01
Jan
15

Happy New Year from the world of The Curtain!

As a sort-of companion to last week’s new Christmas Story from Siegel City, today we’re going to the world of the Curtain for a tale of New Year’s Eve. This new story stars Max, Brie, and Marissa, stars of Opening Night of the Dead, at a Hollywood party where things go monstrously wrong…

Baby New Year

 Brie Sanders had absolutely no right to be upset that Max and Marissa had a date for New Year’s Eve. She knew this, as clearly as she knew that by half past ten she was probably going to be alone in her apartment, working on her second bottle of wine, but she was upset nonetheless. Max Quinn was her best friend and nothing more – and that had been by her choice, let there be no confusion about that. The bulky stunt performer (twice her size even when she was having a fat day) pursued her for months before she made it perfectly clear that she simply didn’t have that sort of interest in him. He’d accepted it, but it was clearly easier to live with once Marissa Carson entered the picture. Brie didn’t really care for Marissa at first — it was a natural reaction to finding someone hiding under your makeup trailer with a camera, she supposed – but they’d come to a sort of understanding after they’d saved each other’s lives two or three times during the mercifully-averted zombie uprising at Climax Pictures.

It had been that kind of year.

Brie was absolutely looking forward to seeing the ball drop on the night of the 31st, but even though she was invited to the same party, she didn’t really want to be with Max and Marissa when it happened. Max was still her best friend, and he’d held off on his obvious attraction to Marissa for some time because he could tell it was making her uncomfortable, but finally Brie simply told him to nut up and take the woman out, if for no other reason than she couldn’t stand watching them make doe eyes at each other every time they got together to look at monster data.

Last New Year’s Brie never really would have suspected where the next 365 days would take her. She’d gone from being one of Climax Pictures’s most reliable makeup artists to a kind of apocalypse averter to someone scrounging for work from indie movies because the studio didn’t want someone on their lot who was on television a half-dozen times telling people the living dead were shuffling around on their campus. And that was just at Halloween, barely two months ago. Since then she’d learned the zombies barely scratched the surface of the weird things in the world.

When she flipped her phone on, she saw 429 unread e-mails waiting for her, and she quickly turned it off. She couldn’t quite take looking at her e-mail anymore, since it was all the same: “I know you’re going to believe me…” “I went through the same thing…” “Do you think my dog Sparky could come back?” and so on and so on and so on. The only thing worse than the e-mails about her zombie fighting were the pictures people sent of things that may have been zombies or may have been an armadillo that got plastered on the highway.

And it hadn’t stopped with zombies. A week before Thanksgiving, she got an e-mail about some sort of demonic turkey in Maryland. The week before that it was a possible werewolf outside of Lafayette, Louisiana. Black Friday seemed to bring with it fears of a vampire hunting customers at a Best Buy in Austin, Texas, and she’d spent her Christmas Eve bombarded with messages, tweets, and Instagram pictures of a headless apparition roaming the streets of London demanding a Figgy Pudding, whatever the hell that was.

The three of them talked about these things frequently. Brie didn’t quite understand why people were slamming them with all of these things. Max shrugged and said, “I think they just want someone to confirm that they aren’t crazy.” Marissa had a different opinion: “They know we kick zombie ass. They want to know if we can put the smackdown on all the other creepy-crawlies out there.”

Brie dropped her phone to the couch. The only thing she was going to smack down tonight was this bottle of chocolate wine – twice the vice in half the time, it was perfect.

When her phone buzzed with Max’s text tone, she almost didn’t look at it, but years of friendship compelled her to pick it up. It was a photo message: he and Marissa smiling, doing a selfie in front of the ball that was slated to drop at the New Year’s party Marissa got them invited to. Marissa – hair pulled back into a black bun on top of her head – wore the same snarky smile when she cleaned up as she did at her dirtiest. Every time she looked at Brie, it was impossible to shake the notion that Marissa was weighing the situation and considering herself just a little smarter. To be fair, though, she gave that same smile to everybody. Max, on the other hand, looked like a kid who woke on Christmas Day to find the world’s cutest puppy in a box poked through with air holes under his tree. She tried to look past them to the ball that was being dropped.

