Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Patriotic hero

The patriotic hero is an archetype which first showed up around WWII largly in reference to the fact that many Jewish immigrants were projecting the values of their adopted nation as an opposite to the forces which they had been fleeing eleswhere. What makes this hero archetype different is that there is little to no focus on revenge like many other hero archtypes. The hero isn't fighting against something to avenge a lost value, he is fighting for something which he values and still has or will have.

The patriotic hero sees his nation as a value and drapes himself in the colors of his flag and tries to defend his values. This of course leaves itself open to the corruption of the concept of nationalism. But that's a discussion for a different time.

A few better known examples are

  • Captain America
  • Liberty Belle
  • The Sheild
  • Americomando
  • The American
  • About a dozen characters named Patriot
  • Super Patriot
  • The Fighting Yank
  • Uncle Sam
  • The star Spangled kid and Stripesy
  • Stargirl and S.T.R.I.P.E.
  • Quote of the Day: Rocky Balboa

    Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get it and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!

    Rocky Balboa, talking to his son from the movie Rocky Balboa

    Monday, September 29, 2008

    Heroism in Music:"Heroes," quote-unquote...

    Ah, David Jones, aka David Bowie aka Ziggy Stardust, aka, the Thin White Duke...he's had more costumed makeovers than some comic book characters, so it's only fitting that we take a in-depth look at his song, "Heroes," from the album..."Heroes."

     A little bit of background, first: The "quotes;" they are added to add a sense of irony to the triumphant feel of the song. Supposedly the song is based on another song, titled "Hero," by a band called Neu. This is important to know, because when you read the lyrics to that song, the irony becomes clear. Consider these lines:

    "And you're just another hero riding through the night, 
    Riding through the city, trying to lose your mind, oh yeah. 
    Honey went to Norway, fuck the press, 
    Fuck your business, fuck the press. 
    Fuck the bourgoisie, fuck the bourgoisie. 
    Your only trial is money. 

    "You wanna live, you wanna die, 
    You wanna love, you wanna fly, 
    You wanna love, wanna fly, 
    And you're just another hero and you fuck another hero. 
    And you're just another hero. 
    Just another hero, fuck another hero, 
    And you're just another hero."

    I don't know exactly "how" this song moved Bowie. But while that song's lyrics tell of a lover leaving for Norway while the only friend is "misusing," Bowie's characters are set against the Berlin Wall. And the song's music IS uplifting as the final verses build to a powerful end as the lovers stand together as the guns "shot above their heads." If you don't listen closely to all the lyrics, you'd be forgiven for taking this song at face value. But those quote marks, oh those quote marks...they are there for a reason:

    "We can be Heroes
    Just for one day
    We can be Heroes
    We're nothing
    And nothing will help us
    Maybe we're lying
    Then you better not stay
    But we could be safer
    Just for one day"

     So the chameleon that is Bowie cannot commit to heroism without irony. Maybe he's lying...the shame is that I personally find the music so good. Can't take anything for granted, I suppose. 

     I should give Bowie the chance to defend/explain himself. He is said to have explained the song this way:

    `The situation that sparked off the whole thing was - I thought - highly ironic. There's a wall by the studio, the album being recorded at Hansa By The Wall in West Berlin - abort there. Its about twenty or thirty metres away from the studio, and the control room looks out onto it. There's a gun-turret on top of the wall where the guards sit and every day a boy and girl would meet there and carry on. They were obviously having an affair. And I thought, of al L the places in Berlin to meet, why pick a bench underneath a guard turret on the wall? They'd come from different directions and always meet there..oh they were both from the West, but they would always meet right there. And I - using licence - presumed that they were feeling somewhat guilty about this affair and so they'd imposed this restriction upon themselves, thereby giving themselves an excuse for their heroic act.' 

     It could be said that Bowie is offering an "everyman" view of heroism, that we can all find moments to be "heroes." What does come through, however, is the sense of the "Byronic" tragic Romanticism, the idea that values are worth fighting for, though we are doomed never to achieve them in this life. 

    But still, as with the Stranger in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, ("sometimes there’s a man who, wal, he’s the man for his time and place, he fits right in there..."), we are reminded that "we can be heroes...if just for one day...". It's a shame that this message has to be undercut with the cynicism and tragedy of Bowie's "Berlin" period...I'm willing to blame it on the drugs...but more likely, Bowie absorbed, along with the blow, some of that ol' German nihilism behind the Wall...to quote, once again, the Coen Brothers, "We believe in NOTHING, Lebowski!"

    Friday, September 26, 2008

    Heroism in Music: First Blood part 1 & 2

    Jerry Goldsmith's scores for the first two First Blood/Rambo films were great examples of heroism in music for different reasons.

    The story of Rambo in First Blood is the story of a man who's life got away from him on the way back from Vietnam. He was an amazing soldier, decorated with the nations highest honors and on top of that he was strong enough, smart enough, and brave enough to escape a POW camp. Back home his skills mean nothing and he can barely handle the jobs open to him.

    He's spent years just living as a drifter slightly above an animal but with a few of the dignities that make up being a human. But his story commences around a time where some small town small time law enforcement officers try to strip him of even that. The only response that this would inspire from a man like John Rambo is striking back.

    It's said that a good score can almost tell the story with no words and no visuals. Goldsmith's score is filled with pathos, and seems in many parts of the story to be weighted down the way Rambo's soul is. In other moments however it reaches heights of true heroism, the most notable of these is the moment Rambo steals the motorcycle from a rider after making a daring jail breakout, in this scene where it's clear that this man is an anti-hero at best the music pushes him to the level of hero.

    The ending theme was built around the opening score and its lyrics sum up the entire theme of the film and seem to be the only fitting music to the end of this experience.

