Monthly Archives: July 2008

Neil Gaiman to write Batman

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July 28, 2008

That’s right. It’s like cookies and cream. Chocolate and banana. Laurel and Hardy. Although, that suggests a comedy, but no analogy bears close examination. In other words, it’s a perfect pairing.

One of my all time favourite authors is taking the helm for a two issue special with my all time favourite fictional hero. According to comic’s Newsarama.com:

As announced in the “DC Nation: One Weekend Later” panel on Sunday at San Diego Comic-Con, and exclusively on video at Newsarama right here , Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert will team in January of 2009 for a Batman story entitled, “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?”

It’s going to be a two part story in two oversize issues, one Batman and one Detective Comics and is designed to be a serious turning point in the Batman canon.

Read all about it here.

Now we just need to know if Gaiman is really going to write an episode of Doctor Who or not. Fingers crossed.

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A ‘Verse Full of Scum – Episode 25

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July 28, 2008

I’m sorry. My internet connection has been very unstable lately. I have no idea why. Yesterday I couldn’t get online at all.

However, episode 25 of VFoS is now posted. Next week I’ll be moving house, so episode 26 may not be bang on time either, but I’ll do my best.

Anyway, enjoy this episode where Ghost is finally back on the trail of the Magicker, Gans. Go to the Serial Novella page to catch up.

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The Dark Knight

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July 23, 2008

There are spoilers later in this post but I’ll warn you before they appear, so read on in safety for now.

I actually went to see this movie on Sunday. Today I went to see it again. It’s not often that I’ll do that. In fact, this is the first time in years that I’ve done it, so I guess that’s some indication of how good this film is.

I should qualify this from the outset with the fact, as I’ve mentioned on this blog before, that I’m an absolute fan of Batman. I’ve been reading the comics since I was a kid and I still read them. I have a little Batman statue at home. Yes, I’m that much of a fan (read: geek.) So, by that standard, I’m very hard to please when it comes to Batman movies. Frankly, I hate them. Burton’s original Batman films looked good but the stories were awful, Keaton is not a good Batman by any stretch of the imagination and they killed the Joker. Awful. And the movies just got worse after that.

So when Nolan cast Christian Bale in Batman Begins I was intrigued. Reservedly I went along and I was thoroughly impressed. I had (and still have) a bit of an issue about how he made Henri Ducard and Ra’s Al Ghul the same person, but I can live with that. Otherwise it was an excellent film.

the dark knight The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is better. When it was obvious at the end of Batman Begins that Nolan was taking on the greatest Batman villain ever, in fact, the greatest villain ever, I was excited and concerned. The Joker is my second favourite fictional character, after Batman himself. The two are opposite sides of a coin, but more on that later.

I was also concerned when I first heard that Heath Ledger had been cast in the role. But I had very high hopes for the film and Heath was getting some extremely high praise early on. Believe me, he deserved it. Bale is excellent as Batman, even if he still can’t quite get The Voice. Aaron Eckhardt plays a great Harvey Dent, Gary Oldman is always outstanding and is once again with Jim Gordon in this film. But Heath Ledger steals the show. His performance is flawless. Let’s take a look at why.

This film deals with three primary issues, rather than the usual two issues of good and bad. Each is personified by the three leads. There’s good, moral righteousness, played by Batman, with his hard and fast rule of ‘no killing’. He’s not shining white good, he has to let crime happen to get to the roots of it, but that makes him a realistic good and shows the strength all good people strive for. Then, in place of bad, there’s chance and chaos. This is so much more realistic than a simple morality tale. Bad is easy. Bad is selfish people helping themselves and hurting other people along the way. They’re easily dealt with too. You just trap them with their own vice, be it money, power, whatever. But there are far scarier things in the world than bad people.

