Half-Told Stories

This is an archive of my old LiveJournal on which I wrote from August 2006 to November 2007.  I just copied and pasted the entries from last to first into a gigantic mess of literally half-told stories: comic books, film scripts, and novels that I dreamed up, wrote a few notes on, and abandoned.  There's some Unisystem gaming material in here and some great fragments of possibility, but overall it's just a great explanation for why I'm not a professional writer (yet).


November 29th, 2007
Bender's Big Score
I would just like to brag that I figured out the big twist with Lars in the very first scene he appears in... which made David Cohen's pointing out of the hints in the commentary pretty funny.

So... I barely ever update here, but that doesn't mean I'm not writing and posting. I'm on the Eden Studios ezboards and the UniFans.org fansite (as Gwalchbach and Gaelbach respectively) where I've been doing game stats for "The Authority" and "The Venture Brothers" as well as "Pirates of the Caribbean"-style monsters and spells. RPG crap seems to be where my strongest talents lie; too bad it doesn't pay.

And my computer seems to hate LiveJournal, even though it's running fine otherwise

September 27th, 2007
It's been 14 weeks since my last post...
We got the computer fixed, but I've been having trouble with LiveJournal. It crashes and loses my post everytime I try to save something...

The picture is of my new cat, Torako ("little tiger" or "tiger cub" in Japanese). We got him about a month ago and we'll probably be getting rid of him soon. He's a darling, but our old cat hates him and my wife's stressed out from dividing her time between two cats. My first loyalty has to be to Myrmeen and Robin, so I'll probably have to give him up.

I'm going to miss him, even though he thinks my hair is a plaything.


June 14th, 2007
I... LIVE... AGAIN!
Not that anybody reads this journal, but I am still alive. My computer got a virus from downloading free D&D crap and my new anti-virus software makes my computer incredibly slow (I'm on dial-up and I need more RAM).

I really, really like "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End." If you can't follow the twists and turns, then you're an idiot. It isn't that challenging.

March 15th, 2007
PREPARE FOR ORGY!
I just can’t stay on a schedule.

We saw “300” yesterday. Like the comic book it so closely copies, it is frequently ahistorical and (probably subconsciously) bigoted. The philosophic underpinnings of the work are, frankly, a mess. Nonetheless, I was on the edge of my seat with excitement the whole film. It’s just so gorgeous, violent, and sexy… I now have a big man-crush on Spartan Legolas (if you’ve seen the film, I think you can guess who I mean, and it’s not Faramir).

(You know, the last movie I enjoyed this much was “Casino Royale,” which shares much of the same flaws and philosophy. I must admit that at a visceral level I am an unreformed male.)

“Sexy” is an important adjective in describing “300.” Like “Sin City,” the film wallows in… unconventional… sexuality (though, unlike “Sin City,” the most extreme of the non-conformists are not the protagonists). During the love scene between King Leonidas and Queen Gorgo (preceded by a bare-ass panorama of Gerard Butler) there is much bare-breastedness and what is undoubtedly doggy-style lovin’ (not approved by Jesus last time a Christian authority spoke), but the sex really takes off when the villains are on the screen. The temptation of Ephialtes is lushly freakish. When the credits include roles for “Armless Concubine” and three different transsexuals, then you know you’ve just seen a hard “R.”

So I’m amazed there were so many families with prepubescent boys and tweenaged girls in attendance. I hope that a lot of dads who insisted on going to the movie they insisted on had long, uncomfortable talks with their children and wives afterwards.

Bwah-ha-ha!

Anyway, I’ve mainly been working on game materials and most of what I’ve actually typed has been race and class conversions from AD&D 2nd Edition to Cinematic Unisystem. Because I still need to work on class conversions, I’m going to post the racial qualities I created. The attribute limits are taken from C.J. Carella’s unofficial conversion guide (and I’m going to have to tweak them further because dwarves just plain aren’t stronger than humans), but the rest is essentially mine. I wish I had more genuine writing to display, but I’m trying to create a situation where the work I do now will make it easier to do real writing in the future. My goal is to get the conversion ruleset in place so I can then start stealing the world-building materials (the hardest part of any game, especially given the way mine sprawl out of control) from all of the dozens of Forgotten Realms books I received out of storage.

Anyway (again), here it is.

THE STANDARD RACES

Dwarf – 5 Point Racial Quality

Dwarves are a race of grumpy (and occasionally sneezy but rarely dopey) short hairy people that look like miniaturized versions of Brian Blessed or John Rhys-Davies. They enjoy mining for precious metals, smithing precious metals into weapons, and killing orcs with weapons made of precious metals.

Dwarves gain a Constitution bonus of +1. They possess the Qualities Long-Lived, Resistance: Magic +1, Resistance: Poison (and Alcohol) +1, and Supernatural Senses (Nightvision) allowing them to see in near-darkness without range penalties up to 60,’ but also receive the Drawbacks Charisma -2 and Short. Their initial languages can include common, dwarf, gnome, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold and orc. They have a +2 Knack in Craft to analyze mines and stonework to detect the depth underground, grade or slope in the passage, new passage or tunnel construction, shifting or sliding rooms or walls, and stonework deadfalls, pits, and traps.

Dwarves can take up to 3 levels of the Age Quality and are prime candidates for the Drawbacks Addiction (Heavy Drinking and Smoking), Covetous: Greedy, Humorless, and Paranoid.

Attribute Maximums: Str 8, Dex 5, Con 8, Int 6, Per 6, Wil 6.

Elf – 7 Point Racial Quality

Elves are a race of beautiful, sexually ambiguous immortals with pointy ears played by rock star’s daughters and hot, hot Brits. They enjoy composing poetry and songs, frolicking in the woods, and killing orcs.

Elves gain a Dexterity bonus of +1 but suffer a Constitution penalty of -1. They possess the Qualities Attractiveness +1, Immortal, Resistance: Mind-Control and Sleep Magic +2, and Supernatural Senses (Nightvision) allowing them to see in near-darkness without range penalties up to 60.’ Their initial languages can include common, elf, gnoll, gnome, goblin, halfling, hobgoblin, and orc. They gain the following Knacks:
Melee: +1 when using a long or short sword
Missile: +1 when using a long or short bow
Notice: +1 to spot concealed and hidden doors
Stealth: +1 when unencumbered by metal armor and accompanied only by elves, half-
elves, or Halflings.

Elves can take up to 10 levels of the Age Quality (though they’re usually sick to death of humans by that point and sail off to Elf Florida as soon as they can) and frequently possess Iron Mind.

Attribute Maximums: Str 5, Dex 8, Con 5, Int 8, Per 8, Wil 8.

Gnome – 5 Point Racial Quality

Gnomes live in well-kept (yet oddly tacky) gardens where they dispense travel advice. They enjoy cavorting with bunnies, casting illusion spells, and killing goblins and kobolds because they can only reach orcs’ knees.

Gnomes gain an Intelligence bonus of +1 but they’re kind of dense and also suffer a Perception penalty of -1. They possess the Qualities Long-Lived, Resistance: Magic +1, and Supernatural Senses (Nightvision) allowing them to see in near-darkness without range penalties up to 60,’ but also receive the Drawback Short. Their initial languages can include common, dwarf, gnome, goblin, halfling, kobold and small burrowing mammal (seriously; they can talk to badgers, bunnies, weasels, etc.). They have a +2 Knack in Craft to analyze mines and stonework to detect the depth underground, grade or slope in the passage, new passage or tunnel construction, shifting or sliding rooms or walls, and stonework deadfalls, pits, and traps. They also have a +2 Knack in Occultism for casting illusion spells.

Gnomes can take up to 3 levels of the Age Quality and frequently suffer from the Drawbacks Clown and Misfit. Nobody likes gnomes because they weren’t in The Lord of the Rings.

Attribute Maximums: Str 4, Dex 6, Con 7, Int 7, Per 6, Wil 6.

Half-Elf – 5 Point Racial Quality

Half-elves are the children of unions between elves and humans (apparently elves aren’t cross-fertile with dwarves and halflings) and are usually more rugged or voluptuous in their sexiness than their elfin parent. They enjoy composing poetry and songs about their pain and loneliness as half-breeds, contemplating their pain and loneliness in forest glades, and taking out their pain and loneliness on orcs.

Half-elves don’t gain any Attribute bonuses or penalties. They possess the Qualities Attractiveness +1, Long-Lived, Resistance: Mind-Control and Sleep Magic +1, and Supernatural Senses (Nightvision) allowing them to see in near-darkness without range penalties up to 60.’ Their initial languages can include common, elf, gnoll, gnome, goblin, halfling, hobgoblin, and orc. They gain the following Knacks:
Notice: +1 to spot concealed and hidden doors
Stealth: +1 when unencumbered by metal armor and accompanied only by elves, half-elves, or Halflings.

Half-elves are typically conceived as loners, torn between their dual natures, destined to outlive all their human friends and family but pass away in an eyeblink compared to their inevitable elven lovers. They can take up to 5 levels of the Age Quality and are predisposed to the Drawbacks Emotional Problems: Fear of Commitment or Fear of Rejection, Humorless, Misfit, and Tragic Love.

Attribute Maximums: Str 6, Dex 7, Con 5, Int 7, Per 6, Wil 6.

Halfling – 5 Point Racial Quality

Halflings (or Hobbits, as they’re called when you don’t have to worry about copyright infringement) are short, jolly people who smoke a lot of (pipe)weed and suffer constantly from the munchies. Somehow they wind up getting dragged out on adventures all the time, even though they’re comparatively useless. They’re the Shaggies and Scoobies of fantasy. And they don’t hate orcs so much.

Halflings gain a Dexterity bonus of +1 and suffer a Strength penalty of -1. They possess the Qualities Resistance: Magic +1, Resistance: Poison (and Alcohol) +1, and Supernatural Senses (Nightvision) allowing them to see in near-darkness without range penalties up to 30,’ but also receive the Drawback Short. Their initial languages can include common, dwarf, elf, gnome, goblin, halfling, and orc. They have a +1 Knack in Missile for slings and throwing weapons and a +1 Knack in Notice to tell whether an underground passage is sloping up or down.

Halflings can take 1 level of the Age Quality, but then they’ll be really, really old even for a halfling. They frequently possess the Drawbacks Addiction (Heavy Drinking and Smoking), Clown, and Covetous: Greedy.

Attribute Maximums: Str 3, Dex 9, Con 7, Int 6, Per 6, Wil 6.

Human – 0 Point Racial Quality

If you are reading this, then you are a human. I hope you know what special powers humans have: none. Humans do occasionally breed with orcs.

Cast Member Humans can’t take any levels of the Age Quality without special dispensation. They are more likely to possess Psionics than most other races.

Attribute Maximums:* Str 6, Dex 6, Con 6, Int 6, Per 6, Wil 6.
*Fantasy hero humans can exceed 6 in one Attribute chosen during creation.

NON-STANDARD RACES (Require Director Approval)

Drow – 12 Point Racial Quality

Drow are the Gothic-Punk bad boys and girls of fantasy. Dressed in black leather and
silver chain mail, these dark-skinned subterranean elves like to hang out in BD/S&M clubs and bitch about their surface-world cousins. They’re sexy, but they’re seriously messed up.

Drow gain a Dexterity bonus of +1 (and can have a score up to 7) but suffer a Constitution penalty of -1. They possess the Qualities Attractiveness +1, Immortal, Resistance: Magic +5, and Supernatural Senses (Nightvision) allowing them to see in near-darkness without range penalties up to 120’ (suck it, surface-dwellers!) Their initial languages can include common, drow, duergar, dwarf, elf, gnome, goblin, hobgoblin, illithid, orc, svirfneblin, and Undercommon (the hand-signals and pidgin trade “language” of the Underdark). They gain the following Knacks: Melee: +1 when using a long or short sword; Missile: +1 when using a drow crossbow; Notice: +1 to spot concealed and hidden doors; Stealth: +1 when unencumbered by metal armor and accompanied only by elves, half-elves, or Halflings.

All drow also receive 1 level of Sorcery, but instead of Telekinesis, they receive the following innate, spell-like abilities which can all only be used once per day:
Dancing Lights – The caster conjures 1 to 4 (depending on the caster’s will) will o’ the wisp-like gouts of mystic flame that burn harmlessly and cast weak, lantern-like glows up to 40’ away. The effect lasts 2 minutes per success level.
Faerie Fire – Similar to the above, but the harmless flame is designated at a specific target which is then outlined by a nimbus of pale light. In darkness or twilight conditions, this then grants +1 to hit that target. This effect lasts 4 minutes per success level. Even magical darkness (such as the spell below) will not hide the target.
Sphere of Darkness – Just like the name says, this creates a sphere of impenetrable magical darkness at any point within the caster’s line of sight at a distance of up to 10’ per success level. It lasts for 10 minutes plus 1 minute per success level. The default radius for the sphere is 15,’ but can be decreased according to the whim of the caster or increased by trading off distance or duration at a ratio of 1 success level’s worth for 5’ of radius.

Drow are very sensitive to bright lights, and suffer a -2 penalty to all rolls when in the presence of sunlight or magical light spells, but not fire. They’re also all raised to be sociopaths and suffer from the Drawbacks Antisocial Impulses: Cruelty (Serious) and Deceit (Serious).

Drow can take up to 8 levels of the Age Quality (they don’t live as long as regular elves). Most drow females are priestesses of the dark goddess Lolth, and have the Zealot Drawback. In most drow cities, being male gets you the Minority Drawback.
Cast Member Drow working alongside the “good races” of the surface world will either have to buy off their Antisocial Impulses – thereby raising the cost of the Quality to 16 points – or trade off the Antisocial Impulses for other Drawbacks. Minority (-1) and Bad Reputation (-3) would do the trick. So would taking Adversary (The Entire Drow Race) at -4, the usual fate of all who flee the dark.

Drow Aristocrat – 15 Point Racial Quality

As above, but they also gain Religion +1, Resources +1, and the additional once-per-day spell-like abilities Levitate (20 yards & 1 minute per success level) and Detect Magic (within a 60’ radius for 1 minute per success level).

Attribute Maximums: Str 5, Dex 8, Con 5, Int 8, Per 8, Wil 8.

Half-Ogre – 3 Point Racial Quality

Forget “Shrek.” Ogres are cannibalistic, gigantic (but not quite Giant), and painfully stupid humanoids with a bad habit of pillaging outlying settlements. Occasionally their raids result in the birth of half-human hybrids.

Half-ogres gain a Strength and Constitution bonus of +2 each, but also suffer a -1 penalty to Intelligence. They receive 2 bonus levels of the Quality Hard to Kill in addition to any levels granted by an Occupational Quality, but they suffer from the Drawback Supernatural Form (Definitely Not Human) -- which translates as Attractiveness -2 -- and Charisma -2 on top of that. They’re at -2 to hit Short creatures because of their size. Their initial languages can include common, gnoll, ogre, orc, troll, and stone giant.

Half-ogres don’t live long enough for the Age Quality. They’ve really got very little going for them. Being a half-ogre barely doesn’t count as a Drawback.

Half-Ogre Ability Maximums: Str 9, Dex 5, Con 9, Int 4, Per 5, Wil 4.

Half-Orc – 2 Point Racial Quality

The scions of orcs and hapless humans, half-orcs are usually just barely human-enough to pass in regular civilization. They usually live on the fringes as thieves and thugs, despised by everybody.

Half-orcs gain a Strength and Constitution bonus of +1 (something about the mixed heritage makes them hardier than humans or orcs). They possess the Quality Supernatural Senses (Nightvision) allowing them to see in near-darkness without range penalties up to 60,’ but also receive the Drawbacks Attractiveness -1, Charisma -1, and Minority. Their initial languages can include common, goblin, hobgoblin, ogre, and orc.

Half-orcs don’t live long enough to qualify for the Age Quality. They’re apt to suffer from all sorts of Emotional and Mental Problem Drawbacks.

Attribute Maximums: Str 8, Dex 5, Con 8, Int 6, Per 6, Wil 6.

Orc – 3 Point Racial Quality

Generic fantasy orcs are slightly less horrible than their Tolkienesque forebears. Shorter than humans but taller than dwarves, they’re more like uncontrollable medieval Klingons than anything else. Just swap out the head-ridges for wolfish pointed ears, a snout-like nose, and pronounced canines and you’ve got a pretty normal orc.

Orcs gain a Strength bonus of +1. They possess the Quality Supernatural Senses (Nightvision) allowing them to see in near-darkness without range penalties up to 60,’ but also receive the Drawback Supernatural Form (Definitely Not Human). Their initial languages can include common, goblin, hobgoblin, ogre, and orc. They have a +2 Knack in Craft to analyze mines and stonework to detect the depth underground, grade or slope in the passage, new passage or tunnel construction, shifting or sliding rooms or walls, and stonework deadfalls, pits, and traps. They’re nocturnal, but don’t really suffer in daylight.

Cast Member Orcs are assumed to not suffer from the Antisocial Impulses toward cruelty and violence that characterize most orcs. Oddly, because orcish tribal culture is oppressively patriarchal, a disproportionate amount of orcish adventurers are adventuresses. These runaway womenfolk frequently have the Drawback Adversary (Orcs) because of the way orc males will deliberately hunt them down.

Attribute Maximums: Str 8, Dex 5, Con 8, Int 5, Per 5, Wil 6.

February 21st, 2007
I'm officially an IDIOT
It’s too bad there’s no such thing as a professional Dungeon Master, Game Master, Storyteller, etc. (at least, I don’t think there is). It’s really the thing I’m best at.

As is obvious, I’ve fallen behind on my goals within weeks of setting them. I haven’t worked on any of the novels in weeks, I’ve hardly blogged... and my marriage is happier because of it. The energy I should be putting into breaking out of the prison of hateful work I’ve made for myself is instead going into the short-term stress-relief of working on RPG material (and playing video games). The result has been much more sex.

I don’t know what the lesson is here.

Anyway, here’s one of those stupid game things I did. It’s the basic background for what could be accurately described as a hentai anime Cinematic Unisystem game set in the far future of the Whedonverse. It also has bits and pieces of things I’ve gleaned from other Unisystem games (like CONSPIRACY X and ARMAGEDDON) by lurking around the Eden Studios message boards.