    It's a long road
    When you're on your own
    And it hurts when
    They tear your dreams apart
    And every new town
    Just seems to bring you down
    Trying to find peace of mind
    Can break your heart

    It's a real war
    Right outside your
    front door I tell ya
    Out where they'll kill ya
    You could use a friend

    Where the road is
    That's the place for me
    Where I'm me in my own space
    Where I'm free that's the place
    I wanna be

    'Cause the road is long yeah
    Each step is only the beginning
    No breaks just heartaches
    Oh man is anybody winning
    It's a long road

    And it's hard as hell
    Tell me what do you do
    To survive
    When they draw first blood
    That's just the start of it
    Day and night you gotta fight
    To keep alive
    It's a long road ...

    The first film was followed up by the inevitible sequel. In some (mainly moral if not intellectual) ways its superior to the original. Rambo is put up against an enemy evil enough that he doesn't have to hold back like he did in the first film and you get to see how ruthless he can actually be.

    The film is bigger, bolder, more intense, bloodier but it lacks in one element. To some degree the first film kept with the novel's theme of dealing with hard questions like what does doing something like becoming a soldier do to a man. Or is heroism something worth aspiring to or is the toll it takes on you simply too high.

    Part 2 goes for the simple answer. Rambo does what he does best (losing a woman he could've loved in the process) and manages to save a number of POW's and defeat the communists, even if it is a small victory. Through most of the film is a reiteration of Goldsmith's original score, but seemingly on steroids this time.

    But at the end he refuses to return to America because it just isn't his home anymore. He wants to know that it loves the soldiers it screwed over as much as they love it. The end theme plays on this idea and ultimately I think it makes the film weaker. On the surface it's positive but below that it focuses on the ideas in play from every conservative pundit that's ever used the word freedom with little understanding of it, or viewed love of this nation as being worthy simply due to the fact that someone happened to be born here. This latter view is particularly unforgivable because there are more reasons to love this nation than I'd say any other and to apply that idea to an accident of birth is insulting.

    I honestly think that the "Freedom isn't free" song from Team America had to have been based at least in part on this song. But to me this song is just excessivly sappy and represents the hazards of the package deal that the idea of "Americanism" has become.

    We gave our hearts
    We gave it all
    Flame in the fire
    Burns forevermore

    The sorrow in believing
    Honor and truth
    Gray spires climbing
    Wrapped around our youth

    Peace in our life
    Remember the call
    Oh, a cheer for my brothers
    Think of them all
    Home of the brave
    We'll never fall
    The strength of our nation
    Belongs to us all.

    Time is the healing
    of souls laid to rest
    Peace is the virtue
    Never forget
    Tomorrow's an angel
    Watching us all
    Telling the people
    she wraps around our hearts

    Peace in our life
    Remember the call
    Oh, a cheer for my brothers
    Think of them all
    Home of the brave
    We'll never fall
    The strength of our nation
    Belongs to us all.

    Tribute to our Fallen Philadelphia Police Officers

    Philadelphia's Fallen Officers

    Again, it is time to honor our real-life heroes, but, sadly, as a memorial. This post goes out in honor of slain Philadelphia police officer Patrick Mcdonald, who is the second officer killed in the line of duty this month, and the third this year. (Mcdonald's partner, officer Richard Bowes, was shot and wounded, but took out the suspect, a convicted felon who was recently released. Thank you.) On that note, I would also like to honor officers Isabella Nazario and Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski. Unfortunately, this has been a growing risk in Philadelphia in the past few years: Since 2006, four other Philadelphia police officers have been killed in the line of duty. From Philly.com:

    Less than two weeks ago, police buried Officer Isabel Nazario, who was killed Sept. 5 when a suspect in a stolen car crashed into her vehicle during a pursuit.

    On May 3, Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski was killed while pursuing three men sought for robbing a Bank of America branch inside a ShopRite in Port Richmond.

    In November 2007, Officer Chuck Cassidy was killed as he interrupted a robbery at a West Oak Lane Dunkin' Donuts.

    And in May 2006, Officer Gary Skerski was slain when he responded to a robbery at Pat's Cafe in Frankford.

    The Philadephia Police Department has had a troubled past, and as an Objectivist, I often object, in principle, to their interference in some so-called "crimes." But our police DO have a legitimate job to do: to protect the society from those who would initiate force. "To serve and protect." They put themselves on the line every day, and never know what will happen. They do not have superpowers, and often have more restrictions than the criminals. So let us honor their service today and remember the fallen as they should be: as heroes.

    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    A SHOW OF HANDS: A Cautionary Tale of Heroes in Exile

    "Because it is STILL a sin to write this:"
    A SHOW OF HANDS: A Cautionary Tale of Heroes in Exile (pdf)
    About the story:
    This is a short graphic story based on a larger project written by myself and Landon Erp with the working title of SYMPHONY OF BABYLON. The story is larger than what we can complete at this time, (a full time artist is still needed), but it is a story I would like to see finished one day. A SHOW OF HANDS is a "synopsis" of sorts, a "poetic condensation," if you will. I felt that the story needed to be told NOW, and this version is offered as a means to keep the larger story alive until it is one day finished. It also is meant to be a "throwing down of the gauntlet," a message that heroes are not meant to be sacrificed, whether politically, artistically, economically, or socially. It is a defense and a tribute to the real-life heroes who inspire us to achieve on our own. 

    Shine on!
    Joe Maurone

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    Symphony of Babylon

    For about 6 months I was developing a graphic novel project with Joe Maurone. We managed to get the core story fleshed out and I got about halfway into the first chapter. The project was looking to be somewhere around 500 pages. I started developing the project in order to learn how to write for another artist. Much of what I have written is beyond my drawing ability. As such the project is on indefinite hold until and unless I can find another artist.

    I don't really see this as the end of the world seeing as I have other projects to attend to. But Joe and I both agreed that the story was good and deserved to be told. From time to time I'll be posting samples of the characters, scenarios and overall tone of the piece. This is to serve as an advertisement for any artists who are intrigued by the ideas, characters or events presented. I have character designs ready for several of the characters left over from the point of collaboration, and I'd be willing to go through the process again for any characters which would require further development.

