Out of the Pantheon, Into the Fire


Quick: What's your favorite current TV show?

I don't mean the one you think is the best, necessarily, but the one you can just let go and enjoy most, whether that feeling comes from pulse-pounding action, total investment in the characters, or laugh-out-loud comedy — or all three.

Mine's Supernatural.

You might've been expecting me to say Lost. I think that the acting on Lost is underrated, find the premise and plot intricacies often brilliant, and believe that even if it doesn't end well it will likely stand the test of time as both an example of what can be achieved in the realm of television narrative and in terms of multimedia or, if you will, metamedia exposure. But even though I can still be thrilled as a given episode unfolds, I think too much about Lost, and the imminence of the finale gives me agita.

With its gripping scripts, great performances, and gorgeous cinematography, Breaking Bad may be the most accomplished show on television, but it's almost too bleak to refer to as a show one "likes". Sure, I'm totally into it, but I can only watch it when I have something light to unwind with afterwards (not even then, right now; I've lost AMC to the digital-cable tier).

Supernatural is delightful, diverting storytelling. It debuted in 2005, airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on The CW, and broadcast its 101st episode last week.

Promo image TM & © 2009 The CW Network LLC.

From third to fifth grade, having read the classics in Ms. Kerscher's room, I was plowing through every book on Greek mythology I could find. Pretty much every comics-loving kid does the same. In middle school, I'd quickly get into Narnia, Prydain, and other fantasy series, as well as some science-fiction stuff, but before that I exhausted my elementary school's small mythology section and then moved on down the aisle: After the Greco-Roman volumes — from the D'Aulaires to Bulfinch to Robert Graves — came Norse and Egyptian (also familiar from comics but less so), then young-reader "horror" anthologies with names like Gaelic Ghosts that retold spooky folk tales from around the world. Slavic vampires and Irish faerie tricksters and wronged spirits from the heartland of America — it's these stories, especially those native to the good ol' USA, that brothers Sam & Dean Winchester have explored for nearly five seasons of Supernatural.

The series has its own considerable mythology, rooted in Judeo-Christian lore but incorporating other world religions and legends — with, of course, interpretations and inventions specific to the show. And in what was intended to (but now won't) be its final season it has some wholly coincidental similarities to Lost. I'll touch upon those in a more comprehensive post, but the latest Supernatural prompted me to finally stop writing about the show and start publishing.

While it began as a ghost- and demon-oriented cousin of The X-Files and its predecessor Kolchak the Night Stalker, albeit with less investigation and more outright monster-hunting, Supernatural has slowly edged closer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer territory with the revelation of the Winchester boys' "chosen" status and the show's shift from done-in-one "creature of the week" episodes to the grand battle between the forces of Heaven and Hell — although it's still not quite as serialized as Buffy was at the end, nor, I hope, too wrapped up in its mythology to accommodate new viewers. Even amidst the actual Apocalypse, we've seen some relatively stand-alone episodes this season that, frankly, seem rather hard to swallow despite the fact that the brothers, separately and together, have had their periods of eschatological apathy.

I was late to the game on
Supernatural, but all that meant was that I got to gorge myself on the first two seasons via DVD — enjoying the commentary from creator Eric Kripke and other special features so much that I've rented later discs just for the bonus material. The down side of such feasting is the famine that comes once one is caught up and has to wait a week or more between new episodes; sure, I could extend the famine until the next DVD release in favor of feasting again (as I have to do with, say, HBO series; I'm still waiting for the next batch of True Blood), but the third season was pivotal and the thrill ride of the series since then has been too powerful a lure. As soon as you have time in your television schedule, I heartily recommend the all-you-can-eat Supernatural buffet. In the meantime, however, if you don't mind jumping into an epic storyline as it barrels towards the climax and you do enjoy seeing figures from ancient mythology or allusions to Paradise Lost represented in contemporary popular fiction, then last week's episode is a nifty little treat.

"Hammer of the Gods" finds the Winchester boys at Elysian Fields, a much nicer layover than their usual roadside motels, to which it turns out they've been lured by a conclave of interdenominational deities. Offended and endangered by the destruction being wrought on Earth based on the Christian
Book of Revelation, the Hindu goddess Kali and Norse god Baldur are presiding over a summit of celestials that runs the gamut from Mercury to Odin to Ganesha to Baron Samedi — sorry, Lost fans, no Taweret, but Lucifer's current human host is a very familiar face. You need to know that Sam and Dean are resisting their supposedly destined roles as vessels for Lucifer and the archangel Michael in those beings' final battle, and that a persistent thorn in the brothers' side was recently revealed to be the archangel Gabriel, although the other avatars believe him to be Loki. In case you're still not convinced, I offer some select snippets of dialogue.

Baldur: "Why are you here?"
Gabriel: "To talk about the elephant in the room.
[to Ganesha] Not you."

Gabriel:
[to Kali] "Screw this marble. Let's go check out Pandora."