NEXUS MULTIDSCIPLINARY ACADEMY is the prestigious yet controversial flagship Advanced School of GAITOSS (The Greater Alliance of Independent Terran-Originated Sentient Species). Nexus Academy functions as a liberal arts college for the fledgling alliance, offering the various descendant species and cultures of the lost home world to share their cultures and grow into a greater understanding of their galaxy.
Over 1,000 years ago, humankind’s wasteful misuse of the planet Earth resulted in that world’s literal destruction. The survivors fled to the stars in pre-hyperlight spaceships, crawling through the blackness of the void to find new worlds to colonize. The majority of mankind found an idyllic star system with dozens of planets that could be terra-formed to suit their needs, but other refugees went further afield and discovered a far stranger universe than expected. They discovered refugee worlds where the humans had used genetic engineering to adapt themselves to the planet (or the whim of some patron) rather than the world they discovered. They discovered worlds colonized thousands of years ago by the remnants of Atlantis, Lemuria, and Mu. They discovered the survivors of a cataclysm older than humanity when they found the Saurials, descendants of the dinosaurs. And they discovered monsters amongst themselves.
Mankind had always believed in the supernatural – demons, shape-changers, sorcery, and the undead – but they had forgotten these things were real. According to the demi-humans (for so they have been named) records, in the early 21st Century (some hundreds of years before the demise of Earth-That-Was) a mortal champion called the Chosen One had banished the most pernicious supernatural powers from the mortal plane. As time passed, the weakened ancestors of the demi-humans blended more and more with mankind until they became little differentiated from the humans they once preyed upon. When humanity fled the ruined planet, those who moved secretly amidst us joined us in our arks. Unable to remain concealed, they joined their fellow passengers and created hybrid cultures.
Painful and unnecessary wars erupted between humanity and its cousins when the miracle of hyperlight first brought distant stars together, but those days are now past. Even the feared Vampire Empire has made peace with the living now that the children of Earth-That-Was are threatened by the Outer Things. The Great Seal wrought by the Chosen One had at last worn away with time, and the malevolent beings from Outside had at last broken through again. The human and demi-human cultures joined forces in GAITOSS and drove the Outer Things into the distant arms of the galaxy.
In so doing, the heroic forces of GAITOSS rediscovered the lost Solar Sytem, and it is here Nexus Academy was built. It is located in one of the dozens of World-Domes surrounding Sol in the orbit of Earth-That-Was. One of the primary duties of the Academy is to study relics found in the debris of the home-world in an effort to reconstruct the Chosen One’s Great Seal. While there are many xenophobic voices amongst all the cultures of the Terran Species, it should be no surprise that Nexus Multidisciplinary Academy’s vital mission makes it the most prestigious civilian institution in the Known Galaxy.
NEXUS MULTIDISCIPLINARY ACADEMY is located in one of the artificial World-Domes of the Academic Cluster of the GAITOSS installations sharing the orbit of Earth-That-Was. The Academy is home to an elite faculty of 10,000 specialists and a student body of 200,000, making it exceptionally exclusive in a Known Galaxy of 400 billion souls. An additional 1 million administrative and support personnel serve on board the World-Dome.

*snicker!*

“GAITOSS” just cracks me up. It’s the perfect dumb anime name. So is “hyperlight.”

I’ve also finally re-acquired three boxes of old AD&D 2nd Edition and D6 Star Wars game books and supplements from my brother, who – suffering a premature mid-life crisis like myself – wants me to start DMing that horrible old rules set again (AD&D, not Star Wars; D6 Star Wars was brilliant). For some perverse reason, I’m instead contemplating creating a house rules conversion of D&D to Unisystem because I’m too cheap to buy DUNGEONS & ZOMBIES. I’m a moron.

The D&D-styled story idea that’s jumped to mind would combine my favorite Forgotten Realms settings – Waterdeep and Menzoberranzen – into a twisted Dickesian bildungsroman about half-drow siblings growing up on the surface who rise in their station while descending into the depths. It would really work better with a character-centric system like Unisystem rather than a combat system with role-playing trappings

February 15th, 2007
Not much of a post...
I've goofed off way too much this week and gotten distracted by Valentine's Day, so not much of a post right now. I'm really just doing this to fulfill some sense of self-justification.

February 7th, 2007
DAMNED, DAMNED GAMES
I’m falling behind again…
Last week, my intention was to start posting to the Eden Studios discussion boards with adaptations of the characters from “The Venture Brothers” to Cinematic Unisystem.  People have done Toho movie monsters, DC and Marvel superheroes, Lupin III, and a host of fun and crazy characters (who really wouldn’t fit too well in the Buffyverse).  Unfortunately, I couldn’t seem to get registered and wasted fruitless hours surfing the ‘net with one window while checking back on my registration attempts with the other.  It’s easy to lose hours when all you have is dial-up.
So here’s Dr. Venture:

“Dr.” Thaddeus S. Venture
AKA Doc, Russ, Rusty, & T.S.
Incompetent Investigator
played by James Urbaniak
They say genius skips a generation; in this case that’s undoubtedly true.  Thaddeus “Rusty” Venture is the son of a famed adventurer and superscientist (called in the series “Dr. Jonas Venture” but possibly the man known to a previous generation as Doc Savage) and spent his childhood as his father’s kid sidekick.  Unlike most boy adventurers, Rusty was ill-suited for this lifestyle and the constant kidnappings and horrifying situations when he’d rather be playing Cowboys and Indians have left Rusty Venture a wrecked man.  He’s spent decades since his father’s death stripping the corpse of his father’s work to keep himself in the lifestyle he’s accustomed to and raising two death-prone boys, Hank and Dean.  As part of the U.S. government’s “Operation: Rusty’s Blanket,” he has been provided with a bodyguard, Brock Samson, to defend him from the various costumed criminals that mistakenly think he is a worthy adversary.
Name: Thaddeus S. Venture
Motivation: Posthumous paternal approval
Creature Type: Human
Attributes: Strength 2, Dexterity 3, Constitution 6,* Intelligence 5, Perception 2, Willpower 3. *Rusty’s high Constitution score is amply demonstrated by repeated examples of surviving serious blood loss as well as a gigantic malignant tumor (that turned out to be his twin brother) despite a drug habit that would kill a horse. 
Ability Scores: Muscle 9, Combat 9, Brains 13
Life Points: 57
Drama Points: 20
Special Abilities: Addiction (“Diet Pills”) -4, Adversary (Baron Underbheit, the Monarch, various) -4, Attractiveness -1, Brainiac 4, Charisma 2, Clown -1, Covetous/Conspicuous (Serious) -2, Covetous/Greedy (Serious) -2, Covetous/Lecherous (Mild) -1, Dependent (Hank & Dean) -3, Emotional Problem/Easily Flustered -1, Good Luck 5, Hard to Kill 5, Impaired Sense (Glasses) -1, Mental Problem/Cowardice (Mild) -1, Mental Problem/Cruelty (Serious) -2, Secret (not really a doctor of anything) -1, Secret (the boys are clones) -1,* Superscience Items (various; few are really helpful) 5, Superscientist 1, Talentless -2.

*This is a secret to the boys; most other people know about it.
Maneuvers
Name:Score;Damage Note

Dodge: 9.
Grapple: 11.
Slap: 11; 2.
NEW COMBAT MANEUVER
SLAP
Open hand, swung wildly at the target.  This hopelessly feeble combat maneuver is the final resort of damsels in distress.  Uses a Dexterity and Kung Fu roll +2, or the Combat Score +2, and does Strength points of damage (Bash type).

I also did the basic stats for Brock Samson, but I haven’t finished his biography or combat maneuvers.

BROCK SAMSON
Experienced Veteran
played by Patrick Warburton
Name: Brock Samson
Motivation: Protect his “family”
Creature Type: Human
Attributes: Strength 6, Dexterity 6, Constitution 6, Intelligence 3, Perception 4, Willpower 4. 
Ability Scores: Muscle 20, Combat 25, Brains 11
Life Points: 73
Drama Points: 10
Special Abilities: Addiction (cigarettes) -1, Adversary (Baron Underbheit, the Monarch, various) -4, Athlete 4, Attractiveness 1, Covetous/Lecherous (Mild) -1, Dependent (the Venture family) -3, Fast Reaction Time 2, Good Luck 5, Hard to Kill 5, Honorable -2, Mental Problem/Cruelty (Serious) -2, OSI Agent (Initiative Commando) 4, Natural Toughness 2, Nerves of Steel 3, Resistance (Pain) 5, Resistance (Poison) 5, Secret (the boys are clones) -1,* Situational Awareness 2, Tragic Love (Molotov Cocktease) 4.

*This is a secret to the boys; most other people know about it.

Oddly, I’m not using the Venture Brothers in either of the games I’m running for my wife.  I don’t even know why I’m bothering.
SPYFUNK, my homage to ‘60s spy films and ‘70s exploitation cinema, has actually moved into the late ‘90s for some perverse reason.  The heroine – immortal spy Riona Mackenzie -- is married to Tom Wayne, the third (now retired in favor of Tim Drake) Batman, and having a bad time of it.  Recently, while her husband was off abandoning his family to run around with Talia and his illegitimate son, she had brief affairs with Connor Hawke and Dracula and fought and killed the first vampire, Jesus Christ.  Now she’s in Jordan preparing to battle Lazarus and his terrorist army and has discovered Tom Wayne has 500 illegitimate clone children who were raised by Ra’s al Ghul to be a terrorist army of their own.  It’s gone completely berserk… and all the insane ideas (except moving it into the ‘90s) are my own, so I can’t blame anyone else for how weird it is.  I actually really like the Bat-clones.
THE WILLOW & THE BLADE (the tale of a geisha ninja), on the other hand, has gotten bogged down a bit and lost its sex appeal.  There’s a reason romance movies and novels end with the heroine and hero getting together.  It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s how it is.  It’s difficult to keep a romantic story going after domesticity without throwing painful complications at the couple, and I’m too kindhearted toward the characters to do that.  (Riona and Tom’s separation occurred off-screen.)
Since the cross-time pulp adventure works better as a novel (though that is coming along in fits and starts), I’m considering different alternatives for future games.  My current favorite insane idea is, since Robin and I are having so much fun playing D&D-style games on the Playstation 2 (like “Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance”), to get all the old AD&D 2nd Edition crap out of storage and do an outright fantasy game.  I’ll probably convert everything to Cinematic Unisystem because I quit D&D in the first place because I got sick of the game system (classes and levels seem so artificial anymore); I always loved the Forgotten Realms. 
In fact, since I’m tired of assigning missions to the characters instead of Robin creating goals for her characters, I’m considering a drow campaign using the old Menzoberranzen boxed set (hooray! Pre-generated NPCs!).  You see, good is passive but evil is active.  Evil plots and plans while good just reacts. 
I think I just made a point about the Iraq War. 

January 29th, 2007
WOLD LUPIN
The Buffy and Angel RPG message boards over at the Eden Studios site are host to several highly entertaining threads in which comic book and movie characters are wolded into the Buffyverse (usually by way of Eden’s other games, Witchcraft and Armageddon, and usually by the talented Thom Marrion).  I keep meaning to contribute my own ideas and not getting around to them, so I thought I’d better get started (since I don’t have Nightmare Town to hand and can’t reference character names for the next review).
One thread has already done him, but here’s my “Buffywolding” of Lupin III.
LUPIN III – Played by Yusaku Matsuda
(I would have used a mixed-heritage actor if I could find one who was appropriate, but finding one who isn’t a martial artist is kind of hard.  Dean Cain, Mark Dacassos, and Brandon Lee just don’t seem right.)
“Arsene Lupin III” is no more this infamous thief’s true name than “Arsene Lupin” was the name of his celebrated grandfather.  His true name remains unknown.
Lupin III is the son of Jean Lupin, Arsene’s son by his wife (and cousin) Clarisse d’Etigues, and the infamous Taisho-era criminal, the Black Lizard.  Jean Lupin was abducted by Josephine Balsamo, the infamous Countess of Cagliostro, and raised as part of her criminal organization in an intricate plot of revenge against Arsene Lupin.  While his father defeated the Cagliostro organization and freed his son from its thrall, Arsene Lupin did not tell his son of his true heritage out of a misguided attempt to inspire his son to become an honest man.  Instead, Jean Lupin drifted east to French Indochina and eventually Japan, pursuing the criminal life that was all he knew.  Eventually he fell in with the female crime boss known as the Black Lizard, a woman he could love and fear.
The man who would call himself Lupin III was born late in their short and tumultuous marriage.  Jean Lupin had by now discovered many of his late father’s secrets and used them to supplant his wife’s role in their gang.  There is little reason to believe she survived Lupin III’s infancy. 
Lupin III spent his early years in the lap of decadent luxury, watching his father plot his villainous schemes.  When the precocious Lupin III seduced one of Jean Lupin’s mistresses, everything changed; Lupin III was abandoned in an orphanage, believing his father to be dead.  This indeed nearly happened; a conspiracy between the Japanese Nezumi crime clan and Fantomas’ group decimated the upstart Lupin Organization and Jean Lupin went into hiding.  Lupin III spent the rest of his formative years in poverty, dreaming of the luxury he had once known and the soft caresses of beautiful women.
More to come…

January 27th, 2007
CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER
Zhang Yimou’s “Curse of the Golden Flower” is a tragedy set in the late Tang Dynasty that plays like “What if Richard III married Lady Macbeth and they had kids who were male versions of Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia… and everybody knew kung fu?”  The plot is a Byzantine maze of double-crosses, family secrets, and twisted loyalties.  The visuals are overripe, baroque, and undeniably gorgeous (aided in no small part by the casting of the most beautiful middle-aged people in the world, Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li).  The ending is either a damning rebuke of Confucian patriarchy or a black-humored exultation of it, so I guess it’s a good thing that the film leaves its viewers (at least its Western ones) at an emotional distance.
Part of the problem is the wire-fu fight scenes themselves.  Zhang Yimou’s two prior martial-arts films, “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers,” were proper wuxia films and high-flying swordplay was natural to the characters and plots.  We, as Westerners at least, expect kung fu from stalwart soldiers and exotic assassins, but it’s jarring to see the same from emperors and crown princes.  To continue the Shakespearean analogy, try to imagine Claudius (not Laertes) dueling a Hamlet that executes mid-air spins and I’m sure you’ll be equally bemused.  Perhaps if the fight scenes had been spaced out more evenly throughout the film, or if certain prominent characters showed their talents repeatedly throughout the film instead of just once, then the kung fu would feel more organic.
There are other problems that lean the film toward camp.  Several professional film critics have commented about the cleavage-baring dresses of the court ladies, apparently admitting that they spent more time staring at Gong Li’s breasts than her face.  This is far less of a distraction than the shrieking ninja (or whatever they are) that appear out of nowhere halfway through the film.  They’re just plain goofy.
Ultimately, the film is gorgeous but rather shallow.  It seems like its striving for grand drama or to make a statement, but maybe that’s a misinterpretation.  Perhaps it’s just meant to be an entertaining spectacle.

January 26th, 2007
"HOUSE DICK"
Hammett, Dashiell. “House Dick.” NIGHTMARE TOWN. Ed. Kirby McCauley, Martin H. Greenberg, & Ed Gorman. Great Britain: Picador, 2001.

This is more like it, or perhaps I’m being unfair and this is just more what I’m used to from Dashiell Hammett. 
“House Dick” is a Continental Op story, and the Op is far more the quintessential Hammett hero than even Sam Spade.  The Continental Op (so called because he is never named and works for the Continental Detective Agency) is a professional private detective working for a large, Pinkerton-like agency who operates in the San Francisco area.  He’s short, fat, hard-headed and hard-fisted, but prefers using his brain to his gun. 
In this short tale, the Op investigates a baffling triple homicide in a hotel room.  Three corpses have been piled into a closet together and no one can figure out what relation there is between the men or why they were killed.  One of the hallmarks of what separated Hammett’s new hard-boiled detectives from the amateur investigators of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie is that after three days of poring over the clues, the Op and the police still have no idea what happened.  It isn’t until the Op begins thinking laterally and getting help from other Continental agents that a solution presents itself.
The solution itself strays into Doc Savage/Sherlock Holmes territory again, but it doesn’t completely strain credulity (though it does jar it a bit).  I’m beginning to be curious how much of a Doyle fan Hammett was; the ending has the sinister fingerprints of “The Adventure of the Final Problem” all over it.  This bears investigating…

January 26th, 2007
WII!! IT'S BRYAN HITCH!
I am completely convinced that comic book superstar, THE AUTHORITY and THE ULTIMATES artist, drew the Nintendo Wii two-page ad appearing in several DC comics I bought on the 24th. I should post side-by-side comparison pictures, but I don't have access to any right now. This will probably be one of Rich Johnston's "Lying in the Gutters" stories next week, so I just wanted to post now so people don't think I'm taking credit for other people's work (like when my little brother and I designed an SR-71 knock-off for Cobra and battle armor for Cobra Commander a year before the toys came out).

January 25th, 2007
DASHIELL HAMMETT'S "NIGHTMARE TOWN"
Hammett, Dashiell. “Nightmare Town.” NIGHTMARE TOWN. Ed. Kirby McCauley, Martin H. Greenberg, & Ed Gorman. Great Britain: Picador, 2001.

I love Dashiell Hammett. I enjoy his writing and I admire the man. I’ve read all of his novels and the short story collections THE BIG KNOCKOVER and THE CONTINENTAL OP. I was ecstatic when I discovered NIGHTMARE TOWN at a Half-Price Books just weeks after discovering the book existed, but I’ve got to say that when Colin Dexter describes the title story as “Hammett at the top of his form” in his introduction, he is dead wrong.

Hammett is best known for THE MALTESE FALCON, the most exciting and tense book I’ve ever read about people arguing, but he got his start in the pulps, and “Nightmare Town” shows it. It’s so action-driven and jammed with murders and fight scenes that I could almost swear it was Robert E. Howard (whose work I also love) trying his hand at a crime story, and not a story by the master of verbal confrontation. This shouldn’t completely surprise me the way it does – the title story of THE BIG KNOCKOVER is also an action piece featuring a resort community invaded by an army of bank robbers – but “Nightmare Town” includes some outright bizarre twists.

For some inexplicable reason, our hero -- Steve Threefall – is a master of stick-fighting, wielding an apparently specially-made cane to deftly bludgeon his way through attacking gangs twice in the story. For a story originally published in 1924, it often feels like a latter-day Jackie Chan or Jean-Claude Van Damme film in which the hero running around in a generic action movie plot just happens to know martial arts.

