise a Dratini to a Dragonite, which could take a while and would make you feel guilty for having a Pokemon with some of the highest stats in the game, or find a Seadra, find a Dragon Scale, and find someone you trusted to trade back and forth with to get a Kingdra. Ruby and Sapphire expanded the pool for Dragons significantly. While a good chunk of them are legendary, three lines of them aren't. And while one of them suffered from the same problem as Dragonite (you feel too much like a cheap bastard when using it), the Altaria and the Flygon lines are a little less unstoppable statwise. And of those two really classy looking Pokemon, Flygon is the one I like a little better.

Cradily (Rock/Grass): This game introduced two new fossils to Pokemon. Of the two fossils, I like this one a little better. First of all, I think it looks cooler, and second of all, it's an ancient plant monster. Hard not to be a fan. And while grass has a lot of weaknesses, and most of the things it does well against are easily covered by other types, it's still easy to work it into a team.

(Fire): I have no idea why I like this one, other than the fact it's a turtle. A defensive Fire Type is a weird combination, but when I used it in Sapphire, hey, it worked. Aside from the Fire starter Pokemon in Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald (FIGHTING FIRE CHICKEN!), this is my favorite of the Fire Types introduced in Generation III. Plus, what other Pokemon could you get away with nicknaming Koopa?

Walrein (Ice/Water): I had trouble picking out a Water Pokemon from this region, just because there are so many that I like. Sure, there are a couple of clunkers lurking beneath the waves, but between some old favorites and a bunch of cool new ones, I really like the Water Pokemon in this region. I ended up going with Walrein because, in addition to being a Water Type I enjoy, it's also possibly my favorite non-Legendary Ice Type.

Shedinja (Bug/Ghost): This one is an easy one to miss, and I still think the method of getting it is one of the most brilliant mechanics in the game. Outside the city with the first gym, you could catch this thing called Nincada. You stick it in your, by now, six mon party, level it up, it evolves, and you get Ninjask, a Rocket Powered Turbo Bug.

But what happens if you evolve it without having a full party? And with an extra Poke Ball in your inventory?

It turns out that, in evolving, the Nincada molts. And, this being the world of Pokemon, if you've got space for it, the exoskeleton comes to un-life and joins your team. Cool!

But wait, it gets funnier. If you take a look at its stats, you notice that it's pretty terrible, especially because it only has one measly hit point. Why would you use it? For its gimmicky ability, of course. Thanks to its Wonder Guard, Shedinja can only be hurt by a couple things:

1. Status effects such as poison and burn.
2. Certain battlefield effects, like Spikes, Toxic Spikes, and Stealth Rock
3. Moves that are Super Effective against it. So, Dark, Ghost, Rock, Fire, Flying.

It's pretty much a novelty Pokemon, and most teams probably have something to take it out. But it's one I really love.

Slaking (Normal): This is another gimmicky Pokemon that I think is ingenious. So, in one of the early parts of the game, before you reach the first gym, you might run into Slakoth, a sloth Pokemon. You catch it. "Normal Type? Eh, I'll give it a shot. What the-WHY CAN IT ONLY ATTACK EVERY OTHER TURN? THIS POKEMON IS LAME!"

You then proceed to trade it for the Fighting Type in Rustboro City, the location of the first gym, and forget about it entirely.

Fast Forward a bit. You're now at the Petalburg Gym, your father's gym, fifth gym in the game, Normal Type. "Ha, Normal Type. That's easy. I got a Fighting Type earlier. What should I be worried about?"

The leader sends out this thing. And one shots your Fighting Pokemon. And laughs in your face about it. See, this is the big brother of that Slakoth you traded at the beginning of the game. And while it still can only attack every other turn, it has stats that are just a hair weaker than some Legendary Pokemon. Like Mewtwo. Be afraid.


Ah, Sinnoh, the newest region, the region everyone thinks of as the second golden age of Pokemon...and I don't like it much.

I'll admit, the Gym Leaders have a lot of personality, and we get to see them outside of the Gym environment. And in Diamond and Pearl, one of the Gym Leaders and one of the Elite Four (who are coincidentally best friends) actually have team line ups that seem like they could have been wandering trainers who became Gym Leaders, due to having Pokemon outside of their type specialties in their line-ups. And yes, you can get your Mons from Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, FireRed and LeafGreen onto your copies of Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum. And YES, they brought back Day and Night and day of the week effects.

BUT, I felt that most of the entirely new Pokemon designs were kind of lackluster. Most of the cool designs were evolutions of Pokemon from earlier games, and most of those weren't available until you beat the Elite Four, and most of THOSE required you to do some pain in the butt things to track them down (use a special item and hope you get lucky, or wait for a swarm to arrive).

Additionally, I felt that the Legendary Pokemon got a little bit silly. Among other things, you could catch embodiments of Time, Space, Antimatter, and a Mon that's stated to be the creator of the universe. Isn't that a little extreme, folks? I mean, I know in the last game we had something said to create land, and something said to create water, but we're kinda leaving the nice elemental sphere of things for absurd levels of power, here.

Another beef I have with this region is that, until you beat the game, there are only two families of Fire Pokemon available to you: the Fire Starter Pokemon, or the Ponyta line. That's just a little bit obnoxious, don't you think? They fixed this in Platinum, but still, pretty big thing to overlook when ONE OF YOUR ELITE FOUR MEMBER'S SPECIALTY TYPES IS FIRE. I mean, yes, it's cool that it makes him plausibly a former wandering trainer, but MY GOD, there is such a thing as too far, people!

So, all bitching aside, here's my ideal team.

Magmortar (Fire): Okay, I'll admit it. I thought this thing looked cooler as Magmar.

This is an obnoxiously hard one to get, actually. First of all, in Diamond and Pearl, in order to get it you have to have LeafGreen inserted into the GBA slot of your DS. Then, you go to a certain location after defeating the Elite Four. Because LeafGreen is in, wild Magby will be wandering around. You have to catch one, and hope it's holding a certain item. Then, you have to raise it to a Magmar. And THEN, you have to trade it to someone while it's holding that item to get it to evolve into Magmortar.

Still, Lava Monster? With flame cannons for arms? Sounds cool to me.

Luxray (Electric): Luxray is kind of an odd pick, because, while its physical stats are higher than its special, it is incapable of learning the decent physical Electric attack (Thunder Punch). Still, there's a certain nobility about this Pokemon that I like. And it's not like its special attack stat is so bad that you can't use the better special Electric Type moves on it (say, Thunderbolt, for example). After Ampharos, this might be my favorite Electric Type Pokemon.

Toxicroak (Poison/Fighting): I love Frogs. And what could be better than a frog? A MUAY THAI FROG! This was one of the new designs I was actually excited about. While Poison and Fighting do give you a major weakness to Psychic (along with weaknesses to Ground and Flying), it also gives a good spread of resistances. And with the right ability, Toxicroak even gets an immunity to water type moves. But mostly, I thought this thing looked cool.

Bastiodon (Rock/Steel): Once again, this generation introduce some new fossil Pokemon (along with a novel way of getting them, you actually dig around underground). But wait! What's this? They actually look like dinosaurs! And while Rock/Steel is not great typing, since its three weaknesses (Fighting, Ground, Water) are fairly common, it brings a boatload of resistances with it. Despite its pretty big Achilles' heels, there's still an aura of invincibility about it that appeals to me, between those armored plates and its gigantic head.

Carnivine (Grass): This one comes solely from my love of Swamp Thing. Alan Moore has single handedly engendered a love of monstrous carnivorous plants in me. While Grass isn't a great type, having a lot of weaknesses, and having a relatively narrow band of things it's super effective against, I have a soft spot for this one (and a couple others who didn't happen to make the cut this time around). Carnivine is in.

(Ice/Ghost): Most of you were probably expecting a Water Type here, but I'm going to be honest: I don't like most of the Water Types introduced in this Generation. They aren't necessarily bad, it's just that (aside from the Water starter), none of the new Water Pokemon from this region really strike me as cool. I usually end up having Golduck as my Water Type in Sinnoh as well.

But a winter ghost? A siren in the snow? I can totally work with that.


