Tuesday, January 24, 2012

John Carter Warlord of Mars

When I was in high school, amongst my favorite escapist fares, were the John Carter of Mars books of Edgar Rice Burroughs. There are eleven of them and I devoured them over and over again. They transported me to an alien world of high adventure that stretched my imagination and eased my teen angst. Edgar Rice Burroughs is, of course, mostly famous for his Tarzan novels but it was Barsoom (what his Martians call Mars) that I found myself journeying to over and over again.

In the first of the novels, A Princess of Mars, we meet John Carter, a gentleman of Virginia. He was a Confederate soldier in The Civil War and after the war, he finds himself prospecting for gold and fighting Indians in the American southwest. However, he has a secret; he doesn’t remember how old he is. It gets mentioned from time to time throughout the books that he could conceivably be hundreds or thousands of years old, but, as those of us who are middle aged have a hard time remembering our childhood, so John Carter doesn’t remember much other than being a gentleman of Virginia. As a result of a battle with Apache Indians he finds himself mysteriously transported to Mars/Barsoom where he begins a new life of adventure as the greatest swordsman on two worlds.

In just the first novel he manages to find and fall in love with a princess (although he is sort of a nerd when it comes to women, as are all of the heroes in the Mars books, this was probably some of the appeal for me back in my own nerd days), become the king of a tribe of bloodthirsty, green skinned, four armed barbarians and marry into the ruling family of the most powerful empire on the planet. By the end of the third book, The Warlord of Mars, he has gained the title “Warlord of Barsoom” which, to the Barsoomians means something like, emperor of the world, except that, no one on Mars takes a title like that at face value. Sure, you might have the title but, unless you can kick the crap out of anyone who gets in your way, no one is going to take you seriously. Of course, John Carter can walk the walk. Also by the end of the third book he manages to bring the religion of the Barsoomian people crashing down around their ears. It turns out it was something of a scam, but no false gods can stand before our hero.

The world of Barsoom is filled with all sorts of wonders that no longer make sense given the advancement of science and our knowledge of the red planet since the book’s publication but which, none the less, fire the imagination. For example, the Barsoomians have guns that fire bullets filled with radium which explode in direct sunlight. Night time gun battles become dangerous all over again when the sun rises. For some reason the Baroomians are aware of parts of the color spectrum that are invisible here on Earth, which means that there are two colors on Barsoom that we don’t have here on Earth. As a kid part of the fun was trying to imagine that sort of unimaginable and indescribable thing. A practical upshot was that one of those unknown “rays” could be used to create a sort of anti gravity effect which the Barsoomians used to build something akin to our old fashioned sailing vessels, which, could sail through the air. Best of all, Barsoomians have a life span that is such that they only start to show signs of getting old after about a millennia. (Could some never revealed connection to Barsoom be the reason that John Carter is impossibly old and why he feels so drawn to this alien world?)

Add in lots of long dead cities that follow the shorelines of evaporated oceans, atmosphere factories, plains filled with bright red grass, four armed, gigantic, carnivorous white apes, all sorts of monstrous flora and fauna and warring empires and you’ve got quite the perfect tapestry on which to build intrigue and adventure.

Of course I’ve been waiting for a John Carter movie for more than three quarters of my life and the good news is; it will be released 3/9/12. (There has actually been at least one other John Carter movie which I haven't seen but I've run across clips on the web and it looks like it probably escaped to video rather than being released to theaters.) The bad news is; I’m not really looking forward to it. Now, I’m not one who is generally afraid to see my favorite books turned into movies. I know going in that the movies will be different. That’s just the nature of the beast. But this time, I’m a bit fearful. The movie is a Disney flick and I have very often been disappointed with Disney’s take on things. Quite often the best fairytales get way too sanitized. Most recently I was really disappointed by the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I’ve always loved pirate movies and I figure, fill a screen with pirates, undead pirates at that, swinging swords around and firing pistols and there’s going to be some mayhem and yet, in those flicks, no one really dies, not a drop of blood… I don’t know it just didn’t make the grade. I know there isn’t really any blood or serious mayhem in the old black and white pirate movies that I love either but there was some sort of spirit missing in the Disney stuff. In any event, besides the fact that this should be a sword fighting movie and Disney has already disappointed me with its recent sword fighting trilogy, there are several more things that I’m a bit worried about. The first is that, in the video clips from the film to date, I’ve been very unhappy with the animation of the sky ships and the green men. Though, I do have to admit that the most recent trailer (I’ll post it here somewhere if it’s allowed) was really good and got my juices flowing. Secondly, Barsoomians are nudists. Don’t ask me why, it’s just their culture. The only clothing that they typically wear is jewelry and the occasional leather straps to hold their swords and guns. I know a mainstream movie isn’t going to be populated with nudists, especially not a Disney flick so, this is a relatively minor complaint. Like I said, I know going in it’s not going to be exactly like the books.