The final twist – the secret that explains why the town is such a nightmare – is also riotously baroque and feels like it should belong in one of the “character pulps” (DOC SAVAGE, THE SHADOW, THE SPIDER) rather than a hard-boiled mystery. Reviewing the publication history, I see that this story did not appear in Hammett’s usual haunt BLACK MASK, but instead was in ARGOSY ALL-STORY MAGAZINE. Didn’t they publish Tarzan? Suddenly this makes much more sense.

“Nightmare Town” is an entertaining rollercoaster ride with some surprisingly modern conceits and charmingly old-fashioned characterization. It was a fun way to fill an hour, but I’m looking forward to the other stories in this collection for more of Hammett at the true top of his form. Sam Spade, I hope you don’t disappoint me.

THE ABSURD PULP PASTICHE HAS BEGUN
Yeah, I settled on the pulp epic as my new attempt at writing a novel. It just felt more fun. The first chapter is a sword and sorcery story. Then we'll flash-forward to a Depression Era heroic archaeologist who will be our central character and carry us through some Tazan and John Carter/Flash Gordon pastiches. A flashback to a Victorian occult investigator and a flash-forward to a millennial costumed avenger are interspersed with the archaeologist's story (she's the grand-daughter of the first and the grand-mother of the second). Finally it wraps up with a space opera tale that Moebius strips its way back to the sword and sorcery piece.
I am sure it will suck.

January 24th, 2007
A POLITICAL THOUGHT
The only way we can withdraw with dignity from Iraq is to impeach Bush and Cheney (obviously we have to do both; we don't want Cheney as president). We admit we made a mistake, we prosecute the men who lied to us (it doesn't matter if they're ousted or not; it just matters that we show the neo-cons and the world that we won't tolerate their scheming), and we hightail it out of there or get a new international (UN?) peace-keeping coalition in there to keep those Iraqi idiots from blowing up the whole damned country. End of story.

Why should the citizens of the United States be held hostage to lies?
BACK AT LAST…
I write this blog on Wednesdays because I’m a very slow writer (but pretty fast typist) and Wednesday is the day my wife is at work the longest.  We’re homebodies without many friends and no children, so when we’re physically together there’s an emotional … pressure … to spend time together and do things together.  Writing is not a together activity, and so I’ve been constrained by a love that borders on the co-dependent to go without my blog since Thanksgiving because she’s either been off work or I’ve been handling holiday errands. 
I’m not going to let this happen again.
Since I’ve sent out into cyberspace almost all of the orphaned (aborted?) ideas I’ve come up with over the last few decades, I think I’ll be moving this blog to a format where I can more formally practice writing.  I’ll begin emphasizing reviews (like my e-heroes Todd Alcott and Dr. Hermes) and try to get several small pieces posted each week rather than one long one.
I’ve set a New Year’s resolution to write a full-length novel (no matter how bad it is) by the end of the year.  My original plan was to write two pages a day so I would have a 360-odd page manuscript by the middle of the year and then spend the second half revising it.  This worked for less than a week, but today I begin anew.  The original attempt featured Tamlin Mackenzie (seen in a story fragment earlier in this blog) but I had no idea for a plot and the whole thing burnt out.  Today I have to decide if this new attempt should be a pseudo-historical story about a ninja geisha who falls in love with the Meiji revolutionary she’s secretly guarding or a multi-generational epic pulp magazine/comic book pastiche about a woman who reincarnates throughout the ages (and adventure pulp genres) to battle the evils of a Cthulhu-worshipping Atlantis.  They’re both ideas originally conceived as RPG campaigns; I’ll probably go with the latter because the unplayed game could never be quite as crazy as the story in my head.
And speaking of pulps, here are two Half-Told Tales that had been buried deep in my memory for years:
Inamorata was an idea for a novel that provided some basis for the multi-generational epic mentioned above.  The idea, if I remember correctly, was more like a “First Wives’ Club” for pulp heroes’ girlfriends and femme fatales; thinly-disguised versions of Jane Porter, Pat Savage, Margo Lane, Nita Van Sloan, Selina Kyle, and a few others share tales of their fascinating and frustrating lives with the great heroes, revealing themselves to be powerful heroines in their own right.  I think part of the idea was also to have a framing device in which they battled the immortal Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed.  It’s still a decent idea.  Maybe Monkeybrain Books would be interested.
Me, Jane would be a companion to Philip Jose Farmer’s Tarzan Alive, detailing the full story of Tarzan’s mate from her point of view.  For some reason I can’t help but imagine her living at a cheetah preserve in Texas and looking like a better-preserved Bo Derek.  It would be hard to stop myself from writing a scene in which the journalist interviewing her tastes the fruits of her flesh; after all, Tarzan was constantly ditching her in the later books and running around on his own.  I can’t help but think she’d get lonely, and that the long years (because, like her husband, she is practically immortal) would have loosened her late-Victorian morals.  *Sigh…*
Anyway…  Next time (which might be later today) a review of Dashiell Hammett’s short story “Nightmare Town.”

November 29th, 2006
A ONE-HOUR VIGNETTE
"The Wickedest Man in London"

Tamlin Mackenzie rolled over and reached for his gilded cigarette case. He slid two of the custom-made fags from it, lit them both, inhaled deeply, and blew a column of fragrant clove-scented smoke into the air.

Dorian propped himself up on one arm and asked “Is one of those for me?”

“I suppose you’ve earned it,” Tamlin answered, handing a burning cigarette over to the beautiful man. He hadn’t really. Dorian Gray was a terribly selfish lover, a trait Tamlin suspected was a clue to the young-looking man’s true nature. Normally Tamlin wouldn’t have continued an affair like this for more than a fortnight, but there were a few consolations. Dorian was infamous and Tamlin enjoyed the way his reputation suffered for it. He also kept a good stock of absinthe. “Care for a drink?”

The young Scotsman strolled over, nude, to the Englishman’s collection of bottles and decanters. He looked back and noted that Dorian’s appreciative gaze lingered on him. That was good; Tamlin fervently believed that an appreciation of the body of one’s lover should continue on well after intercourse. He was always disappointed when someone he’d just had his manhood buried in blushed afterwards when he didn’t hasten into his clothes. He poured them both glasses of absinthe and set the water to dripping into it.

Tamlin inhaled the last of his cigarette and stubbed it out on a saucer. Dorian harrumphed in indignation at the abuse of his china, but Tamlin ignored him. He was staring instead at the mysterious painting Dorian kept in his bedroom, swathed in velvet cloths. He turned back to the Englishman with what he knew, from hours of practicing in the mirror, to be an innocent smile.

“You just keep that thing around to tease people with, don’t you? It’s probably some dull neoclassical piece from the French Salon. Cherubs, right? Cherubs frolicking in the Garden of Eden or some balderdash like that.”

Dorian’s return smile was not innocent, even if he had been practicing. “No, no. It’s a portrait of me… A friend painted it.”

“Really? Can I see it?”

“No… He died recently. I suppose it’s a bit of affectation, but the sight of it pains me while its absence would pain me more, so I keep it covered. I suppose I should put it away in the attic…”

“Perhaps I can see it soon then, when the pain is not so great.” Tamlin faked a perfect consoling expression. He knew more about the painter’s death than he let on.

“Yes. Yes, perhaps you can,” Dorian replied. There was a gleam in his eyes Tamlin inferred came from the memory of Basil Hallward’s death. It was a fond memory.

Tamlin turned back to the drinks. When he stubbed out his cigarette, he slipped a small capsule from the filter. Now he broke it in his fingers while his back was turned to Dorian Gray and mixed its sugar-white contents with Dorian’s absinthe.

Afterwards, when they had drunk the anise-flavored liquor and made love again, Tamlin left the sleeping Englishman in the bed and padded quietly over to the painting. He studied it carefully, just as he was taught, and then partially unwrapped it. The figure in the painting was hideous, but he had expected something of the sort. He wrapped it back exactly as it had been.

Neither of his employers – the fat man and the football tutor – would be happy with this. They both liked things logical and scientific, but Tamlin Mackenzie knew that wasn’t the way the world worked. There was fairy blood in him, handed down by his distant namesake, and such cases of spontaneous soul transference were not unknown in Britain. The question was just how best to exploit Dorian Gray’s moral failings.

Tamlin slipped back into the Englishman’s bed, content that his lover wouldn’t try to murder him that night.

**

This was literally written in one hour with no proof-reading, so if it sucks, it sucks. Obviously, it’s not much of a story – more a series of literary allusions – but I felt like I had to write something more or less creative this week to make up for not having time last week. I thought about a critique of “Casino Royale” (which is great) but decided this would be better.

Yes, it took me an hour. I write slowly, which is why I don’t have to do revisions very often... and why I don't post much.

November 18th, 2006
RANT RANT RANT
Thursday afternoon, Robin and I went out to Half-Price Books and went on a bit of a spending spree. It's been a while since we've done anything that impulsive and we had a blast.

One of the items we picked up was a DVD of "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"... And not the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" version.

Yes, we bought "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" for its own merit.

November 16th, 2006
DAMN YOU, TAKAHASHI!
Seriously, WTF?! Fourteen years we’ve waited for the conclusion of “Ranma ½” and you don’t conclude anything?! Ranma says “I love you, Akane” and then denies it; Akane says “Ranma, you jerk;” Genma and Soun say “Maybe we better put off the wedding until you’ve worked things out;” and NOBODY gets their curse lifted? And we’re supposed to be happy that Ranma and Akane dash off to school together in early morning’s light, obviously in love but never admitting it? That’s our ending?!

No wonder they just canceled the anime without providing a conclusion. And no wonder Bandai Visual just gave up on “InuYasha.” They’re probably afraid that by the time Rumiko Takahashi gets around to finishing it, she’ll leave it as unresolved (not open-ended, but downright unresolved) as “Ranma ½.”

Damn… I was planning on buying the “InuYasha” manga again when it finally caught up to the anime, but now I think I’ll just forget it.

That made me almost as mad as the death of Wash in “Serenity.” (Almost.) Just for that, I should write a fan-fiction conclusion in which girl-type Ranma gets boned by every guy in the series, decides s/he likes it, and spend the rest of his/her life as a kung-fu prostitute… or becomes Chun-Li from “Streetfighter.” Yeah, that’s it. Ranma grew up to be Chun-Li. The End.

Aargh…

**

On the other hand, I have managed to not get screwed by waiting and waiting to buy Peter Jackson’s “King Kong.” A week ago I was ready to give up and just buy the theatrical version because I hadn’t seen any rumors online or commercials for an upcoming director’s cut, but suddenly here it is in the stores as of Tuesday. Weird. I guess the studio doesn’t pin much hope on it selling well, or maybe I just didn’t see any ads because I don’t watch much TV.

I know a lot of people (most people?), including “Casanova”’s Matt Fraction, didn’t care for Peter Jackson’s remake, but I’m part of that minority (including Roger Ebert and Peter Travers) that loved it. Yes, I think it’s flawed, and I’m amazed that the Skull Island natives are somehow more offensive than in the original (and apparently descended from orcs or the ancestors of the Reavers), but I don’t care. It’s a glorious, overstuffed, insane love letter to an age of wonder and possibility. I just hope some of those restored scenes resolve some of the human interest subplots that were left dangling, or reveal that the cabin boy was actually a Skull Island native, and aren’t just more dinosaur chases.

**

I guess that since I’m on the subject of Kong, and I’ve caught up with getting at least the capsules of all of my old ideas (or at least as many as I can remember) out of my head and onto the web, I might as well start some real writing with a fragment from “The Beast.” Admittedly, I’ve had some new ideas – mainly developing characters and concepts I’ve used in RPGs that surprised me with their strength – but…

**

THE BEAST

Lord Grandrith writes:

The Nine are long dead, but sometimes I can still feel their presence. Perhaps it’s just paranoia, or perhaps I expected too much. I anticipated a world that would feel significantly different somehow with its secret masters gone, but the world feels the same. Sometimes it seems the world has grown darker.

I was in such a cynical frame of mind when my brother asked me to visit him in New York. He asked if I would like to see a motion picture. I laughed. It’s rare we allow ourselves such simple pleasures. It seems to almost squander our extended lifetimes, our superhuman prowess, if we stoop to enjoy the escapism of mortal men.

I accepted. I do not see my brother often, and if Doc Caliban wants to see a movie, there must be some ulterior motive to it.

(To be continued.)

**

And that turned out to be an even smaller fragment than I intended to write. I got distracted online searching for the name of the giant monitor lizards that inhabited Flores Island and Australia. I assume they’re the same thing. All of the online articles about the “Hobbits” just say “giant lizards.” That doesn’t help.

November 11th, 2006
The Bane of my Existence
Ah, RPGs... What a bitter drug. They're as expensive as anime, as enthralling as comics, and more time-consuming than either.

Actually, I guess they're just more time-consuming for me. If you're the kind of gamer who sits down with his buds every Friday night and plays the latest store-bought module, then I guess game prep is pretty easy. I've never enjoyed those (or been able to run them well) so I'm stuck creating my own stuff.

Which I'd have to do anyway because few of the genres I want to play come with ready-made scenarios. While I occasionally feel nostalgic for AD&D's generic fantasy worlds, they (and their modules) aren't very feminine. There's not enough thinking or emoting involved in running around killing monsters for my wife's tastes. I suppose if we bought "The Book of Erotic Fantasy" we could do that... (Satyrs and centaurs and minotaurs! Oh my!)

I think we both like more grounded worlds anyway. We have more fun with historical settings, whether distant (Dark Ages Britain, Heian Era Japan) or recent (the Victorian Era, the late '60s and '70s). Because my wife can't really take the time to study up on spell lists and the like, it also works better for us to play mere human or near-human characters (say, between Lara Croft and Buffy).

Which is all a bunch of rambling...

Anyway, here's some game projects I've never gotten finished:

COPS & ROBBERS

Every RPG that includes a chapter explaining what RPGS are compares them to a pen and paper version of "cops and robbers." Following that, since "Grand Theft Auto," "The Sopranos," "Ocean's 11," and the legions of cop shows on TV are so popular, why not do an RPG that emulates crime and mystery fiction (especially heist capers)? Heck, the modules would practically write themselves.

Of course, trademarking the name might be difficult, but it would give me a chance to include Monkey Mask -- a Lupin III pastiche I created -- somewhere.

MONOGATARI

An RPG of Japanese fairy tales (the scary kind as well as the lovely). I think the default setting would be the gracious and mysterious Heian Era. I really tried writing this once but got fed up pretty quick. I should give it another go. It would hopefully sell well amongst anime fans.

UNTITLED EDO ERA GAME

This would be something more in the style of "Lone Wolf & Cub," "Ninja Scroll," "Rurouni Kenshin," and "Zatoichi:" a game about wandering swordsmen and freakish ninja set against a background of pleasure quarters and yakuza-overrun villages. I think the Sengoku Era is actually a boring setting; I realize it makes "parties" easier to assemble, but why do you want games about war? I'd rather have mystery.

STEAMPULP

There's some guy out there who beat me to the name and we've both got the same basic concept and inspiration, so I would either have to think up a new name or team up with him.

This is my name (and his, apparently) for Victorian Era adventure fiction -- the predecessor of the pulps -- as epitomized by "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and all the books Alan Moore stole from (some of which I've read). There's a couple of steampunk and Victorian fantasy games out there, but none that really try to emulate the original tales themselves. I'd like to try to correct that.

And I think that's it. Wizards of the Coast ran a setting contest a few years ago that I developed an Earthsea/Pirates of Dark Water pastiche for, but I never considered it a separate game in its own right. I wonder if I still have the notes for that? I'll have to post them if I do. It was pretty derivative, but not bad.

Dumb things I'd do if I won the Lottery
It all depends on how much I win, of course,* but here's a list of silly things I couldn't do without millions of disposable dollars:

Buy a ridiculous number of copies of GARGOYLES: SEASON 2, VOLUME 1 (like $100,000.00 to $1 million dollars worth) and donate them to libraries state- and nationwide. It is a crime against Art itself that the best American animated series yet (and I'm counting "The Simpsons" and "Futurama" in the mix) may not see full DVD release.

Buy a nice house with lots of land and pay someone to capture the herd of deer that lives in the empty lot behind my current apartment and move them there. Then I'd get weekly shipments of deer corn and alfalfa and keep them fat and happy. They've been so friendly to us and their habitat is being destroyed, so I'd have to help somehow.

Donate ridiculous sums to cat shelters and the Humane Society. I'd also capture the strays that beg on our back porch and move them to the nice house with lots of land. They'd live in a separate "cat barn" so our precious spoiled princess could remain the only house cat. And, of course, I'd get them fixed. I don't like cats so much I want to raise wild herds of them.

License the original "Lupin III" anime and pay the production costs on it for some independent anime distributor (like RightStuf or Discotek) to sell it. The catch would be I get to play Lupin III. I'd also do the same for any unlicensed Lupin III movies.

Maybe I'd also do that for "Gatchaman II" and "Gatchaman Fighter," but I think I'd rather license the '94 OAV and publish a comic book re-telling of the first series that tries to keep a consistent tone and development -- like what Sharif Munier tried with the Top Cow "Battle of the Planets" comic but without Sandy Frank's interference.

* And then there's the non-silly things I'd do first and foremost:**

Pay off all the debts for me and my wife, my grandparents, my mom, my brother, and those of my in-laws my wife wants to help. My aunts and uncles and cousins might get $10k or so; we're not close.

Send my grandparents on a vacation to Ireland ASAP. Seriously. My grandfather's always wanted to go and he isn't getting any younger. I guess I'd pay for my brother to go with them since my wife is too honorable to just up and quit her job.

Pay for the entire family listed above (the people whose debts we would pay) to stay a week at Walt Disney World. I know it's crass and commercial, but where else can you really have a vacation that the whole family will enjoy -- with the pets? Robin and I would probably spend most of the week at their new animal park (and Pirates of the Carribean).

Put away enough that my spendthrift ways can't possibly bankrupt us. CDs are good.

**And then there's the slightly-silly things I would do...

Actually, I realize that middle tier consists entirely of self-publishing creator-owned comics and RPGs. I should probably admit that since it's a lifetime ambition, it really qualifies as a non-silly thing. I guess if I paid for A-list artists to draw it, then it would qualify as slightly-silly. Still, why pay cheap for no-names if you don't have to? There's a lot of out-of-work artists who were superstars in the '80s and '90s (and earlier). I'd feel guilty if I didn't try to get one of them. I mean, wouldn't "Tomcat" be that much more authentic if an '80s artist drew it? With painted color!

