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Mike Brown
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Me
Before I begin in earnest, let's get a few things out of the way.  I am a geek, a nerd, a fan, et cetera and so on.  I am a fan of the Star Wars Universe.  I've got all six movies on my shelf and three lightsabers on my wall.  I'm a bigger fan than some and a lesser fan than others.  But there is one thing that I'm just about sick of hearing.  So, with that in mind, I say the following to my fellow fans...

Quit your whining!

That's the short version.  Here's the long version.  We are fans of a universe created by George Lucas and brought to life by a myriad of amazing artists across multiple generations, but it's a universe that wouldn't exist without the vision of Lucas in the beginning.  And ultimately, while he is a master of getting people to pay for something they've already bought three or four times before, and while that perhaps makes him a better businessman than an artist, it's his universe and his films.  He may do with them as he wants, when he wants, how he wants.

Now, please don't misunderstand.  I grew up on Episodes IV, V, and VI.  My preferred version of that trilogy comes from a time before "A New Hope" was called "A New Hope" and was just called "Star Wars."  I've never minded the updated effects, making the films prettier and such, but I've never liked the changing of the story.  In many ways now, these are no longer the movies I grew up watching.  I've never cared for the added effects scenes that are for no apparent reason.  They change the pace and feel of movies I've enjoyed almost my entire life.  And do I express my displeasure with these changes?  Of course.  Do I scream "Screw You, Lucas" from the rooftops?  No.

What do I do, then?  I express myself with my hard-earned dollar.  We live in a free-market society.  That means that creators and producers of products, like George Lucas, have the right to publish and distribute their creations and properties for purchase by the general public.  It also means that we, the fans, the consumers, have a right to buy that which is made available to us and we have a right to decline it.  Not Lucasfilms, Fox, nor any retailer is going to come to your home and take your VHS or DVD copies of the films you love.  But by this same token, the same basic rules, we have to realize that the Star Wars Universe has a "Private Property" sign on the front lawn and deed reads "George Lucas."

I've listened to many podcasts, read many blog and tweets, and listened to many friends all say that George Lucas has ruined our movies.  But, these aren't our movies, they're his.  He has a vision for his story that he hasn't fully realized.  If he wants to tinker with it until he likes it, he can and let him, but realize two things.  First, the most powerful voice you can speak with is your cash money.  If you don't like it, don't buy it.  If enough people don't buy it, he'll notice and act as he sees fit with his property in response.  But second, realize when you tell Lucas to go screw himself, and you start saying that he's a force of evil the likes of which movie-land has never known, love him or hate him, without George Lucas, his drive, his vision, his talents, you would not have a franchise to be a fan of.
6th-Oct-2011 01:40 pm - "The Crusader's Torch" - Part Two
Starheart Power Ring
      "The Crusader's Torch"    
Part Two  -  "Their Darkest Night”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“And exactly how does a lowly engineer like Alan Scott end up inheriting WGBS?”

Irene Miller, draped elegantly in her designer dress, was talking with Doiby Dickles, dressed in his ill-fitting rented tuxedo.  They were standing by a buffet table in the GBS Tower lobby.  A celebration in memory of the late owner of the network, Mark Nichols, was being held prior to the press conference making Alan Scott's inheritance official.  Doiby was trying to answer through a mouthful of cocktail sausages.

“I's guess it was just good luck.  Ol' man Nichols, God rest his soul, always thought da' boss was a good guy.”

“Still, Doiby, nobody knows why Alan, of all people, was left the network.  Nobody. I think Alan's a good guy, too, but you leave good guys a tip for carrying your bags, you don't make them overnight millionaires.  'Romeo' must have thought Alan was more than just a good guy.  He must have thought he was a saint.”

“To 'Romeo' Nichols, he was a saint.”

Irene and Doiby were startled by the interruption.  The speaker was beside them, pouring some punch for himself and his young companion.  Bits of sausage went flying as Doiby realized who it was.

“Doc Wayne?! Where'd ya come from? I's didn't notice ya.”

“Daddy's a ninja!”  The child at Wayne's side smiled wide.

“Yes, Bruce,” Wayne handed his son a glass, “daddy's a ninja.  Pardon me, ma'am, I don't think we've met.  Doctor Thomas Wayne.”

“Irene Miller, charmed.”  She shook Wayne's offered hand.  “Seems you know more about why Alan ended up with this grand gift than the
rest of us.”

“A bit. I was there.”  Doctor Wayne poured a third glass and handed it to Bruce, “Here, son, take this to your mother.  On your way.”

Bruce scurried off with the energy only a child could have before Doctor Wayne continued.

“'Romeo' was having a small to-do at The Diamond Club off of RHK Boulevard.  He wanted something special for the music, so I told him he should ask Alan to set everything up.  Later that night, some local thugs came in, robbed the club, then demanded our cash, jewelry, and the like.  One of them took aim at 'Romeo,' but Alan came out of nowhere.  The thug's shot went into the floor and the entire gang was thrown off.  The shock let us overwhelm the remaining men.  'Romeo' never forgot what Alan did that night, almost certainly saved his life.”

“Helluva first impression da Boss made,” Doiby remarked while picking sausage pieces out of the cheese platter.  “Sounds just like 'em.”

“Sounds nothing like him,” Irene replied incredulously.  “Alan Scott, stalwart hero of the land?  He would never do anything that could get him that close to a gunshot.”

“Not anymore, anyway.”  Draped in his own rented tux, the guest of honor arrived.  “Hello, Mister Wayne. I'm honored that you could make it.”

“Wouldn't miss it for the world, Alan, though I don't think the President of Gotham Broadcasting has to address me like he still works for me.”

"When did you work for Wayne Enterprises,” asked Irene.

“Ma'am,” Doctor Wayne interrupted, “you are looking at a certified electrical genius.  The power systems on the Gotham Monorail had been a major hurdle for a year, stumping the best crew I had on the payroll.  This man walked in and single-handedly laid out and supervised the whole refit and got it done in 8 weeks.  I should have never let you slip through my fingers, Alan.”

“Well, thank you, sir,” Alan replied.  “I only wish that sabota... oh, um, if you'll excuse me, they're waiving me to the dais.  Are you and the family staying for the banquet tonight?”

“Afraid not, Alan. Tonight's the opening of 'The Return of The Grey Ghost' and Martha's already bought tickets at The Majestic.  Bruce's favorite, you understand.”