Holy crap that was a long one. Is anyone still actually awake? Well, if you are, this is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Princes of the Universe

Sorry about the delay in getting a new post up. Psyduck and I were having a frank exchange of ideas about the last post. So, let's see what we've got for today.

"Give out some awards for your favorite crazy rulers."

I'm gonna need to dig me up some theme music for each of these awards. Hang on a sec...

So, there have been plenty of fairly single-minded rulers out there, obsessed with holding on to their own power. And, with a few exceptions, we can probably agree it's not exactly a good time to be under these rulers, especially with all the freedoms we're accustomed to in this day and age. However, it is fun to talk about some of the nuttier ones

Most Terrifyingly Badass

In every era, there are fanatics, willing to do extreme things in the name of their beliefs. People with strong enough beliefs are more than happy to lay down their lives for their causes, or to lay down the lives of others. After all, what measure is a human life against the greater good of the world?

So you know you've got to be pretty terrifying when the fanatics come to your house, and say, "Y'know what? I think we better skip this one." What ruler succeeded in doing this? The grand-daddy of terrifying. That's right, Vlad III of Wallachia.

Wait, what do you mean you don't know Vlad III? I know you've heard of him. Oh, wait, I know what the problem is. You probably know him by one of his other names: Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Dracula.

That's right, folks. Friggin' DRACULA wins the award for being the most terrifyingly badass. Throughout his life, Vlad Tepes had two major obsessions: holding onto his throne (as this was era in which the Germanic regions were ruled by craploads of Princes each looking to expand their fiefdoms) and kicking Turkish ass. He was a big fan of Crusading against the Islamic people's of the East, who had frequently come in and threatened his homelands in his youth. He earned his nickname of "The Impaler" from his preferred method of disposing of Turkish Prisoners (and others who did something to get on his bad side). Frequently, Turkish armies would go out to attack European settlements, see one of Vlad's strongholds in the distance, approach it to attack, and then turn around upon the sight of their brethren sitting in front of them shish kebab style.

While he wasn't the ruler of a major empire, Vlad III of Wallachia is still terrifying enough to capture the imagination, and also to win this award.

Best Power Behind the Throne

It takes a lot of luck and a lot of skill to hold onto the power of a country for nearly fifty years. To hold onto it without being officially invested onto the throne as the ruler, though? Clearly you're doing something right. And thus, we have Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty in China.

The Qing Dynasty (also known occasionally as the Manchu Dynasty) started off well enough, but after a century or two of bad luck and a couple less than ideal rulers, it was on its last legs, and Cixi, the Mother of the next Emperor knew it. Colonial forces of the west were coming into China and trying to take over, while the militant inclinations of Japan, the other great power of the East, were as big a threat as always. So, what do you do if the heir to the throne is too young to rule, and the Empire is in big trouble? Time to serve as the most hardcore regent ever. Cixi served as regent during the entire time her son was growing up, and when it seemed like he wasn't going to be a competent ruler, she had him killed off and installed her nephew as ruler. She effectively remained ruler of China for somewhere in the neighborhood of Forty Seven years, through several Emperors, all in an effort to preserve the glory of the Empire.

Unfortunately, the Empire was in too much trouble for her to preserve it. Losses to the British had forced the Chinese to make concessions, and several members of the Imperial Government were corrupt and decadent. Combine this with a refusal to change military tactics and technology, and you can see why the Empire fell shortly after Empress Dowager Cixi died.

Most Out There

Most of the rulers getting awards in this post, you can probably make the case for them having some sort of mental illness. But it takes a very, VERY special kind of crazy to declare yourself the Emperor of a Democratic State, and an even MORE special kind of crazy to get treated with respect as a result. So this award goes to Emperor Joshua Norton the First, Ruler of the United States and Protector of Mexico (and Other Territories).

Emperor Norton had been a businessman, but he came on really hard times. He disappeared for a few years, and then resurfaced in San Francisco. He wrote a letter to the United States Government, saying how the state of affairs in the US were unacceptable, and that he had declared himself the Emperor, and that Congress was to disband immediately.

Naturally, the traitorous bastards that make up Congress ignored this. Despite his frequent orders.

So, Norton I would wander around San Francisco, always referring to himself as the Emperor, and investigating the State of Affairs of his favorite city. And you know what? People LOVED it. Several of his favorite restaurants started accepting his money as legal tender. Tourists FLOCKED to see the Emperor. People who met him on the street disrespected him at their peril: the one time a police officer had arrested him for vagrancy, the officer was severely reprimanded by the rest of the police department and forced to write a letter of apology to the Emperor (being the magnanimous man he was, Norton I forgave him). Even Mark Twain, a person of relative celebrity, would go out of his way to meet and make friends with Norton. And after Norton died, several members of the City of San Francisco gave money to give Norton a grave befitting his station. After all, he was the most honest ruler he had ever known.

Joshua Norton continues to capture the imagination, frequently showing up in works of fiction, such as the various books of Christopher Moore, or even in Neil Gaiman's Sandman. His charming, infectious madness lives on to this day.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points Award

Throughout history, there have been several hot spots of conflict, places that everyone wants to get a hold of. Usually, these have some sort of religious or historical significance. Take Jerusalem, for instance. It's the Holy City for no less than three religions. The fighting over it has not stopped.

Another example from the past is Constantinople. It was the Seat of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Crown Jewel of that region. Any Islamic Ruler who could conquer it would prove their greatness, and gain the respect of their peers, and would earn a place in history. Of course, the Christian rulers of the city made it as difficult as possible to conquer, with vast numbers of troops and thick walls. So the standard conquest tactic of, "Send guys over the walls on ladders until we take the city" tended not to work out so well. But what else could they do?

Well, Mehmed II, Sultan of Rûm, came up with a way.

"Y'know, going OVER the wall isn't working so well. And we can build cannons. Why not go THROUGH the wall?"

That's right. He found a Hungarian gunfounder who was willing to build him a cannon. And not just any cannon: it was called the Great Turkish Bombard. It was gigantic. The force of a few shots would cause it to break. But a few shots was all it needed.

By blowing the crap out of Constantinople, Mehmed II was able to bring the city down, thus ending the Byzantine Empire, and bringing about the beginning of the Ottoman Empire.

Magnificent Bastard Award

There are many styles of rule out there. Some monarchs like to take a direct hand in things, show off their personal power, go out there and kick some ass. Some rulers like to to let local underlings handle the running of the kingdom while they party all the time. Some just play their different would-be usurpers against each other.

If you're a Magnificent Bastard, you do all of these at the same time: you delegate authority where you need to, play your enemies off each other, and when you need to, get your hands dirty. And that's exactly what Tokugawa Ieyasu, first of the Tokugawa Shoguns, did.

Tokugawa was a high level Daimyo in Feudal Japan, and was on the Council of Regents for the son of the first commoner de facto ruler of Japan. The idea of a Council of Regents is simple: all members would be too busy fighting each other to gain influence to be able to properly overthrow the heir.

No one was counting on Tokugawa. Some of his actions included manipulating a shipwrecked trader from the West into training Tokugawa's navy, going to deliberate war with other Daimyo, feigning madness and depression, deliberate lying, giving cannons to rivals as gifts in order to use them as an excuse to go to war, and many, many other crazy actions. He successfully outlasted all his rivals, and was named the Shogun of Japan, beginning the Edo period of Japan, which lasted 250 years.

Naturally, he wouldn't see all of that because he died about thirteen years into his reign, at age 73. Possibly of syphilis. Way to go, Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Most Mysterious Madman

There are plenty of rulers who have legitimately earned a bad rap. But are there any who we're not sure if they deserve the hate they got? Definitely, and some of them might surprise you. For example, the winner of this award: The Roman Emperor Caligula.


Yes, that Caligula. Most people hear about him and think of a psychotic ruler who appointed a horse to the Senate, boffed anything that moved, attempted to run the Empire into the ground, referred to himself as a god, and was assassinated by his grateful subjects, and good riddance to that freeloading bastard.

The thing is, though, we're not entirely sure how much of that reputation is entirely true. We know he attempted to build at least one opulent residence for himself, and we know he was assassinated by some of his advisors and succeeded by his uncle Claudius, but beyond that, records of his reign are incredibly vague.