November 8th, 2006
CATCHING UP WITH MYSELF
Man, I got lazy in October. There were justifiable reasons for it (mainly the birthday vacation and the extra housework I tried to do to make up for it) but it doesn’t change the fact that I haven’t been blogging like I promised myself.

Gaming is getting in the way again, too. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a powerful temptation due to the relatively little work I can put into it (after all, the longer story capsules on this blog are about all the backstory I need weeks worth of games) and the immediate payoff (which, of course, is mixed in with the fact that my RPGs with my wife are also role-playing games of the wink-wink, nudge-nudge variety). And it’s all a lot of fun, which writing often isn’t.

In fact, the new campaign (for lack of a better universal term) is deliberately absurd fun. We’re using the Cinematic Unisystem rules published by Eden Studios for the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” games for a setting I’m calling SPYFUNK – an anachronistic mash of late ‘60s through early ‘70s action-thriller tropes that borrows equally from spy movies, heist capers, blackxploitation, and classic anime. It’s been a blast. Right now our heroine is judging a Grand Prix of thievery in which Lupin III, Thomas Crown, Catwoman, and an oodle of others are all trying to be the one to steal the “Cat’s Eye” (a Wold Newtonesque pastiche of the “Pink Panther”).

Sometimes I think I should try to work in games… but the pay sucks.

Anyway, here’s finishing off the last of the projects I’ve named but never written about in the blog:

EXCALIBUR: KNIGHTS OF PENDRAGON

This is a concept well past its expiration date.

“Knights of Pendragon” was an early ‘90s series from Marvel UK about a group of normal people (a journalist, the journalist’s son, a novelist, a police detective, a professor, and a used car salesman) and one superhero (Union Jack) who found themselves imbued with the memories and insight of the Knights of the Round Table by a mysterious nature god called the Green Knight. I’m sure it was all ripping off Alan Moore, but it was the first “mature readers” comic I ever read and it enthralled me. Unfortunately, it only sold well for a Marvel UK series (in other words, not well at all) and was canceled after about 20 issues. It was relaunched as a far more standard superheroic series, and I didn’t even buy the last few issues of that.

“Excalibur” was an X-Men spin-off starring the Marvel UK superhero Captain Britain, his mutant/fairy/whatsis girlfriend, and X-Men refugees Nightcrawler, Kitty Pryde, Phoenix (not Jean Grey, but instead her time-traveling daughter Rachel Summers) and later on Warren Ellis’ creation Pete Wisdom. “Knights of Pendragon” actually started as a spin-off of “Excalibur” and featured Captain Britain in the first arc. “Excalibur” ran for a long time, was canceled, and is now back as “New Excalibur” with Captain Britain, Pete Wisdom, and a bunch of characters I don’t know… and Juggernaut. I bought it for a long part of its initial run.

In any case, both series were canceled at one time and my idea was to fuse them together in an amalgamated team that would be made up of Marvel’s cast-off Arthurian-influenced heroes. Captain Britain and Union Jack would both be on the new team as essentially its Superman and Batman (Jack is a far more street-level character than the flying and super-strong Captain). The Black Knight, the character with most direct Arthurian connections in the Marvel Universe, would be in since he’s no longer welcome at Avengers headquarters. And “KoP” alumnus Kate McClellan (the journalist) would join as the new Doctor Druid when she became imbued with the “Merlin-soul” that a different Knight had possessed in the original series. The joke would be that she was doctor of journalism (and other Hunter S. Thompson references would abound). The idea for the first arc was that the heroes were trying to solve/prevent the murder of the other retired, civilian members of the original Knights of Pendragon.

It’s too late now, though. As mentioned, “New Excalibur” is currently ongoing from Marvel (with the Black Knight recently joining Captain Britain’s team) and Union Jack has his own miniseries on the stands. Perhaps it could work in another 5-10 years if “New Excalibur” gets cancelled.

GREEN ARROW: TEAM ARROW

Another concept whose time has come and gone.

Between the cancellation of the Connor Hawke “Green Arrow” series and Kevin Smith’s long-delayed revival of Oliver Queen and the current ongoing series, there was a time when I dreamed about what I would do with Green Arrow. I think I’ve mentioned that, like Sesshoumaru, I’m gay for Connor Hawke, but I’m also a fan of his dad, the self-described “old lefty” (as in politics) of the DCU. The only reason I’m watching “Smallville” this season is because they put Oliver Queen in the cast. My ideas would have gone in a very different direction from the current series.

For one thing, I was going to move Ollie to Texas, into an Austin/San Antonio hybrid that would have given the series green vistas, political tension, and a wide open range for Green Arrow’s maverick spirit. Also, I was going to make it a team book, with Ollie and Connor both in their Green Arrow costumes and Ollie’s original partner Arsenal (formerly Speedy) and his daughter as recurring cast members. I probably would have thrown in the now-sidelined Arrowette for good measure, as well as giving the Queen household a sexy hippie housekeeper.

Other elements would have included:
A retired ‘50s superhero named Coonskin Slim who owned a chain of diners; he would come into conflict with the team as it became revealed his activities in the ‘50s were motivated more by bigotry than heroism.
An Hispanic superhero mayor. I probably would have used El Dorado, whom I think died in “Infinite Crisis.” He wouldn’t be happy that the blonde bowman moved into his town.
A crisis of identity for Connor when he, like his father before him, accidentally kills a man in the line of duty. Since Connor has never been happy with his marksmanship, this would have led him back to his multiethnic heritage and the study of Korean martial arts and archery (they have it just like Japan).
An homage to Robert E. Howard and Mike Grell in a story titled “Axe, Bow, and Sword” in which Ollie’s sword-swinging look-alike Travis Morgan, Warlord of Skartaris, summons Ollie to help him defend a remote Texas town from an invasion of snake-men. They find themselves fighting alongside a mysterious, axe-wielding barbarian who bears a closer resemblance to the creator than the creation (if you get my drift).

It was more a collection of cool ideas than a real plot, but it’s all superseded now by current “Green Arrow” continuity.

THE HOUNDSKEEPER’S DAUGHTER AND THE KING OF CATS

I know I mentioned this, but I didn’t explain much. There’s a long-standing folktale that you can summon Big Ears, the King of Cats, by roasting a living cat over a fire and when he arrives he’s supposed to tell your fortune. In the story, our virginal heroine is being wooed by the rakish master of the estate and soon she knows he won’t take “no” for an answer. She sets out onto the moors with the old tom that guards the barn, intending to summon Big Ears so she can find some way out of being deflowered by the master, but can’t go through with it (she’s the heroine, after all!). Of course, this actually does summon Big Ears (who probably is the old tom) and he offers her a choice between him and the master. She reluctantly accepts the offer, and a few days later (after the cat has mysteriously disappeared) a devilish young man comes to the estate and begins disrupting the natural order of the place. Romance and suspense ensue.

Oh, and there’s also dogs in the story.

YAMATO TAKERU

This is actually intended as a novel.

There’s an entire sub-genre of fantasy fiction that I call “pagan romance.” It seems to have begun with Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and has been continued by Diana L. Paxson, Morgan Llewellyn, Patricia Kenneally, and a handful of others. They’re usually retellings of European legends (primarily Celtic) composed with an eye toward historicity, centering on the emotional life of the protagonists, usually featuring graphic sex scenes, and advocating modern neo-pagan beliefs and morality. I used to enjoy them quite a bit, but I’ve fallen out of the habit.

After reading Kij Johnson’s Fox Woman and Fudoki (or, to be honest, getting halfway through each of them), it occurred to me that Japan’s early Shinto tales could be mined for extrapolation the same as pagan Europe’s stories. I started researching prehistoric Japan to flesh out the tale of Yamato Takeru, but gave up when it overwhelmed me and I felt like the more I learned the less I knew. But I still hope to go back to it.

“Yamato Takeru” is the bizarre, violent tale of Japan’s first tragic hero. Yamato Takeru was one of many sons of the reigning emperor, long before the introduction of Buddhism. He was so beautiful that he could effectively disguise himself as a woman and yet so strong he could crush a man’s ribs in a bear hug. After murdering one of his brothers in a fit of rage, Yamato Takeru is sent out across the Japanese archipelago to conquer the other tribes and cultures. He wanders for years like an androgynous Hercules, always being sent out to perform another task just when he’s earned some rest with his only comfort being his long-suffering concubine. He eventually gains the enmity of the local gods and dies of illness after being cursed by a ghostly stag, but then his spirit rises from his burial mound as a white heron and flies to freedom.

It would make a good pagan romance… especially if I played up the androgyny.

November 1st, 2006
RESPECT MY … MAN, THAT JOKE’S OLD.
So… “The Midnighter” #1 came out this week, a couple of weeks back the new “The Authority” #1 arrived, and last week Warren Ellis gave a shout-out to his infamous gay superhero couple in “Nextwave.” This seems as good a time as any to write about what was once my favorite superhero book.

Except the Thumper’s Mom’s Rule comes in again. Why waste my time writing about how Warren Ellis’ stated intent of producing a satire was effectively nullified by his own humanist ideals, and that instead of creating a parody he created a paragon? Why blather on about how Mark Millar – despite his stated idealism – corrupted the entire concept with his Catholic guilt? Why natter away about how further attempted revivals have been undercut by the shared universe core of all corporate comics? It won’t make any difference and it would just waste time I could spend creating Unisystem stats for the Science Ninja Team.

But I’m way behind on my Half-Told Tales, so here’s some notes on what I would do with an Authority film and a concept I had nearly forgotten.

**

THE AUTHORITY
A Screenplay

This is going to be practically gibberish to anyone who hasn’t read Warren Ellis’ run on “StormWatch” or his and Mark Millar’s “The Authority” issues. I subscribe to the idea that you should lift as much as possible from your source material when adapting a work. An Authority film shouldn’t be my take on the characters, it should be as much of Ellis’ as I can fit into a self-contained film. Of course, there are changes that would have to be made.

Our central character – the audience’s POV – would be Jack Hawksmoor. I wish it could be Jenny Sparks, but it can’t. The reasons for this are:
1) American audiences do not respond well to female action heroes; the failure of the Tomb Raider and Catwoman movies (as well as the X-Men films’ concentration on Wolverine) proves this.
2) Jenny Sparks is too all-powerful and too all-knowing anyway. She’s the team’s Obi-Wan Kenobi.
3) Jack doesn’t have a codename. He is, by default, the most normal of the Authority, despite his bizarre origin and powers.
4) His bizarre origin is at least relatable. He’s been experimented on by aliens and turned into a post-human who can only live in cities. That’s insane, but people still believe in alien abductions.
5) He doesn’t wear a mask and he isn’t insanely muscular. He could be played by any of Hollywood’s foremost actors. (A few years ago I would have chosen John Cusack.)
So with our POV lead established, how do we construct the story? I would love to begin with a James Bond-style teaser action scene, where we just jump into the Authority taking down some third-world dictatorship. We could go for a mixed-media approach where each time a hero appears for the first time we get on-screen text (like some kind of read-out) giving their name and explaining their powers. Unfortunately, that would probably be wrong. These characters are too over-the-top to begin that way. We need to ease people into the story.

So instead we begin with Jack Hawksmoor on a New York rooftop. He seems kind of nervous. He’s preparing himself for something big. Talking to himself. He breathes deeply and takes off his shoes. We see the tire treads on his feet. He gets a running start and jumps off the building, lands on the next rooftop, and races through the city.

Towards what? Man, if I really wanted to make people angry, I’d make it the Twin Towers on 9/11. Wouldn’t that be a hell of a way to kick-start a movie?

Well, if we can’t make it the Twin Towers, we’ll instead make it a near-identical fictional incident. So Jack is running across the New York skyline toward a burning skyscraper. He gets there and begins saving people by using his psychometry, super-strength, and ability to run up and down sheer surfaces. Things are getting out of his control, though, and now a second plane is screaming towards the building…

And that’s when the rest of the Authority shows up. Apollo catches the plane. We cut inside and the Midnighter teleports in and wipes out the terrorists. Swift, the Doctor, and the Engineer help rescue people by respectively catching falling people, turning debris into flowers, and redirecting the sprinkler system (or something). And Jenny Sparks watches Jack and belittles him for not doing more.

When it’s all over, Sparks confronts Jack in a conversation lifted as much as possible from Bendix’s recruitment pitch back in “StormWatch,” then she kidnaps him back to the Carrier and we get started on a plot largely lifted from the first arc where they fought Kaizen Gamorra – except that now it’s Jack’s first mission with the team. Because Jack is our lead, he’s the one who wipes out Gamorra’s super-terrorist factory by either talking the Carrier into moving or getting Gamorra City itself to smash the place.

The trick would be writing this in a way that didn’t seem like I was endorsing George W. Bush. Which would be really hard.

**

I saw a promo interview for the Ghost Rider comic today, which included some line about the Spirit of Vengeance’s quest possibly hurting more people than it helped, and that reminded me of an old Ghost Rider pitch I’d dreamed up years ago where that was entirely the point: vengeance hurts more than it helps. Knowing that Marvel would never go for something like that, I tweaked it into a semi-Bad Girl concept.

THE FURIES
Ongoing Comic Book Series

Vengeance is not the same as justice. The Furies offer vengeance. A trio of supernatural beings that roams the world offering revenge to the wounded, the Furies do not claim their actions will heal your hurts.

It begins with a series of issues where the punishments do seem to fit the crime. Rapists, murderers, and child molestors meet their ends in horrifying ways, but even their deaths leave pain in their wake for their friends, families, and lovers. Then we get revenge all out of proportion to the original crime, such as a bullied child crying out for vengeance on his school. Eventually, one of those whom the Furies have helped in the past begins tracking them down to balance vengeance with justice. And Orestes probably shows up at some point.

**

That’s enough for now. Hopefully I’ll be able to add more tomorrow.

October 26th, 2006
Animals ROCK! And so do dolls!
OK, the vacation actually turned out very, very well (despite sunburns and mosquito bites). And we saw animals.

Saturday was sunny and calm as we drove down. I-37, the highway between San Antonio and Corpus Christi, wasn't very busy and the new vistas that we saw and the cruise control in the Hyundai made the drive astonishingly pleasant. Deciding very firmly that we weren't going to try to match any sort of time table and instead just play everything fast and loose made driving back and forth all over the part of the fun.

First we saw dolls. There's an Asian Cultures Museum in Corpus that's full of hakata dolls -- ceramic figurines of scenes from traditional Japanese life like Hubble figurines without the schmaltz. My grandparents have some that my grandfather brought back from serving in Korea and I've always thought they were neat. There were a lot of fascinating exhibits in the museum, but my favorite piece was a hakata doll of a tattoo artist working on a half-naked geisha. I'll have to post the pictures of it sometime.

After the museum, we went to Mustang Island and visited the national park there. The ocean was beautiful; I love the smell of the sea. We climbed out on one of the pink granite jettys and snapped photos and took film like we were ten years younger. I'm a pretty timid guy most of the time, but put me out in nature and suddenly I'm climbing rocks and trying to grab crabs like I'm Jeff Corwin or Steve Irwin. There was also a pod of dolphins playing in the surf less than 100 yards away and we walked alongside them for a while. Magic birthday dolphins, just for us.

More dolphins followed when we went on a dolphin watching boat tour in Port Aransas, a place that seems much more commercial than how I remembered it. (It's nothing but condos, restaurants, and gift shops.) Several times the dolphins actually swam under the boat and I managed to take a picture of one of them looking up at me.

Afterwards (and this was about 6PM) we went back to Corpus via the ferry and finally checked into our hotel. The hotel turned out to be kinda crappy and our intended starlit walk on the beach (it was the new moon) didn't happen because the beach was filled with mosquitos. We ate dinner and got back to the hotel in time to watch "Ultimate Avengers 2" on Cartoon Network (which I ridiculed mercilessly the whole time) and went to bed early... which was fine because we wanted Sunday to come as quick as possible.

A cold front and accompanying storms rolled over Texas that night, so the next morning was chilly and the waves were lashing the shore... which was actually really neat. We walked out onto a pier and took photos of crashing surf and ate at the only two-story Whataburger in the world while we decided what to do next.

We decided to be utterly silly and drive out to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which is about another hour and a half from Corpus. It was raining, it was cold, but that seemed like the most fun. So we drove along country roads winding through farmland (where the speed limit was 70) until we got there.

It rained heavily for about another two hours while we took pictures of the occasional deer, but then it cleared up and the animals started coming out. We saw a fox sitting right on the road staring at us -- my favorite moment of the vacation -- and took pictures of more deer, quite a few waterbirds, and a feral hog (we hoped it was a javelina, but the park ranger told us how to tell the difference). We also climbed out onto a picturesque jagged spit of land called Dagger Point, which is the pirate-iest place I've ever been (besides the "Pirates of the Carribean" ride at Disneyland). The Aransas NWR is now my favorite place in Texas.

The drive home was pleasant and easy and the bad drivers didn't start until we got back to San Antonio.

And that's enough for now. I promise to get back to stories next week.

October 20th, 2006
The Problem with Vacations
I'm beginning to think the planned weekend getaway to cap off this year's birthday week is a mistake. Driving is such a stressful experience and trying to make sure we can hit all the places we want to go in such a limited timeframe just makes it worse. It would probably work much better if our jobs didn't drive us crazy. Oh well...

It's not like we're going to suddenly change our minds and not do it. Yesterday we drove up to Austin to visit the Austin Zoo, a little wildlife rescue place with older-style enclosures (instead of those damned moats) that actually let you get with a yard of big cats, and it was overall worth it even though there were some mistakes and disappointments associated with the trip. I've never seen or heard a mountain lion meow before and now we have it on film. I'm still disgruntled that we didn't have time to prowl around Austin's Half-Price Books stores (they have a better quality of used books up there), but that pales in comparison to the joy of having a jaguar try to attack you. Seriously.

Still, maybe I should just drive up to Austin on my own next week or the week after. Maybe. Driving's such a pain.

***

I know I should be posting a Half-Told Tale, but I don't have very long to do that today and writing with purpose always slows me down. I like to pick my words carefully, believe it or not. I think Fritz Leiber, Raymond Chandler, and Neil Gaiman have proved that prose should be as carefully constructed as poetry. The words are every bit as important.