There’s chance, which we can do nothing about. In this case that chance is personified by Two Face, making life and death decisions with the flip of a coin. And there’s chaos, again beyond our control, which is where The Joker comes in. He’s not after money or power or anything else. As Alfred puts it during the film, “There are some people that just want to watch the world burn.”

joker The Dark Knight

This is why The Joker is such a great villain. This is why he’s so scary. This is also what every portrayal of The Joker before this one has missed. Nolan got it, directing the film. Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David S Goyer got it with the script and story. And Heath Ledger got it. The Joker even makes a point of telling Harvey Dent during the film, “I’m an agent of chaos.” He really is.

There are going to be SPOILERS now, so stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie. Go and watch it and then come back.

The Dark Knight deals with two primary stories. One is a great crime caper. It’s as good a crime movie as Heat. Sure, it’s Heat on acid, set in a nightmare, but the comparison is still valid. There’s the police versus the Mob and the bigger than life characters that are the primary drivers of that situation. It deals with corruption, trust, heroism, sacrifice. All the good stuff you expect from a crime thriller. And it does a really good job of it.

But it’s also a Batman movie. Nolan has been quite open about the fact that he took a lot of inspiration for the film from an Alan Moore graphic novel called The Killing Joke. And so he should. No Joker story would be right without that book as its inspiration. It’s the best Batman story ever written, in my opinion. I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the best stories ever written. You really should read it if you haven’t already. If you have, read it again. It’s about the fact that Batman and The Joker need each other. It’s about how one created the other and sustains the other. It’s about how The Joker is trying to prove that Batman is really not so different from The Joker himself. In a line from the book The Joker, talking to Batman, says, “When I saw what a black, awful joke the world was, I went crazy as a coot. I admit it. Why can’t you?”

the killing joke The Dark Knight

In the movie, The Joker says, “You complete me!” and “This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” The Joker and Batman are a duality, with Batman representing good and The Joker, rather than representing bad, represents something that scares us even more. Chaos. The unpredictable. The car that jumps the lights as you cross, the shadow on the MRI scan, the fish bone turning sideways in your throat. There’s nothing you can do about it, no way to plan, no way to predict it and catch it out. And with a hero and defender as powerful as Batman, it takes a force of chaos as powerful as The Joker to really make him viable.

In the movie, Harvey Dent is close to becoming the open, maskless force of good that the city needs. But The Joker sees in the Batman a reflection of himself and can’t let Dent take the mantle of the bat. He tears Harvey Dent down, murders his love and disfigures him. As The Joker says to Batman, “I tore him down to our level.” By doing that he ensures that Batman will have to stay. Batman staying means The Joker always has a purpose, a justification. He knows the Batman will never kill him, because the Batman believes in his own code, his rules. The Joker will never kill the Batman because he’s “just too much fun.” Should the Batman ever crack and kill The Joker, which is the only way to really stop him, then The Joker wins anyway, as Batman has forsaken his rule and descended to the bottom.

These are all themes that the movie deals with excellently, while providing an incredible visual feast (with real explosions and the flipping of eighteen wheelers, no less), and it wraps it up in a great crime caper.

So, is it the perfect film? No, not quite. The primary problem is that it’s a bit too long. The first time I saw it I thought it was much too long. The second time I didn’t mind so much. It’s really refreshing that a Hollywood movie attempted, and largely pulled off, a complex, intellectual story. It doesn’t insult your intelligence, at least not until the last twenty minutes or so.

The other problem, and it’s tied into the first, is the killing off of Harvey Two-Face at the end. It takes something away from The Joker’s finale and it forces the writers to hammer home their points too much. After all the complexity, they club you with their point at the end to make sure you got it and that’s a shame. They needed Batman to become the vigilante again. They needed him to be the hero that Gotham needs, dark and frightening, and take the rap for all the shit going down. They did that by letting Batman take the heat for all the things that Two-Face did after The Joker cracked Harvey Dent. They should have let it go at that.

