Monday, February 8, 2016

Nerds can not be Satisfied: Ninja Turtle Edition

This emergence of geek culture has been pretty awesome for everyone that enjoys comics. We have actual well-made films adapted from comic book heroes now. Which is huge. In case you forgot, before Marvel started taking more responsibility for their live action properties, we had to watch crap like Captain America, and Lou Ferrigno's Hulk tv show. And the Super Friends. And Joel Schumacher's garbage bin of Batman films.
This exists.
My point is, die hard comic book fans had much to complain about up until recently. Now there are actual comic book writers producing comic book movies, and although there are things that need to be changed and rearranged for film, there are fewer executives forcing major changes to characters and plots that they don't care about or understand. Comic nerds ought to be rejoicing. But, as with everything, people forget things. Like how much progress has been made.
maybe this will help those memories...
I bring this up because, recently the trailer for the second Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was released. Predictably, it was met with disdain from old school TMNT fans. I don't understand any of the arguments meant to smear the film that hasn't even been released yet. I get why fanboys distrust Michael Bay (the Transformers franchise sucks). But I really can't understand what fans of the original Turtles comics, or cartoon show, expect. Eastman and Peter Laird created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic in 1984. Soon this comic was turned into an animated cartoon series in 1987. The comic (and cartoon) is about four people-sized mutated turtles who live in a sewer in New York, and practice martial arts with their surrogate father, a giant talking rat.

The plot of this story revolves around their unending battle with a secret ninja cabal led by The Shredder, an evil samurai warrior who is also in league with a race of extra-dimensional talking brain aliens. Also, there is a rotating cast of anthropomorphized mutants that all seem to know martial arts, both villains, and allies.

There is a full list of supporting characters on Wikipedia. Click the picture to the left to see for yourself. It's pretty nuts. Aside from four giant ninja turtles, a rat kung fu master, and a race of brains, there is a mutant mosquito, sentient garbage, a giant talking eyeball, Pizza the Hut from Spaceballs, a sumo wrestling hamster and several other mutant lizards, frogs, and small woodland creatures. Clearly, this series is a well grounded, realistic comic book franchise that's not at all silly or ridiculous.

Critics of the 2014 movie didn't like how the new digital turtles looked compared to the rubbery suits worn by actors in the 1990 film. This is a little like Godzilla fans pining away for the days of b-movie magic. These new turtles actually look like turtles, instead of green blobs with masks.

a little side by side comparison...
The choice to cast Megan Fox as April O'Neil was met with disdain. I don't understand that either. She's pretty good looking, and can be a decent actor. Unless you're a Transformers fan, and are still butthurt about those films, I don't see the problem here.

The franchise has always been about silly nonsensical adventures of teenage, pizza eating, sewer dwelling, ninjitsu testudines, and their giant rat karate master and all their various mutant allies and enemies. Of course the films are going to reflect the source material. Is the 2014 movie perfect? Probably not. Is it better than the movies from the early '90s? Absolutely. Does it follow the source material in all it's wacky, cheesy glory? Not completely, but that's ok, because we all want an actual good movie, not Batman and Robin.

Monday, February 1, 2016

It's February. We're so Eft.

It's February. For such a short month, February takes so long to get through. Lewis Black once said things get so grey in February, that by the end, you just want to slit your wrists to see color.

To help with our collective Seasonal Affective Disorder, I bring you a dash of color. No self mutilation necessary.

This little guy is known as the Red Eft. The eft is the juvenile stage of the Eastern Newt, notophthalmus viridescens. There are four subspecies, since this is New England, his is most likely the red spotted variety. 

They live through three stages of life, the larva tadpole stage, the eft juvenile stage, and the adult stage. The eft, pictured here in its glorious color, is terrestrial, unlike the other two stages of its development. The tadpole will shed it's gills when becoming an eft. They travel in order to spread the species, and then redevelop gills and become an aquatic adult newt. 

The peninsula sub species skips the eft stage altogether, because its boring. Don't be like the penisula newt subspecies. February is boring enough, but just think, Spring is around the corner. I promise. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Planet X is a Stupid Name

Recently, two scientists at CalTech attempted to disprove a theory that another Neptune-sized gas giant is hanging out in a distant orbit beyond Pluto. They couldn't, and announced the other day that they have compiled evidence of a previously undiscovered body. This body hasn't been actually seen yet, but usually mathematics doesn't lie. You can read more about it on Science Magazine.

They refer to the possible new planet as Planet X, which actually sounds like something out of a B movie horror film, populated by vampire porn stars, or something. I can't wait for someone to hurry up and approve this discovery so they can officially name it something cool.

We have a habit of naming our planetary bodies after Greek and Roman gods. Just in case you missed some days in elementary school, there are 8 actual planets in our solar system, and a variety of asteroids and dwarf planets.

We've already used Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune to name the major planets. All of these are the Roman names for Greek gods, except one. For some reason we decided to use the Greek Uranus, instead of the Roman Caelus. I'm not sure why. Caelus would have prevented decades of butt jokes.

In addition to those 8, we've also named a bunch of moons, dwarf planets, and large asteroids. So far Pluto, Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta, Astrea, Eris, Hebe, Iris, Metis, Hygeia, Eunomia, Iapetus, Rhea, Tethys, Dione, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto are all taken. Some of these are Greek, some Roman, and some not even gods or titans. In fact there is one moon just named Titan, which isn't even a name for an individual god, but a type of proto-god.