The other thing that I’m not really looking forward to will probably seem really petty but, it’s important to me, the red/copper skinned Barsoomians, at some point in their history, altered themselves. Now, the books were written before the science of genetics was underway so Edgar Rice Burroughs didn’t have the word “genetics” to work with but, I’m going to have to say that they altered themselves genetically. They re-made their women so that, instead of giving live birth, they lay eggs. The eggs incubate for about fourteen years and while they are doing so, they have an education machine attached to them so that children are hatched adolescent, already knowing almost everything they are going to need to know. As a result of this, women no longer breast feed their young. Over a very long period of time, natural selection has had an interesting result, namely, almost all female humanoid Martians are small busted. For many years I have been angry at the fact that the covers of the books have prominently featured big breasted scantily clad babes. I have no moral qualms with that, it’s just that, Barsoom is an alien world, its differences from ours are interesting and should give us something to think about as our imaginations are fired. This movie gives us the opportunity for that. Even though the movie can’t portray Barsoomians as nudists, there will certainly be a lot of scantily clad people in it. Wouldn’t it be cool if Hollywood differed from its standard method of operation and filled the film with small busted women rather than the standard silicone sisters? Will it happen? Not bloody likely. Although… I am looking forward to Lynn Collins playing Deja Thoris, my favorite alien princess. I’ve had a crush on Ms. Collins since X-Men Origins: Wolverine. So, I guess they have found a way to get me off of my soapbox and into the theater. Still, it would be nice to see Hollywood brake stereotype.

One of the really nice things to come out of the fact that there will be a John Carter major motion picture is that Dynamite Entertainment has been publishing two comic books based on John and Deja and Marvel (aka Disney) has been publishing a third. I really like the Dynamite books (although the artist seems to be trying to make every female character even bustier than the typical Hollywood starlet) but, they are so expensive that I’ve had to drop them for financial reasons. I haven’t read the Marvel book but paging through it has left me disappointed. I haven’t liked the art in general (too airy) and the green Martians in particular bother me as much as their animation in the movie clips does, which, I guess shouldn’t be surprising what with the same company producing both. Still, I am glad that my childhood hero is out there entertaining new generations and having new adventures. If you like a good pulp, heroic, read… find the original books. Some of them are free through project Gutenberg (The first in the series A Princess of Mars). I think that they should particularly appeal to comic book fans as Burroughs started out writing his stories in installments for magazines and moving between the chapters of the novels is very like moving from one comic book to another. I tried to capture a little of that quality in my story “The Brown Tarantula” which shows up elsewhere in this Blog. In any event, since you can get them for free, why not give them a shot?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Grant Morrison: Supergods

Last week I read Grant Morrison's book Supergods and I couldn’t put down. I loved it so much that I’ve decided to reread it again right away. I’ve seen some negative criticisms of it, in which the writers are disappointed that about half way through, Morrison starts to talk too much about himself and his own work and that this derails what starts out as a history of the superhero. They accuse him of vanity. I think these critics miss the point of the book and Morrison doesn’t help his cause by misstating the purpose of the book himself, as he writes it, by saying repeatedly that it’s a book about superheroes.

The cover jacket proclaims “What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, And a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human”. Of course the human that Morrison is most familiar with is himself, so, the book is an autobiography. Morrison’s identity is so shaped by the superhero that he has no choice but to attempt the history of superheroes as a part of that autobiography, but, although it is a history of superheroes and it is an autobiography, what the book is at its core is a  grimoire. While it doesn’t given any explicit directions into how to perform any superhero related magic, and to the uninitiated the parts of the book that talk about magic may seem to merely be the lunacy of a drug addled mind, to the initiated there is enough magic there to suggest material for experimentation and more than a few clues as to what sort of experiments Morrison has already successfully performed. While medieval grimoires seem to give technique, they really give broad outlines for procedures that require that the reader already have a grasp of the basics of magic and this book does the same. (For those who would like some technique to go with Morrison’s outline I would recommend Pop Culture Magick by Taylor Ellwood.)

In fact, while Morrison does tell us quite a bit about what superheroes through the years have said about humanity, he  seems less interested in that than he does in showing that they are a sign post to what humanity may become. In this he reminds me of the oath that a ceremonial magician in the Golden Dawn tradition takes upon being initiated into adepthood, in which he or she vows to strive to become “more than human.” He spends a lot of time showing how superheroes have changed from the birth of Superman in the 1930’s through the present due to shifting cultural influences. He is very interested in cultural influences and he makes a case that superheroes as memes have outlived their creators (and in fact are much longer lived than human beings in general) and have taken on a life of their own in a second dimensional ink universe that exists symbiotically with us from which we can take some benefits in much the way that magicians do from other archetypes. Further, their influence on our culture over the years is provable and ongoing and seeing how they influence the culture can show us how they will influence the future. I find his arguments very convincing although given changes in our world and the existence of other, older archetypes which influence and are influenced by superheroes, I would tend to think of them as existing more in a mental world than a 2D world. However, I am probably more influenced by Qabalistic cosmology than Morrison is.

In any event, it’s a good book and I highly recommend it to comic book fans and students of magic.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Great Comics: Miracleman

One of my favorite series of comic books was Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman's runs on Eclipse Comic's Miracleman.

Miracleman has a somewhat dysfunctional publication history. It started out in the 1950's as British reprints of Fawcett Comics' Captain Marvel and the Marvel Family. After Fawcett ceased publication as the result of a lawsuit by DC Comics which claimed that Captain Marvel infringed on their Superman copyrights, the British publisher that was doing the reprints wanted to keep going so they changed the character around a little, renamed him Marvelman and kept publishing. Marvelman was very successful, not fading from the scene until the early 1960's.

