Filing Cabinet of the Damned

Monday, July 31, 2006

Coke Floats and the Gateway to Perdition

The comic blogosphere has made mention of two of the SciFi channel's new shows, Who Wants to Be a Superhero? and The Amazing Screw-On Head. All well and good.

But they're ignoring the show that comes between them. A triumph of television.

What is it? A British import from Channel Four, yes. But it is more. It is the mind-blowingest show in the annals of blown minds. The zenith of the television arts.

Or perhaps not.

It is...Garth Marenghi's Darkplace.

To explain the show, a quote from Garth himself:
This week Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, my hospital-based horror medical drama set in pre-apocalyptic Romford, debuts on Channel 4. "Garth Marenghi," a lone voice cries, "who be he be?" "Fool!" the crowd retorts. "Why, he's the chillmaster célèbre, whose extensive cannon o' chillers include The Ooze (can water die?), The Ague (dare you sneeze?) and Afterbirth (a placenta wants payback)." Still, a woman, eyes bedewed with tears, laments: "Hast then our humble fabulist deserted his loyal readerhood [50 million sales worldwide and counting] in favour of televisual terrors [scary TV]?"


Darkplace was a project conceived, written and filmed in the 1980s. My aim was a simple one: to change the evolutionary course of Man over a series of half-hour episodes. I would write, direct and star. My publisher Dean Learner would produce. I would exec produce. I set about composing my visionary scripts. Blessed with innate foresight from birth (one of my first words was "sooth"), I've always been a portender, having the knack of knowing what road mankind is heading down and, more important, whether or not there's a services on the way (often there's not - so evacuate what needs evacuating before setting off).

The show is a manufactured "lost series" by a fictional horror novelist. Metafiction abounds. Oh my. The show, Marenghi's "vision," synthesizes cheesy eighties hospital dramas, even cheesier horror, and low-budget ineptitude, all done with the breathtaking confidence of the man too dumb to know he's dumb. Bracketing the "Darkplace" segments are "interviews" with Garth and his publisher/co-star, Dean Lerner.

Marenghi stars as "Dr. Rick Dagless, M.D.," the hotshot surgeon, occult expert, and embittered tough guy of Darkplace Hospital. Each episode is a tribute to Dag's courage, fortitude, and really bad hair.

Damn, it's mighty. Below is from the first episode, "Once Upon a Beginning:"

Sanchez: So what happened between you and this Renwick customer?


(The trio are sat a table in the canteen, Dagless is smoking a cigarette)

Dagless: Larry was a colleague of mine when I first started here at Darkplace. God he was brainy. And brave. He saved my life once. I saved his twice so I was one up. We made a pact to push each other's minds to the limit. And beyond. Naturally, we both became fascinated with the occult. One night, Larry suggested we try and open the gates of Hell right here in the canteen. I pleaded with him, I said "no, don't", but he insisted.

(cuts to a flashback of the event in question, with voiceover by Dagless)

Dagless (v/o): That night, we performed the rite and opened the gate. Halfway through, I went to the kitchen to fix us both a coke float, and by the time I got back, he'd gone insane. (Renwick is shaking violently and shouting, Dag screams, holding the two coke floats) Plus he'd left the gate open and there was evil everywhere. (Liz looks frightened) ...I need to grab a shower.

As a comic book fan, Garth himself felt terribly familiar, as did the stories. Snotty humor abounds. Plus it has flamethrowers, unsynchronized sound, Skipper the Eye Boy, and an episode called "The Apes of Wrath." Sweeeeeet.

Thursdays at 10PM, SciFi Channel. Harvey Jerkwater says check it out.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Lo, There Shall Come Awesomeness

Last night I went with a bunch of my crew to RFK Stadium. The Washington Nationals were playing the San Franscisco Giants.

RFK is a craphole. It's a relic of the ugly multi-purpose stadia of the sixties and seventies, and it stood nearly abandoned for a decade. Beyond its basic charmlessness, RFK is cursed with peeling paint on rafters and seats, a terrible sound system, and a grungy field. The Nationals' new stadium, a breathtaking white elephant that will soak the local taxpayers and entertain us with dozens of stories of corruption and cost overruns, is years away.

The Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, were the orphan of Major League Baseball for a few years. Just recently, they finally got an owner: Theodore Lerner, local real estate magnate. One of Lerner's first actions as new owner was to shore up RFK and get fans back in the place. A good plan.

Couple Lerner's fan-recouping efforts with the Nats/Giants game on the field, and last night I was treated to the following:

--A three-dollar seat. Upper deck, behind the left field foul pole, but not terrible for all that. Three dollars, yo. (RFK now has $3 and $5 sections. Righteous. That's cheaper than the area's minor league games.)

--The opportunity to heckle Barry Bonds in person. Every ball fan should do it at least once. It's good for the soul. However, it is not easy to do well. It's hard to work "human growth hormone" or "deca durabolin" into a rude chant. Yet we did. It felt good.

--A "Presidents' Race" between innings, where four guys dressed in period costumes topped with Mardi Gras-style giant foam heads "raced" down the first-base side of the stadium. (George Washington won, followed by Jefferson, Lincoln, and TR in a cluster. Last week, TR won by cheating--he used the bullpen car.) The Presidents' Race used to be a computer-graphic "game" on the jumbotron; now it's dudes in goofy giant heads cavorting on the field. That, ladies and gentlemen, is progress.

--Alfonso Soriano successfully stealing third base when, caught in a rundown, he was pegged in the back by the shortstop's errant throw. The ball hit Soriano dead between the shoulder blades. It bounced off of him and fell dead at his feet, a good distance from any infielder. He took the base without much trouble after that.