This supposed planet is so remote, and far from the sun that it doesn't reflect light, which is why it hasn't been physically observed yet. Far away, dark and cold, it should have a name that reflects that, and since we already gave Pluto the name of the god of the dead, we'll have to find something else.

Ophion is my choice for a new name. Bare with me, it makes a ton of sense.

According to the Orphic tradition in Greek mythology, sometime between the Titans' revolt when they ganged up on Uranus and castrated him, and Kronos taking power as the King of the Titans and the universe, there was another Titan in charge named Ophion. Kronos fights this other Titan and physically tosses him off of Olympus into the sea. Ophion doesn't appear anywhere else in Greek mythology, and the story doesn't appear anywhere outside of the Orphic tradition. It is speculated that Ophion is another name for Oceanus, who was the Titan of the oceans, and did not participate in the castration of his father Uranus. The theory is, Ophion is cast out of Olympus into the sea, and becomes Oceanus, the lord of the deep, dark, cold world circling ocean. Oceanus, though, is a stupid name for a planet, especially one that probably doesn't have any water.

It has been theorized that early in the solar system's life, Jupiter and Saturn played a part in ejecting other large gas giants from the solar system. It is also theorized that this Planet X was probably one of those planets to get thrown out, which is why it now exists so far from the sun. If this is true, than Planet X, like Ophion, was physically removed by Saturn (or Jupiter, whatever), and tossed out into the cold space at the edges of the solar system. I told you naming it Ophion made a ton of sense.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

There's Nowhere Left to Go, Stay with Me

Silversun Pickups
Better Nature
New Machine Recordings, 2015
produced by Jacknife Lee

Brian Aubert - guitars, vocals
Nikki Monninger - bass, vocals, vibraphone
Joe Lester - keyboards, synthesizer, drum machine
Christopher Guanlao - drums

  • Nightlight
  • Circadian Rhythm (Last Dance)
I like this band a lot. I have a few of their records now, and they all get substantial play at my house. Carnavas and Neck of the Woods appear on this blog too. This is Silversun Pickups' first record on their own independent label, funded by a direct-to-fan crowdfunding platform, PledgeMusic. It is their third project with Jacknife Lee, who also produced Neck of the Woods, and their singles collection.

Better Nature seems to combine the melodic atmosphere of Carnavas and Swoon with the surreal ambient noise of Neck of the Woods. This record relies more on the driving bottom end of the rhythm section and the structure of the synthesized keyboard sounds. But they still make room for some buzzing distorted guitar work. Also, there is definitely a noted increase in Monninger's presence vocally, which is very fitting, since Aubert's vocals had been mistaken for girl's early on anyway.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

To He who is in Fear, Everything Rustles

The Scarecrow was created in 1941 and appeared in World's Finest Comics #3. Another character created by the Bob Kane/Bill Finger combo that brought us many of the early Batman characters, Scarecrow makes two appearances in the '40s but is almost unrecognizable from the character used later.

This original Jonathan Crane is a university professor with a case of bibliomania, and has obvious parallels to the Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. This professor dresses up as a scarecrow to commit crimes to earn money to afford more books. Also apparently he has a hat fetish, and leaves clues like the Riddler.

In 1967 Gardner Fox reimagined the character as a psychology professor. This Dr Crane specialized in anxiety and phobias. He becomes obsessed with fear and mass hysteria and often conducts unethical studies and experiments. The character and his origin, like most older comics characters, have been amended and tweaked to include a history of abuse and ridicule, job experience as a psychology professor, a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, and past relationships with other future Batman villains like Hush and Hugo Strange. Crane uses his experiments to extract revenge for past abuses, and to further his professional career. At times, his revenge schemes grow to incorporate entire cities.

Scarecrow becomes an important character to the Batman mythos because of his theme. Most comics characters have themes. The best villains usually have either an opposing theme to the hero, or the same theme. Scarecrow and Batman share the theme of Fear.

At the beginning, Bruce Wayne chooses the bat motif to help instill fear in criminals. Some writers include Bruce Wayne's own chiroptophobia as a reason for choosing bats as a symbol. If bats scare Bruce Wayne, then they probably could scare anyone. Fear is a big part of what makes dressing up like a giant bat necessary to begin with.

On the flipside, Scarecrow uses fear as a tool of Chaos. He warps the perceptions of reality and uses that to his criminal advantage. Fear can be crippling, demoralizing, and deadly. This is what makes the Scarecrow such an obvious foil and potentially one of Batman's biggest nemeses. If Batman has an underlying fear of bats, what better antagonist than a guy who can use that phobia to his advantage?

Knowing all this, it is no surprise that Scarecrow was chosen by Christopher Nolan as the villain in his first Batman film, instead of the more obvious choice of the Joker. Also, the Scarecrow appears as the main antagonist of the latest, and perhaps biggest Batman:Arkham video game. I'm actually pretty impressed the Scarecrow hadn't become a more iconic Batman/DC comics villain, like the Joker, or Catwoman. He has far more to offer opposing the dark, scary, fear inducing hero.