Gabriel:
[to Lucifer] "Play the victim all you want. But you and me? We know the truth. Dad loved you best — more than Michael; more than me. Then he brought the new baby home and you couldn't handle it. So all this is just a great, big temper tantrum."

Plus the episode has a promo for Ghostfacers, the parody of paranormal-investigator reality shows set within the world of Supernatural that's now its own Web series
.

Humorous, serious, rewarding certain knowledge (of theology, of mythology, of horror films) without requiring it, Supernatural is grade-A entertainment. My only real complaint is that it tends towards the bloody, but then it is make-believe. If not, we're all in trouble.

Update: Thanks to more Blogger problems and my lack of regular computer access the past few days, this post is actually now about the episode before the most recent one, but "Hammer of the Gods" is still available to watch free at the CW site at this writing.

And That's Why It's Called Cape May


Drugstores, newsagents, and five-&-tens were my main sources of comic books as a kid in South Jersey, as I wrote in an early installment of Empaneled. But I could only learn so much about their history from reprints and editorial pages. Luckily, a bevy of books on comic books awaited at the good old Cape May County Library, where surveys of my favorite four-color fantasies and their forebears could be found in (mostly) cold, hard black and white.



The one I checked out most often was a 1973 tome aptly titled The Comic-Book Book, edited by Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson. I read it (and kept it past its due date) with such fervor and frequency that my dad finally bought it for me — the actual library copy. Whether he felt bad that its sturdy hardcover spine was breaking or the staff figured that mine was the only name ever on the circulation card so we might as well skip the formalities, I don't know, but it remains a prized possession and is even more of a collector's item now than it would otherwise be for reasons I'll reveal later. At some point I also got my hands on a mass-market paperback of 1970's All in Color for a Dime, the collection of essays from Lupoff's fanzine Xero to which TCBB was a sequel; I sucked in its tales of the early days of superheroes and the industry that spawned them until the book was left a brittle, coverless husk.



Also in the small section of the stacks devoted to my growing passion, devoured time and again by me, were Les Daniels' 1971 The Comix: An Illustrated History, Jules Feiffer's 1965 The Great Comic-Book Heroes, and one or more of the Crown-family books dedicated to DC characters. Daniels' book was a collection of articles on various facets of comic-book history, like The Comic-Book Book, while Feiffer's was more of a memoir, covering the author's boyhood adoration of the medium's costumed crimefighters; its prose half was too adult-oriented for me in the single digits of age — I had no idea at the time that Feiffer had worked alongside the legendary Will Eisner on The Spirit or that he had become a celebrated author and cartoonist in his own right — but the back half of the book was made up of color comic-book reprints, many of which I'd never seen before, featuring Quality's Plastic Man, Timely/Marvel's Human Torch and Captain America, and others.



The Superman and Batman entries in The Great Comic-Book Heroes weren't as thrilling as those of less widely known characters, because the big guys' archives were regularly mined in DC's tabloid-sized comics and plumbed for posterity in the aforementioned Crown/Harmony/Bonanza books. I'm sure that the library had at least the first of those books, 1971's Superman: From the Thirties to the Seventies, but I eventually received as gifts it and further volumes covering Batman, Wonder Woman, and the Captain Marvel family (originally published by Fawcett but by then licensed, and later purchased outright, by DC — which, deep breath now, had to market the characters under the family's magic word, Shazam!, since the trademark on the name Captain Marvel lapsed a decade before DC's revival of the characters and was picked up by, appropriately if frustratingly for fans of the original, rival comic-book publisher Marvel). Unlike the other anthologies, edited with notes by DC historian E. Nelson Bridwell and covering the title characters from their origins to contemporary adventures, the 1972 Wonder Woman book had no subtitle, limited its reprints to the Golden Age, and featured sociopolitical essays from Gloria Steinem and psychologist Phyllis Chesler.



While the bygone tales of familiar DC superheroes were fascinating and just plain fun, there was a whole different excitement to The Comic-Book Book. I learned of series, creators, and characters much older and often farther afield than anything I'd experienced first-hand; some were seriously obscure, others known to and beloved by fans many years my senior — in either case, nothing I likely had any hope of seeing outside of small, grayscaled reproductions in my conglomeration of loaned and owned comic-book texts, which also included The Overstreet Comic-Book Price Guide. The breadth of genres popular in previous eras, from horror to science fiction to romance, was of interest even as I paid little attention to to anything beyond superheroes on the spinner racks. But there were certainly superheroes here too, many of whom I drew based purely on their descriptions in prose, as if recreating a baseball game from box scores.