“Of course, sir.  Be careful and enjoy the movie.”

“We will, my friend.  Miss Miller, Mister Dickles.  Congratulations again, Alan.  WGBS couldn't be in better hands."

Doctor Wayne went to find his wife and son in the crowd as Alan went to the dais.  That once again left Irene and Doiby alone at the buffet table.

“Class guy, dat Doc Wayne,” Doiby said.

“Yeah,” Irene agreed, “and he's got the cutest kid.  'Daddy's a ninja.'  Cute.”


* * * * *


It was misting as the Waynes left The Majestic Theatre on Miller Avenue.  Doctor Wayne and his wife, the picture of the happy couple, were walking arm-in-arm as little Bruce darted all around reenacting his favorite scenes from the movie they just watched.

“And the best part was when The Grey Ghost went crashing through the window in the ceiling...”

“The skylight, son.”

“... and started punching The Mad Bomber's goons. Bam! Pow!”

“Watch where you're swinging, son.”

“And I got worried when The Grey Ghost ran out of his Ghost-Gas Pellets...”

“He's not listening to you, Thomas.”

“... but not really worried, cause The Grey Ghost is the greatest!  He never loses.”

“What happened to 'The Green Lantern's the greatest'?  He's real.  The Grey Ghost isn't.”

“The Grey Ghost is to real!  And yeah The Green Lantern's cool, but he's got that magic ring and can do anything.  That's boring. The Grey Ghost uses all his cool gadgets and his brain and his fists.  Kapow!”

“Whatever you say, Bruce.”

“Can we come see it again tomorrow, mom?  Can we?  Can we?  Please?”

“Not tomorrow, Bruce.  But, if you're good this week and your father's free, maybe next Saturday.”

“Really?! You mean it?!”

The Waynes continued walking, but not in the direction Martha expected.

“Aren't we going to your office, honey?  Alfred's waiting.”

“I know, dear,” Thomas answered, “but it's only a little after 9 and I bet the celebration for Alan's still going on.  I figured we'd take the subway from 14th Street and surprise him, drop in on the party.”

“That's fine, honey, but Alfred can drive us to GBS.”

“Martha, this way's shorter.  No need to make Alfred drive us through downtown.”

“Alright, honey.  Bruce, stay close.  I want to be able see you.”

“Yes, mom.”

Following her husband's lead, Martha took Bruce by the hand.  Thomas knew a shortcut to the 14th Street station, they just had to cut through a couple of short alleys.  They crossed through the first without incident, but Martha squeezed Bruce's hand a little harder and huddled a closer to Thomas.  Thomas hurried the pace, knowing his wife was starting to feel uncomfortable in her surroundings.

“Don't worry, Martha,” Thomas assured her, “it's not much further.  There's nothing to worry about.”

“I'd worry if I was you, mack.”

A man stepped out from behind a dumpster to cut off the family's path.  He wasn't very tall, but looked as if he'd seen a scrap or two.  His hand tucked into his pocket, but pointed at the couple and their child.  Thomas halted his family and stepped between them and the man as Martha took a knee in front of her confused son.

“Ya' money and ya' jewels and ya's gets to maybe walk away,” the man demanded.

“Look, just calm down,” Thomas said as he put his hands up in a nonthreatening fashion.  “You can have what you came for just, please, leave my family alone.”

“You ain't gotta listen him, daddy,” Bruce tried to push past his shielding mother.  “Do what The Grey Ghost would do, daddy!  Just slug him one.”

“This ain't no movie, boy!”  The man pulled his hand out of his coat pocket, a snub-nosed .38 held tightly in it.  “You wants to live to see the next Ghost picture, ya' daddy best cough up some dough.”

“Hey!  Hey, just calm down,” Thomas put his hand on Bruce's shoulder and moved him back to his mother's arms.  It was strange to the child.  Daddy was shaking.  “I'm going to put my right hand into my left jacket pocket, inside my coat.  That's where my billfold is.”

Thomas was doing everything to keep the thug calm, but something was rattling him.  No one was around and the police didn't patrol here regularly, yet the thug was looking around like he was being watched.  Producing his billfold, Thomas offered it forward with one hand while keeping the other in a non-threatening posture.

“Gimme!”  The thug snatched the billfold away and began to rifle through it.  “And the lady's jewels, mack.  And no sudden moves!  Don't get cute.”

“Thomas, please,” Martha pleaded as her husband slowly moved toward her.

“Martha, we need to do as he says.  It'll be alright.”

“Quit wastin' time!  Gimme the jewels, now!”  The thug was getting more and more anxious.

Thomas turned slightly, not only so the thug could see what he was doing, but so that he could see the thug.  The contents of his billfold were largely on the ground, scattered about.

“I'm reaching behind my wife's neck to...”

“I told ya's to not get...”

A flash.  A ringing.  A flash.  The child's daddy fell.  His mommy slipped off of him.  His shirt was all red now and sticky.  The bad man was talking, but little Bruce couldn't hear through the ringing.  The bad man leveled the gun at him and suddenly it wasn't like the movie.  A burst of air.  A light.  And the bad man ran.

Bruce looked around himself trying to understand it all.  He shook his mother first, but she didn't wake up.  He looked at his father, but there were too many holes in his head.  It sank in as he saw the bad man fade away into the distance and jump into a car, every so often looking behind himself and up, toward... something.

The child looked up as the rain started to fall and saw why the bad man ran.  The Green Lantern, Gotham's Emerald Crusader, hovered in the sky above him.  He wasn't chasing the bad man.  He looked shocked, sad.  It didn't matter, though.  After what seemed like minutes, trying to make it make sense, Bruce screamed at the top of his lungs, vile and hateful words.  No, it wasn't like the movies at all.
23rd-Jun-2011 04:02 pm - "The Crusader's Torch" - Part One
Starheart Power Ring

      "The Crusader's Torch"    
Part One  -  "Ten Years After”


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A bell tolled outside W. Roosevelt High School and the students began their ritual race away from academia. Among the station wagons and sedans and vans arrayed in the parking lot, there sat a limousine. No one paid it a second glance. The limo and its driver had become a common sight outside the city's public schools over the last few years. It had become so common a sight, in fact, that students greeted to patient driver by name as he stood next to the luxurious car.

“Yo, Alfie, how's it hangin'?”