In the early 1980's Alan Moore took over the character, eventually publishing it through Eclipse comics in the United States where, at the insistence of Marvel Comics, the name of the character was changed to Miracleman.

During all of this history, ownership of the character was transferred around quite a bit with most of the ownership in the hands of writers (including Moore and Gaiman) and artists with bits of ownership going to publishers. Ultimately there were lawsuits and recently Marvel Comics has purchased the rights meaning that they have the right to reprint the old stuff and produce new comics. Let's hope they have enough of the rights that they can reprint Moore and Gaiman's run (if that doesn't hurt Moore and Gaimen in some way) in a lower cost format than is currently available so that new generations can see the sheer genius of their take on the character.

Moore's take on Miracleman and other members of the Miracleman family was ultra realistic and seems to be based on the question, what if people with the power of Superman existed in the real world? When we catch up with Miracleman himself, he is an old man who has (for reasons that unfold in the storyline) forgotten his childhood as a superhero. When he accidentally rediscovers his powers his life gets very confusing. While his personal life and superhero life present a lot of interesting twists and turns, one of the very interesting points for me is the fact that, as a child, when he became a superhero, like Captain Marvel, he transformed into an adult in his prime with superpowers. That stays true as an old man, when he transforms into Miracleman, he still transforms into a super powered adult in his prime, meaning, rather than appearing older, he has his youth restored and the storyline suggests that if he stops returning to human form, he will be immortal.

This gets even more interesting when we learn that his former sidekick, Kid Miracleman, at thirteen years old, turned into his superhuman adult form and never turned back. On some level he remains a thirteen year old mentally and emotionally. During the time that Miracleman had forgotten his powers and grown old, Kid Miracleman was becoming one of the richest men in the world and a sociopath.

I have always found the theme of unlimited power in children very interesting. St. Augustine in his autobiographical work Confessiones says that children are basically evil. He of course attributes this to original sin. Whether or not we believe in original sin, he makes a pretty good argument for why you could call children evil. Their behavior, if it were exhibited by adults, would be considered evil. The reason we tend to overlook that behavior in children is because they don't know any better. Augustine points out that we pretty much end up beating proper behavior into children.

Another great take on the subject would of course be the classic Twilight Zone episode starring Bill Mummy as a child with unlimited power who controls a small town full of people who are utterly terrified of him and his capricious use of that power.

 Eventually Kid Miracleman goes off the deep end with results that are apocalyptic for the human race. While we do have Miracleman to fight on our side, Kid Miracleman's assault on the world takes place at super speed and by the time Miracleman can intervene civilization is already pretty much done for.

In Moore's last issue Miracleman, Miraclewoman and their alien allies decide that it is best for humanity if they take totalitarian control of the world, not just as tyrants or monarchs but as gods. There is of course opposition but who can stop Superman once he puts his mind to something? It is here that Neil Gaiman takes over the book. Those of you who have read his work before know that he is a master story teller with a keen grasp of the mythological. We get to see Miracleman set up a utopia on Earth with many issues to deal with, from revolution against totalitarianism (is it a good thing even when what is being revolted against is a paradise?), to freewill (is freewill more important than paradise?) and we can only guess how many others as Eclipse went bankrupt and we didn't get to see most of the stories that Gaiman had planned.

I seriously doubt that Marvel will pick up the story (even though Gaimen did do some work for them fairly recently as a part of picking sides in the lawsuits to determine who would own the book), which is a shame because I know I'd love to see it. We can hope that they will reprint the stories that did get written, so that a new generation of fans can see them. Meanwhile, if you've got big bucks and can afford the reprints that are out there, or can get the old issues from your comic book store, go for it, it's worth every penny.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Interesting People: cat yronwode

I have a crush on cat yronwode. I know I know: who is she and so what? Well…I've gotten it into my head to occasionally write about interesting people so, here you go.

I first ran across Ms. yronwode in the letter column of my favorite comic book, the Avengers. People who have been reading everything that I write (okay, I know that no one is reading everything that I write) know that the Avengers has always been my favorite comic book. Apparently cat (cat, can I call you cat?) is, or at least was, a fan too. I don't honestly remember the content of her letter but it was submerged in my subconciousness when I was still a wee lad and must still be there influencing me. Going through my huge and highly disorganized comic collection to find it would be such a chore that unless the powers that be bring it to the top (which they sometimes do), I don't think I'll be seeing it in time to include it in this post. I did however Google to see if it was out there on the web somewhere and I read some things from fan boys who had seen her on the letter pages of other comics that I read back in my grammar and high school days, so I guess there is much more of her lurking in the ol' sub c than I would have guessed.

The next time I ran into Ms. y, was in the eighties in the pages of Air Boy. I must have been a recent college graduate at that point. I resisted Air Boy for awhile. I was already buying many Marvel and DC titles, which were beginning to make a transition to higher quality paper and colors, I was unhappy about this because it meant a huge leap in cost and I was at a low ebb financially. I had no real interest in buying more titles or in alternative comic companies. While I had enjoyed some Atlas comics in the seventies, their implosion left me with some stories that I liked, but which had never concluded. I had picked up E-Man too of course, it was cool and sexy, but most of the alternative titles I had picked up back in the day were poorly done all the way around. Still, I kept paging through Air Boy without buying it. It had one big minus, it was out twice a month, so, it screwed up my budget, but it had pluses, the art by Tim Truman was absolutely incredible and although I had never heard of Chuck Dixon, the story looked good, and of course, to my young male psyche, Valkyrie was just about the hottest chick in comics and demanded attention.