--The Nationals coming back to win in the bottom of the ninth. Hoo-hah!

How much aweseomeness was there? The ultra-cheap ticket, the Barry-mocking, the foam heads, the victory?

For this baseball fan, it was like looking out the window to find it raining little chocolate doughnuts.

Throw in that I'm a long-suffering Detroit Tigers fan enjoying their first (probably) winning season since 1993 and their first good season since 1987, and I'm in Baseball Heaven.

More teams need goofy novelty races and $3 tickets, dammit.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Newspaper strips are fun, but usually lack the rich charms of the full-blown comic. Stories are rare, gags proliferate. Even by comic book standards, it's often a crude, unsubtle place.

Save for one strip.

One strip, month after month, brings with it a delightful wit and artistic japery that elevates the entire comic page.

Mark Trail.

Sure, on the surface it appears to be a leaden soap opera/nature cop strip about a dork named Mark Trail. But underneath? Oh, underneath such wonders can be found! Tim O'Neil spent over a year admiring their brilliance. A shameless follower, I must ape O'Neil this once, if only to commemorate The Greatest Mark Trail Panel Ever. Honor demands it.

Jack Elrod, creator of the strip, has a sly wit that comes out in a number of ways. The finest is the misplaced speech balloon. Take a sample panel below, where a grizzly bear with an arrow in its ass talks about its own wound, and seems to suggest putting the arrow itself to sleep.

One could argue that Elrod's balloon placement is merely sloppy, and that his often-amusing panels are merely the results of mistakes. That the myriad talking squirrels, chatty porcupines, and drug-dealing raccoons of the strip are gaffes.

I considered that possibility too. Until the sheer staggering genius of The Greatest Mark Trail Panel Ever.

The current storyline has the strip's quasi-vamp Kelly schmoozing some dude named Rick. (I can't tell you why, because it's hard to pay attention to the plots of Mark Trail. The beauties of the strip lie on a deeper level than mere plot!) Behold the panel and marvel at its many layers of meaning.

Rick puts the moves on Kelly...and is her crotch. I defy you to find another comic strip that would have the balls to give a major character chatty genitals!

There are so many ways to interpret the panel, each one more interesting than the last. There's the obvious sexual subtext, but the sheer absurdity of Kelly's Talking Crotch implies secondary and even tertiary meanings.

More than anything, the panel is sheer visual poetry. A haiku about the coexistence of wholesomeness and depravity, an ode to the eternal dance of male and female, a gentle Italian sonnet about getting one's freak on, it is all of these and more. It is Art with a capital A.

O Elrod! Refining and elevating the artistry of the comics pages on a daily basis!

Bonus snark:

A recent panel from Curtis:

An LL Cool J stapler? That's genius. There could be a whole line of rap star office supplies. Snoop Dogg tape dispensers. Jay-Z sticky pads.

But why restrict ourselves to office supplies? Think of the hip-hop product tie-ins begging to be made!

"Get Chamillionaire's Car Wax! Don't get caught...ridin' dirty!"

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Putting on the Rant Pants

Rant time!

The Mindset of the Moron
(inspired by “The Principles of the American Cargo Cult,” located here.)

Below are a few ideas that seem to form the mindset of the moron. These traits are not belief-specific or tied to politics. I'm a liberal Democrat, and yes, I know that "my side" has a lot of people who possess this mindset. Don't get smug, though. Conservatives have plenty of morons. Plenty. There's no shortage in this world--dimwits abound. And they make me nuts.

Based upon careful obesrvation, hard thought, and some plain ol' spleen-venting, here are a few traits that mark the Mindset of the Moron. You don't need to have all of them to be a moron, either.

Complicated explanations are crap. The world is simple, and there is a simple explanation for everything. No issue in the world requires more than one or two variables to understand. Nuance is evasion, and complexity is just a smokescreen for self-interest or stupidity. If someone’s reasoning confuses you, he’s trying to pull one over on you. Don’t believe him.

Certainty is strength, doubt is weakness. Considering alternatives undermines one's own beliefs. Changing one's mind means one has wasted the time spent holding the prior opinion. Therefore, consideration of alternatives or changing of mind means you’ve failed as a person. Never changing one’s mind demonstrates strength of will and firmness of purpose. (However, this only applies to you. When someone else won’t change his mind to agree with you, he’s an inflexible moron.)

There are two sides to every argument. But only two. More than two is impossible! It's A or B! There is no C! D is nonsense! E? E is just a version of A! Also, one of the two sides is the right one, and the other is the wrong one. How can you tell which is the right one? It doesn’t matter. Once your decision is made, you know the other side is wrong, wrong, wrong, and should be treated as if they’re both stupid and evil. Which leads to the next element.

People who disagree with you are simply stupid. They don’t have reasons for taking opposing stances to you. They’re just stupid, hateful ass-clowns. Only your side has reasons. All the other side has is pre-formed opinions and reflexive hatred. Any reasons proffered by those against you are lies intended to cloak their irrational hatreds in faux rationality.

Your opinion matters as much as anyone else's, and usually more. When a person has studied a topic and then offers an opinion, he has no more real knowledge than you do, just more ways to push for his agenda. The facts are just props for his viewpoint, nothing more. The only issue that truly matters is the intensity with which you feel it. Also, the only facts that are truly facts are the ones you believe. Everybody else's facts are either lies or irrelevant.

All interconnection is obvious. Otherwise, complicated explanations would be necessary. Since complicated explanations are always crap, so are subtle connections.

You have a right to your share. Your share is, of course, whatever you decide it should be. An ounce less and shriek cries of injustice. An ounce more means you should readjust what you “deserve” so that it matches what you have.

