Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to Recognize an Alien

We all need to be prepared for certain things in life: debt, pain, stress, the last piece of cheesecake in the cafeteria, and alien invasion.  We will all have to deal with these things at some point.  However, I am afraid that people are woefully unprepared for a secret alien invasion.  I plan to correct that now.

First, allow me to clarify the kind of alien invasion I am talking about.  I am not speaking of the kind of obvious attack you so often see in films.  The military and everything are going to do their best to combat that; there is little you, as a private citizen, can offer as far as aid.  Let them do their thing.  They have the big guns.  However, there may very well come a day when the invasion is here, under our nose, and the military and the government don't even realize it.  This day might be tomorrow, thirty years from now, or it may even have already happened.  This has been the subject of several notable science fiction stories.  The point is, in the event of an alien invasion through subterfuge, you must be on your guard and ready to spot the aliens and thus bring them to the attention of the world at large.  Only then will we have a fighting chance.

So, for your convenience -- and I hope you treat this seriously -- I have assembled a small list of tips and tricks for you to begin to apply in your daily life.  Remember: they are out there, they might be among us, and it might be you that needs to stop them.

They may be able to take human form.
In fact, they probably will be able to.  You cannot expect to see any physical signs of their true nature.  They will undoubtedly look completely different from us in their true forms.  Therefore, they will have some way of disguising their true nature, either through a cloaking device, shapeshifting abilities, or any number of technological methods.  You will not know them by sight.  They could be anyone, even your best friend.  Paranoia is very healthy in this situation.

They will be unfamiliar with human culture and mannerisms.
As a result of being from a different planet, they will not be able to pass completely as human.  As a species, we have developed many things, such as body language, that are second nature to us, but will be very difficult for aliens to pick up on and imitate.  Expect aliens to be socially awkward or to react oddly to certain situations.  They will often have body language that feels forced or oddly controlled.  You will pick up on this subconsciously.  Listen to your instincts!  A big tip off will be laughter.  Laughter is a very human trait, and an alien who tries to imitate it is very likely to not get it quite right.  Pay attention to people's laughs.  Are they very forced?  Do they only have one or two laughs that they ever use, as though they have practiced them?  Do they take a second to laugh after everyone else has started laughing?

Note:  Be careful.  There are certain disorders among humans that can cause these signs.  People with autism or asperger syndrome can often behave much as I just described.  So be aware of this.  However, do not dismiss someone completely as an alien if they reveal to have a disorder like this.  It could, in fact, be a perfect cover for an alien not completely confident in its ability to blend in socially.

They may give things away in conversation.
When conversing with someone you suspect to be an extraterrestrial, try to get them to admit something. Don't do it so obviously that they see what you're doing, and if they do slip, act as though you don't notice.  There are several questions you can ask that might cause a momentary slip in the alien's disguise if you catch them at the right time.  For example:  "What planets do you like?"  "Do you think it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light?"  "So... Roswell was pretty weird, huh?"  "Can you help me with this extremely advanced physics homework I have?  Specifically, I need to calculate the best route to take from Alpha Centauri to Sirius B, taking into account... um... everything."

These three tips should get you started.  Remember: Trust No One.  Do not inform your friends or family of your suspicions of a suspected alien.  They may sell you out to win favor with the alien race.  Once you are certain of the extraterrestrial nature of the person, inform the CIA.  If you do not have a direct line to the CIA, I suggest calling random flower shops or bakeries and informing them of your situation.  Chances are that one of them is a front.  They'll get the message.

Be safe and have fun!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

In Defense of Superman

There has been sentiment among the public at large that Superman is "lame."  I've often heard people taking shots at him for being a "goody-good" or "overpowered" or "boring."  I'm here to defend the Man of Steel and hopefully change some minds about him.

I haven't ever been a huge DC fan; I'm more of a Marvel guy.  Nevertheless, I have a certain amount of respect for DC, although I am less familiar with the DCU than with the Marvel Universe.  My experience with the DCU has been limited to just a few comics and movie treatments of its characters.  Most of my experience with Superman was in the form of the old Christopher Reeve films in my childhood, which I remember enjoying.  This recent crusade in favor of Superman, though, has been brought on by having recently read the first volume of All Star Superman by Grant Morrison and penciled by Frank Quitely.  I thought it was fantastic, and it is mostly what has inspired this post.