No entry for The Comic-Book Book turns up in the library's online catalog, so the copy my dad bought for me may never have been replaced. I should rectify that, since new trade-paperback editions of TCCB and All in Color for a Dime were released about a dozen years ago by Krause, the publisher of Comics Buyer's Guide, and they deserve to be there far more than my own efforts. While CBG is now a slick monthly magazine, for quite some time after Krause acquired it from originator Alan Light it remained a weekly newspaper — co-edited by Don Thompson, who assembled AICFAD and TCCB with Dick Lupoff, and his wife Maggie Thompson, who contributed an article on The Spirit to TCCB and still edits Buyer's Guide today. I sold my first article to CBG in college and saw Don at a number of Roger Price's Mid-Ohio Cons around that time, not star-struck exactly but amazed that I could be standing next to one of the men responsible for such a vital piece of my childhood. During my time in the comic-book industry I was fortunate enough to pay respects to, interview, work with, and even befriend many men and women who wrote and drew treasured tales in my collection or were seminal figures in the medium's history, from Will Eisner to Julius Schwartz to Ramona Fradon to Stan Goldberg to John Byrne, naming just a few folks from memorable moments that flash to mind. Though I don't really get the appeal of autographs for their own sake, I've enjoyed having people personalize something for me after meeting them, and one year it finally dawned on me to bring my original copy of The Comic-Book Book to a convention for Maggie to sign (though Don had, sadly, passed away some years before). I can't dig out the book right now to share what she wrote, but it's of interest to anyone who's ever read her article and, indeed, I believe she adds the same thing to every copy of TCBB that's presented to her. How I went from poring over the Thompsons' handiwork as a kid in small-town New Jersey to writing for them, and even catching a ride with Don and Bob Ingersoll in the Krause van from our hotel to the convention hall one Ohio morning, I'm still not sure, but I know it had a lot to do with following my dreams. I hope that yours have led you to similarly welcome surprises.

All cover art, logos, and characters property of their respective trademark and copyright holders.

Chuck Not Up



Promo image © 2009 and logo TM Warner Bros. Television.

Chuck aired the second of two satisfying finales last night at 8 p.m. on NBC — and the season isn't even over. One was broadcast a month ago and was indeed intended as a season if not series capper when written, but the network ordered another half-dozen episodes; the first of those ran last night and would also have been a fulfilling end to not just Season Three but the show as a whole. This makes three great final chapters of Chuck in less than a year, which is three more than many series manage. Spoiler warning: I get into plot details in the last few paragraphs.

TV shows are often reluctant to shake things up until they need to, when it's usually too late to feel organic within the series' premise or too much to even maintain the familiar vibe of the program. Most are at the opposite extreme of Law and Order, the king of cast turnaround (of which I've never seen a single episode); characters haunt the squad, the school, or the starship longer than credibility warrants and keep a very closed clique to boot. Change tends to come only in cliffhangers, with the status quo soon reinstated, or when stars finally decide to muster out. Producers and network brass are reluctant to monkey with a show's setup even when that setup becomes less believable in its stagnancy, fearing viewer discomfort and revolt; they may have a point, but for my money the only thing more frustrating in series fiction than lack of progress is being teased with progress only to have it yanked away.

While not exactly a comedy, Chuck definitely has a situation that makes the series much more of a mixed bag than most of its talented crew deserves. As noted in my capsule review last year, the subplots set at the Buy More drag the series from enjoyably light action-romance to painfully unfunny inanity, and a consistent failure of the show despite its admirable character development has been its repeated boomerang back to Buy More farce as a crutch despite numerous opportunities to leave the location and the dreaded duo of Jeffster behind.

Otherwise, Chuck has been notable for exploiting its premise with more forward movement than normal for a network series. The pilot episode had the Intersect, a mother lode of data from every US intelligence agency, downloaded into the brain of supposed slacker Chuck Bartowski (played by Zachary Levi), with CIA agent Sarah Walker (Naomi Watts lookalike Yvonne Strahovski) and Col. John Casey of the NSA (Adam Baldwin) set up as his handlers. Chuck could have milked its hero's apparently unrequited affection for Walker and his double life as Nerd Herd computer tech by day, government asset with unparalleled access to classified information by night — or whenever else duty calls — for seasons on end. Yet the producers allowed Sarah and Chuck to not only genuinely fall in love but admit that love to other characters and then one another, instead of maintaining Sarah's aloofness until the series' end, albeit with some regrettably traditional yo-yo work along the way. And Chuck was allowed to undergo training, first so as to simply not be a liability, then with the aim of becoming a real agent, instead of being confined to the role of bumbling, accidentally-vital-to-national-security civilian to be exploited. While Team Bartowski's general confinement to Burbank is highly implausible given the breadth of knowledge contained in the Intersect, and there's plenty of Keystone Kops in Chuck's covert cavorting, it's important to remember that the show was designed as a romp with as much Get Smart as Alias in its DNA.

Chuck's Season One finale wasn't planned as a finale, but the Season Two premiere was heavy on show mythology with Chuck's service as the human Intersect nearing an end — until the planned next-generation incarnation of the supercomputer is destroyed. Throughout the second season we got further Intersect intrigue with the return of presumed-dead Bryce Larkin (Matthew Borner), Walker's former CIA partner and lover and the college buddy of Chuck's responsible for implanting him with the killer-identifying app, as well as the introduction of Chuck's long-absent father, Steve Bartowski (Scott Bakula), who turns out to be the mysterious Orion, co-designer of the Intersect, and whose presence is the only gift that Chuck's sister Ellie (Lynda Carter lookalike Sarah Lancaster) wants for her wedding to Devon "Captain Awesome" Woodcomb (Ryan McPartlin).