If it's good for you, it's good. Society is everyone else.

Good intentions are all that matter. You can always apologize later if you hurt someone. It’s not a big deal. After all, you didn't mean to.

There is no long term. Live like there’s no tomorrow, even though there will be. Thinking ahead means thinking too much. Tomorrow is an abstract, muzzy-headed notion, a scam to get you to do things you don’t want to do, like put money in a savings account or eat vegetables.

Consequences are things that happen to other people. Good things that happen to you are because of your actions. Bad things that happen to you are the product of others’ malice. There are many evil people and institutions, and surely one of them is responsible for the bad thing that happened. Somebody did that to you!

You are never the problem. You are a beautiful and unique snowflake. Other people? They’re the herd.

You're special. Bad things shouldn't happen to you. You're the exception to the rules, you radical, you. Other people's thoughts and actions are dictated by their circumstances and upbringing (e.g., "Of course he'd say that--he's a Canadian") but you are a free agent.

The other side is a mindless unity. Yours is multifaceted and rich. Whatever you think of as "the other side" is populated by robots moving in lockstep or simpleminded buffoons working from outdated ideas. Your side is rife with disagreements and infighting, ever in danger of losing to the other side, but reflective of the rich variety of the human condition.

Pain is wrong. Life should not hurt. Ever. If it does, it’s not because life can be hard, but rather because someone is intentionally harming you.

There will be justice. Bad people get punished for their sins. You, however, will be forgiven.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

Banish All the World

Ragnell of Written World found a shocking quote from writer Judd Winick.

Again, polling the panelists, DiDio asked which character each creator would want to die or come back to life?

Winick: G'nort. I want him dead.

I love Winick's The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius more than almost any comic published in the last ten years. But here, the man goes and says something awful. Silly man!

A DC Universe that has no use for a G'nort is a DC Universe that has no room for kittens, rainbows, and peeing-on-hydrant jokes.
And that would be a sad, sad place indeed.

G'nort is reviled for reasons of "realism." Not because he's a talking dog from outer space with a magic ring, because that's just fine. No, G'nort's sin is that he's silly. He undercuts the DRAMA! by interrupting overheated space opera for "chasing his own tail" jokes.

Realism? It's a touchy subject among many fanboys, since our choice in fictional entertainments tend to be larded with space aliens, demigods, and magic rings. That being said, I hate to break it to people, but "silly" is a key component of reality. Trust me on this one; I've been real for almost half my life.

As for DRAMA!? Adding dashes of humor enhances, rather than betrays, most any DRAMA! Remove it, and more than just a few cheap chuckles are lost.

Killing G'nort would be like outlawing paprika. You'd deny everyone a wonderful spice because it bugs you? You would remove from the world countless tasty dishes because paprika does not fit with your vision of cuisine? Fie! Fie upon you, sir!

G'nort is, in a sense, the Falstaff of the Green Lantern Corps (though not quite as bright or libidinous as his forebear). Thus do I end with Jack Falstaff's own lament as he faced banishment from his longtime friend, Prince Hal:
If to be old and merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damned....No, my good lord: banish Peto, banish Bardolph, banish Poins; but for sweet Jack Falstaff, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Falstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, and therefore more valiant being, as his is, old Jack Falstaff, banish not him thy Harry's company, banish not him thy Harry's company. Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world!
--King Henry the Fourth, Part I (II, iv)

Hal banished Falstaff as part of his coming of age. One could argue that the killing of G'nort would be part of the Green Lantern Corps coming of age. Bosh and nonsense! It would be part of the narrowing of the GLC's range of stories and emotions. It would be the rejection of breadth and charm. Denial of laughter is not to be confused with maturity; denial of absurdity is not the same as honesty.

Long live the Shaggy Dog Story of the DC Universe.

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When the Wheel Turns

So...Spider-Man revealed his secret identity to the world in a press conference.

From what I can recall, the current Marvel regime doesn't like secret identities, and has been getting rid of them over time. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any major Marvel characters whose IDs haven't been blown in current continuity. (Then again, there weren't that many who bothered to keep it secret.)

That being said, the genie will go back in the bottle someday. Probably someday soon. Why? Because (a) Spider-Man's essence is tied to his secret ID as a regular guy and (b) hey, it's comics--everything significant that happens un-happens sooner or later.

The comicbook wheel of samsara ever turneth.

That raises the question of how will it be done? What particular broom handle will be used to cram the genie back into the bottle?

Some classic techniques of the past include:

"Alfred in the Batsuit." Peter Parker makes a public appearance, and Spider-Man joins him. "Spider-Man" explains that Parker pretended to be him for some reason or other. Like when Alfred pretended to be Batman back on the old Adam West/Burt Ward teevee show. Not long ago, Daredevil did this very trick using Peter Parker. With his secret ID blown, Matt Murdock shows up in court and in swings...Spider-Man disguised as Daredevil. It's a classic bit.

"Who Is Steve Rogers?" Early in the days of Captain America's revival, he publicly outed himself as Steve Rogers. Doing so made him a constant target for bad guys, so he pulled off one of my favorite stupid ID-salvaging tricks: he got into a brawl with an army of HYDRA goons, then sped away on his motorcycle. He then put a "Steve Rogers" rubber mask on a mannequin, dressed it in a Captain America suit, and threw it into a crossfire of HYDRA bad guys. The "body" is discovered, riddled with bullets. And is wearing a "Steve Rogers" mask. The press lept to the conclusion that Rogers was a fake-out identity, and the status quo was restored.