What finally got me to plunk down my fifty cents was an appearance by The Heap. I didn't really know anything more about The Heap than what I had read in Jim Steranko's history of comics, but, one day my father had seen me reading a copy of Marvel's Man-Thing and since he had read The Heap in his own childhood he felt compelled to see if The Man-Thing was The Heap. When he realized they weren't the same he told me that the Man-Thing was based on an old character called The Heap and so, when I saw The Heap, I had no choice but to check it out.

After that I was hooked. I liked Eclipse comics a lot, especially Miracleman by Alan Moore and later Neil Gaiman which was just brilliant. However one of the high points for me was reading cat's editorials. (She was the editor in chief and one of the owners of Eclipse Comics.) Again, although I remember how much I enjoyed reading what she wrote I don't remember much of what it was about. I do remember one in which she talked about all of the mail that she got from readers, including a death threat from Buffalo, New York. I live in Buffalo and that one unnerved me. A: How could someone want to hurt this charming woman who was a behind the scenes force for so many great comics? B: Why would someone want to commit murder because of something in a comic book? And C: was this deranged person someone that I saw every week in my local comic book store? I still wonder about that one. I wrote her to express my admiration and concern but I never heard back from her. I hadn't really expected to. I had written to comic book editors before and been published in letter columns. Once the legendary Julius Schwartz did write me back personally which was really cool, but, rare.

Eclipse and cat were cool on some other fronts too. Not only did they produce comics but bizarre trading card sets like, Friendly Dictator Trading Cards and Serial Killer Trading Cards. I remember this caused quite a stir and Eclipse had to fight some legal battles but I never got the impression that they were trying to glamorize dictators or serial killers. I think they were just trying to point out the evil in our midst, in the case of the dictators, evil that our tax dollars keep in place. In any event, it was gutsy and I liked it.

So, already we've got two really good reasons for me to have a crush on her. The first is that she was a girl who liked comic books. I can count the number of girls that I've met who like comic books on one hand. The second was that she liked them enough that she was actually a force in their creation. How cool is that?

Well, Eclipse comics went under and the eighties turned into the nineties and Ms. yronwode (she prefers that her name be spelled without capitalization, I wonder if that's as big a pain in the rear with her word processor as it is with mine?) slipped from my mind but, the nineties brought with it the all consuming internet and again I was hooked and began what would seem to be a new lifetime love of web surfing. I had always been interested in magic and occultism and in the nineties I also hooked up with my first rock star magic teacher. One day I decided to do some web surfing on the subject of sex magic. I had been aware that sex magic existed since I first began to practice ceremonial magic but, the woman that I had married in 1990 was completely uninterested in the topic so the most I could do was read about it, and, there wasn't really that much to read. Western sex magicians tend to keep their stories to themselves and I'm a bad enough speller that looking up anything about eastern sex magic (Tantra) can be really tough, especially in those dark days before Google. In any event, while surfing for websites about sex magic or sex yoga, boom, there again in my awareness was cat yronwode. Not just someone like me, an interested party, but an actual practitioner and willing to talk about it. I think I dashed her off an e-mail right away but again, I never heard anything from her, although in the stuff of hers that I was reading she did mention that she got an enormous amount of e-mail. I believed it.

This synchronicity was really interesting to me. This woman's name kept coming up. I liked that and wanted to know why, but no answers were forthcoming. However, at this point how could I not have a crush on her? This woman was into comic books and Tantric sex… what's not to love? I guess I should point out that Tantric sex is a form of worship and theurgy designed to put the practitioners in a deep communion with his and her deity concept.  It's not just about prolonging sex for hours and hours, although, that is a rather nice side effect. The more western form of sex magic is also a form of communion but can also be used to cause change in accordance with the participants will.

Since then I've returned to her web domain from time to time to see what's up and I have to admit that I love it there. http://www.luckymojo.com/index.html She's not just into the sex aspect of magic but into the magic itself. As far as I know she is the most public promoter of the form of magic called Hodoo out there and everything that I know about Hodoo is from her site. She is also an archivist and has at her site copies of many of the old occult internet news groups that were popular before the advent of the World Wide Web. Her site is an occult supply store, a historical research site on folk ways, a magical archive, a grimoire filled with folk spells and an exploration of her own psyche and life (which is pretty cool as she's been a real life hippy and lived on communes, the sort of stuff I dream of doing but am not cut out for, but I don't have to be because I can just read about her life). She has self published books on the site, one catalogues the spells used by comic book sorcerer Stephen Strange over the years and looks at what real magical items may have influenced artist Steve Ditko into drawing some of the items in Dr. Strange's world the way that he did. Did I mention I have a crush on this woman?

I know that to some, the Dr. Strange thing may seem too far gone, but I remember a bit in a book on the history of occultism called something like, Pilgrims of the Night, about how the author knew someone who had successfully gotten the Dungeons and Dragons magical system to work in real life and therefore he figured it was more about the people than the system. Plenty of post modern magical systems agree and promote the exploration of works of fiction as a source for creating the sort of mental control necessary to work magic. Why not Doctor Strange's? I'm willing to give it a try.