The Season Two finale begins with Chuck having revealed his secret to Devon, Steve having built a new Intersect under duress for rogue espionage agency Fulcrum and having uninstalled the previous version from Chuck's mind, and Chuck's best friend Morgan Grimes (Seth Green lookalike Joshua Gomez) having quit the Buy More. Chuck and John Casey quit the Buy More too, with Casey no longer needing the cover to monitor Chuck and Chuck able to move on with his life Intersect-free. Warned by a fatally wounded Bryce that the new Intersect is too powerful to fall into the hands of Fulcrum or evil über-organization The Ring, Chuck voluntarily downloads it into his brain before destroying it. While the finale ended on a perfect note of conclusion of the series to date and promise of further adventures to come, a baker's dozen episodes were ordered amidst considerable fan, critic, and commercial support (from Subway, sponsor and focus of much activity from Chuck aficionados).

Chuck's would-be Season Three finale wrapped up an even more eventful string of stories during which Chuck entered genuine spy training (or what passes for it in Chuck's fast-and-loose realm, although to be fair the series has made it clear that it runs in real time and there have been many more missions than episodes) while struggling with the reliability of his new, souped-up Intersect skills, which include on-call mastery of foreign languages, martial arts, and other talents — if he can concentrate properly. CIA operative Daniel Shaw (Christopher Reeve soundalike Brandon Routh) came aboard as leader of Team Bartowski at the behest of Gen. Beckman (Bonita Friedericy) and began a romance with Sarah Walker, Morgan discovered the CIA station underneath the Buy More and was made privy to Chuck's double life, Casey was stripped of his commission, and Chuck was offered a position in Rome after being inducted as a full-fledged agent. Viewers had been made to wonder all season long whether Shaw was a Ring mole, but it turned out he wasn't until The Ring revealed to him that Walker had killed his wife, culminating in a showdown in Paris shortly after Chuck and Sarah unreservedly shared their feelings and planned to run away together. Again we were treated to an episode that could have satisfyingly ended the show, with Casey reinstated after nabbing The Ring's director, Beckman reluctantly making Morgan an official member of Chuck's team, and our hero getting the girl for good, preserving the series' premise while rewarding both characters and viewers with growth.

Last night's episode was almost an epilogue to the previous installment, feeling at once like a finale, a season premiere, and even a DVD bonus or reunion episode giving fans one more adventure tying things up and looking toward the future. Whether Chuck works with Chuck and Sarah together remains to be seen; I'd hate for the show to have come so far only to fall apart before it does really end, but bold moves have worked for the series until now and if the first step in this latest new direction is any indication then fans should have no fear. At the same time, I don't hold the passion for Chuck that I do for such utterly absorbing programs as Fringe, Supernatural, or even Glee, due in large part to its inability to ankle the supporting-cast shenanigans that are deadlier than any Fulcrum scheme; it's had a good run, and as with last month's and last year's finales I'd be fine with Chuck being up when this season does end. Maybe its writers could go on tour throughout the industry to help give other series the exciting cliffhangers and dignified conclusions they deserve.

Give Me Hellboy


Cover drawn by and © 2004 Mike Mignola, colored by Dave Stewart.

I'm looking to get rid of most of my thousands of comic books, as mentioned here before, but among the boxes that would be the last to ever leave are those containing Hellboy. The series is pretty much my all-time favorite, certainly when you discount nostalgia; Mike Mignola long ago proved that he's as accomplished and unique a writer as he is an artist, and while the absolute best Hellboy stories are short, self-contained tales, the mythology woven by Mignola and his collaborators in the family of Dark Horse's Hellboy, BPRD, Abe Sapien, Lobster Johnson, and Witchfinder one-shots and miniseries rivals any other from graphic novels, television, film, or prose in recent decades.

Yet I come here not to praise Hellboy, but to barter him.

A real review will be along some other time. Right now, while it's on my mind, I thought I'd put out a call for the few Hellboy comic books I'm missing.

See, I'm not actually a "completist" in most areas: If I have a great story in one form, I don't need it in others. And I'd actually prefer to know that my boxes and shelves are full of high-quality material than that there's bad stuff clogging them up in the name of a comprehensive library. The complete canon of a certain creator or character is likely to be impractical and unaffordable to amass, so I'd rather not try; if I'll be rereading something for enjoyment or reference, I still only need a sturdy, handsome copy, not necessarily a collectible one, and no matter how good something is if it'll just be collecting dust, well, space is at a premium and cash is appreciated. But despite having the Hellboy trade-paperback collections and hardcover library editions that methodically reprint the comics, I buy the individual issues as they're released to read as soon as possible, then hold onto them because unlike most modern comic books they still have editorial matter and lettercolumns — and, yes, because when it comes to the genius and beauty of Mike Mignola's Hellboy, I'm something of a completist.