It is known that some of the projects that Claudius is known for finishing, such as some new aquaducts and roads, were actually started by ol' Boot. So it's entirely possible that he actually wasn't a terrible Emperor, just one who wasn't as malleable as the would-be powers behind the throne had hoped. It's possible they killed him off and placed Claudius (the Poster Child for Obfuscating Stupidity) in an effort to get their own way, and then destroyed all records of Caligula and spread rumors of his horrible behavior.

It's also known that his behavior did get at least a little more erratic (possibly to the levels of madman, possibly to just "eccentric") as his short reign went on. One prevailing theory is that he had actually gotten a case of neurosyphilis, and was starting to show the effects of the brain damage from it. But again, we really don't know.

But hey, we got a play by Camus out of it, right?

Best Weird Title

One of the ways any leader can convince their subjects that they've brought in a new era of freedom, joy, and good times is by changing their ruling title. Whether this actually brings about actual change is entirely up to debate. But hey, we get cool names for a ruler out of it. The winner of this award, a controversial figure in history, has what is perhaps my favorite ruling title of all time.


Oliver Cromwell was a merchant who became a Puritan Military Leader and a Member of Parliament in the 1600s. Somewhere along the line, he and his followers decided that King Charles I was a terrible, decadent ruler, and that they needed to replace the government. So thus, he reformed England as a Commonwealth, with an ostensibly Republican form of Government, and with himself as LORD PROTECTOR OF ENGLAND.

His reign is controversial, at best. There are those who see him as a power hungry madman, trying to garner authority for himself. There are others who see him as a symbol of liberty from the oppression of the British monarchs. And there's a third group, who think he was just a genocidal madman who hated the Irish and wanted them dead (perhaps he felt they were too pretty). You can make cases for each one: on one hand, Charles I was by no means a pleasant ruler, and Oliver Cromwell did successfully conquer Ireland and Scotland for the Commonwealth. On the other hand, he did have a habit of dismissing members of Parliament he didn't like, he was a military ruler, and the Commonwealth era of England only lasted about ten years before the English People installed Charles II as King.

But hey, Monty Python seemed to like the guy, so he couldn't have been all bad. And he had such a cool title!


So, that's it for this awards show. This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Qwack. Qwack qwack qwaaaaaaaack qwack qwa qwackqwack.

"Write an Ikea sex scene!"

QWACK! Qwack qwack qwaaaaaaaaaaaaack. Qwack qwack qwackin QWACK qwack qwa qwack.


Qwack! Qwack qwack qwack qwackin qwack qwack!

Qwaaaaaack, qwackin qwack, qwack qwaaaaaaaaackin qwack qwackin qwack! Qwack qwaaaaaaack qwack qwack qwackin qwack qwa qwack qwackin qwack. Qwack qwack qwackin qwack qwackin qwack qwackin qwack qwack qwackin qwack qwack. Qwack qwack qwack qwack qwaaaaaaaaackin qwack qwack
qwack qwaaaaaaaack qwack qwackin qwack qwack qwack qwack qwaaaaaaaaack qwack qwack. Qwack qwack qwack qwack qwack qwack qwack.

Qwaaaaaaaaack, qwack qwack qwack qwaack qwack qwack qwack qwack qwaaack. Qwa qwack. Qwack qwa qwack qwack qwack qwack qwack Axl Rose qwack qwack qwack qwaaaaaaaaaaaaa qwack qwack. Qwack qwack QWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK! Qwack qwack qwaaaaaaack qwackin qwack qwackin qwack qwackin qwack. Qwa--

Oh, my head...what the Hell happened?

YOU! You tried to give me a stroke, you little...what are you doing? HEY Get away from my computer! HEY!

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

All right, time to pull another one of your questions out of the Magical Movie Tavern Mug of Mystery, Mayhem, and some other M word here.

"Create five matches between a robot and an animal that you'd like to see."

Wait, more robots? Seriously? You people aren't sick of them yet? Well, okay.

1. Godzilla versus--


What? What do you mean there's more to the question?

"No giant robots, please."

Ah crap. That's a much harder question. Unless...okay, I think I know how I'm going about this.


Just watch.

1. A Beaver versus Wood Man

I've always questioned the logic of building a robot out of wood, much less a combat machine. Yes, Wood Man is one of the robot masters that, rather than being designed for a function and then modified for combat, was built to fight. Furthermore, I'm not entirely sure how his special weapon, "The Leaf Shield," actually protects him or is capable of doing damage. Maybe they're Razor Leaves, or something. And I'm even a guy who likes plant powers and plant themes!

In any case, Wood Man is a memorable robot from the Mega Man series, known for having a weapon that protects him from damage, and the fact that his concept is utterly ridiculous, and yet still more than capable of kicking your ass if you don't know what you're doing. So what happens when he goes up against something that sees him as building material?


Well, yes I know beavers aren't exactly known for being aggressive, combative animals, but come on, this is for funsies! A robot made of wood versus a beaver? Come on! Use your imagination.

2. The Human Torch vs. a Giant Squid


No, not Johnny Storm. I'm talking the original Human Torch, from the late 30s, early 40s. He was, in fact, an android.

Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if this match has shown up at one point or another. One of the more common match-ups in Late Depression, Early WWII Marvel comics was The Human Torch versus Namor the Sub-Mariner, Prince of Atlantis. And from time to time, the Sub-Mariner was known to bring creatures of the deep as extra firepower.

As you can probably guess, the Torch's powers don't mix real well with water. So what would be a good match for him? Something big, and capable of attempting to drag him under, that was pretty well moist itself. Could the Torch find a way to win? Probably. He is adept at flying and dodging, so it might be enough to avoid the tentacles of this monster of the deep. In any case, it would be cool to watch.

3. Hammer Brother versus R2-D2


Yes, I'm well aware that the Hammer Brothers aren't real animals. However, most robots in fiction are built to be far stronger, faster, and more durable than things we generally come across in the natural world, so we're going to be bending our definition of animal a little bit.

Most people these days are familiar with R2-D2, the trashcan of a thousand and one tools, Savior of the Universe. What happens when he goes up against a master of one of the most basic tools in existence? Would his durable metal shell be any match for the perilous pounding from the Hellish hammering? What ways would he attempt to outwit his foe on his quest to save Princess Leia from Bowser?

Truly, a good match of outright brawn versus trickery, as R2 isn't exactly built to fight.

4. Frog from Chrono Trigger versus Bender Bending Rodriguez


Excuse me for a minute.

Okay, sorry about that. Just had to take care of something.

So, yeah, while Frog is not exactly a traditional animal (rather, he is someone under an enchantment), I thought that this would be a fun exercise in opposites. Frog, you see, is a feudal warrior, who lives by the code of the knight, and battles with his great strength and a touch of magic. Bender is a machine from the distant future, designed for the mundane tasks of construction. He is hard drinking, hard loving, hard smoking, hard stealing. If it's not nailed down, he will take it with him. If it makes him mad, he will attempt to destroy it.

So, a feudal Knight of honor, armed with magic and a sword, versus a mechanical, amoral, SOB. Both of them are Super Strong. Who wins? Who knows. While Bender isn't built to fight, when he puts his mind to it he can do a lot of damage. And his constant shouting and insults might throw Frog a little off his game. On the other hand, Frog does kick a lot of ass. Some of the ass he kicks is even shiny and metal.

Frog would probably be able to turn Bender into soda cans. But it would be fun to watch while he did it.

5. The Terminator versus Psyduck

What was that? I can't hear you over the sounds of that robot coming for you, ya duck bastard.

Oh, don't look at me like that. Psyduck can handle himself just fine.


So, those are five fights between robots and animals we'd love to see. Until next time, this is J. K. Lantern, signing off fo-GRHK!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

You're a Mean One, Mr. Lantern

All right, time to reach into the Movie Tavern Mug and see what mystery I need to solve today.

"Write an Ikea Sex Scene!"

Dammit, how does that one keep getting back in there? Next!

"I'm feeling grumpy. How do I fix it?"


Yeah, I'm just as confused as you are that I'm being asked this question. I mean, I am a grumpy old man. So much so, that many of my friends say I was born to play Giles Corey in Arthur Miller's The Crucible. You're seriously asking ME how to de-grump? What, is everyone else dead?