So again, how can I not love her? Comic book fan, comic book creator, into tantric sex and an expert on one or more fields of magic, and, on top of all that, she's open, honest, and approachable on it. One of the last times I looked at her site I read a note from her that said something along the lines of "don't bother to e-mail me, I get too much e-mail to read and respond to it all, if it's important, here's my phone number, just call." Wow! I thought about calling, but, I'm not sure what I'd say. I don’t know if calling to gush with admiration, lust and camaraderie would be a good thing or just really embarrassing for me.

Now, the sad news, I was reading some self explorations of her psyche last night and discovered that one of her core needs is sexual fidelity. As far as I know she's still married and I know that I am, so…. Poof… my love for cat yronwode will be of the "pure and chaste from afar" variety, but, that's okay, in the realms of fantasy, I get to edit that part out.

Cat (I can't get that to not capitalize at the beginning of a sentence, sorry) if this message in a bottle should wash up on the shore of your self-consciousness, please don't be offended, my respect, admiration and affection is sincere.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Brown Tarantula: Part 11

Copyright Robert F. Sacco

 The Brown Tarantula Parts 2, 5, 8 & 11 are at this blog

Part 11: The Hunter Becomes the Hunted
Detective Tom Slovino was having the rare good day. Before noon he knew a great deal about Delia Clarette. Without leaving his cubical he had learned that she owned the red Honda Civic he had seen at the destruction of the meth lab, had found her Facebook page and matched her pictures there to the picture of the girl in the domino mask (and of course, domino masks really do nothing to conceal ones face) and learned who her friends were, her family history, where she went to school and where she worked. He had gotten her college transcripts past and present easily. About the only thing he didn't know was her connection to the Tarantula. He figured that would come out with a search of her brownstone. This of course meant a search warrant so he reluctantly told the lieutenant what he had found. While the lieutenant schmoozed some judge into getting the warrant, Tom went down town to her place of employment, Winthrop Industries Energy Exploration Division, to nose around.

At Winthrop they were worried about her. She hadn't turned up for work this morning which was unusual, and, she hadn't even called in which was unheard of as she called in even when she was going to be five minutes late. The arrival of a police detective asking questions about her had not soothed their fears. He didn't learn much of value though. Her work didn't seem to have any relevance to the case. She was well thought of, diligent in the performance of her duties, but, lacked ambition. Some of her closest co-workers thought that she was a little odd in that she didn't date much or have much of a social life, but, they had all written this off to how time consuming it was to work and go to school at the same time.

Back at the precinct house Pearson had the search warrant for Delia's premises but, he also had a message from Winthrop Industries. Pearson said that they had called about five minutes after he had left there. Tom had talked to some management types but this call had come from the executives working out of the Winthrop mansion. They said they had information that might be helpful to him and that he should stop by before the end of the day to talk to them. This ignited a curiosity in Tom. He didn't particularly like the idea of driving out to Lakeshore and mingling with the hoity-toity at the mansion but, he had absolutely no idea what they could have for him and he was eager to find out. However, he decided to put first things first and check out Delia's brownstone.

 Interviewing some of her neighbors did not produce any valuable information. As far as he could tell she was a hard working upstanding young lady who had good, friendly relationships with all of her neighbors. No one had seen her yet today but it was still early enough that given work and school, this was not unusual. One elderly lady actually had possession of Delia's spare key which meant that when she turned out not to be home, he didn't have to knock the door down, although the lady was very disturbed at the fact that he had a warrant to search the premises. The old lady couldn't make up her mind as to whether this made the police department incompetent, Tom a horrible individual, or Delia some sort of terrible person who had been good at disguising that until now. That was Delia's problem. Tom was just doing his job.

Once inside Tom confirmed everything that he had already discovered and came to the conclusion that Delia was even lonelier than her co-workers and neighbors suspected. In fact, it seemed to him, based on the contents of her home that all she did was work and study and that her home was a monument to her mostly deceased family. She was draping herself in the past and merely working in the present.

Tom was excellent at performing searches and he found the secret room with hardly any effort. Most of the effects normally stored there were out at the Donaldson mansion at the moment but the framed newspaper page from 1939 asking, "Who is the Tarantula" still hung there telling Tom everything that he thought he needed to know. Like everything else in this building, it was a relic of the Clarette family's past. In 1939 her great grandfather had some connection to the Tarantula. Delia still felt that link and had gone to help the Tarantula. Based on what he had seen at the meth lab, she was unaware of whatever his plan was that night, and she had no experience as a masked vigilante. She had gone off in search of him and had found him. The question now was, what did he do with her? Would he take her into his confidence? Let her go as an innocent, or eliminate her for knowing too much? This left him two options. He could put out an APB on her and hopefully find her, or, he could put the Brownstown, her place of business and school under surveillance so he would know if she returned to her life. Both might be hard to accomplish since this investigation was supposed to be on the QT. He would have to discuss that with the lieutenant later. If he had no other clues he just might have to stake out the brownstone himself. For now though, he had one more lead to follow up out at the Winthrop estate.