The first Hellboy issue that slipped through my grasp was the one-shot The Corpse and the Iron Shoes. I'd recommend it to anyone as the perfect first taste of the character, even though it deals with Celtic folk tales rather than the mélange of Nazis, Rasputin, and Lovecraft that form the main backdrop of the Hellboy legend. You won't find the issue outside of a dedicated comic-book shop, if there, but its contents are available with other great stuff in the Chained Coffin collections. Fifteen years ago my own copy was lent as background, along with other representatives of quality current comics, to a reporter who interviewed me for a local newspaper about my book ProMotion: How Today's Creators Broke into Comics... And Their Advice to You! A week later, I rang up the newspaper to get my comics back from the reporter and found that she had moved on and taken them with her.

Never purchased for my Hellboy stash in the first place, during the years in which I'd given up the comic-book habit out of financial necessity and isolation from the industry, were another reprint of The Corpse, released to tie into the second Hellboy movie, and the one-shot They That Go Down the Sea in Ships, packaged with a Konami videogame.

While I don't need them for anything immediate, I would like them at some point. My local comics shop doesn't have them, and neither does Things from Another World, the excellent retail cousin of Hellboy publisher Dark Horse, so while not ultra-rare they're not too simple to pick up either. Anyone reading this who'd be interested in selling theirs for a reasonable price or trading them for items from my large and varied collection is encouraged to drop me a line, with the caveat that the collection is still being organized for sale and there's no useful master list right now. I'm sure we could figure something out; if there's one thing I've noticed about comic-book collectors, it's that even when they're moving their most unwanted items out the door they want to be sure it's to a good home.


Covers drawn by and © 1996, 2007 Mike Mignola, colored by Dave Stewart.

Words to the Wise



My grandfather always had a dictionary on his night table. I have one on my laptop. His was a so-called "pocket" paperback almost as thick as it was wide; mine is virtual, an application represented by the above icon in the dock of programs and folders at the right of my computer screen.

The lure of Dictionary is strong. Enter a word, and it not only returns a definition and usage from The New Oxford American Dictionary but synonyms from The Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus and, if you're connected to the Internet, a Wikipedia entry (or disambiguation page) as well; you can also choose to search within each of these separately, but I keep the setting on "All". This is a ridiculously quick and comprehensive research tool, as well as a microcosm of the paragon of potential procrastination that is the Web itself, since hyperlinks abound and the results list for any given word is often fascinating. I'm pretty disciplined about not following flights of fancy too far, but I admit to indulging spontaneous bouts of "Hey, I wonder..." entirely unrelated to what I'm working on, because suddenly the answer seems gravely important and if I don't at least type the relevant word or phrase into Dictionary's search field to read up on later then I might forget. Other people to whom frivolous research is considered entertainment will be able to relate; the rest of you, well, I can't really explain it if you don't already understand.

Examples:
• "Hey, I wonder exactly what the difference is between 'cacao' and 'cocoa'."
• "Speaking of which... What's that caffeine-like chemical compound in chocolate that starts with a T whose name I never remember?"
• "Hey, I wonder why they changed the name of the Gene Wilder movie version of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."

The instant gratification provided by Dictionary, even moreso than that offered by search engines, has become such a part of my life that "Hey, I wonder..." moments frustratingly come, unbidden, when the laptop isn't open or in my vicinity at all. I've been known to fire up the laptop just to sate my curiosity, but I'm trying to tame that habit. We're still a ways off from Star Trek's "Computer: List all known cover versions of 'The Candy Man' from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in chronological order." I'm telling you, if I lived in that world I'd be throwing out questions into thin air all-the-frickin'-time. Just imagine being able to ask the above, then hear recordings of the results, without even having to type anything! Ah, World of Roddenberry, how I covet your easily accessible repositories of knowledge, astounding medical technology, and impossible holodecks.

Pretty much like I thought, "cacao" is the name of the plant or bean whereas "cocoa" is used for the various products made from it, although it's also used to refer to the bean itself. The compound is theobromine. Depending on the source, Charlie became Willy Wonka either because of the real-world merchandising tie in of Wonka Bars or because "Charlie" was a derogatory term for the Viet Cong in popular usage at the time, or both; Wikipedia's assertion of the latter was uncited, so I turned the question over to Google, but a cursory search was inconclusive and I'm not really that interested.

Samuel Johnson couldn't possibly have fathomed us having this information at our fingertips when he assembled his landmark dictionary. Hey, I wonder...

Understatement



Panel from Gold Key's Underdog #15 © 1977 Classic Media, Inc. Pencils, Inks, Letters: John Costanza. Script, Colors: Unknown.

The above was part of a page that came through the main
GCD E-list a couple of years back for art identification. I love Underdog and knew that I'd be blogging eventually, so I saved it to my laptop and totally forgot to run it last Earth Day.