Well, a trained therapist would probably try to get you talking, and try to get you to confront the root issues of your grumpiness, and attempt to resolve them. It would take time, and a lot of soul searching. However, I'm not even remotely a trained therapist (nor have I played one on TV). Everyone de-grumps slightly differently, but in my experience, distraction is the best way to go to de-grump yourself. Try some of these.

Video Games

Sometimes, you just need the cathartic release of violence, and what better way than digital cartoon violence? Less likely to get arrested, and far less likely to have a mess to clean up afterward. Now, there are plenty of different genres of video game out there, but for de-grumping purposes, I tend to go for platformers like Mario, Megaman, or Sonic (there's very little as satisfying as putting in some Guns N Roses, and destroying robots as a hyperactive blue hedgehog). Sure, I'll play plenty of other games, but if I'm grumpy and really don't feel like thinking, I tend to go simple, bright, colorful, platformer.

Of course, sometimes you don't even need to play the game to de-grump. Need a distraction the night before a test? Hook up the second controller, call a friend over, and start playing as Tails. Or go over to your friend's apartment and watch him play Left 4 Drunk. They're games, after all, and what is a game without other people involved?

Or, if you're particularly malevolent, try to trick a friend into downloading and playing I Want to Be the Guy, and watch as your mood lifts.

I'm such an asshole.


For centuries, people have used music in order to lift one's spirits. With the invention of the internet, this is now easier to do than ever! (Who says the internet is only for porn?) The question, I suppose, is what music to listen to? Well, it all depends on individual tastes. I could do an entire post on my favorite songs, but then, we'd be here all day, and even my favorites aren't always the ones that cheer me up. But, I've got a couple silly ones that do a good job, whether they're campy, hopeful, or catchy. And of course, there are plenty of songs that remind me of happy times with people, but that's another blog post.

What happens when none of your usual cheer up songs are working? Ask someone for suggestions. Sure, we all can have wildly different tastes in music, but you never know when you might come across something new that you'll like.

Of course, for a good portion of history, listening to music wasn't wildly available, so to lift spirits, people did the next best thing; they sang what songs they knew. Sure, you may feel stupid singing, but if you get the right person or people to sing with you, before you know it you'll be drunkenly singing "Hey Jude" in no time, your troubles a world away.


So you're feeling grumpy. Well, sitting around in the same spot doing nothing probably isn't going to cheer you up. Come on, stand up, ye lump. That's it, there ya go. All right, now put some clothes on. We don't want you grumpy AND arrested. Okay, now your shoes. Got 'em? All right, now start walking. Where, you ask? Doesn't matter. We're just walking until you find it. You'll know what "it" is when you see it.

Y'see, sometimes, all it takes to get rid of the grumps is a little change of scenery. So get up and start walking. Who knows what you might find? It could be a new favorite secluded spot to read a book, or it could be a tiny shop you never noticed before, or it could be a demonically possessed house that wants to pick a fight with you, or it could be someone who is dying to get a Wawa Gobbler with you. You'll never know until you wander on down the road a piece.


Well, crap. You would get up for an adventure, but it's too rainy outside. What do you do now?

Hey, who says all adventures have to be a place that you go? Why not try making something? Whip up some fudge for someone you care about, write a play about a video game villain, draw a picture, get in touch with your inner stereotype and build a dream catcher, whatever. It's your call. Just get your hands and mind moving with something, to keep your mind off of those pervasive negative feeling that are permeating every part of your person.

And while you're at it, why not recruit a minion? After all, some projects are better tackled as a group. A cook could use a sous chef, a writer can always use a proofreader, and an artist needs a muse.

Find a Friend

You may have noticed a pattern in the past couple recommendations: they all eventually end up better with companionship. From time to time, we all feel alone in a world far too big for us. It's healthy to find people to remind us that, hey, there's someone there to help pick you up when you fall, whether it's the guy who keeps a bottle of bourbon in his desk to give out in case of emergency, or the girl who can ease the raging tempests of the soul with her winning smile. Misery loves company, after all. Go out there and find someone you can talk to, that you can play with. You'll be glad you did.


Well, now that I've given you all a terrible case of the dia-beetus once again, this is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I'm Your Mutineer

All right, Movie Tavern Mug, let's see what sort of question we have tonight.

"If you were a pirate captain, who would be your first and second mates, what would be the name of your ship, who would be your archenemy, and what would be your quest? So, basically, what would be your ultimate pirate adventure?"

This is an interesting question. You see, when some of my ancestors came to colonize New England way back when, a goodly portion of them dealt a lot with overseas shipping. More specifically, they had a decent hand in the rum trade. While I'm reasonably sure none of them captured and looted other ships, it's still fun to think and say that I have a little bit of piracy in my blood.

Anyway, onto the picks.


Well, the answer to this question is thoroughly uninteresting to a chunk of my readership I try to make it a policy not to mention real names, I'll just go as far and say that my real world pick for First Mate knows who they are, and they'd look damn good doing it.

So, as a bonus, in terms of fictional characters, I'd pick-


No, not you. I'd prefer the top two members of my crew to actually be able to speak something resembling a language.

No, I'd probably go with someone like Captain Jack Harkness, of Doctor Who and Torchwood fame, for a couple of reasons. First of all, the good Captain seems like he'd be a lot of fun to be around. Just watching him flirt with anything that moves is entertainment in itself. Secondly, being a time traveling secret agent (and sometimes con man), he knows the locations of many treasures, and he knows a lot of tricks that can get us out of a bind. Thirdly, while he's not afraid to get his hands dirty, he does keep a level head when things hit the fan. And fourthly, for reasons that I won't post because some of my readers are still in the process of getting into the show, the Good Captain makes a decent meat shield.

Second Mate

My real world Second Mate is less likely to know who they are, so I'll just give them this quick shout-out: surpriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiise.

But since a good chunk of you have absolutely NO idea what that means, I guess I should give a bonus, "celebrity" pick for this one as well. I think I'm going to have to go with Roger Daltrey of the Who. Because it never hurts to have a guy who can knock out troublemakers with one punch. Plus, his sheer manliness would scare away most lesser rivals, as they stand in awe of his giant golden form.


I have no idea who I'd pick as my real world archenemy. It would probably end up being my brother, although it would be more of a good natured rivalry than a belligerent state of being nemeses. He has, after all, actively considered becoming a pirate himself. Knowing him, he'd be trying to summon a Kraken for his own amusement, and I suppose it would be up to us to stop him from destroying all life as we know it, or something. Then again, I suppose the Kraken has as much right to exist as we do, and hey, how much trouble could it cause, anyway?

But, as that once again is very boring for most of you to read, I'll throw in a celebrity pick for you folks as well.
I'm going to go, not him! NOT HIM!


Sorry about that. So yeah, next section.

Ship Name

If I couldn't get me a TARDIS, and if I thought I could get away with it, I would steal possibly the coolest name/title I've ever heard in my life, "The Punk God of the Straight Razor." But I have a feeling my real world crew would object to such outright theft of a long name, so then I'd probably then pick something like, "The Excitable Boy." Which I'm pretty sure my real world First Mate would object to. Y'know what? I think I'd be better off letting them pick. Hang on a bit.

(You may be wondering why I'm indulging my real world crew on this. Well, a Cap'n just ain't a Cap'n without a crew, y'know?)

All right. Luckily, my Second Mate keeps hours almost as weird as mine. Apparently, the name of the ship would be "King Phillip's Sketchy Vengeance of Wrath and Such." Well, at least it wouldn't be deliberate plagiarism, I suppose, although it's still a mouthful to say. If we wanted something shorter, apparently it would be "The Walrus's Weenis." Naturally, my First Mate would maintain the right to smack my Second Mate upside the head as a result of this.

And I suppose I'd name one of the Life Boats after my First Mate's cat, "The Lady Jane." Largely because I can.


Aw, jeez, isn't the search for adventure a good enough goal? Traveling from place to place, just to see what my crew and I could see?