***

I suspect the bane of many writers like myself out there is pen and paper role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Vampire : The Masquerade. It's so easy to put half the time and energy into role-playing that you would put into a short story and get an immediate and positive response instead of waiting months for a rejection slip. Gaming might drive me crazy too (after all, one can't control the other players' decisions) but that instant gratification is hard to beat.

For about five years now, my wife and I have been playing single-player games with me as the GM/Storyteller/Director/whatever you want to call it and her as the single player (duh). Most of the games have been extrapolations from existing systems and game worlds rather than direct uses of them and most of the campaigns/chronicles/series have lasted about three months (though one of the earliest lasted a few years). We've discovered that it's really easy to get bogged down in your own continuity if you try to run games as open-ended TV shows (like "Smallville") and that it's usually more entertaining to make the games more like self-contained novels. Or perhaps it's just me and my lack of focus that keeps us jumping around.

Every few months then, I wind up submitting a few different game proposals. As an example of my copywriting skills, I present some highlights below.

EXALTED: THE DRAGON-BLOODED System: Exalted
“I once had a daughter like you,” said the Empress… A high-school shojo romance set in one of the Academies on the Blessed Isle. The main character once received special attention from the Scarlet Empress shortly before her disappearance, and it has singled her out for attention from the various factions of the Dynasty. Torn between love for the members of her oath-circle, the heroine must find a place for herself in her imperiled society – perhaps as the next Empress.

GAKI NO HEIAN JIDAI System: Kindred of the East, Blood and Silk
The tale of a princess who died . . . and lived again. A young woman who perished in misery and pain has returned from Hell to the sensuous and melancholy world of Heian-Kyo. Here she struggles to achieve enlightenment and shed the curse of her demonic hunger. The story would center on the dichotomy between wealth and poverty, pleasure and asceticism to be found in the Capitol of Tranquility and Peace, but it would occasionally branch off into the barely-civilized outer provinces.

HENGEYOKAI: THE CHANGING SPIRITS System: New House Rules
All things have spirits. This is the story of one such spirit and her journey of discovery in the strange world of men. The character would presumably be kitsune, nekomata or tanuki, but the definition of “hengeyokai” used here doesn’t limit itself to that used in the Werewolf: The Apocalypse. It encompasses the plant spirits and awakened objects (dolls, mirrors, swords) found in Japanese folktales. There is, at present, no particular plot structure assigned to it. I assume it would be set in either the Heian or Sengoku eras, but it could be set in the modern one as well.

KAMI: THE EXALTED ONES System: Exalted
Of old, Heaven and Earth were not yet separated… An alternate setting for Exalted, this explores the Age of the Gods in ancient Japan. It would blend what can be gleaned from the Nihongi along with information on Yamato-era Japan to create a world more passionate, more raw than that of later history. There is no particular plot structure assigned to it, but it would presumably incorporate the subjugation of the fierce kami of herbs and stones to the will of the August Grandchild.

SENGOKU MONOGATARI System: Chambara
Torn between three warlords, she could only follow her heart! A “kimono-ripping” romance that follows the travails of an eminently desirable young “princess” as she is wooed by fictionalized counterparts of Oda Nobunaga, Takeda Shingen, and Tokugawa Ieyasu. The degree of explicit supernatural elements is open for negotiation. While the heroine would have the usual combat training of a samurai daughter of the era, she needn’t be a warrior herself.

TRIBES of the HORSE GODDESS System: Storyteller Dark Ages House Rules
She was raised a Roman, but her blood was full of Celtic passion! A “toga-ripping” romance that follows a Romano-Celtic noblewoman as she is fought over by a dark Pictish lord, a charming Irish prince, and a refined Roman general. The story flows from the Scottish highlands to the Coliseum and back again. It is intended to be more explicitly supernatural than Sengoku Monogatari need be, as the heroine is the heir of a mystical bloodline with connections to the fabled Horse Goddess. While a bloody epic of a clash between cultures (all of which we have a great deal of material on), the heroine is not obligated to be a warrior herself.

CLUB YOKAI System: World of Darkness
It is not a world of darkness, but rather a world of alluring shadows and neon thrills. A high school freshman finds herself drawn into Tokyo’s mysterious night life when she discovers that legendary creatures walk amongst humanity . . . and that she’s one of them! Will the employees of a risqué nightclub help her find her place in life?

SHADOW of the GARGOYLE System: Cinematic Unisystem
Her father was the city’s greatest champion, the vigilante called the Gargoyle. She fought for years for his approval and confidence but was only allowed to be his sidekick. Now, with her father retired and her elder brother injured, can she take up the Gargoyle’s mantle and defend the city?

JACK & JILL, DETECTIVES System: Storyteller
Things aren’t always easy in this town of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. It’s hard for an honest dame to make a living, and when her partner would rather look up her skirt than track down clues, it gets even harder. Can this captivating gumshoe make her way through murder, corruption, and blackmail, or will she come tumbling after?

SHIBUYA DEVIL-HUNTER SQUAD System: CInematic Unisystem
They say that into every generation a chosen one is born, so why the heck are this ko-gal and her friends all Slayers? Well, at least it means they get to window shop while they patrol for vampires and the other big baddies that make life hard for a Tokyo teen. What? You say that guy over there is a monkey-demon? But he’s so G-L!

KAIJU TAISEN System: Cinematic Unisystem
Ever since Hiroshima, strange monsters have haunted Japan. Now, as mankind’s understanding of these creatures increases, the Japanese government has formed an elite task force of psychics, soldiers, and investigators to stop the creatures before they grow to gigantic size. But can they stop the conspiracy to release the Guardian Beasts?

I should write advertizing blurbs.

October 16th, 2006
I'm 33 and its time to PANIC
Aaiiee!!!

It’s that day, the day I was dreading when I began this blog. I’m thirty-three today, so it’s time to give up or get crucified.

Which reminds me of a Half-Told Tale I‘d all but forgotten…

PANIC
A ROCK ‘N’ ROLL GOSPEL

“Panic” began life as a very different story. Originally, it was titled “Puck!” (yes, with the exclamation mark) and was about a slacker who discovers he is actually Puck of “A Midsummer’s Night’s Eve.” He was banished by Oberon from Fairyland for raping Titania (yes, raping; as should be evident, I dearly enjoy protagonists who are morally murky) and… um… changelinged into? switched with? reincarnated as?... a human so that he’ll live, grow old, and die in the most mundane way possible. He awakes to his true self, of course (or there would be no story), and sets about staging a coup against Oberon. Along the way he would battle his “evil” twin – the mortal child he was switched with – and reconcile his brutal, animalistic fairy nature with the lessons of humility and compassion learned in human form.

Somewhere along the line I began to realize that my conception of Puck – wild, willful, wooly, and horny – had as much to do with the Greek god Pan as it did with Shakespeare or the folktale figures of pookas and the like that inspired the Bard. I came up with a complicated larger structure for the story, in which Puck eventually transcended his limitations and awoke to the fact that he was Pan and Oberon was really Dionysus and everything he knew was a LIE!!! And then I realized that the story could be made simpler and deeper if I just dropped Puck entirely and made it about Pan.

So anyway…

“Sex, gods, and rock ‘n’ roll” or “Hail Satan! Rock ‘n’ roll!” would be the catchphrase for the story (conceived as a comic but workable as a novel). A struggling rock star with mental problems and a passing resemblance to Kurt Cobain believes his father is a famous, dead rock star with a strong resemblance to Jim Morrison. What he doesn’t realize is that the famous rock star was one of the last, decadent avatars of the current reigning God and that the bizarre dreams which have plagued our protagonist since childhood are his True Self calling to him.

What do I mean by “reigning God?” Just that I noticed in my non-academic studies of comparative religion that all major religions seem to have moved through phases that remind me strongly of the different ages of the gods in Greek Mythology. They’ve moved from formless abstract concepts, to terrifying anthropomorphic divinities, to stern patriarchs, to young gods of love and light, to… existentialism, I guess. Each generation of gods has feared and battled the younger. Each generation has seized control, overthrown its parent(s). Even Jesus said he was “the new Law.”

And doesn’t Jesus bear a surprising resemblance to Apollo, Dionysus, and Buddha – all of whom were sons of traditional patriarchs of the old order? Wasn’t Mohammed instructed by the same archangel Gabriel that announced Jesus’ birth?

And isn’t Satan – a barely realized concept in Judaism, but the full-fledged enemy of Christianity – the spitting image of Dionysus’ son Pan?

And so our hero embarks on a quest into the American celebrity scene as he awakens into his true self as the chaotic god of existential terror, of panic.

Of course, along the way there are failed suicide attempts, shrieking holy rollers, crazy-ass gold-digging rock divas, and the conception of his own archenemy as the new God becomes the Old.

And that’s enough for now. It’s my birthday and I’m supposed to party.

October 5th, 2006
LOTTERY DREAMS
I've been dreaming again about the silly crap I'd do if I won the lottery. Of course, it all depends on how much I won. The first thing I have to do is pay off all the family's debts, then I get to spend recklessly.

One thing I've mused about is licensing all the old pulp heroes so some honest-to-goodness Wold Newton stories could be told (not pastiches where the names have been changed or fan-fiction). I'd start an anthology magazine that would be half text and half comics and bring back Tarzan, Doc Savage, the Shadow, and all the old gang. I could probably get Philip Jose farmer to at least provide an outline for some stories (he's pretty old and I don't think he writes anymore). Neil Gaiman and Warren Ellis could probably be persuaded to contribute. And I could try out my revamp ideas.

The idea I had for THE SHADOW was to give a brand-new guy the name in a move I admit is derivative of "Batman Beyond." Except in this case, the original isn't there to mentor the new kid. He's the enemy. Kent Allard, the original Shadow, has looked into the abyss too long and become a crime lord himself. A new paladin of Shamballa, an Asian, comes to America to track Allard down and make him pay for his crimes.

Admittedly, I'd probably chicken out and have Allard come back to the good side, but it could be fun while it lasts. These old pulp characters are so fueled by nostalgia that if I kept Allard the villain, I'd lose what little readership there is for the Shadow.

I imagine the new Shadow as "What if a young Jet Li starred in 'The Matrix?'"

Meanwhile, in a sweat lodge in Alaska, DOC SAVAGE has been learning to blend the rational science he was trained to believe in with the mysticism he knows is true. In his last pulp magazine adventure, DOc and his pals traveled into the darkness of the Earth and found an unexplainable, terrifying, undeniably supernatural Hell waiting there. For the first time in his life, Doc screamed in terror. Now he returns to the modern day, a shaman for the world's future, a truly "savage doctor."

I admit, that steals pretty blatantly from Warren Ellis, but he's not using the "world shaman" idea anymore, and he never did much with it in the first place.

October 4th, 2006
THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVORITE THINGS…
Some lists, for no good reason…

ONGOING COMICS I’M BUYING
“All Star Superman,” “All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder,” “Batman: Dark Moon Rising,” “Casanova,” “Fell,” “Futurama,” “Highlander,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Nextwave,” “Secret Six,” “Planetary,” “Ultimates 2,” and all of IDW’s “Angel” and “Spike” books. Not a whole lot that’s in-continuity at the Big Two, but not a lot of creator-owned work either. Come to think of it, about half of them are either miniseries or published irregularly.

ONGOING MANGA I’M BUYING
“Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad,” “Crying Freeman,” “From Eroica With Love,” “Fruits Basket,” “Gals!,” “Lupin III,” “Otogi Zoshi,” “Sakura Taisen,” and “Satsuma Gishiken.” I’d call it a good mix of the classic and the contemporary. I’m tempted to start buying “Golgo 13;” I picked up a couple of volumes at Half-Price Books and they were pretty compelling.

ANIME SERIES I’M BUYING
“Gatchaman” and “Lupin III.” Wow. Two series. We (my wife and I) used to be much more frequent buyers, but the irritating way anime companies keep reissuing series in cheaper or collector formats has really soured us on buying anime. “Gatchaman” ends this month (just in time for our birthdays) and there’s no sign of a replacement for it yet. Well, we’ll probably buy “Gankutsuo” (sic) when it gets collected and we’re looking forward to the “Super Gals!” second season box this Christmas.

I just got Neil Gaiman’s new short story and poetry collection, Fragile Things, this Sunday. There’s a pair of stories in there featuring a brutal Cockney consigliere named Smith and his pedophile master Mr. Alice which are incredibly enjoyable in different ways. Strangely, I think Smith is a (perhaps unconscious) homage to Flashman (of whom Gaiman is also a fan); he’s a monster, but a charmingly honest one. I should write about that at length.

**

One of my favorite things in the entire universe is the legends of King Arthur. I was a complete nut for all things Arthurian from about fifth grade through the first six years of the seven it took me to get my bachelor’s degree. Eventually my enthusiasm waned as I got more interested in Japanese culture and as it became increasingly obvious that the “pagan roots” theories on the origins of the stories that had so attracted me were now discredited by modern academia. Said enthusiasm has waxed again a few times since, but not as regularly as the moon.

One of my compelling goals during that period of enthusiasm was to tell my own version of the stories… but I could never really figure out what made my version any different from all of the dozens of imitations of The Mists of Avalon and The Once and Future King that get published every year. Eventually I realized that the difference between my historicized, pro-pagan Arthurian tale and all of the others would be that it was a comic book, and no one’s done a good Arthurian comic since Marvel’s “Knights of Pendragon.”

Of course, nobody except me read “Knights of Pendragon.”

Anyway, I just discovered in my saved files some notes from within the last few years toward an attempt at writing an Arthurian manga that I had forgotten I did. I need to get to some RPG plotting I promised my wife I’d do (seriously), so I’m just going to post it all essentially unedited and incoherent. Enjoy!

**

The Sword and the Maiden

The young Guenivere is finishing her training at the Isle of Avalon. Soon she will take the sacred sword Excalibur and its magic scabbard out into the world and be married. Her understanding is that she is betrothed to Prince Arthur, son of the Pendragon Uther, but she has the facts wrong even though the truth is right.
Arthur and a small detachment from the army of Britain leave the main force and detour to Avalon to pick up Guenivere and the sword. With Arthur are his stalwart friends Bedwyr and Kai, and a group of auxiliaries including the Irish mercenary Lugaid Long Lance (Lancelot). There are Saxons about, but the Pendragon is ailing and the mission must be completed with all speed.
Guenivere and Arthur meet, and it is love at first sight on both sides, but Arthur is shockingly formal and Gwen questions her first reaction. After being bowled over by Arthur’s dog, Horse, Gwen learns why Arthur is being so distant toward her. There was a miscommunication (and possibly this is a way to include Morgan le Fay); Gwen is to marry the widower Uther, not his son.
The journey begins. The Roman-trained soldiers under Arthur bicker and argue with the lax, Celtic ways of the auxiliaries. Under some pretext I haven’t invented yet, Gwen has to spend some time with the auxiliaries (perhaps last rites for a wounded man, or to heal an illness, or care for a horse). She meets the handsome scoundrel Lance, who is unreserved in his admiration for her and his disdain for her impending marriage to such an old man. This leads to conflict with Arthur, who is duty-bound to safeguard the woman he’s smitten with for his father. They joust or some other contest and Lance proves himself the more skilled.
The escort is attacked by Saxon forces led by some distinct personality and his magical assistants. In any case, the bad guy embodies more than just the threat of invasion; he is a a disciple of Wotan or something. Gwen, Arthur, Lance, and Horse are separated from the main group; Bedwyr loses and arm, and Kai is last seen fighting on foot outnumbered. The Triangle (for simplicity) and dog flee into the hills. It is also revealed that Arthur is a stone-cold killer in battle, almost a berserker. Maybe Kai has to knock him out and hand him over to Gwen to get him out of the fight.
Besides banter, at least two (mis)adventures must follow. An obvious, manga-style choice is Lance peeping on Gwen while she bathes. Arthur then clobbers Lance, but Gwen blows it off – justifying it as having little shame because the Ladies perform many rituals “skyclad” (nude), but really because she wants to tease Arthur. (Perhaps a joke like “Really, Arthur . . . if Lance saw your sister performing the Beltane rites he’d drop me like a hot iron.”) I’m not sure if this is enough to qualify as an incident.
Perhaps two dangerous moments and three character-building interludes would work. Arthur’s ambivalence about his father must be explored, Gwen has to have a chance to talk about idealism (I’m thinking she inspires the Might for Right thinking in this Camelot; perhaps a cross-cultural accord, the “fellow countryman” ideal of Combrogi), and Lance has to have a chance to show hidden depths, an ache for respectability, a dormant idealism of his own. A couple of dangerous moments will give the boys a chance to bond in battle. One of the fights ends with both of them laughing, covered in blood, and Gwen calls them both idiots.
Possible fights could include a wild boar, a bear, a giant (seriously – they’re all over the place in Arthurian legend), or some kind of magical beast (unicorn, dragon, avanc, sluagh, the Questing Beast). Not wolves, though; one of the boys shows the other up by proving you can keep the wolves away just by making noise and keeping the fire going (probably Arthur). Yeah, it should be Arthur. He starts banging on a shield and shouting – but he’s quoting Virgil or something and it impresses Gwen.
Also the mystical nature of the sword and the scabbard is explained and said mystical nature probably has an erotic undercurrent. This Exaclibur can only be unsheathed by the current Pendragon, so as far as anybody knows, none of them can draw the blade.
The bad guy catches up with them, and because they’re only down to one horse by now (or something) one of them has to flee with Gwen while the other stays and holds off the bad guys. Surprisingly, Arthur orders the others to flee. He’s likely to be captured and ransomed; Lance would just be killed or worse. Somehow Arthur justifies keeping Excalibur with him so the sheath will protect him against wounds. While the others ride like the wind, he and Horse jump Wolverine-like into the battle. Arthur is horribly wounded, but keeps healing. Horse dies heroically. Arthur’s sword breaks and in desperation he draws Excalibur. And it unsheathes.
Lance and Gwen escape to a deserted homestead. Their feelings and the joy of being alive nearly overcome them and they’re getting naked when Kai, the now one-armed Bedwyr, and the survivors of the ambush find them. Lance is thrown in irons, Gwen is accused of seduction and witchcraft, and things are about to get ugly. Then Arthur stumbles out the forest with the body of Horse and a score of wounds.
While the scabbard heals him, Gwen watches over him. He reveals that he drew the sword but refuses to recognize what that means. Gwen consoles him and he confesses his feelings for her. In the morning, he defends Lance.
Now they complete the journey to Uther’s camp, which is in mourning because Uther died. Arthur is acclaimed Pendragon. He asks Gwen to marry him. She is conflicted, but obviously agrees. Lance stays on as a new member of the inner circle.
Somewhere, Morgan le Fay laughs.