The party was being held by Goremania, a small studio that specialized in what they called “Horror Docudramas” – movies that re-created supposedly true stories of creature encounters, although their versions tended to have prettier people who wore fewer undergarments than the real participants. The ball in question wasn’t your usual mirrored disco number, but a huge thing made of green and yellow scales, each about the size of a cafeteria tray. The ball itself was a good twenty feet in diameter, and she was surprised at the elaborate rope-and-pulley system it was attached to. She would have thought it would have been designed specifically to attach to the cables that would lift it, rather than create a perfect sphere that necessitated nets and extra ropes. Then again, it didn’t appear the designer worked quite as hard as Goremania wanted – one of the scales behind Marissa’s head was clearly dangling, about to fall off.

The message that came with the picture was perfectly Max and perfectly irritating at the same time: “Wish u were here.” If she’d wanted to be there, Max, she would have been, so could he maybe just let it go? She thumbed the phone off and dropped it to the couch again, grabbing her bottle of wine. She contemplated getting up for a clean glass – the only drinking receptacle in reach was the Rodney Rooster mug she’d used for her tequila shots – then decided against it. Nobody else was going to be drinking out of this bad boy – she put it to her lips and tipped it back.

The smooth blend of red wine with chocolate cream coated her throat and, after a few gulps, let her pull the bottle away with a smile on her face. Her mother always told her that calories didn’t count between Thanksgiving and New Year – she’d have to ask her the next time she talked if things reverted back when the clock struck midnight or if she had the rest of January 1 to marinate in sweetness. She drank a little more and, after the equivalent of two or three glasses, she looked back down at her phone. Maybe checking out her e-mail wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all. Hearing from people having a worse holiday than she was may well cheer her up.

There were, as she now expected, dozens of pictures of things that may or may not be monster-related: bites that were probably mosquitoes, although the sender swore it was a vampire; a scrap of grimy cloth that probably came from an ace bandage rather than a mummy’s wrapping; some that were just nonsensical, like the one from a painter who kept swearing a little bald man was chasing him and killing anybody whose picture he painted. She really liked the international stories best, though. In Ireland, a ten-year-old girl who followed Marissa’s website was certain she had evidence of a Banshee. A hunter in South Africa wove a story – pun intended – of his encounter with an enormous spider. Dozens of teenagers from everywhere in the world told of an unreasonably tall, skinny gentleman with no face that was pursuing them relentlessly. And then this one from Japan – one with a photograph – from a boy who thought he had evidence of a sea creature of some kind.

Actually, as she looked at the picture of a boy of about ten years old standing next to a claw as tall as he was, she started to recognize him. It wasn’t just the wine, she’d seen this kid’s picture – he’d written her before. She went back to her inbox and did a search for e-mails from the same account and found a half-dozen, each about the same topic: giant monsters. In this one he found a claw. In the next it was a tooth. Once it was an enormous pile of… well, she sincerely hoped it was just dirt, but the boy was convinced it was monster droppings. He was pointing to the tip of the pile, which was a dirty, stained white color, and she decided to flip to the next e-mail without pursuing the matter any farther.

The boy had evidently followed a trail of such artifacts, tracing them all the way back to a volcanic cave. He had a lot of shots of the cave, including one that showed a clear trail worn into the rock in front of it, going down to the sea. If one was inclined to believe in such things, it was easy to imagine some beast walking back and forth between the cave and the ocean, gathering food, bringing it into the cave, maybe to a—

The next picture gave her a start. That wasn’t what she thought it was. It had to be the wine this time, the kid’s story was impossible.

Then again, three months ago she would have called a zombie rampage at a movie studio impossible too. Who the hell was she to judge?

 

Ten minutes to midnight, and Max Quinn was having the New Year’s Eve of his life. Marissa knew everybody here, and he’d spent the entire evening bouncing from one table to another, hearing totally insane stories about people who had monster encounters. Considering his own experiences, Max was ready to believe each and every one of them. At table six, an old stuntman told about the time he’d encountered a plant creature while shooting a film in a swamp. Three different girls at three different tables wove yarns of a dark, brooding man who never took his sunglasses off, and who disappeared with friends of theirs who later turned up with no eyes. A producer who was born in New York was babbling to his friends about a man made of clay that would come to life and attack people in his village when he was a child. Something had happened this year, Max knew. A lot of these stories were old, very old, but ever since the footage of the zombie swarm at Climax Studios made it out, seeming to corroborate the “Curtain” video from a few years ago, people were far more willing to talk about their weird experiences than ever before. Sure, a lot of people still called it a hoax, still said it was all crazy stuff cooked up by a movie studio, but a lot of people said that about the moon landing too. Frankly, the idea that a water-breathing beast-man was swimming off the coast of Long Island made a lot more sense to him than anything he heard people say about Stanley Kubrick.