I suppose being the Doctor is not the same as being a pirate, though, and I suppose rum, wenches, and cabana boys don't pay for themselves. Let's see, what should our big score be? Well, I suppose there are those big deposits of amethyst in Brazil, but that seems so pedestrian. And while I'm sure there are plenty of lost ships full of random goods that we could go after just as a resource booster, that's not really material for a main central quest. No, if we're going to be hunting for a treasure, we should find something different, something special. Something magical. Something like the Thirteen Relics of the British Isles, or something like that. Then again, most of those are geared towards Kingmaking and warrior purposes, and that's not exactly the sort of business we'd be in. Maybe that legendary Norse arm ring Draupnir, that makes more rings every nine days...

Ah, who am I kidding? The journeys would mean more to me than any treasure that we'd be hunting for. We'd probably not HAVE a central quest, but just search for treasures as we heard rumors in weird places. We'd be in it for the fun. The companionship. The sights. The memories. The next big chase. Guess I make a lousy bloodthirsty pirate captain.


Well, this ended up turning into another saccharine sap-fest. I must be getting soft in my old age. This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now. Drink up, me hearties, yo ho!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chicks Dig Giant Robots Part 2

All right, after that interlude, it's time for the second part of my list of favorite robots. This time, we're going for less colossal ones. So, onto the list.

1. Lieutenant Commander Data from Star Trek, the Next Generation

Perhaps the best known android who wants to be human. Always a popular character in TNG, due to the versatility of Brent Spiner when he puts his mind to it. Throughout the series, we watch as Data tries to come to some conclusion about the human condition, on what it is that make us tick. And through this, we see both the good and the bad about ourselves.

And of course, as far as the series tells us, Data doesn't have emotions. And yet, sometimes he gets damn close. A shining example of this is the episode "The Most Toys," in which he's kidnapped by an amoral collector of art and antiques. For good or for ill, we have to wonder if Data is more than the sum of his parts, and in turn wonder if we are more than the sum of ours.

2. Bender Bending Rodriguez from Futurama

And here we have a humanoid robot with no interest in being any more human. The breakout character in Futurama, and by far the most popular. He has no compunctions about lying, cheating, and stealing in order to get what he wants. And what he wants is just so pedestrian it's hilarious: liquor and hoes.

The fact that he violates so many stereotypes about robotic behavior (he's probably the most outlandish member of the main cast) makes him all the more entertaining, while delivering "Take thats" to other robots in the Sci Fi genre. I'm pretty sure it was Bender who said, "I can't feel human emotions and that makes me very sad," poking fun at Data a little bit.

3. Heat Man from Mega Man 2

Okay, if I really put my mind to it, I could probably populate this entire list with Mega Man characters. More often than not, Capcom designed some really funny, utterly idiotic robot designs (Spring Man, Sheep Man, Top Man, I'm looking especially hard at you). A robot that's a giant lighter? Hilarious AND awesome. But that's not all there is to it.

The main series of games are relatively bright, plotless, and dialogue free. Evil scientist, has robots, tries to take over the world, we stop him. But aside from that, we really don't get much in the way of personalities from the robots, leaving various artist fans to come up with their own ideas. In the grandpappy of sprite webcomics, Bob and George, Heat Man is a relatively bland straightforward villain character. However, let's take a look at another webcomic, In Wily's Defense. Heat Man is literally convinced he is God, so much so that the almighty feels the need to drag him to the afterlife to convince him differently. And fails. And I find it more and more entertaining the farther the comic goes on.

In STARK contrast, let's take the Megas take on him in the song Man on Fire. Suddenly, he's no longer a goofy, obnoxious anti-hero; he's a psychotic villain, and is terrifying. And the fact that you can do that with these characters is half the fun.

While, yes, there are Robot Masters that I do like better, Heat Man's consistent ability to show up and be reinterpreted gets him a spot on the list. At least until the Megas do a song about Gemini Man.

(Oh, and look up their take on Magnet Man, while you're at it.)

4. 4-LOM from Star Wars

Yet another of those characters you see in the background, but never get a story on. More specifically, he's one of the six bounty hunters assigned to go after Han Solo and the Millenium Falcon by Darth Vader in Empire. If you don't get into any of the Expanded Universe stuff, that's all you see of him.

On the other hand, if you go into Tales of the Bounty Hunters, you get a little more info on him and his ailing partner, Zuckuss. Turns out 4-LOM was a protocol droid (a la C-3PO) who worked security on what was more or less a cruise line. Using his advanced robot brain, he decided that the people who went on the cruises were too stupid to deserve all the possessions they got. So he became a security guard and a thief simultaneously. Eventually he grew bored with small time gem theft (after getting some sizable loot, too, including one supernatural object) and managed to contact Jabba the Hutt, who upgraded him and paired him with the Gand precognitive bounty hunter Zuckuss. They went after several prestigious bounties, all for the goal of making money.

Then tragedy struck. Zuckuss was injured, critically. His lungs were damaged beyond repair. Simple bounties became harder to catch.

In their story in the book, we see 4-LOM attempt to learn Zuckuss's skills at seeing the future, and calculating the odds of successes at bounties with Zuckuss's current state of health. And we don't know if he's thinking of just dumping his partner, or if he's attempting to learn these things in order to make enough money to get his partner the illegal treatment that he needs to survive. It might not be the best written story, but it was always one of my favorites, a tale of partnership, sins, and redemption. And that's why 4-LOM edges out many other droids on this list.

Oh, and also, the people at Lucasfilm made 4-LOM's name as a joke: it stands for, "For the Love of Money."

5. Office Joe Pi from Top Ten

Okay, I'm going to pause for a moment to shout angrily at some people. I know a lot of my readers a very well familiar with Neil Gaiman's Sandman. They consider it perhaps the best comic book series ever written. They want to have his babies. I'm okay with them liking Gaiman. He writes good stuff (mostly, I was a little underwhelmed by 1602, and while I liked his run on Eternals, I'm pretty sure it got mixed reviews at best).

That said, WOULD IT KILL YOU PEOPLE TO READ SOME ALAN MOORE? Come on! Moore is the guy Gaiman wanted to be! Sandman was his attempt to emulate the sort of magic and mystery in Swamp Thing!

Right, so this is one of Moore's lesser known works, but that by no means makes it bad. In fact, I found it to include some of the most brilliant and hilarious middle fingers to the mainstream comics industry. The concept is that this city was built to house all those "Science Heroes" from World War II. It takes place in the present, following the officers in Precinct Ten.

Officer Joe Pi is a post-organic member of the force, and a latecomer. Y'see, in this city, Robots are treated as a separate ethnic group. So, naturally, there has to be racial tension. But Officer Pi takes it in stride and in humor: in one particularly memorable scene, a bigoted member of the force is talking about how those "clickers" are out to steal the meaty folk's women while fiddling around with a vending machine. To which Officer Pi responds something to the effect of, "Well I'm not the one feeling up YOUR sister in front of people." The officer runs away in horror.

Joe Pi is clever, kindhearted, and definitely makes a spot on the list.

6. The Vision from Marvel Comics

So, the whole "Is an android a person" debate has been done out the wazoo, especially in comic books. In both Marvel and DC, I can think of, offhand: the Red Tornado, the Original Human Torch, the Third Hourman, the Tomorrow Woman, one incarnation of the villainous Amazo, and I'm sure there are plenty of others I'm missing. But, for some reason, of the comic book batch, the Vision remains a favorite of mine. His power set is pretty cool, kind of a Martian Manhunter lite: the Vision is super strong, and can increase his density to increase his durability and strength, or he can decrease it to the point of intangibility. He can also shoot solar powered rays from his eyes.

But there is one thing they do slightly different from most takes on this sort of story with the Vision than they usually do: they make it clear he has emotions. He, in fact, falls in love and marries his teammate, the Scarlet Witch (yes, THAT Scarlet Witch). However, both of them acknowledge that he's still not exactly the most emotional being out there. I felt this was captured really well in a storyline in which the Avengers are battling lesser known super team the Defenders for *Artifact of Doom Here*. Over the course of a battle with the Silver Surfer, Scarlet Witch chides him for being too logical at one point, while later he chides himself for being too emotional and panicking at a situation he could easily handle. Each of them see him as imperfect, but in different ways. But then, when the Witch is in danger from an erupting volcano, and it seems like it's the Surfer's fault, the comic points to the real chink in the Vision's armor as we see him become enraged:

"Too logical, she said. Too emotional, he said. Too much in love!"