One of the most common complaints of Superman is that he is too good, and thus boring.  I respectfully disagree.  Superman is indeed an idealistic hero, especially compared to characters like Batman (specifically the Chris Nolan version) or Wolverine.  Superman believes in truth and justice and doing the right thing.  Where some people see this as boring, I see it as admirable and even compelling.  A superhero doesn't need to be dark to be interesting and can have character drama and personality without having to do something morally ambiguous every other day.
Some thoughtful readers might pick up on an inconsistency here.  I have said before that I am not very interested in characters as nothing more than symbols, and much prefer fleshed-out, multi-dimensional characters.  How, then, can I like Superman so much?  I don't feel that Superman is a symbol at the expense of an interesting character, I feel that he is a symbol because he is an interesting character.  To understand what I mean, we need to ask the question: who is Superman?
Similar to Batman, Superman has three faces, with only one being his true identity.  With Batman, there is Bruce Wayne: billionaire playboy, Batman: masked avenger, and Bruce Wayne: a man haunted by his past.  Superman isn't just Superman.  He is Superman: the Man of Steel, hero to Metropolis and the world, Clark Kent: doofy, hapless reporter for the Daily Planet, and Clark Kent: small-town farm boy raised on good, old-fashioned family values.  The Clark Kent from Smallville is the "real" Clark Kent.  A human (okay, Kryptonian, but we're straw-picking here) with feelings, emotions, conflicts, and flaws, who is ultimately a hero.  This is a direct result of his upbringing.  From All Star Superman, Issue 6: Funeral in Smallville:
"Jonathan Kent taught me that the strong have to stand up for the weak and that bullies don't like being bullied back.  He taught me that a good heart is worth more than all the money in the bank.  He taught me about life and death.  He showed me by example how to be tough, and how to be kind, and how to dream of a better world.  Thanks, pa.  He taught me that the measure of a man lies not in what he says, but in what he does.  Those are lessons I'll never forget."
Superman isn't who he is because he is a symbol; he is a symbol because he is who is, thanks to his adoptive parents and the search for his own identity in the face of a strange background.  Superman works because he is an idealistic hero.  Superman is the best of all of us.  That is not to say that Superman is perfect.  I would agree that a flawless hero is uninteresting.  The great thing about Superman is that he works to overcome his flaws.  He might be jealous, selfish, even vain, but at the end of the day he wants to do the right thing.  I am going to quote Angel now, because I feel it is very applicable.  From 4x01: Deep Down:
"I did get time to think. About us, about the world. - Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. - It's harsh, and cruel. - But that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, what we've done or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world was what it should be, to show it what it can be."
This sums up what I love about Superman.  He is a champion.  He fights for the world he loves, in the hope that there will come a day that they won't need him to.  He doesn't just save people, he tries to show them what they can be.  He therefore becomes a symbol of perfection, something for everyone to aspire to be.  This is, of course, why he is the very definition of a superhero: a person who everyone respects and wants to be.  That's the whole point.  

An idealistic hero needs an idealistic villain: someone to reject and oppose every core belief the hero has.  Enter Lex Luthor, one of the greatest supervillains in all of comic book history.  The great thing about Lex is that he has no superpowers.  The superhero with by far the greatest power set has a nemesis with none at all.  Lex Luthor works as a villain not because he can beat Superman in a fight, but because he argues against everything Superman believes in.  To quote Lex in All Star Superman, Issue 5: The Gospel According to Lex Luthor:
"We all fall short of that sickening, inhuman perfection: that impossible ideal.  Feel that, Kent.  Real muscles, not like his.  Go on, feel!  It's easy to be strong when you just happen to come from the planet Krypton!  This takes hard work!"
Lex thinks that people cannot be as good and noble as Superman, and do force them to try is wrong.  Lex doesn't just want to destroy Superman, he wants to destroy everything he represents.  Lex believes that Superman is a genuine threat to the lives of the people of the world.  He believes that Superman's perfection makes everyone less so simply by his existence.  