    Granting Wishes for the Doomed

    This is another sample of a story from the graphic novel I was working on with Joe Symphony of Babylon. For anyone who hasn't read my style of fiction before, I like the use of first person narration and this is spoken from the point of view of Ultimate Special Agent 76 Eric Washington.

    But without further delay I present

    The first time I officially stepped outside what had been presented to me as the law was in the early 1950's. As Ultimate Special Agent 76 I'd become the public face of the U.S. Military during the war. There were a number of images available of me "slapping Japs" and giving Hitler a solid right hook, my image in my bright garish uniform was everywhere. That's all most people thought I did.

    The truth was that I'd been subjected to a treatment which enhanced my abilities past any human soldier. I was stronger, faster, and I could heal better than any soldier alive. The treatment was very effective, and they got that way through a series of atrocities committed on American soil only slightly better than those committed by our enemies.

    Back then I didn't know that, I was just glad that I was able to walk again after coming down with polio and that I was a true red, white, and blue American superhero.

    After the war the government sent me on a few small assorted missions against the Commies, but nothing too consequential. I just got to spend most of the time actually being helpful at my family's Alabama farm for the first time in my life.

    Around that time I was exposed to the origin of the program that created me. I was also exposed to the wreckage it left all of the blacks and Japanese in. Kind of changed my perspective on things. Before the war I'd tacitly supported Jim Crow laws and "separate but equal" policies.

    After serving with a number of the men affected by this overseas, as well as knowing of my origins I began to see things I never had before upon returning home. The little indignities, the fact that until a certain situation arose I was in a group of people, and then suddenly certain members of that group no longer counted as such.

    It just struck me that this is what we had fought against and died for, and here it was creeping into place on our own soil. I didn't like it.

    The last straw was one day I saw my likeness in full costume/uniform standing in front of a burning cross and a KKK logo on a piece of their literature.

    Within a week I crashed a meeting, literally. I beat everyone there senseless and I threw my rank around since I knew the local police would turn a blind eye, but Ultimate Special Agent 76 outranked any jerkwater Sheriff, and my arrest would stick.

    It was a vigilante arrest, make no mistake about it. But I was still officially a government agent so it was treated as legitimate. In the years to come many people began developing powers, and many used those powers to become either criminals or vigilantes themselves.

    For a long time this practice was tolerated, they even coined that term I used earlier "Superhero" for us. Sounds pretty positive doesn't it. That's how accepting they were of us.

    Around 1996 I regretted setting that precedent. Some of us had become too ruthless to be tolerated, but there were less pardonable sins being committed. Some of us gained powers and just wanted to go into the private sector.

    A Michigan Senator by the name of Liefeld knew what the solution to this problem was. He drafted a bill which was voted in by an overwhelming majority. Once passed into law it was called "The Liefeld Superhuman Restructuring Act" or just simply "The Liefeld Act."

    Throughout the years as a superhero I've granted many wishes for dying children. A girl wants to be princess for a day before her leukemia takes her life, a little boy wants to meet his favorite athlete or Superhero before his brain cancer snuffs out his short little life.

    Thanks to the Liefeld act I granted wishes for at least three fully grown adults which it had doomed to an early death. And for many a living death beforehand.

    You'd think such a law would focus on keeping superhumans from acting as "Superheroes" since we were all acting effectively independent of the government, sometimes in contradiction of it and even in contradiction to one another.

    You'd be wrong. I'd organized a volunteer group of powered vigilantes called the Enforcers in the mid 1970's, it was still alive and well when the act was passed. The group was nationalized and effectively replaced the U.S. Military, all of whom were either furloughed or given desk jobs.

    The act also enacted a "Don't ask Don't Tell" policy towards superhumans. If you wished to live a normal life you were never to expose your powers, for if you did the only employment you would be allowed would be as a member of the Enforcers.

    They however didn't try to put us into uniforms. That would point out all the freedom they had taken from us. They wanted us to keep our individualized costumes and if anything to upgrade them. They thought that the bright colors would put a positive spin on the whole thing. It didn't work with the bright Yellow Star's of David and it didn't work now.

    Our costumes had once been a symbol of honor, of what mattered to each person wearing one. Now it served as a tool of mockery on the cartoons they made about us, where we were all portrayed as muscle-bound idiots who think with their fists and enjoy our life lived in servitude to our human masters.

    Us old timers do deserve much of the blame for this. We didn't fight it hard enough when it was originally discussed. And once it seemed inevitable we all seemed to be making terms with our enslavers for the next generation. Small favors that would do little more than strengthen the bars of our cage.

    The best example of this was the fashion show for the toy company.

    Elaine O'Hara "The Night Banshee" a hard drinking hard loving black Irish woman was looking to retire from crime fighting and start some business ventures. But the Act prevented this. She settled for negotiating a toy deal that would make all of us rich enough to do anything we wanted in our cages.

    Some criticized her for just playing into the stereotype in order to do this, but she always blasted back with "We wasted the years of our freedom. These children will never have the options we did. We owe them something." It's worth noting that her powers were all tied into her voice, and the day that the Liefeld act was passed she became a chain smoker.

    Part of the toy deal required a fashion exposition, for the purpose of showing off our new and improved costumes. And by god they were new and improved.

    A twenty something year old girl by the name of Sara "Starblast" Thompson had hoped for a career as a fashion designer. She was amazing, what she could do with shape and color I've never seen anyone do before or since.

    Her powers involved light. At a tremendous personal strain she could turn this destructive, but it was at it's best at a her show. She could perfectly simulate any light conditions imaginable. As each model made it down the runway you could see what the suit would look like in everything from sunrise to midnight, to a dozen or so forms of artificial light. It was beautiful. She died in her third battle.

    But she took the original costume designs used by all of the Enforcers and put imaginative new spins on all of them. Each of us modeled our own costumes, all three variations. This was to be her only fashion show and everyone there knew it, so we all made it as great as we could for her.