As I've mentioned here before, the Grand Comics Database is the probably the greatest repository of combined comics knowledge in existence, especially when it comes to creator credits and publication information. While far from complete and severely Western-world in focus thus far, I can vouch for the fact that the GCD's all-volunteer crew of contributors and administrators takes both the integrity of the extant database and its expansion very seriously. And you could be part of that crew simply by browsing the website and finding an index to create or flesh out or joining one of the electronic mailing lists to add whatever expertise you might have.

The Underdog Show was one of my favorite Saturday-morning and syndicated cartoon indulgences, with thrills and humor operating on multiple levels. I can't bust out into nostalgia or reporter mode with details right now, but you can sample the delight of Underdog and such back-up segments as Go Go Gophers, Tennessee Turtle, and Commander McBragg for under twenty bucks via the so-called Ultimate Collection, whose three component discs are also available separately. With the considerable caveat that some parents may not care for the gunplay or the unenlightened portrayal of certain characters, it's fun for all ages.

Meaner Still


The can of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom Soup is still in effect, due to connection problems as well as projects that aren't being dealt with as efficiently as I'd like. For those who've not seen it before, I should point out that the can is an "ancient Internet tradition" begun by Mark Evanier, as explained and in fact recently invoked by Evanier on his blog, News from ME, which if your interests are anything like mine offers a variety of fine, funny, and fascinating material by the bushel.

I hope to have a volley of posts up soon (yeah, When don't I?), but meantime here's another batch of Blogger word-verification definitions.

abendsl — n. #2 graphite stick, when you're congested.

betoofsr — Father of Betoof Jr.

boophala — n. A shout-out from Ms. Betty (not Rubble, not White; this one, whippersnappers).

consi — phr. How you confirm that you would like sour cream with your burrito in a Mexican restaurant.

corig — v. To put something together in unison.

cryop — n. 1. Surgery to remove lachrymal glands. 2. Freezing of the 16th letter of the alphabet.

DEINGAC — After ENIAC and UNIVAC, the computer that started thinking it was a god.

ELERIP — The only legible letters left on Eleanor Rigby's tombstone.

eling — v. Marrying into Superman's birth family.

fiaugho — phr. Archaic expression of disgust directed at a lady of the night who only operates during the eighth month of the year. [Longest stretch for a verification-word def ever?]

hobbi — n. The avocation of a Tolkein enthusiast.

jaccul — n. The whirlpool at Vlad the Impaler's castle.

larystab — v. How Lary kil hiz naybur. Lary a badd man. Wach owt for Lary.

litin — n. A peaceful demonstration held by smokers.

mantab — n. 1. Indentation personified. 2. The #1 best-selling diet cola for dudes. 3. A screwed-up vanity plate for the Batmobile.

normen — pl. n. Guys from Scandinavia.

ouvivers – pl. n. French people who ask you where you live.

preozow — Kevin Federline before his "rap career"?

procut — n. What you long for after your mom decides she's just as good as a barber.

suminv — Sumin's great-great-great-grandchild.

refia — n.
Mobsters with OCD.

ruplize — v.
To model oneself after RuPaul.

shicoke — n. Really bad-tasting cola.

soliz — Something that Tina Fey's character on 30 Rock would, like, totally do.

tormync — n. Pestering in unison.

unglatin — n. A retranslation back from piglatin.

verstcho — n. What Hitler thought he was watching at the end of Inglourious Basterds: "Dis ist de verstcho I haff effer seen!"

The Fab-Four Score


I heard the quirky, sublime harmony of Paul McCartney and John Lennon intertwine on "Hey Jude" last night, reminding me again to write about The Beatles.

Far lesser musical lights have labels on this blog, and it's been bugging me that the greatest pop-music band in history doesn't. Many folks consider The Rolling Stones to be the greatest rock band ever, and they might be right — I'm not a huge Stones fan, to be honest, although they definitely rock and are indubitably iconic. The Beatles, however, during a relatively brief career that spanned the era in which classic rock-&-roll ("She Loves You") gave way to flat-out hard rock, hold the roll ("Helter Skelter"), also proved masters of old-fashioned balladry, psychedelic experimentation, and so much more ("Strawberry Fields Forever"). They wrote anthems, they wrote grooves, they wrote ditties, for Pete Best's sake. Has any other group of musicians been so talented at turning out so many different styles of infectious, accomplished, influential music? And I include in that group not just Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, but producer George Martin as an indispensable enabler of most of the Beatles' joint career.

So here's my First Beatles Story.

Lost in Thought: Got to Get You into My Life


"All You Need Is Love" was the most obvious title for this post, but, I feared, perhaps
too obvious and likely to be used elsewhere. Et voilà! I've just checked out Nik at Nite, my Lost home on the Web, and discovered that it's been employed by the ever-insightful Nikki Stafford — a usage that I do not in the least mean to indicate is hackneyed since, unlike me, she's not titling all of her Lost posts after Beatles songs.