The joy of being in California was that, even on New Year’s Eve, you could count on beautiful weather. With a light salt breeze, the air was just cool enough that Max wasn’t uncomfortable in his suit, still warm enough that Marissa could wear that low-cut dress and make him the envy of the crowd, and perfect enough that holding the party on a pier rented out just for the occasion seemed like a great idea. At the end of the dock, an iron mast had been erected to hoist the unusual scaled New Year’s ball into the air in… he checked his watch… just nine more minutes. As they walked the length of the dock for the third time, Max felt himself reaching out for Marissa’s hand. Was that okay? Was he allowed to hold it? He wasn’t sure how she would react to such a thing, so—

“Oh, come on,” she said, taking his hand in hers. “I saw you looking at it.”

“Sorry.”

“Naw, it’s cute.”

“Thanks for bringing me.”

“Thanks for coming. Now I’ve got somebody with me big enough to punch out Samuel Billingsley if he tries to grope me like he did last year.”

“What, the producer? You know him?”

“That’s why I like you, Max, you’re a big picture kind of guy.”

There was shouting down the dock – someone pushing his way through the crowd. Or her… yeah, from the voice it was probably a her. And familiar. And shouting Max’s name.

“Is that Brie?” Marissa said.

“Brie and a bottle of chocolate wine,” Max said. “This is going to be Valentine’s Day all over again.”

“Max! Marissa! Where the hell are – hey, stop grabbing at my shirt, I was invited, jackass!”

Max rushed to the front of the dock, Marissa shortly behind him, and found where Brie was shouting at a security guard. The guard, to his credit, was trying to explain that, sure, her name was on the list, but that didn’t mean it was okay for her to jump the curb in a red zone when she parked, and he was slightly concerned about the mailbox trailing behind her, hooked to her exhaust pipe. “Brie?” Max said, running up to her. “How much have you had to drink?”

“Oh it’s fine,” Brie said. “It’s chocolate wine. There’s no chocolate in alcohol, you know.”

“I don’t think you get to stay home alone anymore,” Marissa said.

“Shush your face and look at your phone,” Brie pointed at Max’s pocket. “I wouldn’t have had to drive here if either of you answered your phone.”

Max pulled his phone out to find three missed calls from Marissa, as well as six text messages. “Sorry,” he said, hitting the buttons to play his voicemail. “I guess I didn’t hear it ring – the ocean and that.” He played the most recent voicemail. Brie’s voice came from the phone, obviously already drunk, saying, “I told you. Didn’t I tell you? You didn’t answer the phone and now I gotta come down there myself or you’re all gonna be stepped on, and then I’ll need a new best friend and I don’t like anybody.”

“Love you too, Brie,” he said, turning off the phone. “What’s this all about?”

“Here, look. I got this e-mail with this picture of monster shit.”

“Oh. Swell.”

“Not just that, look.” She held up her own phone, where she showed him a photograph of a small Asian boy standing next to a large claw of some kind. She flipped through, showing him with a huge tooth, enormous footprints, and a white-and-brown pile of… Max didn’t want to speculate.

“Why are you showing me all this?”

“You gotta look at the last one. Look!”

Max flipped the phone one more time and pulled up a shot taken with a flash. The subject of the picture seemed to be in a cave, and the picture was somewhat muddy. He could tell whatever he was looking at was supposed to be big, round… but beyond that, it didn’t really look familiar. “What am I supposed to be seeing here, Brie?”

“Wha… you don’t recognize it?”

“Should I? The name of the e-mail is ‘Kaiju Egg,’ I guess that’s what I’m looking for?”

“NO! UGH! Here, Marissa, look.”

She gave the phone a quick glance. “Kaiju Egg? Sure, I can roll with that.”

“UGGGGGH!” Marissa looked past them and grabbed the first person she saw – a waiter with a tray of champagne glasses that nearly fell, all but the one Brie grabbed and downed in one swallow. “Hey, you! Do you know what this is in this picture?”

The confused waiter glanced at the screen, then back at her. “Yeah, it’s at the end of the dock. Are you okay, miss?”