    That even went for Adam "Lightspeed" Simpson. With a name like that I probably don't need to list off his powers. But he was the one man hit hardest by the act. He sold all of his costumes at auction after it was passed, but before he knew the details. He was going to use it as a nest egg for himself, his fiancée and their child which was on the way.

    Within a month of the act being passed her realized he wouldn't be able to find any work in the private sector, even though he was one of the most ambitious guys I ever met and he could do any job at ten times the speed of any other man. He also realized his marriage was going to be blocked.

    He held on for a while, reluctantly signing on with us hoping to keep his relationship going. That all ended one day when she showed up in tears and said she couldn't do it any more. The government had forced her to abort her child because it wanted control of the appearance of any new superhumans.

    After that when Sara asked what design he wanted on his new costume, his only reply was "JUST SLAP A FUCKING FLAG ON IT!"

    For the day of the show he managed to pull himself out of his living death of losing any freedom and any thing of value in his life. The girl wasn't to his level yet and even he knew no one should ever reach that.

    When he was killed in our first battle after making what appeared to be a rookie mistake, I didn't want to think that it was suicide, but I'm not stupid. And I don't blame him.

    But for the most part everyone got involved in the event somehow. They got the one taste they were ever going to get of the job they actually wanted.

    One of our strongmen Craig "Powerhouse" Davis always wanted to work construction. He built all the sets and converted an empty warehouse into a proper setting for such an event.

    There was also a kid we'd just recruited. His name was Seth Miller, the Frost. That should tell you how young he was. Only a kid would pick a name like that. But this kid was one hell of a musician, even if it is that new rock and roll stuff. I'll take big band any day. But he played all the music for the event.

    Kind of a surreal thing, a bunch of superheroes pretending to have normal jobs everyone else just takes for granted. When most people with those jobs grew up pretending to be people like us.


    Heroism in Music: Beyond Thunderdome

     This is a tough song to analyze outside the context of the Mad Max movies, but I think the gist of it still comes through. I'll take a stab, though...

     It's anti-war, obviously. Mad Max movies are dystopian warnings of a bleak future of the breakdown of civilization after an oil shortage. (Hmmm...does this mean we'll soon see Mel Gibson riding around the outback in his underwear while Tina Turner runs the Thunderdome?) With that in mind, I could see this song as an Obama campaign anthem...

     The idea of not needing "another hero" can be valid, in some contexts. Heroism for the sake of being a hero seldom works. A hero is a protector or a defender, and is called on in times of crisis. If things are going well, heroes have to find other things to do. It's time to be a creator and a producer. But if one is accustomed to being a hero, then he has to find a crisis...if there isn't one, he could be tempted to create one instead...which is not very heroic, now, is it? 
    That's the problem with this song's sentiment, it's a song from a movie about a violent society. Apparently the people did need a hero. I'll confess to not being familiar with the films, but I understand that the third movie offers a Christian-themed sacrifice and redemption, putting the song's lyrics in context. At least it's consistent, in that regard. But then, is not Jesus considered a hero among Christians? So what we're really saying is, we don't need another hero, if he's going to be violent in defense of life, but a hero who offers solace in the afterlife. 

     We don't need another hero of that kind. 

    "We Don't Need Another Hero"



    by Terry Britten and Graham Lyle

    The "Heroes" are Back!

    You know what I'm talking about...

    I haven't had much thought about this show; for me, it's pure entertainment. (Most of it is derived from existing comic books anyway...). This is a good thing, though, it means I haven't felt betrayed...yet...The new season starts tonight, (I'm watching it taped), so I'm looking forward to it...This season has a lot more villains on tap, and Sylar is already pretty freakin' creepy, so let's hope that the Heroes really step it up!

    Monday, September 22, 2008

    Final Girl

    Final Girl or Survivor girl as the concept is referred to in the film "Under the Mask, the Rise of Leslie Vernon" is a staple of horror films especially the slasher sub-genre. She is the one girl who survives the entire film who manages to either defeat the killer, escape or both.

    A few notable final girls are as follows

  • Ripley from the Alien series

  • Sara Conner in the first Terminator movie

  • "Wendy" Torrance from the Shining

  • Sidney Prescott from the Scream trilogy

  • Laurie Strode in numerous films in the Halloween series

  • Nancy Thompson from A Nightmare on Elm Street 1 and 3

  • Alice Johnson from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 & 5

  • Taylor Gentry from Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

    The film from the final entry of this list is actually very informative. The film is written as a mockumentary covering the point of view of a Jason/Freddy/Michael Myers style killer with a Penn and Teller style to it. It discusses the idea of how all the random things that happen in a horror movie are actually well planned traps that have been set long ahead of time with every contingency accounted for. It discusses the idea of what a "Survivor girl" is. The killer is clear that his whole reason for existing is the survivor girl, he wants someone to push him to his limit and work as hard as he can and in turn he can turn her into something amazing.

    The film goes on about sexual imagery of the genre. Specifically it speaks of yonic or vaginal imagery of making daring escapes through tight passages or hiding in the closet which is a stand-in for the womb which is why everyone is safe there "because everyone is innocent in the womb." However there is also discussion of the killer's "phallic center of power" (the area where he keeps his weapons and often hides his bodies).

    The survivor girl makes a metamorphosis when she is ready to take on the masculine characteristics of her enemy, by violating his center of power, shaking off the shock of seeing a dead friend and taking a phallic weapon to confront the villain with. This underscores the fact that much of the killer's reasoning for his crimes are that his masculinity is in crisis.

    But a better example of the transformation comes in the form of Alice Johnson as referred to in the above list. What makes this variety of heroine so special is that she experiences nearly an entire hero cycle within a single story and she's the best example I can think of.