We didn’t need to have Two-Face’s story wrapped up at the end. They should have let him go on and Batman could still have taken the rap for the things he did. They didn’t need that scene at the end with Two-Face threatening Gordon’s family. They really didn’t need Gordon spelling it all out for us again. It would have been more intense to have left it with Two-Face being out there somewhere and Batman, a vigilante again, trying to find him and bring him in before he ruins Harvey Dent’s reputation. It would also have made a nice thread to pick up in the next movie if they make one.

However, aside from that rather small quibble in the grand scheme of things, this really is a great movie. Definitely the film of the year so far and Heath Ledger’s Joker should be a benchmark for all future villains to try to live up to. And they should never be ashamed if they can’t.

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Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

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July 21, 2008

I know, it sounds truly ridiculous. And it is. But in a good way.

I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon. Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel were top-notch television and Firefly was a notch above them, and a series that should never have been cancelled. It got us Serenity, but that’s not enough. Anyway, suffice to say that Whedon is something of a genius when it comes to writing sci-fi and fantasy based scripts. He always has this comedic edge to his writing, yet manages to deliver horror and shock along the way.

During the writer’s strike in the US last year he decided to use his time to engage in a purely personal project and put together a short film using actors he had worked with before and even getting his brothers in on the crew. The film he made is Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

banner2 Dr Horribles Sing Along Blog

For a few short hours the film was streamed for free from the website in three fifteen minute acts. It’s now available to download from iTunes for the very modest price of US$4. There is also going to be a DVD released, which will supposedly contain all kinds of delicious extras.

The story is about Dr Horrible, played by “Doogie Houser” Neil Patrick Harris (will he ever get past that casting?), and his efforts to take over the world and win the heart of Penny, played by Felicia Day. He is, however, rather too embarrassed to talk to Penny and is also concentrating on getting into the Evil League of Evil, headed by the bad horse, Bad Horse. So along comes Captain Hammer, Nathan Fillion, to save the day and steal the girl. Oh yeah, they totally did it.

It’s a truly bizarre short film, not least because it’s a musical. Fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer will recall the episode from Season 6 called Once More, With Feeling, where a mysterious force made all the characters sing their dialogue. There is spoken dialogue as well as songs in Dr Horrible, but the Buffy episode was never far from my mind. Whedon is so good at putting together songs that are lyrically brilliant and utterly stupid at the same time. As I said before, he’s a genius.

Anyway, click on the banner above to have a look. You’ve missed the free stream now, but it’s certainly worth US$4 of your hard-earned to see this thing. And it’s a great experiment by Whedon and friends to use the power of the internet to pay his crew and have a successful film without producers and big company involvement. As an independent publisher I can certainly get with that program. There’s also a comic book of Captain Hammer that you can check out, written by Zack Whedon.

Hat-tip to Michael for putting me on to this.

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World Youth Day – even the name is abuse

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July 20, 2008

Word abuse that is. I was going to try to avoid posting anything about this mass gathering of Catholics (pun very much intended) but I can’t help it. Hundreds of thousands of “pilgrims” from all over the world coming to Sydney to block our roads and cost our small businesses at least a weeks takings. Not to mention the massive amount of our supposedly secular tax dollars that got donated into the event. An event held by the wealthiest religious institution in the world, incidentally.

But I’ll avoid all the obvious rantings that are so easy with something like this. Let’s keep the whole thing on topic for the blog. Well, as much on topic as this blog ever is.

You can always rely on religious institutions to have very little respect for words and their meanings. They’ll bleat on about the literal word of god or the sacred word of scripture and so on, and then they come out with a selection of words like World Youth Day. The only word among those three that is vaguely accurate is World. It is an event that is televised all over the world and people from all over the world descend upon it. But Youth? Day? The bloody thing went on for a week and had very little to do with youth.