"Lois Loves Robots." How many times did Superman recover his blown ID by having a robot duplicate of himself show up and confuse Lois? An old Marvel prop is the "Life Model Duplicate," or LMD, a lifelike robot. All it'd take is one LMD and it's all over. This is "Alfred in the Batsuit" with the additional radness of robots.

"Dammit, Hal!" A genie-stuffing operation recently completed in DC Comics for the Flash. The Flash's ID had been public for nigh on twenty years. In the end it led to the deaths of his unborn twins and estrangement from his wife. Enter Hal Jordan, now the Spectre. With a magic whammy from Hal, everybody forgot who the Flash was. This included the Flash himself. This in-story retcon included a back door: anybody who saw the Flash take off his mask would suddenly "remember" everything. So the superhero community knows, but the general public doesn't anymore. And, oddly, they now "never did." Ahem. I'm almost positive this was done for Iron Man not long ago, using some satellite or some such. Anyway, this could be adapted to Spider-Man without too much difficulty through two words: "Doctor" and "Strange."

But why delve into the old toy chest? A few slightly-fresher ideas:

"No, you're not." Parker comes out as Spider-Man. Nobody believes him. They accuse him of trickery and attention-seeking, and write him off as a crank.

"I'm Spartacus!" Parker comes out as Spider-Man. So does a guy named Aundrae in Brooklyn. So does a guy named Jorge in Staten Island. So does a guy named John in Hoboken. So does...

There’s the variant "Live from New York!" Captain America comes to a press conference podium. He pulls off his mask…and he’s Peter Parker! The whole thing is a publicity stunt for Stark Enterprises. Several superheroes "reveal their identities," each one being Parker, who then pitches Stark’s latest robot vacuum cleaner. "Picks up dirt like a superhero!" He’d then be forgotten as just another pitchman jerkass.

"Get me a tinfoil hat!" Parker later calls another press conference. "I’m not really Spider-Man. A villain controlled my mind and made me say it. Uh…I was being controlled by the…uh…Puppet Master. I had, um, cut him off in traffic, and he wanted revenge." Considering the nature of everyday life in Marvel World, that’d be a perfectly acceptable excuse.

I wonder which tool they’ll use. Consulting the massive oeuvre of "Superman fooling Lois" should provide a healthy selection of identity-preserving nonsense. ("Super-hypnotism and a rock slide? Or maybe an inflatable duplicate of Spider-Man and an alien hologram?")

Any suggestions from the internets?

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Monday, July 17, 2006


A couple of half-assed entries are floating around my hard drive. Rather than subject the reading public to them, here are a few bloggity bites.


A poem by James McIntyre (1827-1906), furniture maker, Canadian patriot, cheese enthusiast:

Ode on the Mammoth Cheese

(Weighing over 7000 pounds)

We have seen thee, queen of cheese,
Lying quietly at your ease,
Gently fanned by evening breeze,
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.

All gaily dressed soon you’ll go
To the great Provincial show,
To be admired by many a beau
In the city of Toronto.

Cows numerous as a swarm of bees,
Or as the leaves upon the trees,
It did require to make thee please,
And stand unrivalled, queen of cheese.

May you not receive a scar as
We have heard that Mr. Harris
Intends to send you off as far as
The great world’s show at Paris.

Of the youth beware of these,
For some of them might rudely squeeze
And bite your cheek, then songs or glees
We could not sing, oh! queen of cheese.

We’rt thou suspended from balloon,
You’d cast a shade even at noon,
Folks would think it was the moon
About to fall and crush them soon.


My high school bud is back from Iraq, shrapnel-free! Woo-hah! We talked over the weekend, and made tentative plans for him and his wife to visit me and the missus sometime. He didn’t talk much about his deployment except to say that (a) it was really hot over there, (b) he hated it, and (c) he’s really glad to be back. He’s spent the last few weeks adjusting to life without snipers, IEDs, and mortar attacks.

While he was over there, one of the packages of goodies I sent him came from Treat Any Soldier. Early in his deployment, I asked my bud what he wanted most. The answer? Junk food. Apparently a lot of guys answer the same way. The site sends the packages to either a soldier you specify, or a random soldier they pick. It’s a fine service. The "goodie time" package was a raging hit. (Also useful is Amazon—DVDs are appreciated.)

I still believe that the war was a melonheaded idea born of wishful thinking and sold to the public by a sack of lies and irresponsible fear-mongering. I also believe that the military folks in Iraq are doing the best they can in nigh-impossible circumstances. It’s not their fault they’re stuck in a godawful and dangerous situation.

Protesting the war and sending longed-for Doritos to the soldiers strikes me as a way to express these beliefs. I recommend both.


I haven’t abandoned my Audio Comic Book idea. Part of my slowdown of blog posting is due to a shifting of free time away from Filing Cabinet towards Radio Comics. (Also, I haven’t had much to say about comics lately. Dang.)

The initial project is Green Lantern, a four or five episode arc about the switch from Hal to Kyle. Rather than hew to the comics, I’m doing an “animated series” approach, mucking with the story as necessary for good drama. Figuring out what to leave in, what to strip away, what to change completely, and how to adapt all of it to audio has been both a hoot and a holler. Writing, she is fun. Kilowog was born for radio, I tell ya.

This “animated series” approach means that I don’t fit with Pendant Production's schemes, so I’ll have to host the sucker on my own website. (Or find someone else who wants ‘em.) I do understand why: their three superhero shows are interlocked and pride themselves on close linkages to existing comic continuity. Ah, well. They inspired me to do this, so I owe 'em a little.