“It is hanging well, Master Jackson. I trust you'll have an enjoyable weekend?”

“Oh yeah. Wish I could say the same for Bruce.”

Before Alfred could ask any questions, Jackson saw a girl in the distance.

“Hey Janet, wait up!” The student winked at the driver, “Speaking of an enjoyable weekend. Gotta go, Alfie.”

With a sigh, Alfred resumed his watch for his charge. His passenger came into view with a severe looking teacher in tow. The driver removed his hat to greet them as they approached.

“Good afternoon, Miss Lee. Would it be wishful to think you are walking Master Bruce so that he does not get lost?”

“It would. Bruce has Saturday detention tomorrow. 8 in the morning until 3:30. You'll see that he gets here on time, Mister Pennyworth?”

Bruce stared at the ground in disgust. He kicked at a rock stuck in the ground, but wouldn't make eye contact with Alfred as he replied.

“Of course, Miss Lee. I'm sure Master Bruce can explain what transpired en route to the manor. Good afternoon again, madam.”

Alfred opened the door for his charge and Bruce threw his bookbag into the backseat. He grabbed the door himself and slammed it shut. The driver circled the vehicle and took his place behind the steering wheel. He'd seen this all before. Bruce was a model student like 14th Street was a safe place for a walk. But, this time of year it always got worse. Alfred looked in the rear-view mirror at his young charge.

“Is there anything I should know, Master Bruce?”

“A bad trip, Alfred.”

“Ah, the field trip to Gotham Broadcasting. And something happened?”

Bruce hated this. He knew what Alfred was doing and he hated it. It was that superior tone that always told him that he'd done something shameful. Alfred had gained considerable practice with it over the years.

“Yes, Alfred. Do we have to talk about this now?”

“There is no time like the present, sir. You'll be quite busy once we return to the manor.”

“Fine. I clocked Oz while we were touring the station.”

“Master Bruce! Why would do such a thing?”

“He started it! He tried to pinch Julie's butt. So, I kicked his hand away. He got up in my face and I told him to apologize to Julie and back-off. Then he took a swing.”

“He couldn't have hurt you, Master Bruce. You know that.”

“Yeah, but he still owed Julie an apology!”

“Yes, he did. That is when you inform your teacher as to his actions.”

“Like that would've helped. He never actually touched her and I was the only one that saw him try. My word against his. Miss Lee wouldn't have done a thing.”

“Perhaps not, but you would have protected young Miss Julie and refrained from finding yourself in school this weekend. Then again, perhaps Miss Lee would have believed you. Occasionally, it would behoove you to work within the system.”

“The system never works, Alfred.”

“Perhaps not, but one should at least give it the opportunity to surprise.”

The remainder of the drive was silent.

* * * * *

A bell rang inside the darkened, state of the art studio and the lights slowly came up. An immediate buzz permeated the room as highly trained professionals began to ready the studio for “GBS News at 6.” Amidst this organized chaos stood a well dressed business man. He watched, a prideful smile on his face. No one paid him a second glance. They knew why he was here and they appreciated it.

“Always the proud papa.”

The voice was practiced and came from a beautiful woman circling from behind the news desk.

“Don't you ever get sick of watching all this, Alan?”

“Irene, 25 years and I've never gotten tired of it.”

Irene walked up and hugged him the way a sister hugs her big brother.

“Alan Scott, you've owned WGBS for the last decade. You know how this stuff works better than the people who run it. How in the world does this amaze you?”

“Everything amazes me, Irene. Knowing how it works doesn't kill the magic. Makes it stronger. To watch these people make this work like a well-oiled machine, live, everyday, no second chances, that's amazing.”

“Maybe.” Irene's smile faded, “Now, what's this I hear about a hoodlum from Roosevelt High busting up your car?”

“Doiby's still mad about that,” Alan laughed. “Yeah, this one kid tried to get a little fresh with another student down in the garage as they got on the buses. Another kid stepped in and stopped him. The first kid took a shot at the second and got knocked a loop for his troubles. Hit so hard he fell into my car and his head broke the passenger side window.”

“And you find that funny?”

“No one's hurt, and besides, the kid shouldn't have gotten fresh.”

“In that case, I'll just have to find a window for you the next time you get fresh with someone.”

“Shouldn't you get to make-up, Irene? I bet Kitt's waiting on you.”

Irene and Alan hugged again and shared a smile before the newscaster went on her way.

“Why if I ever... dat boy's just lucky I's cleanin' da interior when...”

It was a distinct muttering that approached from behind. Alan answered without ever taking his eyes off Irene.

“Hello Doiby.”

“Heyya, boss. Gots dat estimate on da window dat bum busted out da Caddie.”

“And?”

“Three bills, boss! If I ever see dat kid, why I'm haffa mind...”

“Doiby,” Alan turned to face his friend and driver, “you can't go smacking around 15 year olds.”

“But look here, Boss...”

“And besides, he'd take your head off.”

“... I wouldn't hurt da kid, just scare 'em a... what?!”

“You know who that kid was, Doiby? Bruce Wayne.”

“The Doc an' Martha's kid?”

“Yeah, Doiby,” Alan said as his expression soured. “He gets a pass.”

“I hears ya, Boss. A pass.”

The look Alan Scott shared with his driver Doiby Dickles carried with it a decade of sorrow.

11th-Jun-2011 11:33 am - "The Crusader's Torch" - Prologue
Starheart Power Ring
     "The Crusader's Torch"    
Prologue - “A Story of Passings”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Afternoon, Alfred.”

“Good afternoon, sir. The young master is downstairs.”

“Does he know I'm coming?”

“As requested, sir, I've left him unaware of your arrival.”

“Thank you, Alfred.”

The old man left his coat with the butler, shifted his lamp to his right hand, and headed for the study and it's stately grandfather clock. It was strange to walk through the manor now, it's master gone. It felt even colder than usual, like walking through a grave.

He reached the study and paused, running a tired hand through his still blond hair. It was hard to believe that down below was the third generation he would see in this house. It was sometimes a curse, married to a power no man should have, and sometimes a blessing, sharing the experiences of a lifetime with those who would learn.

He slid the grandfather clock aside with a smooth motion and began his trek below. As he walked down the spiral staircase, he saw the boy, not even a teenager yet, sitting on the hood of the old Futura. Through the pitch black, he could see the child lost in thought, more lost than any child should be. The kid had made a mistake and words were had. The boy was left confused, that was obvious. It was time to help this lost boy find his way.