The rain had finally broken and the drive out to Lakeview should have been pleasant but Tom was lost in thought about Delia. He didn't know her, but he had come to feel sorry for her. Everything he knew about her suggested that she was a nice, albeit lonely girl. Now, excitement had entered her life, possibly for the first time and it was linked to a mass murderer who she probably saw as an agent of justice and to whom she had an emotional connection because of her reverence of her family. He thought about her pretty pink face and turned up pointed nose and hoped that she was alive and that he could help her.

At the front gate of the Winthrop mansion he was guided not to the front door but to the "business entrance". The business entrance looked like every door to a business establishment downtown, with people in a hurry coming and going, especially as the end of the day was nearing, and clusters of people smoking cigarettes. Once inside he stopped at a reception desk where he was given directions to a nearby elevator and told that the appropriate parties would be notified that he was on the way. When he entered the elevator he noted without interest that the building had four floors underground and that he was going to the lowest. When the elevator doors opened he found himself in a hospital. At first this made him wonder if the receptionist had given him faulty directions. After a moment he began to wonder why this facility was here. He could see an older rich man having medical equipment and a medical staff on hand. Lord knew that Caleb Winthrop could afford that, and, if your wealth afforded you the luxury of having your medical care at home, well, why not? He could also understand a large business facility having a nurse's office or even a first aid center for its employees but this was a full-fledged hospital or research facility of some sort. Just as he was about to get back on the elevator two men who looked like hospital orderlies approached him and one asked "Detective Slovino?" Tom nodded, they asked him to follow, and he did.

Tom Slovino had learned during time spent working the streets as a flatfoot to be aware of when he was in danger. The fact that one "orderly" led the way and that the other fell back and behind him was making him feel in danger. One: Why was he here? Two: What was this place? Three: Why send two guys to meet him? Four: Why send two really big strong guys to meet him? Five: why was one of them behind him? He tensed and prepared to move at a moment's notice but continued to look unconcerned. At the end of a long corridor were a set of double doors that looked like the doors that patients are usually wheeled through for surgery. The orderly in the lead pushed open the doors and Tom got a quick glance of something that caused his adrenaline to surge and fear to assault his rational mind. There were three operating tables in the room. Two of them had men on them surrounded by people performing some sort of operation on their heads. He was pretty sure that one of their brains was exposed. More "doctors" were forming a group around the empty table and, most terrifying of all, he saw what he thought looked like three large brains with dangling nervous systems floating in the air, crackling with some sort of energy that looked electrical. He heard the orderly behind him spring forward but the fear hadn't crippled Tom's readiness. He dodged to his left, spun on his heels and sprinted back the way they came.

One of the orderlies yelled "stop him" and people seemed to turn towards him from every direction. On both sides of him were walls, the one on the right had entrances to other rooms. If this were a real hospital you'd expect them to be recovery rooms or patient's rooms, in either case, dead ends. He remembered what looked like a nurses' station just a short distance ahead so he pushed aside a couple of men moving to block him, vaulted over the nurse's station gaining access to another corridor and began knocking over carts and small pieces of furniture behind him to slow pursuit. The problem was, now he was lost. No one had pulled any weapons and they were all acting like medical professionals so he wasn't afraid that anyone but the two orderlies could actually stop him. He hadn't pulled his own gun yet but he was ready. There was a maze of corridors and he changed direction at random but he knew it was only a matter of time before there were security guards or more orderlies cutting him off at some sort of pass. When it came, it was four men in police style riot gear leveling what looked to him like some sort of taser rifles at him. The good news seemed to be that they didn't want him dead. The bad news was, he thought that they might want to take out his brain and put one of those… things… in it. He knew that the Tarantula's armor and car were something out of a bad sci-fi movie but this was downright insane.

He pulled his gun and fired two shots at the guards. He was pleased to see that they didn't put any faith in their bullet proof vests and ducked to either side. By the way they moved he was under the impression that they hadn't seen combat. He charged right down at them, pushed through the two on the right and continued down the right corridor. He heard them fire their rifles behind him but he stayed just ahead of the wires fired out from them which would need to touch him to zap him. He couldn't keep up this pace for much longer, but, he saw coming into a view a cargo elevator platform that was going down. He jumped onto it, hit one of the men already aboard with his left palm forcing his head into a hard rock wall, fired a shot at the oncoming guards, slowing them a bit and slugged the other guy on the platform with the gun. As soon as the floor that the platform was descending to became visible he leapt from the platform. This corridor gave him hope. It was unfinished rock and looked as if it had been mined rather than constructed. He paused to take a quick breath then took off down the corridor.

He could hear the security guards pursuing from behind as he reached a cross corridor. He could continue straight or move to the right or left. He glanced in all three directions and in all three directions there were three floaty brain things moving slowly in his direction. He turned to the right and fired a bullet into one of them. The others kept right on floating towards him but the one he shot paused and slowly ejected the bullet then, resumed its approach towards him. He fired all of the remaining bullets at the brains to the right and while they were ejecting the bullets he ran past them.