    Alice starts out as a timid girl who's living in her head, daydreaming about "getting the guy" and telling off her alcoholic father and her mirror is so covered with pictures of her friends that there's no place to see herself. Early in the story she's placed in a situation where she's given the power to bring Freddy new victims which she does often and unintentionally seeing as every time she falls asleep and one of her friends is as well they're as good as dead.

    One of the things that makes the Nightmare series so good for showing real growth and transition is that the pace is slightly slower. Silent stalker style slasher films often operate on the principle that no one even knows murders have been happening until they are in fact the final girl. In the nightmare series the premise is that the victim pool is well aware that they are exactly that for a period of days or even weeks, with enough time between kills to mourn and really think about what's going on.

    This is where Alice's strength lies. She takes on a characteristic of each of the victims after they die and takes one souvenir to remember them by. As the story goes on her inner strength just seems to grow until a few key moments.

    The first is at her brother's funeral where she daydreams that he's still alive and joking around with her, at the end of this daydream she simply says to herself "No more daydreams." At this point she starts mentally preparing herself to take Freddy on, in his own world. This culminates in a great scene where she's intent on saving "the guy" who's at Freddy's mercy if she doesn't come to help. She takes the souvenirs and places each of them on her body in some way and after doing this she takes some sleeping pills and utters the classic line "Fuckin' A!"

    After this she dives through the mirror and takes on Freddy defeating him with a nursery rhyme.

    "Now I lay me down to sleep,
    the Master of Dreams my soul to keep,
    in the reflection of my mind's eye,
    evil will see itself...and it shall die!"

    My description isn't doing this scene justice nor the way I remember it from the first time I saw it. But the key thing is that by the end of the film Alice isn't some frail little girl, she is a HEROINE.

    But at this point I'm tempted to ask if Leslie Vernon's idea truly fits these women. At one point he's asked if he loves his survivor girl and he says

    "I love the thought of her, I love what she could become"

    But when I think of that I'm reminded that often all a survivor girl becomes is an eventual victim. Nancy dies when she returns to the Nightmare series and she's not alone. Or then there's Ripley who seems to be living in some endless loop like something out of a Greek myth. Then there's Sydney from the Scream trilogy, who in keeping with the theme of horror movie events in the real world is living in abject terror, working from home under heavy security by the final film. This is also mirrored by Laurie Strode in the Halloween series.

    But on the other end of the spectrum you have Sara Conner, who is brought to the edge of terror by the end of the Terminator and barely escapes with her life/the life of her child, but any other time you see her she is anything but helpless. She isn't constantly living in terror, she is actively planning for a future, no matter how dark it may be. The ironic thing being that you often think Sara Conner could take on the whole world without breaking a sweat.

    To be honest the idea of Sara Conner and Alice Johnson is what inspired me. Sara Conner is an example of what happens after the final girl metamorphosis. And something deep inside of me is waiting to see all of them invade the boys club of superheroes so that I could see what Alice Johnson would have to say to Wonder Woman or Batman about what it REALLY means to be a hero.

  • Hero Archetypes

    In the spirit of Joe's "Heroism in Music" themed posts I've been somewhat inspired to try a similar project with a set of themed posts. I've always been fascinated with the building blocks of literature. With the theme of this site being discussion of heroism I'd like to undertake a study of the different archetypes of heroes, heroines, villains and anti-heroes.

    I tend to like structure and planing things out ahead of time so I have some ideas I'm working on now and have been for a while. So stay tuned.

    Quote of the day

    "Some readers claim they read comics merely for escapism, so they don't have to think about reality. The ultimate escapist fantasy would be cosmic-level tales featuring such heroes as the Siliver Surfer or the New Gods. If the escapist philosophy of readership held true, they would be among the most successful characters out there. Instead their solo books inevitibly crash and burn due to low sales, irrespective of the quality of the individual work."

    ---Peter David: Writing for Comics with Peter David

    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    The Ultimate TV Show...

    For the ultimate individualist...



    The Prisoner, made for only one 17 episode stretch and broadcast before I was even born, still inspires me to this day. For those not familiar with British Sci-
    Fi (and like many of the better British Science Fiction programs, The Prisoner made its way into some very interesting comics), this amazing program was the brainchild largely of lead actor and writer and occasional director Mr. Patrick McGoohan. I don't think there is another television show I have found which quite matches the heroism and individualism in this series.

    "Number Six," the hero, is, much like a theme of this site, in 'exile' as is individualism in heroes today.

    If there are any other Babylonians who have been inspired by television shows with similar themes, I'd like to hear about them.


    Saturday, September 20, 2008

    Kid, it never was a game.

    From time to time I'll be putting some of my fiction up. This is from a project I'd been working on with Joe where we re imagined the Marvel universe for a story so big that they'd never approve it for anyone. The title it's sitting at right now is "Symphony of Babylon."

    Some of the characters were built from next to nothing. Others bore a great resemblance to their inspiration. Greg Williams the Elusive Lizard Man falls into the latter category.

    The following is his story

    Greg Williams met Elizabeth Randal when the two of them were nineteen years old. Greg was
    pre-med and taking his foundational chemistry classes, and Elizabeth was taking the one that would be required for her liberal arts degree. Greg had always excelled at all things scientific and this was no exception, whereas Elizabeth was close to flunking. Greg was short, scrawny, awkward looking guy who got tongue tied around girls he liked. Elizabeth was studying to be a photographer, she liked doing art photography and fashion, but photographing anything made her happy.

    She wasn't quite as pretty as the models she shot, but she was closer than her modesty would allow her to admit. She was in good shape seeing as she'd been a cheerleader in high school until a knee injury ended that and cost her a scholarship.
    Knowing she was a cheerleader isn't something that would surprise most people about her. She was always bubbly and energetic, and had the kind of smile that was so big and bright that you could offer it no other response than one in return. She could even make you smile at a funeral. Adding that to her curly brown hair and matching doe eyes meant that this girl had more than her share of admirers.