She spun on Max and Marissa. “SEE?”

“What do you mean, ‘the end of the dock’?” Max asked. He looked at the picture, then at the end of the dock again, then back at the picture. The one of the huge egg with green-and-yellow scales.

“Oh jeez,” he said.

 

The head of Goremania was a young man named Jake Giles, although Marissa doubted the name was any more authentic than his tan. Giles kept his hair perpetually slicked back, and although his perfectly straight teeth always shone through his wide smile, the smile rarely made it to his eyes. In short, he was everything Marissa expected to find in Hollywood, and the only reason she made contact with the man is because he was one of the few people in town who didn’t treat her like she was a lunatic when she started talking about the monster cases she’d been investigating the last few months. Still, he threw a hell of a party. And if Brie was right, it was about to get even wilder.

Giles was sitting under an ice sculpture of the Grizzly Gremlin, star of Goremania’s most popular film of the year, prematurely sipping on a glass of champagne, when Marissa led Max and Brie up to his table, Max with something in his hand. He put the glass down and smiled. “Marissa, my peach! How are you?”

“Just ducky, Jake. Look, that ball of yours – who made it?”

“Made it? Nobody made it, sweetheart. At least, nobody alive today. That there is a genuine artifact from an ancient culture of monster-seekers. I imported it from–”

“Japan?” Brie asked. He smiled at her.

“Hey, you know your stuff. Aren’t you Brienne Sanders?”

Brie. And yes.”

“Seen your make-up, you do great work. Who are you working for these days?”

“Oh.” Brie suddenly straightened up, forcing the slur out of her speech. “I’m… uh… freelancing.”

“Well if you need work…”

“Sorry Jake,” Marissa broke in, “but we don’t have time for the usual studio horseshit. Look, that ball – it’s not what you think it is.”

“My guys tell me the Japanese used it to summon monsters right out of the ocean. Giant ones. I thought it would be a nice touch to use it on the docks.”

“If you don’t get it off the docks, it may touch all of us,” Max said. Marissa grabbed at the thing Max was holding – a large, greenish plate of some kind.

“Hey, that looks like one of the scales from the ball.”

“It is.”

“Dammit, they told me that thing was solid! If it’s starting to come apart–”

“Focus, Jake,” Marissa said. “It’s not coming apart, it’s hatching. That thing is a kaiju egg.”

“Come again.”

“A kaiju. A giant monster thing. They lay eggs and that’s one of them, and we think the scales falling off mean it’s about to hatch.”

The wind kicked up just then, spraying ocean water gently across their faces. Marissa looked to the end of the dock, where the water whipped up more fiercely, splashing at the egg at the top of the mast. In the wind, Marissa saw another scale flake off and twirl away into the sea.

“Do you actually expect me to believe there’s some sort of baby monster inside that egg? Marissa, honey, please.”

“Jake, your top-grossing movie last year was about a three-foot monster that attacks an entire den of bears, and you presented it as ‘Based on a True Story’. Why is this hard to believe?”

“Well… based on a true story, Marissa, that’s a pretty general term…”

“Just get that thing off the dock, okay?”

“What, now? We’re going to drop it in five minutes!”

“When it hits it’s going to kill someone!” Max’s objection almost went unheard – just as he spoke a wave spiked in the water and crashed into the dock hard enough to shake it. This time, several people standing in the general area of the ball were soaked as well; some of them walked away with outrage on their faces, as though they were somehow surprised when the ocean spray had the audacity to spray out of the ocean.

“What’s wrong with you people?” Giles said. “Look, we’ve got a party going on. You can go back and enjoy it or you can get the hell out!”

Brie hissed out an exaggerated sigh. “Fine.” She spun and started to walk away. Max reached for her, but she shook her head. “Max. I’ve got this.”

She stormed away into the crowd, which was starting to form on Giles. The wind was kicking up now, and water was almost shooting over the edge of the dock. One of the older guests, a guy Marissa thought was a director, pointed at him. “Dammit, Jake, you said the weather would be good!”

“You can’t predict the weather, Steve! Didn’t you see Summer Days, Bloody Nights?”

“Well you should have known that the tide was going to go out!” He pointed over the dock, where the water was draining away. Marissa was certain it had been much, much higher just minutes ago. The huge clock beneath the ball showed 11:57, and at 11:49 the water line had almost touched the dock. Now there was at least twelve feet of clearance.