With luck, Green Lantern will be gripping space opera with wit, drama, excitement, charm, and Hal getting hit in the head. Without luck, it’ll be a disjointed fanboy wankfest with wooden dialogue and Hal getting hit in the head. Thus far, it feels promising, so there’s that.

Here’s to hoping that my fruit-fly-esque attention span won’t give out. Fortunately, I’ve got a few people working with me already. Peer pressure makes me do things. Maybe this time it’ll make me do a good thing. For once.

(“Set that chicken on fire! All the cool kids are doing it!” Man, what was I thinking?)

Details on the GL project will pop up as it develops. Upcoming deets will include the opening of the new website, audition calls, and timetables for release.


I really do have a plan for the Champions Project thingy. I do. Got the arcs for all six minis and the conclusion worked out. Themes, motifs, big action set pieces, it’s in my notes.

But there’s my fruit-fly-esque attention span, cited above.

Ah, hell with it. Second “issues” of Mephisto and the Reject are a’comin’.

Really, this time.


This site is in danger of going all fan-fiction, isn’t it? Oh dear. I’ll have to scrounge up some good criticism shortly.

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Masked Men, Melted Cheese, and the Great Lost Film

The new movie Nacho Libre stars Jack Black and is the story of a Mexican friar who becomes a masked wrestler to raise money for his orphanage. All well and good.

But it had almost been done legends of the cinema, no less.

From Conversations With Wilder, a book of interviews of the legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder, conducted by writer/director Cameron Crowe:
Crowe: The Masked Marvel was another idea you had for [Charles] Laughton.

Wilder: The Masked Marvel. Yes. He was a wrestler who wrestled in the provinces, not too far from where he lived. He wore a mask when he wrestled--he was an English lord. And he did not unmask himself when he wrestled. But each week he would wrestle and take that three hundred dollars and drive off....In verity, in truth, he was the minister of a church, and there were insects eating away at the furniture. He needed the money to keep the church going. This part of his life was all without the mask.

Crowe: Did it ever get to script form?

Wilder: No. Never got to script form.

Crowe: Good idea, though.

Wilder: Yes. It was a good idea, the first one I brought to him. We had Laughton masquerading as an English lord who had lost his fortune. Some of his fights were fixed, some he won. He wrestled under the name of "the Lord," which people called him, not knowing that he was in fact wrestling for the Lord. He liked the idea, but later I brought him Witness [for the Prosecution], and that we did together.

Now that would have been a weird movie.

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Friday, July 07, 2006

The Knave and the Bold

My first non-fiction book goes to press soon! Hoo-hah!

Here are a few excerpts from The Knave and the Bold: An Amateur’s Experiences in Superheroing, by Harvey Jerkwater.

From the Introduction:

“Claret is the liquor for boys, port for men; but he who aspires to be a hero must drink brandy.”
--Dr. Johnson

Quarterbacking the Detroit Lions. Pitching to the National League All-Stars. Getting punched out by boxing legend Archie Moore. Playing goalie for the Boston Bruins.

George Plimpton did it all, and wrote brilliant and hilarious volumes of participatory journalism about each experience. Thus, I blame him.

Him, and a lot of brandy.

It began a year ago, as I reread his classic Paper Lion. Midway through the book, and a third of the way through a bottle of Penedès brandy, an idea entered my head. The idea was clearly mine, as it was a bad one.

Plimpton wrote about the spectacle of sports from the perspective of the average man. What would it be like for an ordinary fellow to be an NFL quarterback, if only for a brief time? It fires the imagination just to think about it. I knew I had to follow in the footsteps of Plimpton. I would pull every string I could and investigate every lead it took to arrange an “everyman” participatory experience of my own.

With the Justice League.

It wasn’t easy. Nor was wrestling with a giant snake in the Shenandoah Valley.

But I get ahead of myself.

From Chapter Two, “Defying Death and Good Taste”

“Are you sure?” my editor asked. “You don’t have any superpowers.”

“A lot of the greats don’t,” I replied. “C’mon, Ed. Imagine the boost in circulation when you publish the excerpts.” I replied. “It’ll be the biggest issue of The New Yorker in ten years.”

“It’s been done,” Ed replied. “Altered Egos?” He referred to a similar stunt in the Forties by a novelist with the unfortunate name of “John Law.” Law donned a pair of tights, took a few high-tech gizmos, and became “The Tarantula” to both fight crime and write a book, the aforementioned Altered Egos.

Knowing he would bring it up, I had an answer prepared: “In the forties, three-quarters of the super-people were regular guys in tights and masks,” I explained. “Now they’re demigods. Look, Law wrote about guys with good right hooks and tight pants. I’m talking about guys more powerful than locomotives. In tight pants. What I’d see would be a whole different world than what Law found.

“Besides, Altered Egos was a novel. Semi-fictional. This would be straight-up reportage. People want it.

"Imagine the ancillaries, Ed. Imagine them.”

Ed pinched the bridge of his nose and stared at the floor, his habit when thinking. I considered this a good sign and kept going. “Do you really need another profile of a major politician? Every magazine does that, and you know people don't care. This stunt will touch the Walter Mitty part of every reader in America.”

"You'll be killed," he said, not looking up.

"Nonsense! I have years of martial arts training and I'm strong as an ox!" I replied. "Besides, the League won't let me get killed. Bad for publicity."

A moment later, he let go of his nose and said, “You’ll have to sign a waiver. If you get your head blown off or devolved into an ape-man, I don’t want your wife suing us.”

I signed the waiver with a flourish and immediately headed to a nearby costume shop. I had a name in mind, a name that would strike both terror and awe: The Chromium Pugilist.

Now, I thought, to develop The Look.