“Hello.”

The boy was startled by the voice and sprung to his feet on the hood of the car. The kid could move and never made a sound, but he was still a kid and it showed. The old man could see the wheels spinning as the kid tried to figure out where in the dark the voice had come from and how he had been seen.

“Calm down, kiddo. If I'd wanted to do something to you, I'd have done it from the front yard.”

The man continued down the stairs as he watched the child try to steady himself. Now, the man knew why he'd been called out here. This kid was not just lost, but stubborn. He saw the fire of the boy's father in his eyes and that meant he'd fight against any odds without regard for himself, but it also meant he didn't know how to ask for help and that was the problem.

“Who are you,” the boy asked.

“A friend of the family.”

“How did you get in here? This place is secure and walking through the walls is not an option.”

“Well, it is for me,” the old man answered as he lit his old lamp, “but actually, I just knocked at the front door.”

The light filled the room with an emerald hue and the man made eye-contact with the boy. The kid dropped off the car's hood and started sizing him up, making mental notes and thinking about his next move. The old man was patient and let the kid give him the once over without interruption. The boy's father did the same thing that cold and rainy night outside the Majestic. The kid broke the silence.

“You are not welcome here, old man. Leave.”

“Damn,” the old man laughed, “I heard you were surly. Son, I was welcome here before you were born.”

He could see the wheels spinning in the kid's head again and in a really stupid direction. He saw the boy tense up and knew any other man might be crippled by this boy in the next second, but not him. He'd seen the mean streets of this city for nigh on fifty years and this kid might be good, but not as good as he thought, not by a long shot.

The kid sprung onto the car's hood like a cat and went to move toward the old man, then his face became an open book. Shock, embarrassment, and anger swept over his features in short order as he looked down to his own feet, paralyzed, and then to the old man's left hand, raised, both burning in a painless green flame.

“I told you to calm down, son. Now, sit down.”

The old man dropped his left hand to his side and the boy stumbled a half step. It was time to get down to brass tacks and the man's voice left little room for negotiation. The kid must have realized that for himself. He sat down.

“You're not Jor...”

“No, I'm not,” the old man cut him off, “I was here first.” He pulled a chair over to the car and sat down himself. “Your partner's worried about you, wants us to have a little talk.”

“What kind of talk?”

“He figures you should know a little more about your father, that you might have some questions about him.”

“You knew him?”

“You could say that. I took an interest in him when he was just a little older than you.”

“Before he became the detective?”

“Yeah, well, your father wasn't the first crusader in this city.”

The boy's eyes moved slowly, calmly, from the old man's eyes to his lamp, from the lamp to his left hand and to the ornate ring that rested there. He could see it in the kid's eyes. The boy was sifting through thoughts, trying to connect the dots, trying to see the picture before him. He could see it in the kid's eyes. The boy realized who he was and sat up a little straighter.

“I have only one question.”

“Ask away, son.”

“Why?”

The old man rubbed the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath, then he looked in the child's eyes and smiled.

“Well son, let me tell you a little story.”"
Starheart Power Ring
     "The Crusader's Torch"    
Preface & Thanks

It's been a long time since I posted a fanfic anywhere.  It's been an even longer time since I had a story that I wanted to write.  But, inspiration comes when it comes and influences arise.  In my case, that's my girlfriend.  As a lover of the written word and the fantastic stories that can be told with it, as well as a geek of the highest order, she has made my creative gears spin in a myriad of directions and given me the desire to do something I haven't done in many years, write a story.  Thus, it only makes sense that my tale intersect between her favorite corner of the comic universe and mine.

It's a simple "what if" story.  Gotham City had a hero before Bruce Wayne, namely Alan Scott.  Long before the Batsignal lit up the skies, Gotham's caped crusader was the Green Lantern.  But in comic continuity, Alan Scott was a hero in the 1940's and Bruce Wayne wasn't even born yet.  But, what if that wasn't the case?  What if the Green Lantern had been flying over Gotham when Bruce was a child?  How would the Alan Scott have helped the child destined to become Gotham's next crusader?  That's the story I intend to discover.

Now, like I said, it's been a while since I've done this, so I'm not expecting greatness.  I never do.  But, I'm enjoying the process and the tale as it unfolds in my head.  Here will be the Table of Contents to make it easier to find the story in order, as it updates, which won't be regularly.  I tend to agonize over the editing and rewrites.  I hope you enjoy and I welcome feedback.  Now, in the words of Alan Scott in my tale, "let me tell you a little story."

To my love,
Thanks for being the Fire that's re-lit a once darkened lantern.



* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


     Table of Contents    

Prologue - "A Story of Passings"
Part One - "Ten Years After"
Part Two - "Their Darkest Night"
Part Three - "Third, To Bring Power" (Coming Soon)

8th-Jun-2011 08:47 am - Rediscovering Old Time Radio
Me
Movie director Nicholas Meyer once said, and I'm paraphrasing here, only movies are capable of the evil of doing it all for us.  He was speaking of the ability of the movies, or television for that matter, to render the imagination of the viewer obsolete.  It is truly the only medium of entertainment that does it all.  A photograph or a painting doesn't move and doesn't make sound and thus only gives us a part of the story, a glimpse into what the artist saw as a complete picture.  Music and song have no physical form, but instead evoke an emotion or tell us part of a story or both through their melodious tones.  The written word is there on the page, a whole story, but it has no sound or voice or picture without the imagination of the reader.  Even other mediums like theatre or radio dramas or comic books leave something to the imagination.  Only the medium of motion pictures, and by extension television, has the ability to give you the whole story with all the sounds and action, meaning your imagination has precious little to do with the experience.

Now, please don't misunderstand, I love movies and television.  I believe it to be a tremendously powerful medium that has produced any number of true and legitimate masterpieces.  However, I do feel that it's a crying shame that this is for so many in this country and others THE entertainment art form.  Of course, books still exist, still being written and read.  A trip to your local Books-a-Million or B. Dalton will illustrate that.  There is no danger of museums and galleries going extinct anytime soon, either.  And of course, to quote another artist, "Rock and roll will never die," so I guess music will be around awhile.  But there's one form that for my money is among the most exhilarating for the imagination and one that, once dominant in this country, seems to have been all but forgotten by the masses... the radio drama.