Guenivere –
First I should market-test variations on the spelling of her name. I’d like to go more Welsh, but I’m afraid that will be off-putting to casual readers. Variations include Gwenhwyfar, Gwenhyver, Gwenifar, Gweniver, Guenevere, Gueniver. Remember that her name became Jennifer in modern English.
Gwen (which is how she’s referred to most of the time, since Jenny is just so anachronistic) is about 18, red-haired and green-eyed, and beautiful without being overtly sexy. I’d prefer to use a manga-influenced art style, so this would be easier with the slim forms of most manga characters than it would with a breast-heavy western style. She wears a forest green robe over a peaceful blue chemise. The attire of the Ladies of the Lake is simple but not ascetic; they are pagan priestesses, not nuns.
That’s what Gwen is in this version: a Lady of the Lake, like the order in The Mists of Avalon. If I can find justification to place Avalon elsewhere than Glastonbury, I’m going to take it (maybe the Isle of Mona). That would help justify the journey she and the two boys get lost on without resorting to placing Uther elsewhere than Cadbury Camp.

September 27th, 2006
CREATOR-OWNED QUICKIES
I’m going to have to be brief today because I’ve got tons of housework to do and I had to go in for some overtime at work, so here’s a set of brief capsules for creator owned-concepts (all comics, though several could work as novels).

(And I’m unhappy to report that I had another old idea swim up from the depths of my mind, but I kept putting off writing it down again and now it’s dived deep again. Oh well, I’ll hopefully remember it as soon as I don’t need to.)

BELFAST DOG
A crime/espionage thriller that transplants the “Irish Illiad” – the Dark Ages tale of Cuchulain, Hound of Ulster (look it up) – to the flare-up of terrorist “Troubles” in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. Our protagonist (but not hero) is Jerry Cullen, a young sociopath in training who becomes the most dangerous man in the Loyalist paramilitaries. I have a lot of material worked up for this one, so there will be more at another time.

COLISEUM
I actually submitted this one to Vertigo, even though I don’t have the script pages I wrote anymore (that computer crashed and I never recovered the data). It’s about a slave who becomes a gladiator who becomes a superstar who gets killed in the Coliseum. Essentially, it’s meant to tell the “real” story of gladiators in much the way that the film GLADIATOR did not.

DRAGON or THE FOUR GUARDIANS TETRALOGY: SEIRYU, SUZAKU, BYAKKO, & GENBU.
This is a project that could work in two ways. As DRAGON, it is a pastiche of GOJIRA that takes more directly into account the US military’s presence in Japan even after the end of the occupation. I sometimes think of it as “Douglas MacArthur versus Godzilla.” As the FOUR GUARDIANS TETRALOGY, it begins with the same story as DRAGON, but then goes on to interweave Japanese folklore into a decades-spanning homage to the entire giant monster movie genre, moving eventually from the deadly serious to the baroquely burlesque.

HOUND OF WAR
Is Cuchulain again, but as a manga drawn in the style of Hayao Miyazaki. Not much more to it than that, except for some changes to the conventional version of the story that would make it more tragic. Actually, what would be really fun would be to print HOUND OF WAR and BELFAST DOG as a flipbook together, so that we bitterly satire and lovingly embrace the same story at the same time.

THE HOUNDSKEEPER’S DAUGHTER AND THE KING OF CATS
Is a Scottish folktale I was going to totally invent and tell as a bodice-ripping romance comic. Why the Hell not?

SWORD-SAINT SAKURA
Essentially what is called “young adult fiction,” this would be a fairytale about a young Japanese girl who follows in the footsteps of a highly fictionalized (i.e. less violent) version of Miyamoto Musashi and befriends kappa, kitsune, oni and tengu along the way. Occasionally I am not evil.

UNTITLED LEFTIST STAR WARS PASTICHE (I just can’t think of a title)
There’s a line in CLERKS about the Rebellion being a bunch of left-wing terrorists (or something like that), but the fact of the matter is that the Rebellion were only counter-insurgents seeking to restore the previous government. Everything seems left-wing when you’re battling fascists. This would be the story of a group of sci-fi union organizers flying around the galaxy battling the corporations that control mankind.

That’s all this time. There’s more where each of those came from, so I’ll probably expand them at some point. Hopefully I’ll remember some other lost stories next time.

September 24th, 2006
BATS#!T
I could have spelled it out, but I thought the above was funnier.

I feel like doing something fairly pointless, so let’s delve back into ideas for things I don’t own and concentrate on Batman, my favorite superhero (as TOMCAT should make fairly obvious).

**

BATMAN: TRAGEDY

The cast of BATMAN plays the cast of HAMLET in an ELSEWORLDS similar to SUPERMAN: METROPOLIS.

In 1939, Bruce Wayne, playboy “prince” of New York City – the giant metropolis some call Gotham -- strikes against the most dangerous organized crime family in the city – his own. His quest for vengeance leads to insanity and death for friends, family, and himself.

The Cast
Bruce Wayne/Batman – Hamlet
Martha Wayne – Queen Gertrude
Joe Chill (reimagined as Joe “Chill” Wayne) – Claudius (The Waynes are sorta like an evil version of the Kennedys, with much of their wealth deriving from bootlegging during Prohibition.)
A bat! – King Hamlet’s Ghost

Commissioner Gordon – Polonius
Barbara Gordon – Ophelia
James Gordon, Jr./the Joker – Laertes (In his early appearances, Commissioner Gordon had a son, not a daughter. More recently, James Jr. was featured as an infant in BATMAN: YEAR ONE, but he appears to have fallen out of continuity. Batman creates the Joker, Hamlet drives Laertes to vengeance… tweaking continuity a bit to make the characters fit together seems obvious. Oh, and instead of Paris, James Jr. goes to New Orleans to study at Tulane and comes back with a bit of a Mardi Gras jones.)

Alfred Pennyworth – Horatio
The Flying Graysons & the Haley Circus – the Players

Harvey Dent/Two-Face – Rosencrantz & Guildenstern
Oswald Cobblepot/the Penguin – Osric
The Riddler & Killer Croc – The Gravediggers

Superman – Fortinbras

I think it all explains itself pretty clearly.
**

BATMAN 5

As in the sequel to the god-awful BATMAN AND ROBIN by Joel Schumacher and Akiva Goldsman. And I know nobody will believe me when I say I came up with this idea way back when because my idea oddly parallels ideas from both BATMAN BEGINS and Grant Morrison’s new run on the BATMAN comic.

Continuing the escalation seen in the previous chapters, where each film has even more costumed crazies than in the one prior, this film would introduce Ra’s al Ghul, Talia, Azrael (then a viable character with his own ongoing series), and Man-Bat with a cameo by Scarface and the Ventriloquist (because, honestly, you just can’t have them as the main villains; they’re too silly). There would be no civilian love interest for Bruce Wayne because Talia’s in it, so this film would wind up concentrating almost exclusively on the superheroes and villains.

The film begins with the Founder’s Day celebrations – Gotham’s annual Halloween/Mardi Gras combination with its Thanksgiving-style parade. The Batmobile rushes through the overcrowded streets in the red glare of dusk towards a tall building with the sign “Wayne Genetics.” A young security guard, Jean-Paul Valley, shouts an ineffective “Hey!” as they almost crash into the front door. The Dynamic Duo leaps out of their vehicle, fire their grapnel lines toward the roof, and rush into the air.

Meanwhile, inside the building, an unpleasant security guard raps his nightstick on a cage and mockingly cries “Fly, monkeys! Fly!” Dr. Kirk Langstrom admonishes the man for teasing the test subjects. Inside the cages are, in fact, winged monkeys… well, winged chimpanzees… make that bat-winged chimpanzees. He warns the guard that they bite.

Suddenly, a caped man crashes through the skylight, but it’s not Batman. It’s the first Azrael – Jean-Paul Valley’s father – and he’s come to collect from Langstrom. Langstrom shouts that he isn’t finished yet, he needs more time, but Azrael replies with some quasi-mystical quote about fate not waiting on any man. The guard freaks out, Azrael smacks him aside with his flaming sword, and the guard crashes into the monkey cage, springing it open and unleashing carnivorous bat-chimps on the lab (which eat him). That’s when Batman and Robin burst in from the windows.

Batman gets off half a line about Bruce Wayne ordering the lab shut down months ago before he finds himself battling flying apes and a crazy knight-looking guy with a sword. Robin winds up tackling the bat-chimps. Langstrom looks at his bleeding hand in horror; he’s stabbed himself on a broken test tube and been dosed with the serum. He undergoes a horrible change, attacking and devouring the bat-chimps to fuel his altered metabolism. Finally, he stands before the shocked Caped Crusader as a really, really menacing Man-Bat. He burst out the front windows, knocking Batman and Azrael over the edge. Batman tries to hang on to the other man, but Azrael fights his way free and falls.

He crashes into a Founder’s Day balloon and drags his mortally-wounded self into a nearby alley. Batman and Robin assume he’s dead and chase after the Man-Bat, but he isn’t dead. The young security guard, Jean-Paul Valley, rushes into the alley, takes off the man’s mask and says “Father…?”

Roll opening credits.

One year later and a ritzy Founder’s Day gala is being threatened by thugs led by the Ventriloquist and Scarface. The only attendee not panicking is a bored-looking, exotically gorgeous young woman named Talia, who looks like she’s about to take matters into her own hands when the Bat-family shows up. Batman and Robin beat up the gangsters while Batgirl chases after the Ventriloquist. Scarface almost gets the drop on her, but is beheaded by the new Azrael (our friend Jean-Paul). Batgirl’s impressed as the mysterious new vigilante vanishes into the night, Robin’s jealous, and Batman flirts with Talia.

The trio returns to the Batcave, where a very nervous Alfred announces they have a visitor. A man sits in the Bat-computer’s control chair: Ra’s al Ghul! He congratulates Bruce Wayne on a job well done, Batman angrily demands to know who he is, and Talia drives into the Batcave on a motorcycle. She introduces Ra’s as her father – which is odd because he doesn’t seem nearly old enough – and Ra’s explains that he’s the head of a worldwide secret syndicate dedicated to wiping out crime.

(In my version, Ra’s differs from all other Bat-villains by being the only one more suave, more polished, more cool than Batman himself. I would have had him played by Antonio Banderas.)

Ra’s offers his assistance – including the service of his pet “avenging angel” Azrael -- in helping track down the one problem Batman hasn’t been able to defeat – the Man-Bat. Robin is immediately suspicious, but the others agree.

As the film progresses, Batgirl flirts with Azrael (discovering he’s the nerdy but cute security guy who works in her WayneTech office), Robin gets more jealous, Bruce and Talia fall hard for each other, Ra’s is revealed to have had his eye on Bruce for a very long time, Bruce begins to think of him as a father figure, Ra’s has a Lazarus Pit constructed in the Batcave and offers to teach Bruce its secrets, Man-Bat is captured… and everything goes to hell in a handbasket.

Ra’s al Ghul, of course, is out to remake the world in his image. He wants to bring mankind back to the purity and hardness of life in the deserts of his youth. He wants to end crime by ending civilization as we know it. The best way he can think of to transform humanity is to put something else at the top of the food chain: Man-Bats. His plan is to turn the citizens of Gotham City into a new species by poisoning the reservoir with the Man-Bat serum.

He’s defeated, of course. Azrael is forced to choose between the man who made him and the family that has befriended him, and Robin gets over his jealousy just in time to help him make the right decision. Talia is torn between parent and lover, and sides with her father. Batman and Ra’s al Ghul have a sword duel that begins in the armory seen in Tim Burton’s first film and ends in the Batcave. Mortally wounded, Ra’s takes the Man-Bat serum himself, jumps into the Lazarus Pit, and emerges as an almost literal demon. In the end, he falls to his doom in the bottomless night-black caverns of the cave. (I never made up my mind if Azrael sacrifices himself to defeat his maker or not. Since he’s been killed off in the comics now, I probably would kill him in the film too.) Talia vanishes into the night and Bruce rejects immortality. Robin wins back Batgirl.

The End.

**

“ULTIMATE BATMAN”

Some years back, Marvel Comics decided to start a new “parallel universe” to their regular continuity that would restart their most popular characters and jettison the weight of four decades of backstory (and distinctly resemble the popular feature films that have been dominating this decade’s summers). They humbly called this the Ultimate Universe, and many have fantasized about DC Comics doing the same. Unfortunately, we instead got the perpetually late-shipping All-Star line, which has been entertaining but not the clean palette many hoped for (and which INFINITE CRISIS would have been a perfect excuse to provide).

If I could restart Batman, here’s a few things I know I’d do:

1) The series would be constructed as a finite story. I think ten years of my version would be great, and then someone else could start over again. Not that Batman’s story would be considered to cover only ten years of time (I imagine him having a twenty-year career), but it would be best to stick to the highlights.
2) The first six months to a year of issues would keep Bruce Wayne out of costume as we follow him from his parents’ death to the night he first dons the mask.
3) In his world-wide travels, he would train for a time with the Flying Graysons, establishing a link that would explain how Dick Grayson comes to be his ward.
4) I would be damned tempted to steal BATMAN BEGINS’ interpolation of Ra’s al Ghul into Bruce’s training, but I think instead that it would be best to establish a mysterious link between Ra’s and the Wayne family fortunes. Perhaps Bruce is ultimately a eugenics experiment by Ra’s, perhaps not.
5) The mask would have to cover his whole face, like BATMAN BEYOND’s or some of the alternate-reality versions seen on JUSTICE LEAGUE. In the modern day, he just couldn’t get away with leaving so much of his face exposed.
6) Harvey Dent is black. Scar tissue is white. The color-coding of Two-Face would actually be reversed, so that his good side is his dark side. Two-Face is also Batman’s most tragic foe, so he would be given a real and lasting redemption in the end. (And the Bat-universe gets a little more colorful.)
7) There would be no Jason Todd. He’s kind of pointless. Dick Grayson gets fired after he is captured and… tortured… by the Joker. Following the character arc usually forced on heroines instead, Dick Grayson rebuilds himself after his ordeal and becomes a “stronger person.” He would, for a time at least, be a darker and more dangerous vigilante than Batman. Also, I’m not sure I’d keep the name Nightwing. It’s sort of… odd. Have you noticed that most of the superheroes that have really caught on over the years have sensible, real-world words for names (even Spawn)? I realize Marvel has several different alternate-universe versions of a Batman pastiche named Nighthawk, but wouldn’t that make a better name for a grown-up Robin? Besides, DC used to publish a cowboy hero named Nighthawk whose costume emblem Bruce Timm stole for the BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES Nightwing costume. Marvel wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court.
8) Many years down the line, it would be revealed that it is Ra’s al Ghul who has been funding all of Batman’s rogue gallery. After all, where do they get those wonderful toys?

I know I had more, but I can’t remember the rest right now. Maybe some other time (but not next time).

September 20th, 2006
BAD GIRLS & WOLD NEWTONRY
I’ve realized I need to change how this blog is set up. Honestly, I don’t think anybody is going to read it (Why would they? I don’t visit forums, so I’m not making friends who might come by and check out the site.) but in the unlikely case they do, I’ve created a booby trap. Most professional creators avoid fan fiction specifically so they don’t leave themselves open to lawsuits (ASK GREG at the Gargoyles site opened my eyes to this). I don’t want to create a site people have to avoid at all costs, so I’m going to have to go back and retroactively hide all of the idea rambles behind cuts or jumps or whatever they’re called.

Which means I have to put something mildly entertaining on the front page that isn’t story capsules. Like reviews, or essays, or the usual rambles about one’s life most blogs contain. But, honestly, I don’t feel like doing that today.

So anyway…

**

BAD GIRLS

One of the most conspicuous comic book trends in the ‘90s was scantily-clad female vigilantes and superheroes whose sole reason for existence seemed to be to pose bent over with their butts in the air. It was pretty hilarious. What follows are a trio of ideas I had that followed the Bad Girl trend with varying degrees of seriousness.

THE FOX

This would actually have to be a licensed property, as basically it’s just a modern, female Zorro. (Get it? The FOX ‘cause she’s a sexy woman AND Zorro? Yeah, I know it’s lame.) For some reason, my Latino best friend thought it was offensive, but I’m still not sure I know why. It’s less exploitative than LADY RAWHIDE.

The Vega family has fallen from grace and now they’re just another lower-middle class family struggling to make ends meet in Los Angeles. After her elder brother joins a gang and gets put in a wheelchair for life, the family’s eldest daughter starts working to put herself through law school . . . by robbing from the rich (white- and blue-collar criminals) and giving to the poor. Zooming around LA on a suped-up motorcycle and carrying a samurai sword (because rapiers are just so old-fashioned), the Fox strikes a blow for justice!

KALI

“Good… Bad… She’s not a girl. She’s a GODDESS!” is what the ad copy would have read for this idea ultimately inspired by White Wolf’s old MAGE: THE ASCENSION RPG (specifically the Euthanatos).

London. The 1880s. Calliope Calcott is the daughter of the distinctly Richard Francis Burton-ish explorer and old India hand William Rufus Calcott. What nobody in polite society realizes is that she’s not the daughter of Sir William’s deceased British wife, but rather of his Indian mistress. And while that would be scandalous, that’s nothing compared to the fact that she’s also trained in the Tantric arts by the true cult of Kali and patrols the rooftops of London as a murderous vigilante! Our POV character in this strange, exotic tale would be a stand-in for William Butler Yeats. There’s nothing like a besotted poet for running around being rescued by a strong woman.

PATCHOULY

Yes, the misspelling is deliberate. Like most idiotic young men, I passed through my own “bad girl” phase (in that they were all I was attracted to) and one of the key attractors for the psychotic bohemian women I liked was the scent of patchouli. Since they all behaved how gypsies are depicted in Hollywood, I came up with a silly concept about a sexy gypsy with a magical eye-patch (yes, the title was a totally hilarious pun) who fought neo-Nazi bikers. I fleshed out some basics for the story (including the idea that the leader of the bikers thought our heroine had somehow gained Odin’s missing eye) and then began researching real-life gypsies to flesh things out more.