From Chapter Four, “The Secret Origin of the Chromium Pugilist!”

Constructing the proper superhero suit is a challenge, particularly for a fellow of my peculiar physical gifts. Built, as I am, like a fire hydrant that has abandonded itself to the joys of doughnuts and television, my dignity would not long survive in the traditional spandex superhero suit.

“Armor. You need armor,” Stuart Quinn told me. Quinn, an expert in the field, held up a breastplate. His shop, known for its super-suit replicas, was not busy that afternoon. He handed the breastplate to me. “At the very least, your paunch’ll be hidden by this.”

“Paunch?” I replied, sucking in my stomach and dropping my voice an octave. “I am in peak physical condition!”

Stuart laughed. “A gently rounded peak, yeah.” He later assuaged my pride by providing me with an outsized codpiece. “That’ll intimidate ‘em,” he said.

From Chapter Five, “Charm and a Caveman”

How does one get a cameo spot on the Justice League?

Ed and I considered a few avenues. He himself had a degree of pull with the famous organization. Ed not only coordinated three charity events for Wonder Woman, he was on good terms with Superman. Ed was instrumental in saving Superman’s young friend, Jimmy Olsen, from the clutches of Mok-Turath, King of the Astro-Cavemen.

From Chapter Seven, “Ramen Noodles in Outer Spaaaaace!”

The armature servos of the trainer robot whined as the Batman shut it down. Once the whines stopped, I was able to spread apart the claw clamped around my neck and free my body from the device’s grip. I collapsed to the floor like a sack of wet cement.

Despite his face being hidden behind smoked plexiglas, I could feel the Batman’s scowl at my ludicrous performance. Years of martial arts training, coupled with weeks of getting myself into shape for the job and weeks more gathering up crime-busting gadgets, led to an outcome worse than I’d predicted even in my nightmares. The only saving grace was that I hadn’t soiled myself.

Later, after the room stopped spinning and the glowing dots dancing in my field of vision shrank to the size of dimes, the Flash led me to the canteen of the Justice League satellite and handed me a printout. The sheets contained the results of the exercise. My eyes darted to the concluding equations and their result:

Combat Efficiency: 0.2%
Notable Combat Proficiencies: None
Preferred Mode of Combat: Falling Over

I let out a moan. The Flash laughed. “Don’t let it bother you, Harv,” he said. “We all gotta start somewhere.” I nodded. He went on, “For what it’s worth, you lasted longer than I thought you would.”

With a light “whump” noise created by his displacement of air at super-speed, he brought a cup of hot ramen noodles on the table in front of me. From my all-too-human perspective, it emerged from nowhere.

I lifted the cup and sipped, embarrassed and exhilarated. Huh. Ramen noodles and superheroes in outer space, I thought. Arching my back to work out stiffness brought about by a blow from a robot's fist, my inner monologue continued. Oh hell yes.

I then vomited with tremendous force, befouling the tile of the satellite canteen.

From Chapter Nine, “Dementia Pugilistica”

Two weeks in the JL satellite had taught me a great deal about the workings of a super-team, but the team’s continued denial of granting me first-hand exposure to action rankled. How could I write a book worth reading if I couldn’t face a super-villain myself?

To pass the time, I studied the team’s basic tactics manuals as well as their super-villain records. I’d predicted that such goodies would be fascinating reading. As per usual, I was wrong. For the most part, the archives read like tractor repair manuals translated from Portuguese to Russian to English. The Leaguers, save one, lacked any writing ability, and a few were downright awful. Green Lantern proved to be a hideous speller, and Aquaman? I cannot bear to think about Aquaman. The only good writer among the Leaguers was Superman.

(Searching the archives, the only evidence I could find of Superman not being utterly perfect at everything was a video recording of him singing along to a recording of “Radar Love” while on monitor duty. His singing voice was excellent; his air guitar, however, was atrocious.)

Boredom had overtaken me. By this point, I’d thoroughly explored the League museum. I’d acquainted myself with the teleportation tubes. I’d even learned a few breakdancing moves from archived video footage of the late Justice Leaguer Vibe. Locating a piece of cardboard upon which to spin was difficult, but I managed. The League has lacked skilled dancers, and I considered that perhaps by emulating Vibe I would be able to fill a niche.

As I worked on my pop-and-lock, I imagined hearing the Batman declare, “We’re doomed, unless we can find a superhero who can breakdance!” The odds were against it, of course, but who was to say for certain it would never happen? A bored mind can create many circumstances in which breakdancing would be vital to world peace.

Breakdancing, however, was not the answer. What saved my sanity and ingratiated me with the League was my discovery of a long-forgotten foosball table. The table was marked as a gift from a "Funky Flashman." Several Leaguers became enamored of the game. The Martian Manhunter in particular was taken with it.

During a hard-fought match with Aquaman, I heard an alarm go off and the computer announce a low-level situation. This time, I swore to myself, this time I will not be left behind. “Aquaman,” I said, letting him score a cheap goal as I spoke, “if it’s low-level, how about I come along?”

The king of the seas furrowed his brow. That he thought it a bad idea was plain. That the idea also amused him became clear as he spoke. “Sure, Harv. Let’s go,” he said, swallowing a snicker.

From Chapter Fourteen, “Sharper Than a Serpent God’s Tooth”

Rockingham County, Virginia, is a lovely place, a thinly-populated area along the northwest corner of the state, and part of the Shenandoah Valley. Its hills and pine forests possess a gentle majesty that lure vacationers from all around the region. That it contained a cell of Kobra’s snake cult should not be held against it.