Sure, old Pope Benedict the Ratzinger prattled on about how the young people should pay heed if they feel that their god is calling them into the service of the church. After all, most church leaders of all ranks are getting old or being hidden away in distant parishes to help them avoid accusations of child abuse and, no matter how much they big themselves up, the church is slowly dying. It’s one small mercy, I suppose. Calling the event World Catholic Indoctrination Week would have been far more accurate. But the church, any church, never has much of a track record when it comes to accuracy.

popebenedictxvi 3 World Youth Day – even the name is abuse

Pope Benedict the Creepily Smug Looking

Which brings us to another piece of word abuse associated with this event. Their slogan – The Time Of Your Eternal Life. Really? It says very little for heaven if a few days freezing your arse off camped at Randwick Racecourse is as good as it’s ever going to get. Who wants resurrection and eternal life if it’s not even as good as Sydney in the winter. Don’t get me wrong, I like Sydney (without the Catholics), but it’s not my idea of the pinnacle of human existence. At least, not in July.

And one final gem from Ratzinger himself. On Friday he gave an apology to the victims of clerical sexual abuse. He made no mention of what they were going to do to prevent it happening in the future, and even had the audacity to suggest that he felt their pain. But the apology was made, however insincerely. Then the very next day, during his mass, he spoke of the need to embrace the church to beware the dangers of a secular existence. Apparently the irony was utterly lost on him.

Ah well, at least it’s all over for now. I pity Madrid in three years time.

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A ‘Verse Full of Scum – Episode 24

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July 20, 2008

Back from the snow and back on track with the ‘Verse publishing shedule. Episode 24 is online now. Head on over to the Serial Novella page to have a read.

In this episode, Ghost takes back control of the situation.

Enjoy.

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A ‘Verse Full of Scum – Episode 23

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July 14, 2008

I know, it’s late – I apologise. I’m having a few days off enjoying the Australian winter ski season up in Thredbo. It’s been a long time since I last skiid and it’s taking a while for the old skills to come back. Man, my legs hurt.

But you don’t care about that. I only mention it in my defence as skiing is the reason that I forgot to post the next episode of ‘Verse yesterday. But here it is today. In this episode, Ghost makes a grisly discovery after his fight with the scumbag Bartellian.

Head on over to the Serial Novella page to check it out.

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32 sci fi novels you should read, apparently

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July 6, 2008

Well, according to How To Split An Atom anyway. (Thanks to S F Signal for pointing this one out.)

Why should I read these books? I suppose it’s out of some kind of sense of belonging. A need to fit in. While I would vehemently deny ever doing anything because I wanted to fit in, there must be some sub-conscious residue of it somewhere deep inside me. To be honest, at a conscious level I would deliberately avoid fitting in as a matter of principle. It was this attitude that saw me in tattered clothes and Hard Rock hairsprayed mohicans in the eighties and early nineties. Ah, those were the days, back when I had hair.

However, follicle nostalgia notwithstanding, whenever I see a list like this (100 greatest movies, 50 best tv shows and so on) I can’t help but have a look and see how many of them I’ve seen, read, enjoyed, whatever. It’s as if there’s some kind of validation in my agreeing with some completely arbitrary list written by some completely anonymous internetian that is probably no more relevant or influential than I am. I would like to say that said author is almost certainly less relevant than me, but here I am talking about one, so I should be wary of my glass walls when throwing these stones.

So when I saw this list I immediately had a read with the thought uppermost in my mind being, “I wonder how many of this guy’s top 32 I’ve read?” It can go a few different ways, this thought process. If I read his list and think he’s a completely tasteless dweeb with absolutely no respect for the real quality stuff then I can feel superior to him if I’ve read very few of his top books. If I really agree with his tastes I can feel validated if I’ve read a good percentage of them. Or depressed if I’ve hardly read any. So what happened with this list? Well, let’s start by reproducing the list:

Foundation – Isaac Asimov
The Time Machine – H.G. Wells
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
Animal Farm – George Orwell
War Of The Worlds – H.G. Wells
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The Minority Report – Philip K. Dick
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Pattern Recognition – William Gibson
Accelerando – Charles Stross
I Robot – Isaac Asimov
Stranger In A Strange Land – Robert A. Heinlein
Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
The Giver – Lois Lowry
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – Jules Verne
Ringworld – Larry Niven
More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
Spook Country – William Gibson
Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom – Cory Doctorow
Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan
Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
Dune – Frank Herbert
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Douglas Adams
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
1984 – George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton
A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
Timeline – Michael Crichton

Now, that’s a pretty solid list on the whole. The author, Steve Spalding’s, reasoning for the list is not in any order of preference, it seems, but “books that have pushed the boundaries of the genre, inspired generations of thinkers and in some cases have even predicted key aspects of societies [sic] development.”