In the distance, the waves were gathering – rising even.

And in the heart of the bulging wave, there was a pair of glowing blue lights, perfectly positioned like headlights… or eyes.

There was a honking sound, and Brie’s voice howling. “GET OUT OF THE WAY, YOU IDIOTS!” she shouted, her car tooling along the dock. People leapt out of the way, food carts and tables were knocked aside, and the car made a straight course to the mast at the end of the dock. She slammed the car into the mast, smashing the clock at the bottom to pieces and breaking it from the moorings holding it in place. It tipped, swinging down and landing, dangling over the draining water. The ball – the egg, call it what it was – swayed from the cables in the net Giles had arranged for it. More scales cracked and fell off into the water and it bounced in the air.

“Oh Christ,” Marissa said. “Max, hold my purse.”

“What?”

She opened the small bag she’d carried with her, took something out of it, and handed it to him. When he saw what she held, his eyes nearly popped. “Are you crazy?”

“No, Brie is crazy. I’m just being practical.”

Marissa shoved her way through the panicking mob, rushing to the mast and climbing out onto it. She slid along the metal, feeling her pantyhose slide, snag and rip beneath her. Well, after this she probably wouldn’t be having the happy new year she’d been hoping for with Max anyway. She inched her way out until she was in reach of the net, then opened the knife she’d kept in her purse. It wasn’t a small penknife either – this was a large utility blade, one with a serrated edge that would work nicely on cutting, for example, canvas straps or strips of netting. She stabbed down and slashed at the net, cutting through cords two and three at a time. The egg continued to bounce, jerking the net and mast around and making it hard for her to keep her grip.

She cut through another group of cords. This time, the egg lurched and she tipped over. She held on to the mast with her right arm, cutting with the left, realizing too late she should have done it the other way around. With the next cut, the egg lurched again, and this time she slipped. She almost fell, but something caught onto the back of her dress, yanking it away from her back. She looked up and saw Max smiling down at her. He’d climbed out to the end of the mast. “Why the hell didn’t you let me do this part? I’m the stunt man.”

She just smiled. “Unzip me.”

“WHAT? Now? I mean…”

“I just can’t reach, Romeo. I need to get further down.”

Behind them, some happy drunk actually had the wherewithal to start a countdown. “It’s almost midnight!” he shouted. “Come on, everybody! TEN!”

Max pulled down the zipper, allowing Marissa to spill forward while he held on to the back of the dress. At “NINE!” she hacked out with her knife, slashing more of the cords. “SEVEN!” found the egg fumbling, almost halfway out of the net. She slipped again, but Max held her steady. At “FIVE!” the next slash made the egg tip over, and at “THREE!” it spilled into the air. The mast bounced back up and, again, Marissa almost fell, but Max kept his grip both on her and the beam. At “ONE!” she was steady in his arms, and by the time “HAPPY NEW YEAR” echoed behind them, the egg was being swallowed by the ocean.

From the bulging water in the distance, there was an incredible cry. The sound was deafening, like no animal Marissa ever heard before, and even Max nearly lost his grip as it made the entire mast vibrate. But nothing was affected like the egg beneath them. Bobbing in the water, the remaining scales cracked and shattered, splintering into the surf. From inside, a tail whipped out, shoving aside what was left of the shell and freeing the creature within. It was the size of a small horse, with a body that reminded Marissa of an enormous gecko, but with a much longer neck and high ridges along its back. It looked up at her, blue eyes glowing, sea water spraying against its new, raw, purple skin, and bellowed. The baby’s cry was much like the one that came from the ocean, but higher pitched and less vibrant. It was almost cute.

The baby fell into the water and immediately began to swim in the direction of the larger creature. As they converged, the water rushed in towards the dock, crashing upwards and spraying everybody. Max and Marissa were both soaked through, and Marissa was glad she’d worn a black bra under her black dress. As the water pulled back out into the ocean, the creatures disappearing into the distance, Max and Marissa started to pull themselves back up the mast.

“What… what the hell?” Giles asked, soaked, staring, unable to comprehend how his party could have gone badly so quickly.

“Told you,” Marissa said, climbing off the mast.

“Um… Marissa…”

“Oh yeah. Zip me up, loverboy.”