And then I discovered I didn’t like real-life gypsies much. I read a couple of books – an anthropological survey of gypsies in California during the 1970s and a paean to the gypsies suffering from ethnic cleansing in Eastern Europe titled BURY ME STANDING – and was deeply unimpressed. To be diplomatic, I will simply say that gypsies believe cats are unclean because they “take their dirt into themselves” when they wash with their tongues, and that I don’t like anyone who doesn’t like cats. I will refrain from commenting on their other stupid customs, superstitions, and disregard for non-gypsies. Keep in mind that both of the books I read were essentially pro-gypsy.

In any case, I dropped the story.

**

Did I ever explain why I never did my review of Isabel Allende’s ZORRO? Basically, because I just felt that my complaints were petty, and that I should just follow Thumper’s mother’s advice and “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Now admittedly, if I was going to do a serious critical essay, I would have to address the book’s failings – including my main point, that Isabel de Remeau is an almost archetypal example of what is referred to in fan fiction as a Mary Sue character, and that the book itself frequently almost feels like fan fiction – but I probably wouldn’t want to devote more than a couple of paragraphs to the review. Overall, I enjoyed the book; I shouldn’t waste anyone’s time complaining about it. Allende’s the professional author, not me.

One thing I did find amusing in Allende’s book was her integration of various multimedia versions of Zorro, including the Disney series and an old Warner Brothers cartoon show. This makes me wonder if Allende was provided with background material by the Zorro copyright holders, or if she is perhaps familiar with Wold Newtonry.

Wold Newtonry is essentially a literary game invented by science fiction author Philip Jose Farmer in his books TARZAN ALIVE and DOC SAVAGE: AN APOCALYPTIC LIFE in which he attempted to discover the “true” history of the supposedly real versions of these two pulp heroes. An appendix to both books detailed the surprisingly large number of fictional characters who were related to each other (Doc and Tarzan, for example, are first cousins), and all subtly superhuman due to mutations caused by a radioactive meteorite that landed near the English village of Wold Newton in the late 1700s. The concept sparked a lot of interest in people of roughly my age (it seems) who came to these old pulp heroes largely through Farmer’s books, and has been continued on a number of websites and in the book MYTHS FOR THE MODERN AGE from Monkeybrain Press.

In addition to all the stories I have yet to write, I also have a few Wold Newton projects I have yet to complete.

WHO THE &*^% IS LUPIN III?

Lupin the Third is my absolute favorite manga and anime character – not even barring Gatchaman or Saito Hajime – but exactly how he’s descended from his namesake, the early 20th Century French pulp character Arsene Lupin, is a mystery creator Monkeypunch has never bothered to reveal. My attempts to disclose the true origin of Lupin III and company have been indefinitely delayed by Tokyopop’s extremely slow printing schedule for the second volume of the manga (which, as the original text, would be deemed the most accurate for literary archaeology) and because I’ve realized I don’t know that much about Japanese pulp fiction. I could certainly write a Euro-/American-centric version of Lupin III’s history, but I feel that would be unfair.

CRYING FREEMAN

I’m gay for Crying Freeman. Those who know the series can read the TOMCAT section and see that, amongst everything else, TOMCAT owes part of it’s genesis to Kazuo Koike’s over-the-top martial arts/crime/conspiracy/sexploitation manga and anime. If other Wold Newton writers have brought the SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and the like into the Wold Newtonverse, Freeman belongs there too. It seems obvious, for example, that the 108 Dragons is simply an alternate name for Fu Manchu’s Si-Fan… which raises the totally geeky question of who would win in a fight: Shang-Chi or Crying Freeman? (I’m waiting for Dark Horse to finish reprinting the manga before I write this.)

THE BEAST

… is the original title for KING KONG, and it is what I would title my “pulp-porn” pastiche of that movie if I ever wrote it. In addition to TARZAN ALIVE and DOC SAVAGE: AN APOCALYPTIC LIFE, Farmer also wrote a trilogy of novellas featuring his own post-modern, neuroses-laden pastiches of those characters. A FEAST UNKNOWN, LORD OF THE TREES, and THE MAD GOBLIN feature “Lord Grandrith” and “Doc Caliban” wallowing in sex and violence as they attempt to defeat the evil cabal that engineered their birth. The style of the books is very pulpy and very pornographic, so I’ll dub it “pulp-porn.”

(Even more than the biographies, the Grandrith/Caliban books are obviously part of the inspiration for Warren Ellis’ PLANETARY.)

After the defeat of the Nine (and possibly after they take in a movie together and see Jackson’s “King Kong”), Caliban invites Grandrith back to his base in New York. There he shows Grandrith the preserved corpse of the giant (but not too giant) Beast he helped capture on a remote South Pacific isle. He wants Grandrith to help identify whether the Beast is a hominid or ape (is he a mangani or Gigantopithecus?).

It turns out Caliban was the model for the original Driscoll, the hunky first mate. His encounter with the actress was far less romantic than the film, and hers with Kong was far more erotic. The actress uses Caliban as a shield from the attentions of the tramp steamer’s crew. He is young and impressionable and has little experience with women. The actress does not escape sexual congress with the Beast. Her abuse by man and monster and Caliban’s own sexual problems leads her to reject him in the end and so deepens Caliban’s sexual neuroses.

In keeping with the greater “realism” of the Grandrith/Caliban series, the dinosaurs are in fact descendants of the giant monitor lizards that once roamed Australia and parts of the South Pacific (including the island the “hobbit” fossils have been discovered on). The other monsters would also be survivors from the Stone Age that were wiped out by mankind.

**

And that’s enough for now. I actually wrote very little of today’s blog today, which makes me feel bad, but perhaps I can work on something more later.

September 13th, 2006
CAPSULES
CAPSULES

Ok, this week I’m doing short capsules of stories because . . . well, because I feel like it. My head is full to bursting with stories and I want to at least get the germ of these things out there.

[I feel like I should write something about the crappy start September’s gotten off to – the death of Steve Irwin, the burning of Lea Hernandez’s home, the petty politicking surrounding the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks – but I know more compassionate and more insightful people than myself have written about these terrible events. . . .

Except . . .

It’s absurd, but I feel like I knew Steve Irwin as well as or better than my aunts and uncles. He shared so much of his life with us through Animal Planet that I feel a sincere loss at his passing. “Passing.” I never use that word; it feels like it’s too soft, too comforting for something as cold and hard as death. This time, though, I’ve got to use it to soften my own ache and shock. Steve Irwin wasn’t a TV star; he was a hero.

And best of luck to you, Lea. We’ll help as soon as we can. We had to buy a new car this summer and cash is kind of tight.]

Anyway . . .

Let’s start with the silly.

***

BATMAN/WOLVERINE: SHADOWSKILL
48 Page Prestige Format Special

Batman! Wolverine! The League of Shadows versus the Hand! Do I really need to write any more? (Ok, it’s not a comedy, but how seriously can you take it?)

***

CAPTAIN AMERICA/WONDER WOMAN: LOVE CONQUERS ALL
64 Page Prestige Format Special

I think that as soon as I finish all of the capsules (which will probably take me several weeks), I’m going to begin scripting with this story because it’s completely unpublishable. Not only has Paul Levitz sworn there won’t be any DC/Marvel crossovers until Joe Quesada is fired, neither publisher would approve what is essentially a burlesque of two of their iconic characters. (Unless I was Howard Chaykin, and I’m not.) My intention is to explore the themes of female domination that William Moulton Marston had in mind when he created Wonder Woman, so in a way I’ll actually be bringing one of those characters closer to her original iconic status.

The story begins in media res with Wonder Woman and the Howling Commandos storming a German castle to free a man named Steve. She busts down a door, finds a muscular blonde man in bondage, and lifts him up for a kiss . . . but he isn’t longtime WW boytoy Steve Trevor, he’s Steve Rogers! And so begins the untold tale of how Marvel and DC’s original patriotic heroes fell in love. We flashback to Captain America being the one to crash on Amazon Island while pursuing a Nazi saboteur and how Diana appropriates his original three-cornered shield to defend the land of liberty. Then it’s on to a villainous plot by the Thule Society, Baroness Paula von Gunther, and the Red Skull to find some sort of mythical Greek artifact (Pandora’s box perhaps?), Etta Candy flirting with Bucky, and finally Eleanor Roosevelt becoming the first female president of the USA. We end with Captain America as the first man to learn the self-improvement secrets of the Amazon . . . and (half-)dressed like Brad Pitt in TROY (except in red, white, and blue).

***

CAPTAIN IRELAND
Ongoing comic book series

This would actually be funnier if it was a MAX series set inside the Marvel Universe, but it can function just fine as a creator-owned series (but that way I don’t get to do guest appearances by Banshee, Captain Britain, or Wolverine).

A young man walks into a government office in Dublin one day saying he’d like to be Ireland’s official superhero . . . and he’d like to get paid for it, if you please. The officials are floored when the former slacker spins them a tale of a mysterious meteorite and demonstrates his abilities. They set him up as the country’s new champion – which mainly involves PR stunts and appearances as Ireland doesn’t really have a super-villain problem. Then, of course, villains start showing up because there is a hero to fight and our barely-reformed slacker discovers being a superhero is hard work. That’s when the surly, drunken leprechaun that really gave him his powers shows up and demands a cut of the cash.

I’m Irish-American. I’m allowed to write these things.

***

GALATEA
Ongoing comic book series or manga

A harem-style romantic comedy that would attempt to subvert the clichés of the genre. Our presumed protagonist is a girl-shy hermetic alchemist living in Provence on the cusp of the Renaissance, but the real heroine is Galatea – THE Galatea from the myth of Pygmalion. After her creator and lover died, she lived on, passing into suspended animation as a statue until a new man would find her and love her. She’s been the mistress of Caesars and kings, passing on the best of each culture to the next, but she just wants to be free.

Most harem comedies inevitably end with the culturally conservative reassurance that the hero doesn’t choose the alien/magical/robot girl but instead takes to wife the socially-approved girl-next-door. In the end, the male lead of GALATEA would live happily ever after with the woman who has been under his nose the whole time, but that’s because both he and she have been transformed by the education of Galatea. Galatea herself ends freed of her curse and seeks out a new life as an independent woman.

***

JLA: JUSTICE NINJA FIVE
48 or 64 Page Prestige Format Special

The Justice League as Gatchaman! The mysterious Dr. Kasei (trans. “Mars”) has gathered five remarkable teens from across Japan to defeat a shadowy terrorist organization. Their leader is Shoki Kentaro, an orphan raised on a farm in Hokkaido, but possessing strength and speed beyond mortal ken. His second-in-command is Ueno Bruce, the half-Japanese son of the murdered industrialist who funded Dr. Kasei’s plans. Third is Haniwa Hime, a clay statue discovered in an ancient Jomon-era tomb who has been given life by the spirit of the legendary Queen Pimiko. Fourth is Atom Boy, a diminutive robot with the personality of a child. And fifth is . . . I dunno. A tubby Green Lantern, I guess.

Anyway, they have some Gatchaman-like adventures fighting a cross between the Joker and Berg Katse (like that’s hard to do), his Lex Luthor-ish chief scientist, and the alien intelligence that controls them (presumably Brainiac). In the final battle, their super-plane is destroyed when brave Kentaro sacrifices himself to kamikaze dive it into the bad guy’s solar reactor – and, of course, emerges stronger than ever with his full Kryptonian powers unleashed. Dr. Kasei has died transforming himself into giant size to battle a kaiju the bad guys unleashed, and Atom Boy was nearly destroyed, so the government suspends the Seigi-go Ninjatai.

The epilogue shows us our heroes turning into other anime characters as Shoki Kentaro visits Ueno Bruce at the Ueno Industries tower in Tokyo. Kentaro himself has become an analogue for Goku from DRAGONBALL, Haniwa Hime has four friends and is attending middle school in a sailor suit, Atom Boy has had himself rebuilt into a more adult form and become 8-Man and the Flash simultaneously, and . . . I dunno. I guess fat boy (who really would get more respect and page time than this capsule indicates) is lending his piloting skills to leading Japan into space with transforming fighter planes or something. Kentaro tells Bruce he can relax and enjoy his life; Kentaro has everything in hand. Bruce watches him leave and then goes down to the sub-basement where his giant, bat-faced mecha lurks and THE BIG O’s borrowing from Batman comes full circle.

And things are left open for a sequel.

***

THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
3 or 4 Issue Limited Series

A flagrantly atheistic satire of religion in general and Catholicism in specific. It turns out the thieves crucified alongside Jesus Christ – who bear a suspicious resemblance to Bing Crosby and Bob Hope – were freed by the same conspiracy that spirited off the so-called messiah. The thieves flee across the landscape of the New Testament chasing after a Mary Magdalene who looks like Dorothy Lamour and being pursued by a Saul of Tarsus (AKA St. Paul) who looks like Anthony Quinn. In the end, they fake the roadside encounter that converted Saul to Paul and lose Magdalene to a crafty Jesus who is smuggling himself and his pregnant wife to Gaul. There will be songs.

“We’re on the Road to Damascus/We don’t know why, so don’t ask us…”

I’m ex-Catholic. I’m allowed to write these things.

***

THE SECRET JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK
6 Issue Limited Series

A barely-competent Lewis and Clark eat dogs and encounter prehistoric monsters as they journey across the Louisiana Purchase. Giant ground sloths!

***

SEVEN SWORDS
7 Issue Limited Series

Again, this one’s not a comedy, but the premise of it is patently ridiculous. A pastiche of SEVEN SAMURAI starring pastiches of Conan, Elric, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, Red Sonja, and a couple of other characters (probably a wuxia warrior and . . . honestly, I can’t remember. I had it all worked out once but I don’t have those notes anymore.). One of the jokes was going to be that the Conan character was old and all the women were more attracted to the younger characters. And the villagers would eventually be shown as more evil than their attackers. I hate small towns.

***

Ok, that’s enough for today. My legs cramping up. I type with my feet (just kidding). As always, everything that isn't copyright somebody else is copyright Sean Tait Bircher 2006.

September 6th, 2006
HI-YO SILVER!
The Lone Ranger is one of the heroes of my youth. The local channels in Topeka still ran black and white programming like THE LONE RANGER with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, there was a Filmation cartoon series that ran on CBS’ Saturday mornings as part of a block with Tarzan and Zorro, and finally there was the early ‘80s motion picture THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER and all of its attendant controversy (Clayton Moore being forbidden to wear a mask at convention signings, the lead actor having to be overdubbed, etc.). He was quite a popular character back when I was 10.

There have been two attempts at reviving the Lone Ranger in less than 5 years. The first was a horrible aborted pilot for the WB that tried to force the Lone Ranger into the network’s well-established youth-oriented approach (the stench of SMALLVILLE was all over it). I couldn’t manage to sit through even half of the film. Sometime this month, collectibles and comics company Dynamic Forces will be publishing a new Lone Ranger comic written by Brett Matthews, author of the SERENITY tie-in mini-series from Dark Horse, with “art direction” by John Cassaday of PLANETARY and ASTONISHING X-MEN. It looks good. In fact, it looks a lot like what I would do . . . but not quite.

***

THE LONE RANGER
A screenplay (or, maybe, a novel . . . or a screenplay and accompanying novelization)

I’ll admit, I don’t have this one worked out perfectly by any means.

The main goal of my approach would be to blend the Lone Ranger mythology more thoroughly with Texas history. I’ve often thought that the character’s creators picked the Texas Rangers because it sounded good, and that if they thought Arizona or New Mexico or Nevada (all of which also had rangers) had the same “heft” they would have chosen another state just as readily. It is completely ahistorical to think the Texas Rangers could have been wiped out by killing six men in an ambush. The Texas Rangers at that time were a large, loose-knit organization spread out across the state. There’s no reason John Reid shouldn’t have taken Tonto’s horse and ridden to the nearest town to summon help and hunt Butch Cavendish down . . .

. . . Unless he felt he couldn’t trust the other rangers.

There were good Texas Rangers and there were bad Texas Rangers, and the truth is that the bad rangers were really, really bad. Those men were genocidal bastards, harassing Indians and Mexicans to ensure white dominance (something Joe Lansdale and Tim Truman played with in their Topps mini-series in the ‘90s). What if Butch Cavendish, the Lone Ranger’s Joe Chill, was another ranger?

We begin with a sepia-toned flashback. We’re on a Texas farmstead and there’s some sort of celebration going on (we learn later it’s the wedding of John’s older brother Dan). Ominously, a trio of Indians seems to be sneaking up on the farm. When we see them clearly, we realize they’re only kids – early teens out on a prank. Surprise, surprise when they’re caught by a plucky white boy: young John Reid. He’s got a gun and two of the Indians run away while the third holds his ground (Tonto, of course). The boys are impressed with each other’s courage and tentative smiles begin on their faces when suddenly a big, dark, moustached man looms over them. Close-up on his six-shooter as he takes aim at Tonto . . . and fires. The screen goes black.

And then, the audience is jarred out of the hypnotic Celtic fiddle music playing in the background (the Reids are Irish or Scottish; I’m not sure which yet) by the stirring sounds of the cavalry charge from the overture to Rossini’s WILLIAM TELL. The title comes up in silver, of course, and we fade in to a busy metropolitan street (Baltimore or Philadelphia, I figure) in 18—(I haven’t figured out the dates yet). Pan over to an opera house where tonight’s performance is, you guessed it, WILLIAM TELL. Inside, struggling actor John Reid is getting costumed as one of Tell’s fellow rebels, a spear-carrier role with no lines and minimum stage time.

A telegram courier runs through the costumed crowd. “Reid! John Reid” he shouts (introducing our hero by his surname first is a nod to the fact that he had no given name originally; the Lone Ranger was the first Man with No Name). The telegram is the cryptic message “HI-YO SILVER.” Reid tears off his costume and runs out of the theater. He’s rich!

One cross-country train ride later and he’s back at the Reid homestead with his brother Dan. The old mine dad and Dan spent so many years working on has finally paid off. And how has John’s schoolin’ been going? John admits he quit college to stride the boards. Dan decks him.

We’re introduced to Dan’s wife, young son, and his brother-in-law: Butch Cavendish. This version of Cavendish is basically a super-evil version of real-life ranger Bigfoot Wallace, a six-foot something hairy badass who picks his teeth with a Bowie Knife. He’s a feared Indian killer and the quickest draw this side of the Pecos. He’s got a grudge against the Reids a mile wide: if they’re Irish, he’s Scottish (and vice versa); he’s mad Dan took over their dad’s old ranger troop instead of him (Butch is about five years older than Dan, making him a decade or so older than John); he empathizes with the Billy Idol song WHITE WEDDING; and he knows the Reids have stumbled onto wealth. That, and he once shot John.