    And she was a bright girl, but math and science were never her strong suits. She asked Greg to tutor her and he agreed. At first his nerves made it hard to cover the material (or even say anything) with her. At one point the two of them were even thinking of calling the whole thing off, until Elizabeth mad an offhand comment about how there was nothing interesting in math and science.

    In response to this Greg talked for hours about speculative astronomy, the theory of evolution, the principles of algebra and logic, and he did so naturally with such genuine passion that Elizabeth gained a new appreciation for these disciplines. More than that, something deep inside of her clicked and said to her that even though she'd never noticed him... maybe even before that night, this was the man she was going to marry. The romance didn't blossom immediately between the two, but a strong and enduring friendship did.

    The two were inseparable most of the time, with the sole exception being that she had her artist friends, and Greg befriended a number of his professors. Around his sophomore year in college he was invited by them to a special event.

    Walter Jericho of the
    TT Project was going to install a Godstone Power Generator on the campus and demonstrate it for science department who he ensured would be able to use the generator for numerous experiments. The last part was no lie save being a lie of omission. Those in attendance at this event would preform experiments using Godstone radiation, they would become experiments.

    Years later the type of
    Godstone Power Generator that Jericho installed so many places gained a well earned reputation for a special type of failure. Periodically these generators safety shielding would give way and anyone in the vicinity would be bathed in pure Godstone radiation.

    Godstone was originally known for its mutagenic properties and the fact that power could be derived from it came as a surprise to most. In the years that followed rumors spread that not only was Jerico's generator designed to fail in this manner, but that he hadn't even invented it and he'd stolen the design from a colleague.

    By this point it did not matter the world had been littered by individuals given powers from
    Godstone, and the failure of the generators and the fact that the design was never improved convinced people that Godstone power was not in fact the wave of the future.

    Upon exposure to
    Godstone radiation a person is either mutated into developing powers, or is poisoned by the energy. Many times both. Over a dozen men and women at this event were granted powers, Greg Williams was one of them.

    He'd been doing some experiments with different types of lizards. Over the next few days and months he realized he'd developed powers. He could turn invisible, he was faster and stronger, he could heal all the way to the point of regrowing limbs, and he excreted different types of chemicals, some were toxic poisons others allowed him to do things like climb walls.

    He tried simply to hide this for a while until a number of his professors let the powers go to their heads and started breaking the law. At this point the police were extremely overwhelmed by powered criminals and needed help, Williams volunteered.

    He developed some fabrics that would bond to him like a second skin, and turn invisible with him. He also developed some machines that could extract his venom in a more efficient manner and keep him from accidentally spraying it when he didn't want to.

    He proceeded to stop the other men who'd been empowered at the time he was to a modicum of admiration. But after a while the remaining teaching staff began to turn on their former best pupil. His vigilante activities made him worthless in class and kept him from staying up with his homework. Within two years Elizabeth was the one making the deans list and Greg was the one flunking out.

    She wound up being the first person to discover his secret. One time after he missed all of his classes she walked into his bedroom and saw him half in his costume half out with wounds that would be fatal for anyone else. She stayed with him and kept his room mate out until he woke up. She asked him with calmness and kindness for his whole story and eventually he told her. As a result Elizabeth did a fairly decent job of keeping Greg out of trouble and doing his homework. He almost got back on track until a long brutal series of fights around finals.

    Greg was kicked out of school and never made it back in.

    Elizabeth had started working as a professional photographer by this point. Not doing fashion or editorial work, she was a paparazzo. She hated it but at least she was being a photographer and it paid the bills. And the bills needed paid since Greg kept getting fired from one dead end job after another. But she knew his secret and she loved him.

    After a while his vigilantism got completely out of control. It was one thing when he only targeted men with powers like him. But he never seemed to last more than a month at any job before he left unexpectedly to go stop a robbery somewhere, or came in late because he stopped a mugging.

    It started to wear on the couple after a while, until one night Elizabeth solved their problems. She'd follow Greg on his patrols with her photography set-up and take exclusive photos to sell to the press. This made everything better for a long time. They were able to spend all kinds of time together Greg didn't have to keep a day job for a long time, long enough he wanted one again and was ready to do it right. The former
    pre-med student who in his private life was one of the world's foremost experts on human Godstone mutation finally took a job back in his chosen field. He took classes at odd intervals and online and earned his degree to become a nurses assistant.

    It wasn't what his dream was, but neither was Elizabeth's. But somewhere between making a difference, both working close to their chosen fields, and just having a deep abiding love for each other, they found real happiness.

    The only problem came from a loose end. At first Elizabeth managed to hide herself very well, but eventually Greg's regular enemies knew she'd be nearby. Most of his enemies weren't killers though, so they would either ignore her or mug for the camera.

    There was one exception to this rule. Greg's closest professor friend was the only man more awkward than himself around women. Greg and everyone else assumed this man never had a woman he didn't pay for. In his day to day life he was sweet, kind, and shy. But his mutation affected that. The professor's power tied into adrenaline. Using his powers got him "high." For a man who lived such a timid, rigid, controlled life, the idea of REALLY letting go was intoxicating.

    His initial crimes, were simple enough, thefts which escalated as the thrill wore off. But each time he fought Greg something became more clear to him. He was jealous of Greg. Greg would never have a career like he had, but he was close enough to be happy. And his wife was the happiest person he'd ever known.

    The professor had long harbored an unhealthy crush on Greg's young wife. It started becoming scary as the teacher's stories of "a different person being in charge" when he became a monster started to fall apart. Elizabeth started to suspect there were no multiple personalities in this man at all, he was just a psychopath who'd never been unleashed before.

    He finally unleashed himself. In the past the transformations had been temporary and triggered. The teacher who'd dubbed himself Nemesis' final transformation was intentional. And he had the ultimate exclamation point for this fact in mind.

    He managed to get Elizabeth alone while Greg worked his day job. He then proceeded to put Elizabeth through 8 hours of hell. By the time Greg knew she was missing the trail hadn't gone cold yet, and on some level Nemesis wanted to be found.