He did so and the two of them walked over to Brie’s car, where she was giggling like crazy behind the airbag. “Oh, this was so much better than what I thought I was going to be doing tonight!” she said.

They helped her from her car and, together, walked down the dock, past dozens of stunned faces. How many of them would believe this tomorrow? Marissa wondered if any of them would write it off as drunken reveling… if even Giles would recognize what had happened.

Whatever. It didn’t really matter.

“That was pretty ballsy, girl,” Marissa said to Brie, loading her into the back seat of Max’s car.

“Thanks. You didn’t do so bad either.”

“You guys actually do have a lot in common,” Max said. “You both did great out there.”

“Maybe we could do this more often,” Marissa said. Max smiled and nodded. Brie just rolled her eyes.

“God, I hope not,” she said. “Not even with the chocolate wine.”

25
Dec
14

From the World of Siegel City: All American Christmas

Merry Christmas, everybody! Those of you who have been reading my stuff for a while now know that I put out  a new Christmas story every year, and this year is no different. You may also know that, for the last several years, I’ve been releasing them as eBooks… this year is a little different in that respect. This was supposed to come out as an eBook for you guys but, due to circumstances beyond my control, it just couldn’t happen in time. I still intend to release the eBook, hopefully soon (and with a bonus treat), but for today, for Christmas, let’s go old-school. It’s time once again to return to the world of — but not the town — of Siegel City. No, we’re going to their cross-state sister, Shuster Village, to meet a new group of characters for an…

ALL AMERICAN CHRISTMAS

When Cade Matthews told his gang what he was planning, they stared at him in open-mouthed shock. Andy Dendrick shook his head, Brian Keene stared at him like he had just grown an extra ear on his tongue, and Joe Fournier – clearly the most rational of the group – simply stood up and walked out of Andy’s kitchen, never to return.

Brian took off his glasses and rubbed them on the cuff of his sleeve. “Say that again, Cade,” he said. “I don’t think I heard you right.”

“It’s simple,” he said. “We’re going to rob Weggener’s Department Store on Christmas Eve.”

“Oh. I heard right.” Brian slumped into his seat, eyes fallen.

Weggener’s was the biggest department store in Shuster Village, and although the town was not the hotbed of metahuman activity that its cross-state sister Siegel City was, it still had a fair share of superheroes. Since the New United Statesmen made their base there eight years earlier, it had become virtually impossible for a crook to make an honest living. The robotic hero Shining Armor alone nearly crippled them singlehandedly, being as he was constantly tied in to the city’s security grid. If you somehow eluded him, you wound up being hunted by Pendragon and Helen of Troy, relentlessly pursued by Speedburn, or trapped when the damn Light Man appeared out of nowhere. Cade’s own brother was picked up on Halloween night, not even by a big name during a big crime, but beat to hell while trying to rob a Thrif-T-Mart by some college kid in Defender cosplay.

“I know a guy who worked in the stock room at Weggener’s,” Cade said. “He got fired last week because some uptight mom in the store went ape after he scratched her precious SUV loading up a big screen TV in the back. But he can tell us how to get in. The store closes way after the banks do, so all the cash they took in that day is gonna be in the store safe. And you never met the safe you wouldn’t sweet-talk open, did you, Brian?”

“Well… yeah, I do pride myself on that… but Cade, that’s not the point. We’d get picked up in twelve seconds trying to crack Weggener’s at Christmas. Don’t you think the Capes are going to be all over the place?”

Cade shook his head. “You got no faith, Brian. Andy, what do I always tell you?”

“You’re the man with the hook-ups.”

“Damn right, I’m the man with the hook-ups, and one of my hook-ups scored huge.”

“He got a sparkplug from Shining Armor?”

“Better. Way, way better.” He reached into his jacket and withdrew a small silver card. There was no printing on it save for a date and time — Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. – superimposed in embossed gold over a blue, glittering snowflake. “This little beauty is worth a small fortune.”

“It looks like the invitation to my office Christmas party,” Brian said. “So what?”

“It’s a party invitation all right, but it’s not for anything as boring as your dead-end data crunching job. This is the official invitation to the United Statesmen’s Christmas shindig, and every Cape in the city will be there at the same time.”

“Well why would we want to go there, then?” Adam asked.