From the 1930's through the 1960's, this form of story telling had families gathered around their radios on a nightly basis to listen to the adventures of their favorite heroes.  You could be thrilled by the adventures of superheroes in "Superman" or "The Green Hornet," ride into the west in "Gunsmoke" or "The Lone Ranger," solve crimes in "The Saint" or "Dragnet," travel the stars in "Buck Rodgers" or "Flash Gordon," and so much more.  Talented actors gave voice to these adventures as written by imaginative writers and in a world of sound created by gifted effects artists.  And the best part is that it has the greatest picture clarity ever known as no vision is as vivid as that crafted in your mind's eye.

An old teacher of mine in high school introduced me to these shows and I recently rediscovered them.  I encourage you to discover them, as well.  A large number of these old shows are available free online now thanks to a number of great fans that haven't forgotten this art form and wish to share their love of it.  A simple search will point you in the right direction, but I'll share this site, Free OTR Shows, as a good starting point to your own discovery.  I hope you lose yourself in these adventures from a simpler time as I did, in the theatre of the imagination.
Super Sentai Logo
The Human World is one of 11 Braneworld Dimensions.  The Barbaric Machine Clan known simply as Gaiark have set out to conquer those dimensions.  After suffering a set-back on Machine World, three of the Gaiark's Pollution Ministers have come to Human World believing it to be an easier target.  Following them are the heroic Engines, sentient machines native to Machine World, who find the fiery human hearts needed to repel the evil menace of the Gaiark.  Together, 12 Engine Souls and 7 human hearts will become the defenders of the Human World... Engine Sentai Go-Onger.

There's no two ways to say this.  I don't like "Engine Sentai Go-Onger."  There is nothing about this show that strikes me as engrossing.  Nothing here draws me into the world or the story.  I ranted to friends about it as I was watching it and they asked me why I didn't stop.  For me, here lies gleaming examples of all I don't like about a genre I love.

Let's start with the look of the series.  First, we have our heroes, the Go-Ongers themselves.  Their armor is of an automotive motif and that's fine.  This has been done before in Super Sentai and done well.  But here, it looks simply childish, especially the animal stylized number graphics on each Go-Ongers chest.  Yes, I know these are primarily aimed at kids, but it's possible to make colorful gear that looks cool and kids will like.  These simply look like somebody was trying too hard.  The only exceptions are the Go-On Wings, the Gold and Silver members of the team that appear later on in the show.  As the sixth and seventh members, it's expected that their armor be more intricate, and what's more, they don't have the goofy numbers on their gear.  And the civvies these guys wear look like racing jackets, complete with sponsorship-style patching.  The trend a lot of Super Sentai shows have towards the heroes wearing a uniform of some sort when in civilian form is kinda ridiculous.  It's one thing if they have a reason to wear a uniform, as in police or E.M.T.'s or military, but these guys don't.  Looks goofy, end of story.

For the record, the bad guys come out of this one a little better, but not by much.  Your three main baddies, Yogostein, Kitaneidas, and Kegalesia, all look fairly impressive, granted Kegalesia seems to be here to give the dad's in the audience something to look at while kiddies watch the show.  The important monsters all have big, impressive looks to them.  No complaints there.  The monsters-of-the-week are a crap-shoot at best for looks and the footsoldiers, Uguts as they are known in-show, are just strange to me.  They all look like they belong to the same extended family, so at least that much is done right.

Now for the one thing this show might have done right, the music.  We'll start with the opening theme, "Engine Sentai Go-Onger" by Project R.  The theme song rocks!  It made history by hitting #3 on the charts in Japan when it debuted and stayed in the Oricon Top 20 (think the Japanese version of the Billboard charts) for 4 weeks.  When you score the first Super Sentai theme ever in the Top 10, you've done something right.  The other music in the show, while not as good as the opening theme, is catchy and gets across the mood for the moment.  It's nothing groundbreaking past the opening musically, but at least they didn't screw it up.

"Meh."  That, in a noise, sums up my feel on the action in Go-Onger.  The stunts and the fights are standard fare.  That's not a bad thing, mind you, but it looks almost as if they aimed for average in this department.  Nothing new or different is played with, just go with what works.  Combine that with the fact that many weapons need the Engine Souls or other such implements to work and you get some jarring moments in the action that strip away the suspension of disbelief.  Again, though here only at times, an exception is the Go-On Wings.  At least their main weapons, the Rocket Daggers, don't require more than a casual and efficient flip of a switch to go between modes and attacks.

Then, there's the effects.  Something that needs to be put out there is the simple fact that every Super Sentai show since "GoGo Sentai Boukenger," which came out two years prior, has been in HD.  That requires a higher grade of effects work to make it look convincing.  No longer can one count on the quality drop-off that comes with standard definition on broadcast TV.  Unfortunately, "Go-Onger" counted on that more than once, especially where post-production explosions were concerned.  And the other gleaming fault is in the mecha.  Good grief, they are awful.  It's not bad enough that they talk and have mouths and such.  You're shooting at a young audience, I'll go with you on that.  But the combination sequences for Engine-O and the other giant robo in the series are as unimaginative as it gets.  Engine-O is literally the three main Engines stacked up on top of one another.  That's it!  And the bigger the robo, the gaudier it gets.  Not to mention they can have six giant robots at one time.  Six!  That's almost one per Go-Onger!  And for the really tough fights, they can combine into bigger robots like Engine-O G6 (the first six Engines), Engine-O G9 (nine Engines), and Engine-O G12 (oh, you get the idea).

Last, and possibly least, is the story.  Bless them, I imagine they had to have one somewhere, but damned if I know where it is.  The base concept is not a bad one.  The Gaiark want to pollute the world to a point where their empire can colonize it.  Okay, the baddies have a mission.  Initially, the three Pollution Ministers set out to do this in equal parts, but eventually Yogostein gets a henchman, then becomes a more serious bad guy.  Emergence of potential big bad, check.  Then, it all begins to fall apart.  At one point, even the supposed leaders of this evil army comment on how low down the totem pole they must actually be if they always have different bosses showing up.  The actually big bad shows himself in the final episodes in what feels like a desperate attempt to save the story.  Instead of what should be the defining moment when the heroes get backed against the wall and have to fight an impossible battle through the last quarter of the series because the villains are sick of playing patty-cake, the show takes some uncharacteristic turns and fast-forwards everything dramatic into about three or four episodes.