Like Data, the fact that such an inhuman character can be so human (but in different ways) is powerful, moving.

7. K-9 from Doctor Who

So, we all know R2-D2, savior of the universe many times over, blah de blah blah.

Now imagine him with a voice. And as a little tin dog. With a laser gun in his nose. Congratulations, you have K-9.

One of the long running companions for the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker, it's hard not to like the little guy, in all his cheesy seventies sci-fi glory. Used to hack into computers, to analyze strange compounds, and to blow crap up. He truly is man's best friend.

8. Duff McWhalen from Mega Man X5

If I had more readers than just people I knew, I would be pretty sure that I'd catch some flak for this one.

So, like a lot of video games, Mega Man X5 came over here from Japan, so some translation was required. Capcom USA's staff translated the manuals, and the bosses names.

But then, some translator who was actually working on translating the in game text (because unlike the original series, the X series has something resembling a plot) decided he didn't like those names. And so he substituted his own, based on the names of various members of the band Guns 'N Roses. This is a very divisive issue among serious fans (because, after all, Mega Man is SERIOUS BUSINESS), with some people getting into an uproar if you don't use the "real" names.

Personally, I LIKE the Guns 'N Roses names, and can never remember the "Real" names anyway. And for some strange reason, this is the one boss from Mega Man X5 that sticks out. He wasn't a particularly hard boss (in fact, if you got the weapon from Grizzly Slash, he was a cake walk). Maybe it was the fact that he was a whale: Lord knows I love me some sea monsters. Or maybe I just thought his name was the coolest of the lot. Who knows?

9. Mack Megaton from the Automatic Detective

Okay, you all have heard this sort of story at some point or another: Mad scientist creates robot to destroy humanity. Robot develops conscience. Robot rebels. Blah blah blah.

But what happens afterwards?

If you're Mack Megaton, war machine of doom, you go to Empire City, the capital of weird science, become a cab driver, and try to earn citizenship. And then get involved when your neighbors get kidnapped. And team up with your talking gorilla friend. All the while, wondering whether it would have been so bad to just go out and kill all humans like you were supposed to.

Do I really have to say anymore?

10. The Legendary Golems from Pokemon


What? What do you mean they aren't robots? I mean, sure they're Pokemon...


Oh, don't be like that. Just because they aren't in the original 150 doesn't mean they don't count as Pokemon. In fact, they're from my personal favorite set of games.


Yes, I liked that set of games. And sure, they're catchable monsters, but they're also self motivated being made of inorganic materials. I think that definitely counts them as robots as well.

So, if you've played the Pokemon games, you're probably at least passingly familiar with the idea of Legendary Trios. In the original games, you've got Legendary Birds of Fire, Ice, and Lightning. In Gold and Silver, you got Legendary Cats/Dogs/Gerbils/Beasts of Fire, Light, Ice (Okay, Water).

Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald, however, decided to do things a bit differently. After solving some Guide Dang It Puzzles, you're able to find these three: Regirock, Regice, and Registeel, the three Legendary Golems. If you can't guess what types they are, then there's probably no hope for you. But they were the first Legendary Trio to break that formula, and I always thought they looked damn cool.

So, that should do it with the robots for now. Unless I come up with another reason to stick more robots in here. So, for now, this is J. K. Lantern, signing off!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Human Nature

So, I was planning on doing the second part of the robot list (non-giant) when the Movie Tavern Mug stopped me. It seemed it had a question that it really wanted me to answer.

All right, Mug. Let's see it.

"If you could eliminate any single trait from human nature, what would it be?"

Oh great. A deep question. Grab your pillows and blankets, folks. This could be a while.

So there are plenty of less than noble qualities that exist in mankind. Every Literature class likes to teach the big seven:


The Enneagram of Personality, a psychospirtual model designed to define personality types, add another two "vices" to that list: fear, and deceit. These traits demonstrate some of the worst aspects of humanity, and at their extremes, can be utterly reprehensible. So, elimination of one of these would surely be a benefit to all mankind, right?

Well, slight problem. From another standpoint, you can argue that these traits exist for a reason: when it comes to ensuring survival and the passing down of genes, these vices are damn useful, and have been parts of survival strategies for millennia. Gluttony, envy, and avarice all come from the desire of resources to ensure our own survival and the survival of our offspring. Lust exists because, evolutionarily speaking, your genes have a better chance of surviving if you mate as many times and with as many different partners as possible. Sloth, pure abject laziness, is both the parent and offspring of innovation, as it comes from trying to create a more energetically efficient way to evolutionarily succeed with the resources at hand. Wrath, violent anger, is a simple, runaway version of aggression. Pride can be seen as an excessively long mating display. Fear is a necessary survival response; if you weren't afraid of that rampaging lion, you would be eaten very quickly. And if you don't know how deception is tied to survival, look at all forms of camouflage.

Look at some of the strange examples of success out there in the animal kingdom. There are cuttlefish males who get to mate on the basis of being the biggest, angriest badass in their patch of water, and then there are others who sneak up to the big guy's mate disguised as a female who get to slip in a session or two. Or take brood parasitism; a cuckoo slips an egg into the nest of another bird. The baby cuckoo hatches, and quickly outgrows the other baby birds (or pushes them out of the nest entirely). Because bird parents are wired to put the bulk of their care on the biggest, loudest one of their offspring (honest signals of good health and good genes), the baby cuckoo ends up getting all the food. Or Batesian Mimicry: why go through the trouble to manufacture a toxin when it's so much easier to just produce aposematic coloring similar to that nasty, disgusting guy who lives down the stream a ways?

So, indeed, being a completely amoral, sociopathic, misanthropic bastard who indulges in all manner of heinous acts can, in evolutionary terms, be considered a viable survival strategy. Having trouble finding your own food needed for survival? Kick that guy's ass and take his. Want to reproduce? Lie and cheat your way into bed. Or kick that guy's ass and take his. Being approached by a deadly predator? Pretend you're more dangerous than you are. Or kick that guy's ass and throw him in front of it.

But that implies that humans are not but animals. Are we? Is love no more than an exercise in mate guarding, designed to ensure that only your offspring are produced? Are our innovations simply attempts to ease our chances of survival to mate one more time? Is life no more than, "The guy who gets the most fuzz wins"?

Do we or do we not have souls?

I am not qualified to make that determination for all mankind. I like to think that there's more to us than that. That in this great big world of ours, there's something special about us, that makes us human.

Nor am I qualified to say that, "X should be eliminated from all humans." I don't know. I can't see the whole picture.

I do know, however, what I'd eliminate in myself, had I the power.

I'd rid myself of fears.

Not the big ones, mind you. Not the ones that tell you to get out of the way of that oncoming truck. No, I'd rid myself of the ones that start small, but then grow until they become almost paralyzing. That fear that a task is too damn big, and that in attempting it, you will only hurt yourself and those around you. The fear that telling someone three little words would throw their world into turmoil. Forever would I silence that shadow that creeps in at night to whisper, "You're just no damn good."

Imagine how much I could get accomplished without those nagging little doubts. Imagine how much more I would attempt, how much good I could do, just by not being so afraid. Imagine how much we could ALL accomplish if those voices would just shut up.

But then again, it's a slippery slope. Those fears exist for a reason. Without that terror of being wrong, without that fear of hurting someone I cared about, how long could I be held in check? How long would I still feel remorse? How long would it be before I made my worst nightmares come true?

How long would it be before that spectre I'd banished became the most honest voice of all?

So, my friends, I'm afraid there's no easy answer to what aspects of human nature should be banished entirely. There's just too much to us. We exist as creatures of balance. Still, if we listened to those doubts a little less, maybe the world would be a little better. We wouldn't be weighed down quite so much. Maybe, just maybe, we could fly.