Once again, I'm posting about the last
Lost perilously close to the airing of the next, but it's been a tough week and my thoughts on just what the alternate timeline is have been hard to articulate. I've been conversing over on Nik at Nite when able, however, and gathered considerable commentary, so before they're rendered either redundant or moot tomorrow let me share my musings on...



Is
Lost about redemption? Is it about whether people, as individuals or a species, can change? Is it about whether they can rise above their baser instincts and cooperate as a productive society? Is it, in short, about good and evil, free will and destiny, and whether those poles correspond?

Maybe.

But last week we also learned that
Lost is, even moreso than we had thought, about love — which in its truest, most overpowering form may hold the key to answering every other question posed.

Jin and Sun's renewed, ardent devotion; the bond between Rose and Bernard; Penny as Desmond's constant; what the loss of Nadia, twice, did to Sayid; how glad we were to see John with Helen in the other timeline; the offbeat, too-brief, terribly bittersweet relationship between Charlie and Claire; the complicated combinations of Jack, Kate, Juliet, and Sawyer/James — all of these were apparently not just
part of the serial drama (or melodrama) but perhaps its point. The question of whether choice can trump fate has been hanging out there for most of the series, along with the conflict of science vs. faith — and even moreso than faith in the Island, now, it seems as if the most relevant, grandest power is faith in deep, soulful oneness shared with another person. Love doesn't just tear down walls of inhibition or bigotry, it tears down walls between layers of reality.

How much filial love is considered on a par with the romantic we don't yet know, but while Michael's sacrifice for Walt, Claire and Kate's devotion to Aaron, and even, I suspect, Christian's relationship with Jack are significant parts of the big picture, it's also worth noting that nearly all parent/child connections spotlighted on the show have been rent apart, whether by death or deliberate abandonment.

Mario Perez photo © 2010 ABC Studios.

As in the Richard focus "Ab Aeterno" we were given one unbroken flashback, except that it was to an alternate past. Unlike the
original flashbacks that the series was founded on, the apparent "flashsideways" scenes this season haven't been memories, and our present-day protagonists haven't been privy to their events — until now.

Many fans were thrilled to get an episode focused on
Desmond, not only because of the, uh, magnetism that Henry Ian Cusick holds for many womenfolk (some menfolk, too) but because we've been told repeatedly that the character is "special" and, indeed, seen why in such episodes as "Flashes Before Your Eyes" and "The Constant". We pretty much knew that we weren't getting the whole scoop on the Island's enigmatic, electromagnetic aura or the altered timeline until dear Des came along. It was almost a bonus that Desmond interacted with such much-missed characters as Charlie, Penny, Eloise, and Daniel.

In Season 3's "Flashes Before Your Eyes" we got a very unique flashback as
(deep breath) Desmond recalled the trip his consciousness took to 1996 in the wake of him turning the Hatch's fail-safe key in 2004 and thus detonating the EM lode whose energy had been kept in check through periodic venting via the all-important button. Whether his "specialness" was caused by the Hatch explosion or predated it, thus helping him survive it, is, I think, unknown — heck, it could be that the specialness was caused by the explosion and predated it, if one subscribes to the theory that all points in time exist simultaneously and affecting one point affects all others, although some upcoming thoughts of mine are at odds that interpretation. At any rate, Desmond's very survival of the EM detonation, and not, apparently, the mental This Is Your Life or limited future sight that resulted from it, is what compelled Charles Widmore to bring Desmond back to the Island and test his EM invulnerability (or at least lack of fatality; clearly, it affects Desmond, just... strangely) with his magic box. One presumes that the electromagnetism helps keep Smokey in check.

While not actually
referred to as a magic box, Widmore's Happy Fun-Time Zapping Chamber™ is the latest in a series of settings to which that rubric, first broached by Ben Linus to John Locke three season ago, could be applied. Others include Jacob's cabin, which many viewers felt the Zapping Chamber resembled, and the Island itself. And the magic-box allusion was just one of this episode's callbacks — a string of which the series has indulged in during its final run, winkingly and otherwise, even beyond the recurrent names, places, and motifs that are bound to crop up in a story involving time-travel, multiple perspectives, and interconnectedness. We got an almost ridiculously chummy Charles and Desmond drinking MacCutcheon together, heard Drive Shaft's "You All Everybody" on the radio, and found Penny (rather than Jack or Des) running a tour de stade, but the most pertinent echos were probably in the dialogue: In Alternate 2004, Eloise dismisses Desmond's dismay at not corralling Charlie Pace for the concert as "What happened, happened," a very different delivery of that line than usual, while in the present Charles Widmore tells Des, after an altercation, "The Island isn't done with you yet," something Eloise had said to him in the Los Angeles church basement doubling as Dharma's off-Island Lamp Post station in the Season 5 episode "316".

Did anyone else, by the way, half-expect Alternate Eloise to command, "The seating arrangement of the last party must be recreated as closely as possible or every last one of us is doomed!"? No? Just me?