Bottom line, it looks to me like "Engine Sentai Go-Onger" was conceived commercially first and dramatically second.  There are lots of things that make really cool toys, but not a really cool story.  Now, I'm not so naive as to believe that these shows aren't conceived for their commercial value.  After all, the target audience of such shows are kids who'll hound parents for the toys and fans who'll collect the same.  But, is it really that hard to create something that is a success both commercially and creatively?  Given the talented and creative geniuses that power the Super Sentai franchise and have for more than 30 years, the answer is no, it's not that hard.  In fact, it's been done time and again... just not this time.



Of course, as with all reviews, this is just one man's opinion.  "Engine Sentai Go-Onger" does have many fans across the globe and you may be one of them.  My ultimate suggestion if you like the way it looks and the story sounds interesting, if you think it's something you'll like, is watch it for yourself.  The wonderful folks over at TV-Nihon have "Go-Onger" and many other great shows fansubbed and ready to download.  You'll need a program that can download "torrents," of which a simple search can find you any number.  And I urge you keep your torrents running as long as you can after you finish your download, as that's how others like ourselves get to download these wonderful shows.
30th-May-2011 04:36 pm - Tokusatsu Review Primer
Super Sentai Logo
As we've established in a previous post, I'm a fan of tokusatsu heroes. So, in the hopes of helping out some of you out there that either like only certain types of tokusatsu or have never watch any of it and are curious where to start, I'm going through my fansub library and reviewing the series one at a time. I'll also be giving links to the sites where these and other fine fansubs are available. Just to give you guys an idea of what I look at in a tokusatsu show, and therefore how I'll approach writing about them, I figured I'll give you a rundown of my criteria for a good tokusatsu hero show.

When I look at a tokusatsu show, I look at the costumes first. It may seem shallow, but I find that the gear is the first step out of the show for me if they are too cheesy or make too little sense. Of course, you do need to take a couple of things into consideration. First, when the show was made impacts this greatly. A costume from 1975 or 1985 won't necessarily look as good as a costume from 1995 or 2005. Yes, that seems like common sense, but you'd be surprised how many people don't think about that. Secondly, do they fit the feel of the world. It's harder to explain this one, but the easiest way I can put it is when all the costumes look like they come from one world, one mythology, you never question them. When one of those costumes looks out of place, you know it immediately.

The next thing I look at is the first thing I hear, the music. This can often tell you more about how a series will feel in a shorter time than anything else. I find this especially true of the series' theme song. Some have sweeping instrumental openings to inspire a hopeful or grand feel. Others are harder and driving to evoke thoughts of dark and grim world. A lot of thought goes into tokusatsu music, to the point that there are often concerts specifically for the music from these shows. Once in the show, I've always felt that if you notice the music that it's usually bad. This isn't always true, but it usually is for me as I feel music is the compliment, not the feature, and should thus blend in seemlessly. That said, the insert songs in some tokusatsu shows are really good and give you that audio cue that lets you know the bad-ass has arrived.

Then we get to the two things that, at least to me, are the heart and soul of tokusatsu heroes. Up first, the action. The whole point of these heroes is to fight the bad guys because only a great power of some sort, something beyond the police or the military, can keep these baddies in check. That means that the baddies need to look and feel powerful and the heroes need the slick and cool tools and techniques to stop them. So, when these guys throwdown, it had better look cool, but this is another time where you've got to remember when the show was made. Stunts in tokusatsu, like all other techniques and technologies, evolve over time thanks to new experiences and tools. Thus, the newer can look a lot cooler, though this isn't always true.

Standing beside the action is what gives tokusatsu it's very name, special effects. The effects are more here than the pyro and lasers and other window dressing. It's also the henshin (transformation) sequences, the mecha (robots and the like), the monsters, and the giant fights. All of these have evolved with time, just like the action and the costumes, and are treated with the utmost care. But, like anything else, if it fails, it hurts the whole product. Sometimes the henshins look ridiculous, or the mecha designs look gaudy, or the monsters have their zippers showing. These things can all bounce you out of the world just as quickly as they draw in your imagination.

Last, and most importantly, is the story. A cheesy visuals and bad music can always be overcome by a good story. Unfortunately, the same can't be said in reverse. If the story is bad, the show is bad. It doesn't matter if the goal is a dramatic and tension filled story with our heroes on the verge of defeat until the last minute or a fun-filled romp with a group of bumbling villains only getting close to world domination by accident, if the story isn't well-written, the characters aren't engaging, and the actors aren't capable of rising to the occasion, then the show is doomed. It's as simple as that.

So, there you have it. To me, a great tokusatsu hero show has to have the total package. The look, from costumes to effects; the action, from fights to stunts; the music, from opening to inserts; and the story, from plot to characters; it's all got to work to be great. Miss one or two, you might still be good, really good, but that's not great. As one professor once told me, “There's 10 points between an A and a B for a reason.” Now, all that said, I'll be writing my reviews of many tokusatsu heroes in the future and telling you what I like and what I don't. But, I encourage you to watch them for yourself. My tastes are my tastes. Your likes might parallel mine, but they likely won't. There's a tokusatsu hero out there for everybody, I'm convinced. Let's see if I can help you find yours.
27th-May-2011 07:50 pm - Top 5 Kamen Riders
Super Sentai Logo
Ok, some of you might ask, "What is Kamen Rider?" or "Why are you watching that?!"  Let me answer these two questions first.  Kamen Rider is a Japanese superhero in what is commonly called "tokusatsu" (Japanese for "special effects").  He debuted in 1971 and was among the first "henshin" (transforming) heroes.  In the 40 years since then, Kamen Rider and his successors have become some the most iconic superheroes in the world.  He's even been on American shores a few times.  Some of the shows aired in Hawaii and California over the years in their original formats, then a pair of them were adapted for American in a style akin to "Power Rangers."  First was Saban's "Masked Rider" which was based on "Kamen Rider Black RX" and most of us would like to forget, and second was "Kamen Rider Dragon Knight" based off "Kamen Rider Ryuki" which was much more critically successful among the fandom and even won an Emmy.