    Greg tracked the trail down to an abandoned warehouse. Once there he saw something he never expected. He saw photos strewn out all over the floor, humiliating, violating, disgusting photos of Elizabeth taken with her own camera. He also saw his wife so weak and close to dead he thought she already was before upon later inspection he saw that she was still breathing shallowly.

    He scooped her up and took her to the hospital where he unmasked in front of the whole crew, including his coworkers. After this there was an initial buzz because a famous superhero had publicly unmasked. There were countless people with observations, requests and insults.

    In the 72 hours his wife stayed alive in that hospital he had to sign countless autographs. During this time he was also told that "he was no Agent 76" "He was nowhere near as cool as the Wrath." There were a number of kids who didn't know or likely care why this superhero was at this hospital unmasked, he was just there to serve them.

    After a while being as emotional as he was, his being unmasked in his form fitting costume made him feel uncomfortably naked in front of a growing unintentional audience. One of his friends from work felt sorry for him and sneaked Greg a set of scrubs to wear over his costume. One by one his friends and co-workers made their way over to him in the waiting room, the cafeteria and the on-call room. A few of his bosses expressed regret for ever getting mad at him for being late or unavailable. A few acquaintances became a little starstruck by him but still tried offering general "it'll be
    ok" kind of messages. A couple of the old widowed janitors and senior doctors tried to give him advice about how to get through grieving. But she still died on her third day there, and no amount of surgery could help her.

    When he finally left the hospital he made an appointment for making funeral arrangements that he would miss. He burned the photos Nemesis had taken, and started the hunt for his wife's murderer.

    Nemesis didn't hide. He went straight to his apartment where he'd had the Williams' as guest countless times, and was prepared to have the only living one as a guest one final time. So the timid young professor turned psychopathic 7 foot giant sat on his couch watching his door and windows for Greg Williams. Williams had never learned that his invisibility didn't work on Nemesis, he could hear too well and he could smell Greg, especially when he was invisible.

    "You know Lizard boy, I always wondered if that sweet piece of meat you called a wife was any good or if she was too frigid. All I have to say is that no matter what you do to me, she was worth it" said Nemesis as he licked his lips in a lewd and mocking manner.

    Williams turned visible and dove for Nemesis in a blind rage. Nemesis possessed an eerie calmness however. He grabbed the 5'4" man by the throat and tossed him out his third story door wall. Williams was thrown all the way into a building across the street. After he recovered Williams stuck to the wall and started scampering around looking for Nemesis. Nemesis was already on his tail. Nemesis' arm reached around over Williams chest grabbing him tightly and slamming him to the ground.

    This battle raged on raged on for hours, Williams trying to use his speed to overwhelm Nemesis, and Nemesis using his strength to play with Williams like a cat that wasn't ready to eat the mouse he'd captured.

    In a final moment of desperation Williams tore off the machines used to regulate the venom he fires. They were all blasting at full strength and full speed from his wrists with no control. Williams grabbed Nemesis by the head and held on until all the venom had been drained from his body. It was a toxic mixture of paralytics,
    neurotoxins and acids.

    Nemesis lay on the ground jerking in a seizure fist clenched jaw locked and half of the skin on his face and torso eaten nearly down to the bone. Williams leaped along walls dragging his quarry until he reached the police station and dropped him from five stories onto the ground in front.

    Williams told the police what Nemesis had done and the police didn't know what to tell him. Williams never stuck around after he made a vigilante arrest before, but after taking Nemesis in he'd wished that he had.

    Usually when a superhero stops a bank robbery the crime is technically never committed. There's no evidence to be gathered, there were no Miranda rights offered so the police usually had little choice but to let the criminal go. Learning this explained to Williams why he'd had to fight the same people so many times but the thought sent a chill down his spine this time.

    Williams offered as much information as he could about his wife's murder. But by design there were a number of holes he couldn't account for. He didn't know when his wife was taken, he didn't know when Nemesis had taken her or where from. There was DNA left on her body but due to the nature of the mutation his DNA had shifted multiple times. It was never the same from one transformation to the next and it didn't match his baseline "non-mutated" DNA that was taken from his last visit before a transformation. In a word it was useless.

    The only thing that
    might've stuck were the photos, the ones Greg burned. Out of courtesy to a man who'd helped them numerous times and just suffered the ultimate loss the police did their best to question the man who would only be referred to as Nemesis as long as they could. Ultimately they knew they would have to release him because there was no evidence.

    Around the time the police were preparing to let him go nemesis sat up in his seat. Most of his skin and muscle had already grown back in this time. An evil smirk crossed his face as a single statement escaped his lips.

    "Aggravated kidnapping and first degree manslaughter, I'll plea to that. The pathetic little twerp deserves that much."

    A few moments later he was dragged into custody wearing a matching set of diamond manacles on both his hands and feet. Williams watched this parade with tears of fury as he screamed across the room at his former friend.

    "I hope you're happy how our little game ended!"

    Nemesis fought off everyone holding him and then approached Williams where he quietly said to him.

    "Kid, it never was a game."

    In the days and weeks which would followed Greg asked himself many questions which he never would've during the days when he looked at things through "Elizabeth colored glasses." His life had seemed wonderful no matter how many times he had to go into work with injuries that
    should've left him as a patient, not caring for any. He always felt like he was making a big difference when he put the costume on, even though he rarely was liked or respected for it and he couldn't remember the last time he'd actually enjoyed his activities rather than done them out of habit. Had life as a superhero actually been worth losing a career that meant more than anything to him as a youth.

    At the age of thirty five he was barely employable in his chosen field of work, fired from every job he'd ever worked, med School drop-out and widowed. The thought was almost enough for him to want to put a bullet through his brain, the only thing stopping him was his fear he'd heal and survive it.

    Nemesis would go on to only serve one year of his sentence before being given a full pardon to work on a government think tank with Walter Jericho dedicated to the study of
    Godstone mutation, where he would work along side Williams.