Aquaman, Green Lantern, and myself, having dispatched an army of Kobra Kultists in a grove of pines (through super-strong fisticuffs, a giant green boxing glove summoned from a power ring, and yelling “get ‘em, guys!” in a cracking voice, respectively), took stock of the situation.

In hopes of salvaging my standing with the fellows, I offered up everything I could remember about Kobra outposts from the archives. The two men ignored me, and one could hardly blame them. A jittery chatterbox going on at length about the plumbing systems preferred by the Legions of the Dread Lord Naga-Naga could not be a help in a potentially lethal situation. After my nervous energy subsided, I shut my mouth. The two men failed to react to that, either.

“Oh, nice one,” I thought, my internal voice sounding like Moe Howard. “You finally get to go out on a mission, and all ya can do is talk about plumbing. Oh, and try not to pass out. Yeah, you’re a real asset.” While my inner Stooge berated me, Green Lantern took to the air and Aquaman knelt down to examine the gear of the unconscious Kultists.

I stepped back and tried to figure out how to help. My brain chugged into motion to evaluate what I knew from the JL records. Hmmm…uh…Kobra outposts are always…well-stocked with instant coffee, I recalled. Beyond that, I drew a blank. Nervous energy rose up again and caused me to smash together my steel gloves in a faux-boxing manner. The “k-tang!” noise made Aquaman flinch and cast a glance back at me. I shrugged a bit in embarrassment and left the grove.

I walked to the edge of a long stretch of road. Once I stopped, my inner monologue grew into a twin-voiced harangue. The Moe Howard voice continued to berate me as a poseur and a clown. But there was now a second voice, sounding like Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. Cowher’s voice screamed at me “DO THIS! YOU CAN DO THIS! STAND UP AND DO IT!”

The pep talk got me to loosen up my shoulders and punch a little bit at the air. Yeah, I thought, I can do this. I’ve got what it takes. I know how this works. I began to hop in place. Oh yeah. I’m the man. I’m the man. Gonna earn a spot on this team! I can run with the big dogs! Hell yeah! Woof woof woof! Cowher’s voice screamed in agreement.

Then the road in front of me cracked and split down its length, right between the painted yellow lines. From out of the road bed arose a hundred foot long viper, an expression of the Kobra Kult’s zeal for destruction.

Later investigations revealed that the Rockingham County facility was constructed to raise giant serpents for the cult, and that our presence had forced the scientists to activate a specimen ahead of schedule for protection. Through a combination of gravity dilation, genetic engineering, and cybernetics, the cult had transformed what should have been a foot-and-a-half long Agkistrodon contortrix into a sky-darkening monster.

According to a few herpetologists and xenozoologists of my acquaintence, mutating the snake to such a size was quite an achievement. That being said, similar work had been done in Spain three years prior with a Vipera aspis, though the Spanish reptile was not enlarged to the same degree.

At the moment of the snake’s emergence, little of this xenobiology, herpetology, or Spanish scientific history was known to me. Instead, I thought “Holy crap. Big snake.”

The snake shook its head to throw off clods of dirt and asphalt.

The football coach voice in my head screamed again. “NOW! DO IT NOW!”

A blur of notions flew through my mind, none of them clear. Then a single idea popped into my helmeted head, something I recalled from my weeks of perusing the archives. Aquaman was a hundred meters to my rear. Green Lantern was a half-kilometer above. Of course!

Gripped by a sense of purpose, I activated my Justice League transciever. I knew what to do.


Expecting that, as per the maneuver, the Lantern would swoop down and restrain the beast with a ring construct and that Aquaman would close in to attack. I undertook my responsibility in the tactic: distract the beast long enough for the others to get in position. I cocked my fist back to punch the snake in the side.

I felt like Superman! Like a titan! Like a demigod!

I landed my blow with all the force my hefty frame could muster, accompanied by a lusty battle cry!

Later, I told my wife that my mighty blow scuffed a scale along the snake’s length. This was purely a salve to my vanity. For all the effect it had, I may as well have punched a boulder. In Beijing.

The snake looked down at me and hissed. It opened its jaws. A gullet wide enough to fit a school bus yawned above my head.

I felt a little less like Superman.

In my head, Moe Howard’s voice returned. “You knucklehead…”

From Chapter Nineteen, “Postgame Chili”

Scents of chili powder, meat, and beans mingled and reached my nose. I could not yet bring myself to put a spoon into the bowl. Instead, I stared at it and wondered when my sense of foolishness would lessen. Or the dull throb in my head. The rest of the League did not share my hesitation and partook of Green Arrow’s chili and other dishes in an informal going-away party for their newest recruit, the Chromium Pugilist.

The mission was not a failure; Rockingham County was saved in short order. Green Lantern and Aquaman had taken care of the giant serpent and shut down the Kobra facility. Though none of it was accomplished by following my shouted instruction.

Maneuver Delta Nine-Four, I remembered upon returning to the satellite, required that I fly at faster-than-light-speed in circles around the monster, opening a rift in time and sending it back in time to the Age of Dinosaurs, while the other Leaguers would fly into space to repel an alien invasion. Excepting the Batman, who would be in charge of locating large supplies of quicklime. Not the best maneuver for the situation, in retrospect. In my panic, I had conflated it with “Maneuver Four.” Maneuver Four could be summarized accurately as “get the big monster.”

That the Leaguers chose not to bring up the gaffe was something I appreciated. It would have been a gross overstatement to say that I felt any sense of camaraderie with the Leaguers, but they were polite and friendly enough that I felt less of a fraud among them than I had any right to expect.