And now you see why I try not to tackle philosophical questions. This is J. K. Lantern, signing off for now.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Keeping

Hey folks, before I get started talking about other things, I just wanted to throw a quick plug out there for another blog. I know a bunch of you out there like storytelling and old things. Well, so does this guy, Tim DeForest. He has a great passion for how old stories, especially in the form of old comic books and the radio, and a fascination with how the medium affects it. His love for old stories is so great, he's managed to get two books published on the subject. So, anyway, here's a link to his blog. Who knows? You might discover some old comic book or radio series of interest.

Now that we've got that shameless bit of advertising out of the way, onto the show.

So, a while back I'd gotten a small collection of Urban Fantasy Noir short stories, largely because it contained a Dresden Files short story by author Jim Butcher. Well, the book contained another story, by one Simon R. Green, set in another fictional fantasy noir setting that caught my interest. I ended up sending the short story collection to my brother to have him read it, to see what he thought.

He read it, bought pretty much the entire Nightside series by Simon R. Green, shipped it to me, and asked me to write a review of it. I've read the first three books, and I figured, what better way to break up two blogs about robots than with a little magic?

So the books follow the exploits of John Taylor, a Private Investigator who specializes in the Nightside, the deep, dark, netherworld underbelly of London, where it is literally always 3 AM and where anything goes (and usually does). Taylor has a very special gift; if something is in the Nightside, he can find it. Now, I don't just mean things like lost keys or that missing statue. If you lost your memory in the Nightside, he can find it. If someone points a gun at him, he can find its bullets (usually, it turns out they were in his hand). If he really wants you dead, he can find your death and bring it to you.

As you can probably guess, this guy doesn't carry a gun; he never felt the need.

Of course, the stories wouldn't be all that interesting if some sort of god of finding things just went, "Shazam, I found your missing daughter" or whatever, so there is a tradeoff. Using this gift of his makes John Taylor very noticeable by the magical and spiritual beings in the Nightside. And it turns out that being one of the most badass detectives in the Nightside gets you a lot of enemies, whether it's the mysterious faceless beings known as the Harrowing, who want him dead for unknown reasons, or whether it's a warring set of angels, each who want him to find a mystical artifact for their own ends. So he uses his gift sparingly when he can, and tries to get by on old fashioned detective work, and through the use of his nigh weaponized reputation.

I'm going to warn you folks, don't go into these books expecting "Harry Potter" fantasy. Exceedingly dark, unpleasant things have a tendency to happen to characters in these books. One character in the third novel was a would-be pop star whose managers had her turned into a life sucking demon of illicit sex. People get shot, stabbed, disembowled, eaten, torn apart, rebuilt, infested with giant cockroach larvae, turned into a pillar of salt and all other manners of terrible fates. And that's not even counting Dead Boy (who is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin). Gods and devils appear, and make their opinions known. So yeah, expect Nightmare Fuel.

The stories are written in that first-person, hardboiled style that we've come to expect from detective novels. Unlike, say, the Dresden Files, these rely a lot less on straight up humor (although they have their moments: "There are any number of magical creatures, mostly female, whose singing can bring about horror and death. Sirens, undines, banshees, Bananarama tribute bands..."). Instead, it focuses more on the weirdness of the setting (carnivorous limousines, anyone?) and the darkness of the characters. And yes, in the grand tradition of the pulp detective novel, the characters are very dark: Suzie Shooter (AKA Shotgun Suzie AKA Oh Christ, it's her, run!), Razor Eddie (Punk God of the Straight Razor), and Dead Boy ("He wanted to know what it was like, being dead, so I told him.") are perhaps three of the closest things John Taylor has to friends, and they've all tried to kill him at different points in time.

If you're at all familiar with the fantasy noir genre, you're probably wondering what the greater mystery is tying together the books. Well, as I said, John Taylor's reputation of being a badass is almost a weapon in and of itself. However, it's only in part because of his own actions; it turns out that a lot of people are afraid of whatever his mother is. She left his family when he was a child, and he has no idea who (or what) she is. But the implication is that she's big, she's bad...and she's coming back. Taylor's search for information on his mysterious parentage is a continuing thread throughout the novels, as some of his antagonists imply that they know more than they are telling about it.

While I love the books, that isn't to say there aren't some slight things I took issue with while reading them. First off, the books rely a whole lot on "noodle incidents" and "You don't wanna know". While, yes, it does add to some of the darkness that is so charming about the setting, having everything unexplained can get a little bit tiresome (although it gets better as you go through more of the books). The other major problem I have with the writing is something endemic to writing a series. Like any series of books, the author is worried that a reader will pick up a book somewhere in the middle, and not know what's going on. Fine. I get that. I understand.

But, when you're talking about John Taylor's gift, do you HAVE to use the exact same phrase every SINGLE GODDAMN BOOK? "I used my gift. I opened my Third eye, my Inner Eye, My Private Eye." Yes, the phrase was AWESOME the first time I read it, but if you're doing a marathon reading session of the books, the phrase gets REALLY old!

But, ignoring that, they're definitely a fun read, and probably makes an honorary place on my list of Fantasy/Sci-fi settings. If you're looking to get a Dresden Files alternative, this is definitely a good bet. Take a stroll around the Nightside. You'll have fun, if you watch your step

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Chicks Dig Giant Robots Part 1

Well, I suppose I should bring us back to our regularly scheduled silliness. Let's see what we've got tonight.

What's this?

Could it be?

Is it true?

IT IS!!!

"J.K., we've noticed that you have a fondness for giant robots. What are some of your favorite robots, giant or otherwise?"

YES! I've been asked to talk about BIG GODDAMN ROBOTS! AWESOME! To the Googlewebs to find pictures!

Ahem...anyway, I've been a fan of robots in fiction pretty much my entire life, whether it was watching Mr. Data on Star Trek, or getting up on Saturdays to watch the Megazord kick the crap out of the Monster of the Week. As such, there are far too many robots (as I exceedingly loosely define the term) for me just to make this a top ten list. So, I'm going to be doing one post of my favorite BIG GODDAMN ROBOTS and then as a later post a list of ones that aren't as capable of trashing skyscrapers. Don't worry, I plan on doing something different in between them, so you won't get nerdy robot overload.

Oh, and for those of you readers who are saying, "Mecha don't count as robots because they're not self motivated," yeah, well, you stink funny. So there. They stay on the list.

So, in no particular order, ten of my favorite BIG GODDAMN ROBOTS!

1. Gundam Heavyarms/Gundam Heavyarms Custom from Gundam Wing and Gundam Wing Endless Waltz

So, Gundam Wing was the first Mobile Suit Gundam show to be aired in America, and it caught on among a particular group of my friends like wildfire. There were six main characters, each with their own particular main robot that got upgraded in some fashion throughout the season. Most of my friends fell into one of two camps.

1. "I wanna have the one that the main guy has which has the impractical BFG and the laser swords that makes people go crazy!"
2. "I wanna have the Grim Reaper looking one!"

And then there was little J.K.

"Ummm, hi. Y'know the one with the Gatling Gun attached to its shield, with the two more Gatling Guns in the chest, and all the missile launchers? Yeah. I'll take THAT one."

Maybe I'm weird, but if I'm going to be fighting against people in giant robots with guns, I'd like the ability to, I don't know, shoot them at range or something. But apparently I'm the only one that made sense to. Maybe they thought the idea of a giant robot whose gimmick was just having guns wasn't interesting enough.

Anyway, when the sequel movie Endless Waltz was made, they gave all the robots a massive facelift. Most of the main characters robots either were changed only cosmetically, or actually had weapons removed for the redesign. And in the case of my beloved Heavyarms? This meant adding an even MORE ridiculous amount of guns and missiles. Who picked the bad one now?

2. Mechagodzilla

There goes Tokyo...

So, depending on which set of movies you watch, Mechagodzilla is either a weapon created by aliens to take over Earth, or something created by humans using salvaged technology from the future (don't ask) to fight Godzilla. Y'know what? Doesn't matter. We don't care. Bring on the giant Tokyo smashing fight.

So, I grew up in a household that were fans of Godzilla, but for the longest time, of the ones we watched, it seemed like there wasn't someone who could give Godzilla a good fight. Then, when I was four or five, at a friend's birthday party, and we watched Godzilla versus Mechagodzilla. And it was the first time I ever saw Godzilla get his ass handed to him. Sure, the big guy eventually won, but damn, if it wasn't a good fight.