That brings me to "why watch" and that answer's simple.  I'm a kid at heart and while, yes, it is cheesy, it's also an escape.  These are heroes righting wrongs and fighting the bad guys.  They're not always deep and thought provoking, but then these shows aren't meant to be.  They are meant to teach a basic lesson and entertain families.  Some weave very engrossing tales and others don't, but they all give you that momentary escape into your childhood and that's something we can all use on occasion.  In that way, the heroes of tokusatsu are no different than comic books and Kamen Rider is no different than Superman, both iconic heroes protecting the world of our imaginations.

So, all that said, on to my "Top 5 Kamen Riders."  Now, I will preface this list by saying two things.  First, I'm limiting myself to primary Riders, that is those who have starred in their own series or movie.  Second, I haven't seen all the shows and movies yet.  While I've seen a great many, there are simply some I haven't been able to find.  Thus, at some point down the line, you may see this list updated.  Now, onto the list...

5. Kamen Rider Black (Kotaro Minami)
Here is the Rider that may well move up in my ranks as I watch his series.  I've seen only about 10 episodes of "Kamen Rider Black" and I already know that it will be one of my all-time favorites.  The look and feel of the entire show is dark and moody.  Our hero is obviously a Kamen Rider in the truest form, but it was a daring look in 1987.  By today's standards, it still looks awesome.  Watching Black side-by-side with modern Riders in "Kamen Rider Decade" shows just how well the costume stands up.  The story of Black is a tragic one with a few twists that were unusual for the day and fit the mood very well.  But, of course, all that falls on it's face if the character himself isn't good.  Well, Kotaro Minami, as played by Tetsuo Kurata, reminds me a whole lot of Hongo Takeshi, a.k.a. Kamen Rider #1.  Here's the tortured hero, sad, angry, and out to avenge himself upon Gorgom so that no one else suffers as he has at their hands.  And Kurata, the actor, still carries himself very well.  In "Kamen Rider Decade," he reprises his iconic role and shows that Black has grown into a veteran Rider in the vein of his predecessors.  There's a reason why "Kamen Rider Black" is considered to be one of the all-time greatest the franchise's 40-year history and Black himself is a large part of it.

4. Kamen Rider Ryuki (Shinji Kido)
The first Kamen Rider series I watched from beginning to end was "Kamen Rider Ryuki" and the title character is the reason why.  First off, the look is different while still looking like a Kamen Rider.  This is something that's been attempted many times over the years and often fails miserably, but here it works well.  The card motif is given a reason that makes it integral to the story, even if it's execution in story is occasionally clumsy.  The whole concept and story behind the series is incredible to me.  From Mirror World to the Rider Battle to the connections between all the characters, it's all terrific.  And that all comes together in Shinji, Kamen RIder's ultimate reluctant hero.  Shinji becomes a Rider by accident.  The Riders are destined to fight until only one is left, battling the monsters of Mirror World that prey on humanity and battling each other in mortal combat.  Shinji sees the powers as a way to help others.  He's the only Rider without a selfish goal when the battle begins, wanting to end the fight and unite the Riders to protect humanity.  Ultimately, he's pressed to fight and holds his own, but you can see an innocence in him even then.  In a world where the only way to live is to fight, Shinji dares to make peace.

3. Kamen Rider Decade (Tsukasa Kodaya)
I might be one of twenty guys world-wide that liked the Whitman's Sampler box of Kamen Rider that is "Kamen Rider Decade" and that was thanks in large part to Decade himself.  Yeah, the guy's a jerk, but he owns up to it and he's got a decent reason to be one.  He's the destroyer of worlds or so he's constantly told.  He bounces from world to world, meeting the Riders of that world, meant to serve some predestined purpose that he wants no part of.  He just wants to find his world where he belongs.  It's tragic on a certain level, but through the journey he learns and discovers the wisdom of the phrase, "It's the journey, not the destination."  Visually, the transitions from form-to-form are smooth using the card-motif that many Rider shows have used over the years.  And the cards, often clumsy and awkward in other shows comes off very well here.  The costume and the bike are both unique and different, but I like them.  The fact that this Rider gives you a taste of all the modern Riders in one go is a bonus.  "Kamen Rider Decade" is one of the few tokusatsu shows in general that I've watched through more than once and it's because of a passing-through Kamen Rider.

2. Kamen Rider #1 (Hongo Takeshi)
The original and definitely one of the best, Hongo Takeshi is where it all starts.  Designed by the evil organization Shocker to be a wind-powered cyborg soldier, the grasshopper inspired weapon would break free and become Shocker's worst enemy, Kamen Rider.  The costume was an instant classic and still inspires the gear for all Riders today.  The henshin belt as the turbine that powers this wind-powered hero was simple and slick in 1971 and even holds up today.  Standing side-by-side with modern Riders, his look holds up as the respected originator and not as the dated has-been.  Of course, beyond the look is the character.  Hiroshi Fujioka portrayed Kamen Rider as the determined hero in pain.  Hongo was a shell of his former self stuck between two worlds, not a machine, but not fully human.  Fujioka's ability to play a man determined to do what's right out of not simply revenge but justice while seeing his pain and vulnerability as a man who must take care when merely holding someone's hand so as not to crush it is incredible.  All this makes for the bar all other Riders are measured by and sets it high.

1. Kamen Rider Double (Shotaro Hidari & Philip)
The hard-boiled detective and the walking encyclopedia together become the single star of "Kamen Rider W" and protect the city of Fuuto from the Museum.  There's nothing I don't like about Double.  The costume is new, cool, and still Kamen Rider.  The belt is unique and the thumbdrives, called GaiaMemories in show, as a henshin device are different and modern.  The bike, the only Ducati in Rider history, is nice and fits the sleek Rider that uses it.  But, most important to me, the concept of two people being one Rider is a driving force that makes the whole concept work like new.  Shotaro is the hard-, or half-, boiled detective that wants to live up to his mentor's legacy and teachings.  He follows in his footsteps and, like his old boss, uses his Rider powers to protect the city of Fuuto.  Philip has a mysterious past and brings Shotaro the Rider powers to begin with, leading to a unique partnership.  Philip's ability to access any and all information on Earth innately makes him the ideal aid to a detective, but his tendency to get distracted hampers him as a solo detective.  It is together that the two function best and that gives plenty of story fodder, from forced separation to interoffice tension.  That and an entertaining cast of supporting characters gives you my favorite Rider.