Over time I recovered myself well enough to partake of the chili and join my “teammates” in conversation. Green Lantern used his power ring to show me the giant baseball mitt he’d constructed to catch my body as I arced across the Virginia sky. “What model is it?” I asked.

“McGregor. Willie Mays autograph,” he replied. The green mitt rotated in the air to show the star-pattern of leather between the thumb and index finger, as well as a replica Willie Mays autograph below the middle two fingers.

Green Arrow clicked his tongue. “When he catches me, he always uses the Rawlings Cal Ripken model. You got Mays?”

“The Pugilist here still owes me money from foosball,” Lantern replied. “You, I can drop. But Harvey here needs to stay intact. Until I get my ten bucks.”

I mingled with the other Leaguers, and a few expressed regret that we hadn’t “teamed up” on my one mission. Superman noted that his best friend, Jimmy Olsen, was perpetually facing situations like mine, and that he proved to be of great help on occasions. “When he wasn’t turning into a giant turtle or getting married to a gorilla,” he added.

Wonder Woman smiled and offered me a position as her new sidekick, explaining that her life would benefit from the addition of gorilla-marrying turtle men. I turned her down, explaining that my marriage, though strong, would be sorely tested by any major mutations to my physical form or engaging in bigamy with a lower primate. Wonder Woman suggested that I consult with my wife regardless. “You never know,” she said.

Two hours into the dinner, I was feeling better about the whole affair. The Leaguers had accepted me with varying degrees of warmth, the chili was delicious, and I’d persuaded everyone present to autograph my badly-dented helmet. I sat in a chair and reflected upon the experience.

Until the Batman crashed in. I had noticed his absence earlier, but paid little attention. He was a busy man, I knew, and he had little time for frivolities such as a going-away party for a journalist. When he arrived, I halfway expected him to ignore me. He did not. He stalked straight towards me.

His body language was clear: he was angry. Standing a yard in front of me, he began a tirade. “You put the lives of Aquaman and Green Lantern at risk by your stupid stunt! To write a book, you jeapordized a mission against a major super-villain!” He stabbed his finger at me. “Who the hell are you to do this?”

The accusations burst out, one after another, in a staccato fashion: That I was a dilettente in an arena that demanded dedication. That I was lucky to be alive, and that in a more just world, I would have been devoured by a giant snake. That my presence made a mockery of the brave and noble people who risked their lives to protect others.

Gothamites speak in awed whispers about the Batman’s ability to inspire fear and to intimidate. They say he could terrify the dead. They understate him. It's much worse. Being on the receiving end of his invective was no less terrifying than facing the jaws of the giant copperhead the day before.

I tried to formulate sentences in my head to rebut his accusations, but none would form. His bullying manner worked too quickly. I could not speak. Even the other members of the League were silent. He ranted on.

An aside: raffinose is a complex carbohydrate, a trisaccharide composed of galactose, fructose, and glucose. It is also known as melitose, and may be thought of as galactose + sucrose connected via an alpha(1-6) glycosidic linkage. Due to this structure, raffinose can be broken apart into galactose and sucrose via the enzyme alpha-galactosidase. Unfortunately, human intestines do not contain that particular enzyme.

A common delivery vector for raffinose in the human diet is the legume. Specifically, beans. Raffinose, undigested by the enzymes of the stomach, passes intact into the intestines, where locally-residing bacteria devour it instead. Byproducts of this activity include hydrogen, carbon dioxide, occasionally methane, and a few sulfurous gases.

Green Arrow’s chili was loaded with kidney beans. I had devoured three bowls.

Thus my attention was forced to divide. Three-quarters of my mind was caught up in the Batman’s accusations. It struggled to rally in self-defense, it weighed the justice of his attacks, it shuddered in fear. The remaining quarter fixated on the sudden and dangerous distension of my digestive tract by expanding gases. Moment by moment, the percentages of concentration shifted towards the growing bloat in my midsection and away from the haranguing vigilante.

Within seconds, I ceased to hear the Batman. My consciousness was lost to the intestinal struggles. Then my willpower won out, and the gas pressure retreated. Once again I could hear the voice of the Batman. “This is a deadly serious business!” he bellowed.

A light squeal interrupted him. I bit my lip as the squeal deepened, gaining richness and volume. I had lost my battle.

The irregularities of the escaping gas created hesitations and sudden pitch changes in the sound. How long it continued, I do not know. Were I to hazard a guess, I would place the event in the six-to-nine hour range. From my perspective, it felt no less than that.

At last, it ceased. Quiet returned to the dining hall. The Batman, struck dumb by my bout of flatulence, resumed his complaints. Only to be overwhelmed again by the first delicate, then thunderous roar of my bowels. The second bout lasted as long as the first, if not longer. Finally, it too stopped.

The Batman did not speak. He gathered his thoughts, then left the dining hall without another word.

Seconds after the door closed behind the outraged Batman, Green Arrow offered me a full-time position in the League.

From Chapter Twenty-One, “Home Again”

I type this in my home office. The autographs of most of the Justice League decorate my dented chrome helmet, which sits on my desk. To my joy, several members of the League have kept in touch since my disasterous outing. Wonder Woman repeated her offer to take me on as sidekick. My wife, as I predicted, threatened me with divorce should I take the job.

“I accepted ‘for better or for worse,’ not ‘for human or devolved into australopithicus,’” she said. Not wishing to argue, nor to be killed by angry super-villains, I acceded to my wife’s wishes.

All is back to normal, save for one thing. The interior of my car has acquired a funk that I cannot explain. Foulness hangs in the air to such a degree that I can feel beads of stench collect on my tongue when I breathe. Cleaning the car interior twice did nothing. The source remains mysterious.


Touché, Batman.

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