It's easy to side with Luthor: to forget that Superman is a man like the rest of us.  He is, though.  His desire to protect is not born from superiority, but from love.  He loves this world and the people in it: his parents, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen.  His love of this world means that he will always be there when it needs him, not just to protect their lives, but to uphold their ideals.  To quote Angel again (people make a lot of comparisons between Angel and Batman because of the dark past, but there are quite a few similarities to be made between Angel and Ol' Supes as well.)  From Doyle in 1x01: City Of:
"It’s not all about fighting and gadgets and stuff. It’s about reaching out to people, showing them that there’s love and hope still left in the world.  It’s about letting them into your heart. It’s not about saving lives; it’s about saving souls. Hey, possibly your own in the process."
 A new Superman film is apparently in the works from Warner Brothers.  I fear that, with the success of The Dark Knight, they are going to try and imitate Chris Nolan's work on Batman.  They said of the film, "We're going to try to go dark to the extent that the character allows it."  While I love the Nolan Batman films, I think that this is completely the wrong direction to come at a Superman film.  What works for Batman doesn't work at all for Superman.  This trend of trying to make superhero films "dark and edgy" is forebodingly similar to what happened during the Dark Age of Comics about 15-20 years ago and ended up giving us some of the worst comic book stories in history.  So, from my tiny corner of the internet, I am issuing my plea:  don't butcher everything that is great about Superman.  If they are true to the character and honest to his story, they will make a good movie.  If they try to force him into a role he doesn't fit, I guarantee the movie will be a disaster, and probably only increase the strange dislike the public already has for Superman.

I hope that I have made you consider the merits that Superman has as a character, and maybe made you appreciate him more than you did before.  He is not my favorite Superhero by any means, but, in a world increasingly dominated by stories that feel the need to be dark and morally ambiguous, it's nice to have a superhero who can be counted on, who will do the right thing, stand up for the little guy, defend us in our time of need, and show us that there is still hope left in this world.  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Buffy Season 8 #37

Last Gleaming Part 2


I always feel weird about talking about a single issue in a larger arc.  In the modern age of comics, and especially with Buffy, it seems more and more like the stories are meant to be told in terms of arcs with individual issues being just smaller pieces.  In that sense, I feel like the arcs have been equivalent to episodes of the show, while the issues have been acts in those episodes.

With that in mind, I am going to put forth my two cents about the latest issue.

Obviously, spoilers follow for anything and everything in Season 8 so far.

Buffy:  

It is clear that Buffy has been through quite a bit this season.  I think her story has been mostly a story of having trouble dealing with a changed world.  She misses a lot of things from her old life.  Despite the fact that there are many slayers with her, she feels as alone as ever.  I think that is why she is so obsessed with sex in this issue, as well as in previous issues.  I am unclear as to her relationship with Angel.  Are they "back together?"  Or will things settle down when the effects of the space-frak leave?  It is clear that she still has feelings for Spike here, considering her distracting level of attraction towards him in their scene together.  My question is: where is all of this coming from?  Is Buffy still under the influence of the crazy-universe-stuff from the previous arc, or is she acting of her own volition now?  I will reserve judgment on Buffy until the story is finished and everything is (hopefully) put into better perspective.


Angel:  

Hmm.  Lots of issues here.  Many fans feel as though Angel has been "ruined" by his presence in this story.  I don't know about that, but I do think his character isn't as consistent as maybe he should be.  Angel had always been a puppet of some higher power; something was always controlling Angel:  Darla, Buffy, The Powers that Be, and ultimately Wolfram & Hart.  In Not Fade Away (AtS 5x22), Angel took a very clear stand against the things controlling his life.  By taking out the Circle of the Black Thorn, Angel took control over his own life and his own destiny for really the first time in his life.  Of course, this didn't end the best, and Angel ended up regretting his actions when LA was sent to hell as a result.  However, he came to the conclusion that he is not defined by the bad choices he has made: he is defined by what he does about them.  So at the end of After the Fall, we have a very clear-cut version of Angel:  someone who has done bad things, but has control over his own destiny and the desire to do good.  I have a hard time believing that this same Angel would fall in line with this "baby-universe" and do everything it tells him, especially if that meant hurting Buffy, killing hundreds of innocent people, and dressing up like a complete tool.  Angel at the end of Season Five was done playing by everyone else's rules, and I don't think he would do all the things he has done in Season Eight.

However, it is definitely possible, and Angel has made mistakes before.  This issue shows Angel attempting to make up for the horrible things he has done recently, and I think it does a fine job of it.  Of course, it's not exactly new ground for Angel.  In a lot of ways, this is the exact same story as After the Fall:  Angel making a choice and regretting it.  Except we don't know how this one ends.  I, for my part, doubt that Angel is going to listen to the Griffin thing (what the hell?).