The corridor soon stopped looking like mine shaft and started looking like cave. He dodged and weaved around stalagmites and tried to become soundless and blend into the shadows. He heard the security guards but the floaty brain things were quiet which was troubling. It was too dark to see anything except the guards flashlights and the crackling electricity emitted by the brains. He didn't want to give away his own position by using his penlight so he decided to get to some higher ground to take advantage of the light provided by the guards.  He was once again aware that he was on borrowed time. He imagined Caleb Winthrop somewhere stroking a white cat ordering a small army to search the cave lest the secret that he is a super villain escape with Tom. He felt his way to a wall that had an incline and began to climb. He intended to sit at a high perch and watch what the guard's lights illuminated in the hopes of spotting some way out of the cave but when he reached the top of the pile of stones he had carefully and quietly climbed, he noticed that there was a gap between the incline and the ceiling. It was a small gap which made it very hard to see unless a light were shinned directly at it, and, it was just barely big enough for Tom to squeeze through, so, throwing caution to the wind, he did.

When he emerged on the other side of the hole he found himself sliding down a loose pile of rock and stone getting covered with cuts and bruises. Now completely in the dark he risked using his penlight and saw that he was in a very narrow space between two piles of rock, the one he had just slid down and one exactly like it in front of him. At the top of that pile of rock there was no convenient hole but there was a pin prick of light. He climbed to the top. The pinprick was too small for him to see through, so he slowly, and quietly began to move rock and earth aside in hopes of getting a look.

This Story is 15 parts long. Now get the whole story including parts 13, 14 & 15 at: The Brown Tarantula The Whole Story

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Knightriders, by George A. Romero, Starring Ed Harris: A Movie Review

One of the nice things about how much video is out there online or on DVD is that I can do reviews of my favorite movies even though they aren't up at the theater and haven't been for a long time.

One of my favorite movies is a film called "Knightriders" written and directed by George A. Romero and starring Ed Harris. Romero is best known for his low budget horror movies and while this movie is low budget if falls more under the "heroic fiction" category than the horror category. (Although there is a brief cameo by Stephen King who plays a member of an audience who is obnoxiously commenting on things that he is seeing without really knowing what he's talking about. He's really good at it too.) 


Here's the gist of the story. Billy (Ed Harris) is the King Arthur of a small band of motorcycle riding knights. They travel from town to town making a living by putting on shows in which they joust from cycle back. The entertainment that they give to, and the money that they make from the audiences are secondary. The knight's status in their small community is determined by how well they do in the jousts.

While there is an indication that the truth, justice and chivalry that these knights believe in is pretty much the same as you would expect from any heroic knight, all we really see them fighting for is their small, albeit diverse, community which includes people from multiple ethnicities and gay men and women. For some of them it's about the bikes. For some it's the freedom of the open road. For others it's just about living an alternate life style. For some it's about fun. For King Billy it's about the heroic ideal.

The knights are the ruling class of this small community, but not the only members, they have picked up a lot of other people who love the dream, so they have mechanics who work on the bikes and vendors who sell food and handmade jewelry at the shows. They have jugglers and musicians and their camp is a cross between a renaissance fair and a Society for Creative Anachronism event. I should point out that the movie was released in 1981 and shows a lot of 1970's counter culture influence. Much of what is progressive about the way these people live their lives is no longer as shocking as it was then.

Our merry band has three basic problems. The first is that they are misfits who don't really belong anywhere who are living a gypsy lifestyle. They encounter all of the problems that you would expect living on the road, corrupt law enforcement, ignorant and sometimes hostile townies etc. That's to be expected. Their bigger problem is themselves. They've grown too large. It costs them too much money to feed and outfit the troupe. They just don't have the money to keep going the way that they are.

The solution to this problem seems obvious. They are amateurs when it comes to show business but they've attracted enough attention that show business sees potential in them. Motorcycle magazines have been doing pieces on them and a promoter wants to sign them and get them out of playing small towns and into doing city shows. There is even talk of booking Vegas. However, King Billy keeps the option of going Show Biz off the table. It's not about the money, it's about the dream. It's about freedom. Keeping to a promoters schedule and performing the show in ways that are about making money rather than about their method of self rule is a violation of everything the group is about.

Not everyone agrees. About half of the knights, lead by Sir Morgan, the Black Knight (Tom Savini), are in favor of selling out for the money. The other half, want to keep with the dream but even some of them (Gary Lahti, who plays Alan, the Lancelot type) think that it couldn't hurt to reach some sort of compromise and bring in some more money.

The third big problem is that there is something of a constitutional crisis. Leadership is determined by combat on motorcycles. Billy has received enough injuries of late that Alan, Queen Linet (Amy Ingersoll) and Merlin (Brother Blue, check out his site, he really was living the dream until he passed away: http://www.brotherblue.com/), are opposed to Billy taking part in any more combats, his life is at risk. Seemingly in confirmation of that, Billy has been having dreams that he believes are prophetic about his death, but these dreams just seem to put Billy's mental health into question.

Billy is determined to live up to a set of ideals, the rest of the troupe can't get him to compromise with practical realities and therefore his leadership and his sanity are suspect.

In case you want to see the movie I won't go into detail about how the movie progresses from there but, it lives up to the heroic ideal.

Not only do I love this movie because it lives up to the heroic ideal (and so effectively parallels so many stories about Author and his knights), but also because it is chock full of very interesting characters with thought provoking sub-plots, for example:

Pippen (Warner Shook), a young man who is persecuted for being gay. Everyone knows he's gay except for he himself who questions who and what he is.

Angie (Christine Forrest), a tomboy grease monkey who isn't very feminine but who is deeply in love with Morgan, the black knight.