Since seeing that movie those many years ago, there are generally only two recurring monsters I expect to consistently give Godzilla a run for his money: King Ghidorah, and Mechagodzilla. For leaving such an impression on a small boy, Mechagodzilla makes the cut.

3. The PNT-** Panther from Battletech

This one is more a sentimental favorite than anything. Back in the mid-nineties, there were trading card games for everything; Star Trek, Star Wars, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, Middle Earth. But there was one a neighbor of mine was particularly fond of, despite it being a hard game to figure out the rules for. However, he had no one in the neighborhood to play it with him. Solution: Recruit neighbor by giving him a common card to start his collection. So this particular robot is how I was introduced to a Sci-Fi setting that soon became one of my favorites. But, aside from sentimental reasons, what makes this robot cool?

Well, it's one of two more or less trademark Light Mechs of the Draconis Combine (SAMURAI IN SPACE!). Unlike most light mechs, this one is kinda slow. And well armored. And armed with one of the heavier weapons in the original ruleset for the game. Wait, what?

That's right. This was a light mech that wasn't designed to scout or harass. It was designed to kick ass and take names. It gets overshadowed a bit as the technology of the Mechs advance, but it still remains a favorite of mine.

Fun fact: the other signature Light Mech of the Draconis Combine, the Jenner, is one of my brother's favorites.

Speaking of things my brother likes...

4. The Katana from One Must Fall 2097

So, growing up, for a long time our primary gaming platform was our PC. Somehow, we stumbled across the shareware version of this fighting game, One Must Fall 2097, and ended up buying the full version. The basic premise of the game was taking a variety of robots that were designed for noncombat roles (with one notable exception) and having a tournament with them.

So my brother and I got a lot of mileage out of this game. We would fight each other with the various characters and robots from story mode for hours on end, and then we'd take our characters from Tournament mode and wail on each other for a while.

Unfortunately for me, there were only two or three robots I was better at using than him: the game breaker that was actually designed for a combat role (I'm not sure why I was better with that one), one of the robots from the shareware version, and this guy.

So, as you can probably figure out, each robot in the game had some sort of gimmick. This one? Well, that's kinda straight forward: IT HAS BIG FREAKIN' BLADES FOR HANDS! Nothing fancy. But the blades weren't even my favorite move belonging to this robot. No, my favorite move was the fact that it could, from a jump, just stomp on the enemy robot's head. And if your timing was good, you could do this many, many times. Much to my brother's annoyance. Hey, bro, just be glad I'm not using the Nova or the Thorn this time...

5. Gundam GP02A Physalis from Gundam 0083

So one thing about settings with giant robots is that most engineers will tell you that a giant, humanoid engine of destruction is grossly inefficient. It's a pain in the butt to get all the parts moving in the right way without it falling over. Plus, why do that when you can just missile something from who knows where?

Some settings handwave this by having the robots just have some sort of only half-understood mechanism keeping them balanced, and somehow making it so they can carry more weapons or armor.

Or, if you're the Original Gundam setting, you can have it so that there's some sort of energy source that seriously screws with radar and other long range methods of detection, so you need something mobile that can deliver a decent punch. Bye bye, ICBMs.

Of course, that begs the question, why don't they try to find a way around that sort of thing? Which brings us the GP02A from Gundam 0083. Looking at it, you probably notice that the thing is kinda...chunky. And that shield is awfully big. And it doesn't seem to have much in the way of visible weapons. Well, guess what: it's not there to fight other robots. Its primary weapon is a bazooka.

A bazooka that fires a nuclear warhead.

Let me reiterate.


What could be more ridiculous than THAT?

6. Megas XLR

This thing.

So, in the distant future, humanity is getting its butt kicked by evil alien empire. The humans steal super prototype robot, put their own customizations on it, and prepare to send the robot back in time to prevent evil alien empire from winning this much, yada yada.

Then things go awry.

The giant robot ends up damaged, going back to the twentieth century, and in the hands of a lazy, slacker gearhead who lives in his moms basement. He further repairs and customizes it. Including installing a sports car for a head.

To me, this always felt like the quintessential guy's show. Plots ranged from the main character fighting an alien solely because it was preventing him from getting a slushy, to babysitting his cousin while fighting the evil alien empire and blowing up the moon in the process. It was clever, and it didn't take itself too seriously.

Probably the greatest moment that captures the show's atmosphere, in one fight, the main character presses a button to fire a weapon. It doesn't have the intended effect. So it shows him pressing a button to fire a different weapon. The button just happens to be labeled, "Yes, this IS the Exact same button he pushed five seconds ago."

Sadly, the show was repeatedly rescheduled and only lasted two seasons. But it lives on in our memories, and possibly the Cartoon Network website.

7. Every Single Variant of the Zaku II ever.

So you've heard me mention previously, on the subject of Gundam, that it was one of the first robot settings in which the robots were mass produced weapons. The Zaku is pretty much the grandaddy of one massive family of giant robots in the Universal Century setting. Pretty much every mass produced robot used by the Federation of Zeon and its various successors is based on the Zaku II to some degree. But there's more to the Zaku II then being the most common robot in the original Gundam Setting.

They used the damn thing for EVERYTHING.

Need a robot that can go faster? Check! Need a robot for a member of the Royal Family? Which one, the Pretty One or the Freakishly Large One? Need a robot to go underwater? HERE YOU GO!

If there's a Zeon robot, I can almost guarantee you that at some point, there was a Zaku prototype of it at some point.

8. The RFL-** Rifleman from Battletech

So there's a certain set of Battletech Mechs that, shall we say, borrowed liberally from various anime mecha shows. They were first robots published for use in the game, and became greatly entwined with the mythos of the setting. It wasn't a huge deal that they were from other sources originally; they were originally given the rights to the images and the setting was originally planned to be a tabletop game for those shows. Sadly, there was a big snafu with the rights and these robots had to be redesigned.

The Rifleman is probably my favorite from that set. In game, it was originally designed to be in the back lines plinking away at aircraft, with the threat of other robots supremely unlikely. However, due to the massive amounts of destruction over three centuries of warfare, the Rifleman is forced to the front lines; not a place it is well suited. The things the original version is known for? Decent firepower and range for the time, a pretty high heat burden, and going down like a school girl in the face of weaponry. In fact, every novel goes out of its way to mention "paper thin rear armor." It's ugly, it's slow...and it captures the feel of that time period so well.

9. Mecha-Birdo from I Want to Be the Guy

Most of us remember that mini-boss Birdo from the Super Mario Brothers games: multicolored dinosaur thing that spits eggs and/or fireballs. You pick up objects, throw them at Birdo, and knock it out. Easy, right?

Well, the person who made I Want to Be the Guy decided that Birdo should get some revenge. If you make it that far. And if you haven't had a mental breakdown by this point of the game, you probably will sometime around here. Instead of Eggs, the MechaBirdo fires giant bombs. And lasers. And Shy Guys. You have to take it out with your little pea shooter gun. All of this over a bottomless pit.

Have a nice death.

10. Tequila Gundam from G Gundam

Remember how I said that Gundam was renowned for taking the giant robot genre, and making it a serious military thing, in which the robots are mass produced weapons of war rather than ridiculous, impractical one offs?

G Gundam throws all that out the window.

The premise of this show is that each country has a colony in space, and that every couple of years, each one builds a giant robot to send to Earth to fight. The country whose robot comes out on top gets to rule the rest for the time being. And how are these robots controlled? Well, each pilot puts on this skin tight suit that has the robot their in mimic their moves. That's right: they KUNG FU FIGHT! With all the over the top hamtastic action they can muster!

So, basically, we get Dragonball Z combined with Gundam. In fact, the main character even learns a Kamehameha-esque fireball.

So anyway, why did I pick that particular robot from this show? It's not even important to the plot.

Well, it's the Mexican robot. It looks like a Cactus. It has a sombrero full of machine guns. And it's called the TEQUILA GUNDAM. How can it NOT make the list?
So, these were some of my top giant robots. Next time, I'll probably be doing a little book review, and then I'll do some not so giant robots. But in the meantime, this is J. K. Lantern, signing off!