    The Merry Marvel Marching Society

    I figure we gotta start somewhere, so why not start the musical discussions with "The Merry Marvel Marching Society?" ('m sure Steve Ditko can give you a lot of reasons, actually, but anyway...)

    The Merry Marvel Marching Society (referred to throughout as the M.M.M.S.), was a fan club for Marvel Comics started by Marvel editor Stan Lee and/or Marvel publisher Martin Goodman in 1964. This was their snazzy theme song:

    Lyrics to the Marvel Superheroes Theme!

    Meet the sulky over-bulky kinda’ hulky superhero. Altruistic and electrically-transistored superhero.
    An exotically neurotic and aquatic superhero. The Marvel Super Heroes have arrived!
    Super powered from the forehead to the toes. Watch them change their very shape before your nose.
    See a cane-striking superhero change to Viking superhero. A humdingin’ real swingin’ shield-flingin’ superhero.
    They’re the latest, they’re the greatest, ultimatist superheroes. The Marvel Super Heroes have arrived!

    Lyrics to the Mighty Marvel Marching Society Song!

    Stand a little straighter. Walk a little prouder. Be an innovator. Clap a little louder.
    Grow forever greater. We can show you how to. Where will you be then?

    You belong, you belong, you belong, you belong to the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
    March along, march along, march along to the song of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
    If you growl, if you groan with a down sour outlook, if you howl, if you moan, you can lose your sour grout
    by keeping trim and in step with the vim and the pep of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.

    Be an early riser. Strive to be ambitious. Speak a little wiser. Try to be judicious.
    Be a good advisor, never ever vicious. Where will you be then?

    Face front... Lift your head... You’re on the winning team... ’NUFF SAID!
    You belong, you belong, you belong, you belong to the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
    March along, march along, march along to the song of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
    If you growl, if you groan, and your star is nearly zero, do not howl, do not moan, you can be a superhero,
    marching right along to the fighting song of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
    The words here, on the surface, seem innocent enough, especially to the parents and children of the sixties. They promote good values, heroism, inspiration, goodness, etc.. But notice a little word in the very beginning: "altruistic." Also notice: "exotically neurotic." Those two words, I submit, are a diagnosis of the kinds of heroes Marvel would ultimately produce. It's no wonder that, after reading Ayn Rand, Ditko refused to participate! (Well, it could also be the thought of a grown man marching around singing corny songs, but still...). At any rate, after seeing this, some of the things I post about Superheroes in pop music won't come as such a surprise...

    Heroism in Music

    In addition to the horror file, I want to also start a few themed posts on heroism in music (some may belong in the Horror File, anyway...). Some of the songs I'm going to cover include, but aren't limited to:

    "We Don't Need Another Hero" by Tina Turner (from the movie MAD MAX/BEYOND THUNDERDOME)
    "Heroes" by David Bowie
    "Catch Me Now I'm Falling" by the Kinks

    and a slew of songs based on Superman, starting with the Kink's "Superman (Wish I Could Fly Like)" and up to the themes from Smallville and Scrubs. (Sorry Donovan, "Sunshine Superman" isn't relevant to my theme, though Superman and Green Lantern STILL ain't got nothing on you. :) )

    Eventually, if I'm ambitious enough, I'll get to talk about how heroism is depicted musically, (no words, music alone) with a discussion of Beethoven and Wagner, but I make no promises on that. I don't usually plan out articles in advance, or announce them! I like them to be spontaneous (besides, I'd never have planned to blog about the Merry Marvel Marching Society! Eek!). But It's a personal challenge. Still, I'm not paid for this, so no promises....(Unless there's a patron out there who would like to sponsor such endeavors, then we'll talk...). But I am a musician (shameless plug: www.spaceplayermusic.com!). It's not as if it's a chore for me to discuss it! And I do attempt to employ the heroic in my own compositions, so I am paid, as a composer, in knowledge and advancement of my craft. (Money would still be nice, though...).

    Wednesday, September 17, 2008

    From the Not-so-Smallville

    I'd like to introduce myself to Superhero Babylon, my name is Michael Vardoulis and I am a (for lack of a better term) comics enthusiast. Like the evolution of comic mythology itself, my perspective of comic books and the heroes that emerge from their pages has evolved into adulthood. In a similar fashion comic book icons such as the ultimate 'prototype' example, Superman, has been re-envisioned and re-interpreted in a variety of positive ways; so too has followed my appreciation for comic books and their heroes: I look at my favorite heroes and what they represent differently now that I have long ago entered adulthood. I particularly like the re-tooling of the Superman mythology found in the recent television adaptation "Smallville" (which the new season starts very soon), in part because of the parallels I find in my own evolving appreciation of comics.

    I remember spending much of childhood growing up in a California suburban "
    smallville" of sorts, without the midwestern innocence, being ashamed of "childish" things. I enjoyed my childhood, but I distinctly remember wanting to appear more "grown up" and in turn following what I though to be more "grown up" interests. I recall associating comic books with being somewhat "below" even the picture books I was outgrowing in my early elementary school years. For many different reasons, I avoided comic books because of the stigma of immaturity I (and I believed others) placed on comic books. I did not start taking comic books seriously until the age of thirteen when I frankly broke down and read a friend's Uncanny X-Men, somewhere around issue #170.

    Whenever I put something up on this site, I pledge to remember my initial personal journey into the medium of expression I so wrongfully discarded as childish and simple only to discover a rich, complex method of storytelling which just happened to be both literary and visual. I pledge to remember the giddy, angst-ridden young teenager eagerly awaiting the next set of issues to appear in my hands. I pledge to remember basking in the adventures of my favorite heroes while simultaneously discovering and drinking up what I saw as a similar romanticism in the
    works of Salinger, Thoreau and Rand. I do not want to forget the most fundamental aspect of comics: the sheer joy of the adventure and the story, which is what not only drew me into comic books but keeps me inspired by and writing about comic books today.