Dawn/Xander:

I had a hard time warming up to these two, but I'll admit that they are cute in this issue.  It is clear that both of them just want to get away.  They are tired of all the horrible things they have to see everyday and just want to find some peace.  Xander has been through a lot of pain.  Anya's death, then Renee's death.  I can sympathize with him just wanting to be happy.  At the same time, I am still struggling to understand why Xander and Dawn are together at all.  It seems like not enough time has been devoted to them to really give us a reason.  Their relationship really happened behind the scenes.  I'm interested to see where it goes, and I think it has a lot of potential, but I'm not quite ready to get behind it just yet.  However, it very well might be cut short considering the apocolypsey nature of the story and the ample amount of foreshadowing of Dawn's death.

Giles/Faith:

I have to say that I love this pairing.  Giles and Faith make such a great team, and I really wish we had gotten to see more of them this season.  Their scene together was one of the most genuine parts of the issue.  It was just a moment, but it seemed as though Giles was very sorry that Faith had to be put back into a situation where she has to be violent.  I really hope neither of these characters die, because I really want to see their relationship explored further in Season 9.

Overall, I think it was a solid issue.  I think the rest of the arc needs to happen before I judge, though.  There are definitely a few flaws: Xander and Dawns relationship being poorly justified, Angel's inconsistent character, and Buffy's lack of solid characterization, but these problems may all be rectified in the final issues.

Closing thoughts:


  • I really like the panel with Faith's reflection in the window and the panel with Xander and Dawn's forehead's touching.
  • I appreciate Xander's insistence on being a part of this whole thing:  "It's Sunnydale.  You can't leave me out of this.  Take us home."
  • The Master didn't get a whole lot of page time, which is frustrating.  Unless he does something uber-important next issue, I am going to chalk up his appearance to fanservice, and nonsensical fanservice at that, considering he is supposed to be dead.
  • It really seems to me that they are setting up Willow as the betrayer, considering the whole death-of-magic thing.  I think it would be very interesting to see Willow choose to destroy magic, and I hope she ends up not being the betrayer.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Homestar Runner - Any Time Now

In 2005, I was introduced to a website that changed my life.  That sounds kind of dramatic, I admit, but it's true.  A website that I would visit every so often, with increasing regularity, that would always take my mind off of my troubles.  No matter how I was feeling or what problems I had in my life, this site would always and without fail, lift my spirits.  It didn't do this by being inspirational or encouraging, it did it through humor: simple, beautiful comedy.  This site was called www.homestarrunner.com.

The greatest thing about homestar is its simplicity.  The animation, the stories, the characters, everything is simple.  I realize that this is a bit out of character for me.  For the most part, I enjoy deep character drama, even in my comedy.  Homestar somehow gets a pass on this.  It is just so charming.  Fun.  Really the perfect escape, which is probably why I love it so much.

Homestar Runner was created by Mike and Matt Chapman (The Brothers Chaps (TBC)).  Since 2000, they have been bringing laughter and joy to the hearts of their many fans through regular (usually weekly) updates to the site.  Strong Bad emails, in particular, have enjoyed success, totaling at over 200 cartoons and bringing to life many internet memes including Trogdor the Burninator and Teen Girl Squad.  The legendary 200th email was particularly extravegant, with They Might Be Giants joining in the fun.  (They Might Be Giants and TBC have collaborated many times in the past, with TBC even making the music video for their song: Experimental Film.)

Recently, updates to the site have stopped cold.  The Brothers Chaps have had hiatuses before, but never for this long.  The last real update to the site was on November 10th, 2009.  They did a small update on April 1st, 2010, but it was just a small April Fools Day toon.  We have never gone this long without an update to Homestar Runner.  Many explanations have been given for the hiatus.  In December, Matt had his second child.  There are also rumors that Mike and Craig Zobel are working on a stop-motion film for the Jim Henson company.  A lot of fans simply think that TBC don't really feel that compelled to do the site anymore and are just calling it quits.

October, though, is a pivotal month.  Since the site's inception, TBC have made a halloween cartoon every single year.  Halloween is on the horizon, and homestar fans everywhere are waiting, growing more tense with every day that passes.  The question we all find ourselves asking:  will TBC return for Halloween?

I can say that I will be among the many to check Homestar on halloween, waiting with baited breath to see if Homestar Runner will once again return triumphantly for the 10th Halloween cartoon.  If there's no toon, I can honestly saw that I will cry.  There will be tears.

But it will be alright, in the end, even if they never return.  It will be the end of an era, to be sure, but all of those hours of entertainment will still be there for us to revisit again and again.  I like my no-armed white dude, and even if TBC never make another toon ever again, he'll still be there, mispronouncing his awws.