Since this is the point at which this post left off when it was first published, and there's still plenty of text to come, I thought I'd break for some haiku. The aforementioned Nikki Stafford, lovely and Canadian author of ECW Press' Finding 'Lost' books, has been hosting haiku jams on her blog since last season, and I first reprinted entries about the mysterious Richard Alpert on this blog almost a year ago. She invited odes to "Happily Ever After" earlier today. Here are my efforts, ending with a trilogy that recaps the episode (and takes the eye-popping Des & Charles AT chumminess even further). Some if not most of these, of course, are hardly haiku in spirit, being shoehorned into the 5-7-5 motif, but the idea is more humor than traditionalism.

All you need is love.
Love is all you need. Well, that
and explanations.

First there is a ring /
Then there is no ring — Not quite
a Donovan song.

"Wait just a moment.
Mmm. Yes. He's quite burnt. All right,
you can take him now."

"Do you have any
metal in your pockets? Keys,
change, watch, sardine tin?"

"I was kidnapped from
the bloody hospital by
you lot. You tell me!"

"Need a ride, lady?"
"I'm pregnant." "And I'm Desmond.
Let's go get a room."

"I had a vision
and felt true love." Yeah, that's 'cause
you swallowed drugs, dude.

"Like this song, mate?" "Eh."
"Well, just for that I'm gonna
drive us off the road."

"Paging Dr. Jack
Shephard. Jack Shephard. Don't just
do something; stand there."

Hawking, Faraday,
Widmore, Milton... So what is
this family's name?

"I think I set off
an atomic bomb and it
changed reality."

"Okay, skinny-tied
Charles Manson pianist,
let's look at your notes."

Sorry, Dan, but your
dream girl has been rooting through
someone else's drawers.

"Can you get me the
passenger list from my flight?"
"Really? No call girls?"

"Desmond?" "Where am I?"
"The Island." "Rassafrassin'...
You bloody bastard!"

"Desmond! MacCutcheon?"
"Charles! Yes, thank you." "So." "Hi."
mwah mwah mwah mwah mwah

"Desmond?" "I'm awake."
"Now, we have to..." "It's okay.
I'm with you." "You are?"

If you're wondering what the thing about the ring is, well, apparently when Desmond met Jack on the plane in "LA X", the Season 6 opener, he was wearing a wedding ring, but there's no sign of one in "Happily Ever After". This has led some to conclude that the Desmond we saw in "LA X" is actually the 2008 Original Des somehow bodily transported onto the 2004 Alternate Oceanic 815, an event to be revisited down the road; the problem with that (besides there not being much road left) is Desmond approaching Jack in the hospital in "Happily Ever After" when Charlie Pace is on the loose and referencing their encounter. And it's not as if the prop department, script supervisors, and producers on Lost have a sterling track record with this stuff, much to the frustration of fans trying to figure out what's a clue and what's a continuity error.

Mario Perez photo © 2010 ABC Studios.

Other big questions about the episode included why Desmond is so gung-ho with Widmore when he awakens on the Island in 2008 and then why he's so compliant with Sayid. My take on the latter is that he isn't following Sayid blindly; he's playing along with Sayid, who has just engaged Des's captors through violence, carefully. As for his calm, enigmatic acceptance of Widmore — himself incredulous at how totally on-board Des was after the EM bombardment — I think it's genuine but that we're missing some information.

Alternate Desmond has found purpose, both in Penny and, I take it from his request for the flight manifest of Oceanic 815, in uniting others with their true loves. Maybe he just wants them to meet and be happy; maybe he's aiming to return history to the way it's supposed to be, where he and Penny are married with child, if he's now aware of the original timeline (OT). Whether after the fainting spell, which seemed to coincide with the return of Original Desmond's consciousness to Widmore's Happy Fun-Time Zapping Chamber™ in 2008, Alternate Desmond has knowledge of the OT beyond what his visions and Daniel's suppositions suggest, I'm not sure.

Original Desmond likewise has conviction, but exactly what he saw in the AT that has him falling in lockstep with Widmore before even hearing him out is unknown. Perhaps he found Alternate Charles so sincere and steadfast that he accepts Original Charles as likewise shooting straight with him and there's no time to waste; perhaps he was so profoundly affected by what Alternate Charlie told him, what Alternate Daniel told and showed him, and what he saw himself that he's not sweating the details; perhaps, and I think this most likely, he saw more than we saw him see and/or he otherwise accumulated special knowledge, and is at least as up to speed as Widmore on what needs to happen to safeguard their timeline if not more.

So why was Alternate Eloise trying to keep Desmond from changing things in that other timeline? Is she not the same Eloise we "know" — at least after a fashion, with some kind of shared consciousness — but rather a true AT counterpart to the OT Eloise? Are OEloise and AEloise at odds in wanting to preserve their respective timelines?

And in "The End" — the officially announced title of the series' final episode — will the love the characters take be equal, as the song goes, to the love they make?

To be continued in another post, since the Internet has been down for so long, with my latest and greatest theory on the alternate timeline...