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So I'm running a PTA game! My first game mastering, not counting one InSpectres 1889 romp, since Battle Without Honor or Game Balance five years ago. It's going well; we played the pilot in February and the second episode ("Help Me, My Aquatic Friends!") last night.

The show is called T.H.E.M. (it doesn't stand for anything), and it's about a team of kinda-sorta supervillains in a city controlled by shiny corporate superheroes. Which means I'm finally in compliance with the ten mention rule I broke in 2002 or something, plus I can steal liberally from myself, the Tatro-verse, even my notes for [livejournal.com profile] weirdotron (possibly my favorite never played game, although there's a lot of competition in that field). Not to mention a zillion comic books. 

The players ([livejournal.com profile] athenalindia[livejournal.com profile] theclevermonkey, and two guys who inexplicably don't have LJs) are great. I originally pitched the game as "Grant Morrison's Dr. Horrible" but it's turning out to be a bit more of a soapy superhero noir with X-Files-y elements. I may get an episode recap up, depending how long Eli naps for.
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Jill Lepore, “The Sharpened Quill,” in the New Yorker last October:

Thomas Paine is, at best, a lesser Founder. In the comic-book version of history that serves as our national heritage, where the Founding Fathers are like the Hanna-Barbera Super Friends, Paine is Aquaman to Washington’s Superman and Jefferson’s Batman; we never find out how he got his superpowers, and he only shows up when they need someone who can swim.

Originally posted at (the all new) Old is the New New. Leave a comment there and make me look popular.
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Tags: Kicking ass for justice.

I can’t believe I left this out of the History Carnival: I got an email last month from a guy named Jake Lowen, who saw my post about Superman vs. the Klan and did a video podcast about it. Jake is a community organizer in Kansas, Superman’s adopted home. He trains disenfranchised people, including kids, to fight for self-determination and political change. “I have the greatest job in the world,” Jake says on his site. “I fight evil for a living.” He keeps a video blog describing his adventures “kicking ass for justice,” and it’s pretty inspiring stuff. He gives me too much credit for digging up the Superman / Stetson Kennedy / KKK story, which was in Freakonomics after all, but I’m chuffed that somebody who is actually out in the world fighting for “truth, justice, and all that stuff” found something relevant or useful in my scribblings.

In other news, I’m leaving right this instant for the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) annual conference in Vegas, baby. I’m commentator for a panel on “The Rhetoric of Telecommunication Policy,” comparing the political and rhetorical construction of telecom networks in the U.S., Canada, and Sweden. We have scored the less-than-coveted Sunday morning slot, but it’s a good trio of papers, and I’m looking forward to the panel. And there’s lots of great stuff on the program this year, plus apparently this Las Vegas is something of a tourist town. So if you happen to find yourself on the Vegas strip early Sunday morning, in the vicinity of the Imperial Palace, fresh out of chips and looking for something to do… We’ll even waive the usual two drink minimum. Seriously, though, if anyone reading this is on their way to the conference, hit me with an email and we’ll get together.

In the hopper: What happens in Vegas, biographical sketches of eccentric characters, what I’m not reading.

Cross-posted from Old is the New New. Comments welcome.

Not GILTy

Mar. 16th, 2006 10:33 am
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Hey, what happened to all the game idea posts? There was a lovely harvest of them early this week and then nothing. Is it because arctic weather snapped back into effect?

There ought to be a name for that last blast of winter that comes after a week or so of premature warmth, just when you start to let yourself think that spring has arrived. It's like Indian Summer's evil twin. I've heard people call the sneaky warm period "Strawberry Spring", but I don't know if that's real or just from a Steven King story. I was thinking something more like "Fuck You Winter".

Yeah, you're probably going to say, where are my game idea posts? Good point, but I did just put up 1300 words on Superman, sex pulps, and the secret history of weightlifting. That ain't knockwurst! I do have a few new GILT ideas, or reworked old ones, but they don't seem to come as fastly and furiously when you're living in gamer exile. Actually, there was a period, about two months after leaving Boston, when I felt like I was generating scores of beautiful mad ideas a day. I think I was sweating them out of my system or something. But now, not so much. Maybe I need more structure to bounce things off of. If I started up something like [livejournal.com profile] bryant's old weekly idea mash-ups, would people play along?

You can always stroll down memory lane with my de.icio.us/robotnik/gilt tag. All of my old LJ games-I'd-like-to are there, and a number of yours, although I know I'm missing some goodies.
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How come none of you drew Batgirl? Slackers.

I wanted to, but one giant blogging-related time-suck is enough for any given weekend.
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I didn't get around to writing up 1998 today. I'm tempted to skip ahead to 1999, because, you know, Lisa! But here's a scene from Batman Begins to tide you over. And a reminder: my send-off party, at Doyle's in Jamaica Plain, this Saturday night. We've got a bunch of tables reserved from 7 pm; come whenever you can.