Julie (Patricia Tallman), a young woman who tries to escape from an abusive family and fails. (For those of you who may be fans of Babylon Five, this is the actress who plays the psychic, Lita. You won't be disappointed in her here.)

And that's just a few.

If you like low budget flicks, good stories, heroic fiction and great characterization, give it a view. It's also got lots of action. These people do, after all, joust from motorcycle back.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Brown Tarantula: Part 8

Copyright Robert F. Sacco
 Part 1 
 Parts 2 & 5 are on this blog.
 Part 7 

Part 8: Following up

Detective Tom Slovino was severely sleep deprived. He had been up until almost dawn coordinating emergency response to the explosion of the meth lab in Dunnbrick. Once the firefighters, paramedics and flatfoots had the scene under control and Tom had done as much interviewing and evidence collection as he thought would be useful, he headed to the office and got as many reports written as he could before his eyes started blurring. He managed to catch about an hour's sleep before his official shift started. A shower and a pot of coffee later and he was on his way back to his cube to finish up his reports and to start his search for the mystery lady who had been whisked away by the Tarantula. At least that was the plan. He was afraid that the day would actually be starting with a reprimand for not being at a donut shop in Dillbrook all night.

As expected, as soon as he entered the precinct house the desk sergeant had ordered him to report to Lieutenant Pearson's office. While not completely unexpected he was discouraged to see that the Captain was present as well. "Have a seat." The Lieutenant said. It was an order but his tone was surprisingly pleasant. "The Captain's brought down word from the Comish, through the Chief, that 'officially'", he made quotation marks with his fingers as he said "officially", "The hunt for the Tarantula and the fall of Charon are the department's top priorities, but, that the real game plan is to let the Tarantula do our job for us and then hope he just disappears the way he did back in forties." The Captain chimed in "We don't like it. We don't have to like it. It's not our job to like it." The Lieutenant resumed, "I know you've taken a personal interest in the case. Most of the scenes have been on your old beat. I know you've been through the old Tarantula case file… and then of course there's last night." "Look, sir.." Tom began, only to be interrupted by the Captain "Keep your yap shut and listen! You know that you should be on report right now, and, if it weren't for the union, you'd be out on your ass." Pearson cut in on the Captain, trying to be more pleasant "But… we think the way you do Tom." Tom knew something was wrong. The Lieutenant had never called him by his first name before, ever, and, if the Lieutenant really thought like he did, he wouldn't be so cheerful about the prospects of the department aiding and abetting a mass murderer."This guys a killer. He needs to be stopped. There isn't a lot we can do about him with the Chief and Commissioner holding together on this, but, if we can find out who he is, how he does what he does, well, then, just maybe, we'll find a way to make use of that information." The Captain resumed "The Chief's handpicked a couple of detectives from uptown to do the 'official' investigating. Really what they'll be doing is talking to the press at Tarantula scenes. You're gonna be our boy looking for the real leads. You get to keep your job, you get to keep your investigation, and you get to keep absolutely quiet and report only to the Lieutenant. Got it?" "Got it sir." Tom acknowledged. "Any leads yet Detective?" Pearson asked. "Yes sir. Red Honda Civic at the scene. Witnesses say the diver was taken off by the Tarantula. Gonna do a run down on it first thing." "Good work Tom, get back to me this afternoon."

As Tom made his way to his desk he was totally perplexed. He'd never really "gotten" departmental politics but this was just weird. Something was going on here but what? He remembered that the old file archivist had speculated that maybe the cops back in the forties had been working for organized crime and that the mob might have wanted to take down the Tarantula themselves. He considered that for a moment but, ultimately it didn't fit into any of the modern scenarios. Yeah, there were some dirty cops on the force who worked for Charon. Some of the guys thought the Captain or even the Chief might work for him. But, this wasn't Charon's style. It wouldn't bother Charon in the least if The Department brought down the Tarantula. He'd probably think it was funny. No, this was being played by the Commissioner and the Mayor, both of whom were as rich or richer than Charon. If anyone owned them it was the industrialist who funded the mayor's campaigns', Caleb Winthrop, but Winthrop backed anyone who looked like they were going to win so that he could get the big tax breaks he needed for his factories and such. This must be totally an election gambit so the Mayor and the Comish would, in two years, be able to point to the fall of Charon and claim some responsibility without actually having to go through the work of evidence and courts. As flamboyant as Charon was capable of being, he was really good at making sure that there was no evidence to link him to anything. The only evidence that they would need would be evidence against the Tarantula and getting that was his job. It pissed him off but there wasn't anything he could do about it, besides, he wanted to bring this lunatic down, so, he guessed that they had come to the right guy.

The best news about all of this was that, if he was reporting only to the Lieutenant, there were about a dozen reports that he had thought he needed to do this A.M. that were now off the table. Paperwork having evaporated, he was free to focus on the blond with the Domino Mask. He was glad that he had thought quickly and only mentioned her car. The car would be showing up in the flatfoots' reports anyway but no one but him knew that he had her picture. He figured, no matter what the real story going on here was, not a single player was being straight with him. That being the case, he thought it might be for the best if he kept his cards close to the vest. Not that it mattered. If she was dumb enough to have used her own car, the mob and the lieutenant would know who she was soon enough. Sitting at his computer, he plugged Delia's license plate number into the software that would look for it in the DMV's data base.

This Story has fifteen parts. I'll add links below as they are posted.