And there you have it, my favorite Kamen Riders.  To many around the world, these and many other tokusatsu heroes are held in the same regard as our most popular comic book icons.  When we say Superman, Captain America, and the Teen Titans, others on another part of the globe might say Ultraman, Kikiader, or Dairangers.  The heroes of tokusatsu capture my imagination as well as those of my beloved DCU or my favored novels.  And it only took me some twenty years to discover them.
11th-May-2011 04:48 pm - Top 5 Superheroes
Me
I listen to a lot of podcasts.  Among my favorites are Fear the Boot, Lost Hemisphere Radio, Focus & Fury, and so on.  But recently, I've started listening to one called Kicked in the Dicebags, largely due to the common cross-overs with Fear the Boot hosts guesting.  Now, amidst the various entertaining, and occasionally explicit, role-playing subjects covered, they often have a "Top 5" list of whatever.  These are great icebreakers and topic starters and they're just plain fun to think about.  So, I'm going start giving my "Top 5" on a variety of things, some stolen straight from Kicked in the Dicebags since I find them to be pretty good ideas to think about.  Now without any further delay, my "Top 5 Superheroes."


5. Red Robin (Tim Drake)
Tim Drake was the character that truly captured my attention and imagination as a teenager.  In fact, the first comic I ever seriously collected was the mini-series "Robin II: The Joker's Wild."  It showcased a number of things about the hero I loved.  First, he was like me.  He's a geek and a gamer.  At the risk of spoiling part of the story, he finally figures out The Joker's plot by sitting down with his role-playing group and delivering them the same problem he currently faces.  Think about it, a bunch of teenage gamers figured out how to stop The Clown Prince of Crime!  Second, he's a thinking-man's hero.  He knows that physically he can't beat The Joker, therefore he outsmarts him.  He plans the battle thoroughly so that he can maintain an advantage over the superior foe.  And finally, he's a detective.  Unlike his predecessors as The Boy Wonder, Tim Drake is a gifted detective first and an athlete second.  After all, he is the only Robin to ever effectively apply for the job in person after figuring out who Dick Grayson & Bruce Wayne really were.  All this and more shows itself in the mini-series I collected as a teen and now, as Red Robin, we get to see the next step in the evolution of Tim Drake.  It seems Robins get all the breaks when it comes to character growth in comics.


4. Green Arrow (Oliver Queen)
If ever there were a superhero that could get away with flying off into a homicidal rage, it is Oliver Queen.  I mean, really, think about it.  If he were to just snap and put arrows through eyeballs on a few dozen bad guys, anyone that knew everything he's gone through in his life would have to give him a pass.  When you get right down to it, he's come a long way from his days as a Batman-clone dressed like Robin Hood.  He's lost his parents, survived alone on an island as a minor, lost his city more than once, has an incredibly dysfunctional family life, and alienated pretty much the entire universe once or twice.  Despite that, The Emerald Archer stands up against the odds and calls it like he sees it.  He may stray from the straight and narrow, but he always comes back to the path.  Where the world sees a hero stands an ordinary man, plain and simple, warts and all.


3. Batman (Dick Grayson)
In a fantasy land where practically no one ages and nothing changes, no character has grown like Dick Grayson.  We've seen him as the emotionally wounded child, The Dark Knight's promising sidekick Robin, the independent Teen Wonder, the young leader Nightwing, and finally as The Caped Crusader himself.  He's done more than change outfits and names, his role in the world has changed.  As Batman's sidekick, he honed his athletic prowess and learned the detective's craft.  As Robin the Teen Wonder, he gained his independence and became a team player.  As Nightwing, he became a true leader of men that heroes around the world respect.  And now he's come full circle as The Dark Knight and becomes the mentor, training the next generation in Damian Wayne, the latest to carry the mantle of Robin.  Coming full circle is something very few manage in comics and Dick Grayson has done that, always changing and always true to himself.



2. Supergirl (Linda Danvers / Kara Zor-El)
This one is two-fold.  I first found Supergirl as a character I really liked in "Reign of the Supermen."  Then when she was handed over to Peter David for an ongoing series, my interest in the series was immediate.  The further twist on the shapeshifting Maid of Might as a combination of Matrix and Linda Danvers, a girl fallen in with a demonic cult, was intriguing.  David's tale of an Earthborn angel was engrossing as Linda Danvers came to terms with the revelations her new powers and responsibilities brought with them.  When David's run came to an end and the idea of Kara Zor-El's return to the DCU surfaced, I was torn.  My Supergirl was being pushed aside for a revision of the original.  However, when I picked up the first issue of the new series, I was happy to be wrong.  Kara, like Linda, is an ordinary girl on so many levels.  She has the wants, desires, and issues common to most teens, she just happens to be faster than a speeding bullet.  Upon review, one can see that The Girl of Steel, regardless of incarnation, is forever a product of her times, a teenager looking to fit in.


1. Green Lantern (Alan Scott)
He's not Green Lantern of Sector 2814, not Green Lantern of Earth, and not a member of the Corps.  He is The Green Lantern.  The first Emerald Crusader is among the most historic, powerful, and respected heroes in all of comics and is a living testament to what I love most about the DCU.  Here is a living world where everyone, even heroes, can live and grow.  Alan Scott is at least 90 years old!  Yes, Gotham City's Master of Light is kept vital by the Starheart that powers his lantern and ring, but the old-timer still needs a toupee to keep his World War II image intact.  He has changed and aged and is revered as an elder statesman of the community.  His ever fearless successor Hal Jordan, a man who backs-off from nothing and no one, not the Green Lantern Corps, not the Justice League, and not any villain, stands down in the presence of Alan Scott out of respect.  He is known as one of the most powerful heroes alive thanks to the magical energies of the Starheart, magics that can harm even the nigh-invulnerable Superman.  He is a crusader, a patriot, a mentor, and a hero all in the highest order.  He's as much a masterpiece now as he was in the 1940's when Mart Nodell first envisioned him and Bill Finger first wrote his words.  Simply put, he's one of the greatest heroes of all time.



So, there you have it.  My "Top 5 Superheroes" are the reasons I collect comics, the heroes that capture my imagination as much now in my 30's as they did 20 years ago as a child.  And you may ask, "Mike, no Marvel?!"  The answer is simple.  There are plenty of Marvel heroes I like, but none that I could lose myself in the reading of their adventures quite like these.  These are, at least in the 4-color world, my heroes.
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