Yep, when Butch Cavendish pulled the trigger on young Tonto that fine summer day without even stopping to ask questions first, young John threw himself in the way. Papa Reid and the other straight-shooters of the ranger troop never trusted Cavendish after that. John, meanwhile, still wears the scar.

Somewhere in here we also have to mention a rogue lone Indian – a vigilante hunting Indian hunters. The Mexicans call him the Idiot, because who’d be stupid enough to hunt Texas Rangers, but his Indian name is Tonto.

So, the brothers have just had a fight and haven’t quite made up when word comes that a bank robber named Collins has fled into the wild. The Reids and Cavendish gather up the rest of the rangers (“Wait! Where are the rest of the fellas?” “They’re out on patrol.” “We can’t wait for them. We’re losing light!”) ride out to the box canyon. The rangers loyal to Cavendish wait for them in ambush; Cavendish himself rides alongside the Reids. When they get there, the inevitable ambush happens. Cavendish brutally shoots Dan Reid twice at point-blank range. The good guys are cut down and the bad guys plant evidence to make it look like Indians did it.

John lies badly wounded, gasping for breath, tears streaming down his face. Butch Cavendish looms over him again and cocks his gun . . . and then puts it away. “I’ve already wasted a bullet on you once, boy. I’ll just let the buzzards finish you off.” John Reid painfully crawls for shelter in a scene reminiscent of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS or THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.

Here I’m somewhat torn. Cavendish has to be smug enough to not finish off Reid, but is he smart enough to post a guard to make sure the buzzards do finish off the last honest Texas Ranger? It’s really material to how Tonto makes his entrance. If there is a guard, Tonto slips up behind him and cuts his throat (our Tonto is one bad mofo). If there isn’t, then he’s just a pair of ominous moccasins walking up to the dying Reid. In any case, he walks up to Reid, peers down into the camera, and says “Huh.” He can’t believe what he just found.

Reid wakes up in Tonto’s camp. Tonto explains (in twangy vernacular, rather than stilted pidgin) that he’s the Indian kid Reid saved one time. Reid’s unimpressed; he knows the Indian is the ranger killer. They have a heart-to-heart. Tonto’s family was killed by the Rangers; Cavendish might have led the troop that time, but it still happened under Papa Reid’s watch, etc. They owe each other their lives and they owe Cavendish vengeance. Reid can’t go back to civilization; he doesn’t know whom he can trust. They agree to work together.

Reid has a particularly gallows-humor twist to his revenge. If the Cavendish gang wanted his silver so much, they can have it . . . as bullets. [And yes, I know Warren Ellis did the same thing in PLANETARY. It’s an obvious twist and a much more sensible explanation for silver bullets than the ‘80s movie’s “they fly straighter” and I’ve had it in mind for years. Also, they are not coated with mercury.]

They go on their revenge spree. Along the way, Reid’s horse gets killed and he acquires Silver. He realizes he can’t kill in cold blood, and they resolve to shoot to wound rather than kill (a plot point that should logically involve his sister-in-law, whom he gifts with a bunch of the silver and sends out east). And they discover some big Plot Point where the story becomes about saving others rather than avenging themselves (like in BATMAN BEGINS when the Ra’s al Ghul fear toxin plot comes in; Hollywood demands it – a hero has to be about more than himself). I’m still stuck on that big Plot Point; I know it’s not rescuing President Grant, but I’m not sure what it is. Probably saving an Indian tribe from attack.

In any case, after riding all over the Wild West and using his acting skills and makeup kit to disguise himself and spy on his enemies, the Lone Ranger faces off against Butch Cavendish. It comes down to, of course, a quick-draw shootout and Reid wins by blowing off Cavendish’s trigger finger or shooting a big hole in his hand.

And now that I’ve written all that, I realize I need to give Tonto a personal nemesis. Okay, Cavendish isn’t the Bigfoot Wallace look-alike; he has a right-hand man who is and is personally responsible for killing Tonto’s wife. This guy does not survive; as Tonto points out, it was the Lone Ranger who made the vow not to kill.

In the end, realizing their actions have probably made as many enemies as friends, and that someone has to watch the watchmen, the Lone Ranger and Tonto ride off into the sunset.

THE END

***

That was so long I’m just going to have to skip the ZORRO review. My hands are tired. Maybe I’ll do that next time, but I think I’ll probably start a series of DC/Marvel “work-for-hire stories that will never be:”

THE AUTHORITY FILM SCRIPT

BATMAN/WOLVERINE: SHADOWSKILL

CAPTAIN AMERICA/WONDER WOMAN: LOVE CONQUERS ALL

EXCALIBUR: KNIGHTS OF PENDRAGON

GREEN ARROW: TEAM ARROW

JUSTICE NINJA FIVE

ULTIMATE BATMAN/YOUNG BRUCE WAYNE TV SERIES

I know I’ve got more. I just can’t remember them all.

Eventually I’ll get back to the creator-owned stories:

BELFAST DOG

CAPTAIN IRELAND

DRAGON or THE FOUR GUARDIANS TETRALOGY: SEIRYU, SUZAKU, BYAKKO, & GENBU.

GALATEA

HOUND OF WAR

THE HOUNDSKEEPER’S DAUGHTER AND THE KING OF CATS

THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS

THE SECRET JOURNAL OF LEWIS & CLARK

SEVEN SWORDS

SWORD-SAINT SAKURA

UNTITLED LEFTIST STAR WARS PASTICHE

YAMATO TAKERU

And my sprawling, epic KING ARTHUR series. Oh, and of course, all of those things not owned by someone else are copyright Sean Tait Bircher 2006.

September 3rd, 2006
RANDOM PUBLIC DOMAIN IDEAS
... Meaning ideas based on public domain characters, not that my ideas are public domain. All of these ideas are copyright me 2006.

(Where's the Lone Ranger? I don't have access to my notes or the book I was going to review, so that will be next time.)

There are a lot of sequels to Victorian fiction appearing on the bookshelves recently, so here's some of my ideas.

BRIDE OF DRACULA (or HARKER): There've been several books about Mina's life after Dracula, but what about Jonathan? Many commentators agree the true threat of Dracula in the novel isn't how he affects the women, but how he threatens the sexuality of the male characters. This novel would be about Jonathan's gradual, irreversible descent into Victorian London's seemy underworld and would feature prostitutes, opium dens, and Oscar Wilde.

SON OF DRACULA: Quincy Harker, son of Jonathan and Mina, joins the Lost Generation as he searches for the truth behind his parentage. Psychologically, if not biologically, he is Dracula's child, shaped by the events of that autumn of 1887. Biologically, though, is he really Jonathan's son? Or was there more to it when Mina wrote that all of her "saviors" were Quincy's fathers?

DARLING: The kids from PETER PAN are all grown up. Michael has died in the Great War. John (was that his name?) roams Limehouse seeking the forbidden pleasures of the orient, a beautiful Indian maiden and an otherworldly pixie stuck in his mind. Wendy meets Michael's former captain, an embittered fellow named James with a horrible case of survivor's guilt . . . and a missing hand. They fall in love, of course.

August 31st, 2006
TOMCAT CONTINUED
TOMCAT CONTINUED

So, I abruptly left off last time by saying Tomcat is bisexual. There are a couple of reasons for this. The primary one is satire. I didn’t want the audience to be entirely comfortable with this character, and I wanted them to question their preconceptions. He isn’t an effete David Niven cat burglar; he’s young and angry and violent. There would be a “Kickboxer” homage/parody story arc in which our normally slick and polished hero would be bruised and shirtless most of the time. The disturbing thing would be that he was obviously enjoying himself. That, and he was having sex with his primary opponent.

The other primary reason Tomcat is bisexual is that I wanted the series to appeal to female manga fans.

Anyway, why this story never went anywhere is that even though I had a great concept and some well-realized characters, I never had a strong conception for any actual plots. The opening story with Tom seducing a girl as an alibi and then going out to steal something is about as far as I got, and I never even knew what is was he was stealing or what city they were in. I have to admit, though, that even this brief set of notes makes me want to give the story another try and it’s helped me define things a bit more.

(The truth is that I never even named the girl until I started the first entry of this blog.)

***

Tom did find a certain kind of life as a character in a role-playing game. The game wound up incorporating more of the super-heroic back story than the cat burglar side of the character. I also introduced a Joker to the Gargoyle’s Batman, appropriately named Harlequin (look it up; Harlequin is a guy, not a gal), and the sickest joke in the bunch: Columbine, a sort of mix of the Joker’s Daughter and Harley Quinn. Since the game was set in the early 2000s, Columbine dressed in a black trenchcoat and had a penchant for submachine guns.

Maybe I’ll write about the games sometime, but not for now. I’ll get to my latter-day aspirations toward being a game designer later.

***

REVIEW!

CASANOVA
Written by Matt Fraction, Art by Gabriel Ba, Lettering by Sean Konot.
Monthly from Image Comics

Casanova Quinn loves his job. He’s a handsome, dashing thief and cat burglar living in a world of high adventure and high fashion. Things start going wrong when he’s hired to steal the Seychelle Ruby . . . which it turns out is actually Ruby Seychelle, a beautiful sex robot.

Yes, a sex robot.

Things go very wrong when he’s interrupted mid-job by agents of E.M.P.I.R.E., the global police force commanded by his father. It turns out his twin sister, the beautiful and honorable E.M.P.I.R.E. agent Zephyr Quinn, has been killed on a mission.

While investigating her death, Cass finds himself on a parallel world where he’s blackmailed by a bandage-faced supervillain named Newman Xeno to infiltrate that world’s version of E.M.P.I.R.E. by posing as that version’s world of himself. It turns out that world’s Casanova Quinn was the good child, and now Cass finds himself living as his own evil twin.

Trust me, the actual story is much more complicated and much simpler than it sounds.

CASANOVA is Matt Fraction’s reinvention of ‘60s/’70s sci-fi and super-spy coolness. Storywise it seems most heavily indebted to Michael Moorcock’s Jerry Cornelius stories and Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury comics, while Gabriel Ba’s art could be described as a mix of Eduardo Barreto’s work on 100 BULLETS and Jean-Claude Forest’s original BARBARELLA comics. The whole adds up to something deeper, weirder, and more original than the sum of its parts.

CASANOVA is the second Image book to be published in the format pioneered by Warren Ellis with FELL, a gritty police procedural. The books have sixteen pages of comics story, four pages of accompanying text, and retail for $1.99 – a full dollar less than the cheapest 22-page comics on the stands and without the ads. The idea is to produce “smart pop culture” -- short, dense reads that tell complete stories in of themselves. CASANOVA is marginally unsuccessful at the latter, but very successful at the former.

When I sat down to re-read issues one through three for this review, I discovered several confusing plot points (particularly the rebooting of Ruby Seychelle into the body of Fabula Berserko, twice) were succinctly explained in single lines of dialogue that were almost meaningless unless you remembered the exact events of the previous issue. I’ve got a great memory of stories, but even I forget what seem like inconsequential details when I wait a month between issues. Which is where CASANOVA succeeds: the stories are only sixteen pages long, but they’re so full of rich and vibrant detail you might read re-read it three times before you pick up on everything. Some might say that’s unclear storytelling; me, I’ll call it “complicated” and say that’s a compliment.

END OF REVIEW!

***

Honestly, CASANOVA is the book I wish TOMCAT had been. Sometimes, what with the familial angst and incestuous undercurrents, I almost feel like Matt Fraction read my mind . . . which means that if I really try to get TOMCAT off the ground, I’ll have to work hard to make it feel very unlike CASANOVA. Thankfully, I suck at science fiction, so I’m forced by my own limitations to stay closer to the super-spy/heist thriller aspects of the story. Also, having the main character’s mom bounce around nearly naked is a lot creepier than his sister. (What? Isn’t Zephyr dead? Go read the book.)

NEXT TIME: As promised, my version of how to reinvent the Lone Ranger. Plus, I guess I’ll review Isabel Allende’s ZORRO, since the characters are vaguely similar.

August 30th, 2006
WELCOME TO HALF-TOLD STORIES
WELCOME TO HALF-TOLD STORIES

Hello, my name is Sean Tait Bircher. I was going to use the nom-de-plume Sean Tait, so I could complain about work and still have plausible deniability, but I just did a Google search and discovered there's a lot of Sean Taits in the world, but I'm the only Sean Tait Bircher. That's kind of cool.

This year I’ll be thirty-three years old. I’ve been a feckless dreamer for most of that time, but I’ve got to change that or I’m going to continue to work jobs I want to complain about on my blog for the rest of my life. My dream since I was sixteen has been to be a writer. I’ve dreamt of writing comics, novels, screenplays, short stories, television, and pornography, but I’ve put few of those stories to paper. This blog is going to be self-therapy, a place where I can force myself back into writing regularly. Maybe by the time I’m thirty-four, I’ll be able to say I’m a writer instead of a dreamer.

The cornerstone of this blog is going to be giving away all those stories I’ve had in my head for so long. What you’ll be getting will be notes, outlines, essays in essence of stories not yet written. If I get back some positive feedback from the blogosphere that helps me shape them into finished pieces, that’s great. If by putting these notes into semi-coherent written forms I’m just able to leap the hurdle inside me that keeps me from writing them, even though nobody ever reads this blog, that’s great too. If all I do is put these orphaned stories out onto the internet and they languish and die because nobody reads them and I never write them, even that will be better than keeping them trapped in my own head.

I’ll be contributing at least once a week, hopefully more frequently. To give some sort of greater coherency to the blog, I’ll also be writing reviews of comics, movies, novels, and television. There might very well be cat photos, too.

***

Last week was the twentieth anniversary of my local comic book shop. It’s now part-owned by the Dragon’s Lair chain based in Austin, Texas, but it used to be part-owned by Antarctic Press (San Antonio’s local anime-influenced small press comics label) and went by the name Excalibur. As part of their anniversary celebration, Dragon’s Lair held signings by a number of comics professionals. The one I went to get an autograph from was Gail Simone.

Ms. Simone is best known for her work at DC, which includes “The Atom,” “Birds of Prey,” and “Secret Six.” I’ve been following “Secret Six” because she revived one of my favorite B-list villains: Cat-Man. I had a nice, brief conversation with her in which I failed to introduce myself (not that I would expect her to remember me if I had). I complimented her on her work and managed not to be intimidated the way I was when I got Warren Ellis and Michael Moorcock’s autographs on other occasions (but those are stories for another time). She mentioned that “Secret Six” would be continuing beyond it’s six-issue run in some form, and that she hoped to do a Batman versus Cat-Man story that would journey from Batman’s home turf in the city to Cat-Man’s in the jungle. I said I’d eagerly buy a Cat-Man solo series …

… Because I once dreamed of writing one.

Shortly after Catwoman traded in her purple tights for practical leather, got breast reduction surgery, and became protector of Gotham City’s slums, I decided it would be a perfect time to reintroduce Cat-Man, one of Batman’s silliest villains. Cat-Man is Catwoman in male drag; the character was introduced in the fifties so that they could reuse a bunch of Batman vs. Catwoman plots by featuring Bat-Woman vs. Cat-Man. My concept was going to exploit this to the fullest in a super-villain comedy.

The idea was to do a sort of super-take on George MacDonald Fraser’s Sir Harry Flashman, a cowardly rogue who somehow always comes out ahead. My Cat-Man would have been a wannabe jet-setter super thief, similar to Lupin III but far more pathetic. He stayed in third-rate hotels, was bullied by more competent super-villains, and his only friend was a grouchy old tomcat who peed on his costume when he didn’t get fed on time. One of the jokes would have been Cat-Man constantly trying new costumes, including a male version of the abandoned purple tights and thigh-high boots and one in black and white that had everyone making Looney Tunes jokes. It was an amusing concept, but obviously its time is long past.

The Cat-Man idea, however, began morphing into something that stood on its own, something quite different from what I had originally envisioned. That idea is the first of my “Half-Told Stories.”

***

TOMCAT (An ongoing comic book series)

It’s the 1980s. Greed is good. The popular imagination is dominated by tycoons and CEOs – “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” Iacocca, and Trump. Los Angeles and New York are gang-infested hellholes. Vice cops in pastel-colored shirts work the Miami waterfront and Belgian-accented kick-boxers duke it out in top-secret competitions. One man is trying to take advantage of it all.

We meet Thomas Wright at a fashionable nightclub. Dark, handsome, and somewhat cruel, he picks up pretty young woman named Katie Rice and takes her back to his penthouse suite. They have a nightcap (during which he slips her a sedative) and rough, “Basic Instinct”-style sex. When she slips into post-coital unconsciousness, he slips on dark clothes and jumps out the window. He’s on his way to work and she’s his alibi.

Thomas Wright is a cat-burglar, preying on the bloated fatcats of ‘80s corporate greed. (Why the ‘80s? Partially nostalgia, partially for satiric reasons, but mainly because modern fiber-optic cameras and digital security make a modern cat-burglar’s life nigh-impossible.) Tomcat is not a nice guy. He’s cold, distant, and a bit of a sado-masochist.

As we later learn, he’s also the son of the Gargoyle, New York’s caped crusader, and the Gargoyle’s ex-villain (and ex-wife) the Feline Fatale (a name that definitely needs work). He’s got a serious Oedipal complex going on with his parents; dad’s an abusive pastiche of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and his mother’s … weird. She would be introduced sunbathing naked on the French Riviera; it would always be vague whether she really has an incestuous interest in her son or if she’s just got a sick sense of humor.

Tom has an older brother (Byron Wright, Jr AKA “BJ”) and a younger sister (Maggie) who patrol the night together as the new Gargoyle and the Rook. His brother is nakedly competitive with him. In fact, the only person whom he really seems to love and who loves him back is his sister Maggie. But this is all buried deep in the background as the story begins.

Tom’s real problem for now is that his alibi isn’t any good. Katie is a teenage runaway, and soon she’s on the run with him when the police come snooping around. Katie, or Kitty as Tom soon renames her, serves as our POV character as we get deeper into the seedy life Tom lives. The life of an international super-criminal is filled with danger, deceit, drugs, and decadence.

Tomcat is also bisexual. More on that soon, plus a review of Matt Fraction's "CASANOVA."

NEXT HALF-TOLD TALE: My Lone Ranger

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