American Gotham
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Planetary #16, only eighteen months late. Capsule review: Pretty, pretty pictures. Advances plot about one half of one baby step.
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Are you the best crack team of culture vultures on the internet, or are you the best crack team of culture vultures on the internet? It takes a certain kind of person to answer a goofball query like "What was the first cowboy zombie?" with straight up answers like:

[livejournal.com profile] jeregenest: "I instantly think of Lucio Fulci's work in the late 1970s when it comes to westerns and zombies."
[livejournal.com profile] ratmmjess: "I could get a good article out of that, if I had the resources to investigate it thoroughly."
[livejournal.com profile] ivan23: "This, good sir, is a worthy quest for such as we."

Plus Chris T representing with his beloved super-apes, and Sean D stepping up to suggest EC Comics (of course!), and not one person even suggesting that this is a ridiculous question to ask, let alone get worked up about. I tell ya, the Planetary field team's got nothing on my Friends list.

Now, then. Chris' sick obsession with hot clockwork-on-corpse porn notwithstanding, he is right to remind us that there may be no single smoking zombie. The super-ape phenom is a good sister example of the sort of thing we're talking about: a visual trope that's practically a cliche within the subculture and practically unknown without. (Although, was the super-ape boom really in the 1960s? I would have guessed it was the early 1970s, ie post Planet Of The Apes. Which could then have provided the Ur-Super-Ape. Obviously intensive further study is in order. And funding for same. Quickly, to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada!)

[Edit: Intensive further study has been completed, and Chris was right, I was wrong. The Ape Age of Comics apparently dates all the way back to the 1950s.]

"Hey, I heard we're going to Ape Island!"
"Yeah, to capture a giant ape. I wish we were going to Candy Apple Island instead."
"Candy Apple Island? What've they got there?"
"Apes. But they're not so big."


All that said, I'm certainly prepared to give the first horror western award to the mighty Robert Howard, especially on the double say so of Jess & Jere. (The other "Jess," and Jere, that is.) But my guess is we probably won't find many bona fide cowboy zombies in the 1930s pulps, because I don't think (but please do correct me if I'm wrong) the zombie qua zombie was really realized in pop culture until a few decades further along. When Val Lewton made I Walked With A Zombie in 1942, to most people "zombie" still meant "doped up Haitian" rather than "brain eating corpse." I think.

Sean might just win the cookie for his suggestion of pre-Frederick Wertham EC Comics. Not as the originator of the horror western, surely, but as a key vector that burned the image of the cowboy zombie—the dessicated corpse, the snaggly teeth, the tattered Confederate uniform—into the soft little brain tissue of the baby boom kiddies who grew up to seed it all over our culture.

Say, that reminds me. There's a cowboy zombie story in the McSweeney's / Michael Chabon Treasury of Thrilling Tales by none other than Sherman Alexie. It's as nasty and moralistic as any of the EC Cryptkeeper's yarns, and simultaneously one of the most straight-up genre pieces and one of the most memorable stories in that oddball collection.
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I just got a strange and terrific present from my old amigo Sean, who lives among the Ewoks on Vancouver Island. He was buying a trade paperback of The Invisibles at a used bookstore, and the guy there told him they had "the original novel the comic book was based on." And so Sean bought and sent me this groovy little pulp paperback, published in 1971 by one Bernhardt J. Hurwood, and called, yep, The Invisibles.

Now I think the bookstore guy was having Sean on. I've been an Invisibles fanboy since 1995 and I've never heard anything about this book. And frankly, if Grant Morrison had been inspired by a semi-smutty drugsploitation novel from the 1970s, I don't think he'd be shy about admitting it.

And yet... the novel is about a two-fisted psycho-pharmacologist, a kind of Indiana Jones meets Timothy Leary type, who acquires psychic powers from experiments with psychotropic drugs, and then uses those powers to fight a globe-spanning conspiracy of evil, and also to have a lot of uninhibited 1971-style sex. It doesn't strictly mirror the plot of the 1990s Invisibles, but the whole vibe just screams Morrison. So who can say?

(The vibe also screams The New Know Nothings, which adds another level of weird synchronicity to this. Sean was the original creator of that Mage campaign I just posted about, with its whole 1970s Gothic Funk gestalt. I only took up the reins when he traipsed off to Vanuatu. Yet he must have bought and mailed the book just days before I dragged that old game summary up into the light.)

A little googling informs me that the euphoniously-named Bernhardt J. Hurwood was a "sexologist, sometime film critic, coattail-jumper, and definitive Burt Reynolds biographer," who also wrote The Bisexuals, The Girl, The Massage, and Everything, and the long-running Man From T.O.M.C.A.T. series (from which you will surely remember The Ominous Orgy and The Dozen Deadly Dragons of Joy). See what I mean about the Morrison vibe?

My working theory now is that Hurwood—the name is clearly a pseudonym or maybe even an anagram for something—actually was Grant Morrison, who, while writing the comic in the 1990s, projected himself back in time to the 1970s and wrote the Invisibles novel just to play with my head.


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