I would have to agree with a large number of them. But there do seem to be some authors that are glaringly obvious by their omission. After all, if there are multiple entries by some authors (often deservedly so), surely Steve could have slipped some other authors in there instead. Or made it a top 50. Why 32 anyway? Why am I even asking? After all, I mentioned early on how arbitrary these things are. One author I would have absolutely included, for example, is Iain M Banks. No list of quality sci-fi is complete without him. I won’t bother mentioning further, as, being such an arbitrary subject, why are my views any more valid than Mr Spalding’s?

But, as he has taken the time to put together a list, does it validate me? I like his taste, I agree with a lot of the content, so I would hope to have read a good number of his suggestions if my credentials as a lover of sci-fi and fantasy are to remain intact in my fragile psyche. The answer? Sixteen out of thirty two. Exactly fifty per cent. That’s not a bad strike rate. And seeing as I don’t completely agree with him, not a bad indication of how our tastes overlap. But as I don’t really give a shit about these things it doesn’t matter anyway.

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A ‘Verse Full of Scum – Episode 22

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July 6, 2008

Episode 22 of Verse is up now on the Serial Novella page. In this episode, Ghost has a bit of a tussle with the renegade, Bartellian.

Enjoy.

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Homosexual wins 100m

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July 1, 2008

Thanks to Michael over at a Nadder for putting me on to this little beauty. According to The Carpetbagger Report (commentary and analysis on politics in America), there are a number of far-right sites that subscribe to the Associated Press news feed but use an auto-correct feature to change certain words that they deem too left leaning. For example, they might auto-correct Democratic Party to Democrat Party. Idiots. And you thought everything on the interenet was pure and unblemished.

Anyway, what would often seem to be some fairly harmless editing and censoring can have repercussions that you might not expect. You might think it’s pretty irrelevant. After all, if you read websites that lean so far right as to edit words to suit their agenda then you get everything you deserve. So I suppose you’d be right in your assumption that it’s irrelevant. But nothing is irrelevant when it’s funny.

According to the Carpet Baggers, American Family Association’s OneNewsNow website replaces the word “gay” in AP articles with the word “homosexual.” Pretty pointless. I guess they don’t want to imply that people that are same sex attracted might be happy. Anyway, when you automate these things, hilarity can ensue. Like when a guy called Tyson Gay wins a 100m race. You’ve already guessed exactly where this is going, so let’s just reproduce the copy:

Homosexual eases into 100 final at Olympic trials

Tyson Homosexual easily won his semifinal for the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials and seemed to save something for the final later Sunday.

His wind-aided 9.85 seconds was a fairly cut-and-dry performance compared to what happened a day earlier. On Saturday, Homosexual misjudged the finish in his opening heat and had to scramble to finish fourth, then in his quarterfinal a couple of hours later, ran 9.77 to break the American record that had stood since 1999. […]

Homosexual didn’t get off to a particularly strong start in the first semifinal, but by the halfway mark he had established a comfortable lead. He slowed somewhat over the final 10 meters-nothing like the way-too-soon complete shutdown that almost cost him Saturday. Asked how he felt, Homosexual said: “A little fatigued.”

Brilliant. Idiots always manage to out themselves in the end. And the blogosphere is only too happy to make sure everyone knows about it. The site has since corrected its copy, but Right Wing Watch blog got the screen grab. Well done, guys.

Just another reason to cross check all your news. Trust no one. Except me, of course. You can trust me, cos I’m a speculative fiction author.

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The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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