Cade smacked the back of his head. “We ain’t going there, moron. We know when all the Capes in town are gonna be occupied. Eight o’clock. Christmas Eve. In a satellite orbiting the moon or wherever the hell their secret base is. Point is, nobody is going to be looking for a bunch of guys like us.”

Steve Phillips smacked his lips loud enough to pop in Cade’s ear. “Naw, that won’t work, Cade. I know some guys who tried that a few years ago and they got busted anyway. The United Statesmen always leave one person out so they can patrol, even at Christmas. The Electrocutioner nearly killed Chris Keller that night, and he’s still afraid of fire hydrants.”

“I got you covered, Stevie. I know who’s patrolling that night. It’s going to be Paramount.”

“Are you crazy?” Brian shouted. “Paramount? He’s the strongest Cape in the city! He’s the friggin’ tree topper! We may as well just turn up at the jail with our hands out!”

“It’s nuts,” Steve said. “Nobody ever gets away from Paramount.”

“That’s the best part,” Cade said with a laugh – nearly a giggle. “We won’t have to.”

He reached into another pocket and took out a small, silver vial no bigger than a cigarette lighter. As he unscrewed the lid, his giggling grew louder and more maniacal. “I picked this up on the street once after Paramount threw down with Doctor Delusion. I can’t believe the cops missed it.” He popped the lid off the vial, exposing a faint, red-orange glow. When he tipped the vial forward, the others looked in and saw what looked like a long, thick shard of rock that came to a sharp point at one end. The whole thing was no longer than a toothpick, but that didn’t matter. It was enough.

“Is that what I think it is?” Steve asked.

“Oh yeah.” Cade smiled, exposing more teeth than the others had previously suspected he had. “Darwinion.”

Darwinion was the worst-kept secret in Shuster Village. Supposedly, it was a new radioactive element created in the same flawed and irreproducible experiment that gave Paramount his powers. When placed in proximity to any fragment of the substance – like the small, jagged piece of glowing rock in Cade’s vial – Paramount and the Darwinion rendered each other inert. The rock stopped glowing and Paragon was left unconscious and powerless until it was removed. The United Statesmen had rounded up every known shard years ago, but once in a while, inevitably, a piece managed to get loose. When that happened, it almost always wound up in the hands of the criminal element.

“It’s easy,” Cade said. “We get in. Brian does his magic on the safe. The rest of us wait for Paramount to show up and I knock him out with this little beauty, and once he’s down, we can take our time. He can’t even call for help! It’s perfect.”

The others looked around, still nervous, each of them hoping one of the others would find the flaw in Cade’s logic, crack it open, and get them out of participating in what their guts swore was a monumentally stupid plan. It didn’t happen, though. Paramount was all they needed to worry about, and Cade had the only thing Paramount needed to worry about. It was, from every angle, a perfect caper.

After a few moments of furtive looks and unintelligible stammers, Cade smiled, triumphant.

“All right, then,” he said. “Let’s get ready.”

 

It was a warm Christmas Eve, which was fine with Cade. Preparing to incapacitate the most powerful cape in Shuster Village with a splinter of a radioactive substance was one thing, but cold weather bugged the hell out of him.

The team was experienced enough to get into the store without a problem. Although the store always hired a ton of extra security at Christmas, Cade’s hook-up came through for them again, supplying them with a “Darwinion Inducer” – a small device that looked like a simple Bluetooth speaker, but actually emitted a sonic pulse that made the standard human conscious mind shut off just as Darwinion did to Paramount.

“I like the symmetry of it,” Cade said with his enormous, toothy smile, handing his crew the special earplugs that would shield them from the device. The earplugs worked beautifully, too. When Cade turned on the speaker, his crew heard nothing from it except a low, mildly irritating hum. The guards, however, fell over like action figures without bases – the first slumped and fell on to another, a third crashed to the floor as if shoved over by the vibrations. Throughout the store, wherever Cade brandished his toy, the resistance to their march crumbled away.

By the time they reached the manager’s office, Cade knew, they’d probably tripped every alarm Weggener’s had and a few that weren’t installed yet, but so what? The heroes were too busy making jolly to deal with them, Cade’s little gadget would have to take care of any cops that showed up, and if Paramount burst in, Cade had seen to that too. It was no exaggeration to say he was anticipating the greatest Christmas of his life.

“How’s it going in here?” he asked Brian, poking his head into the manager’s office, where the safecracker’s agile fingers played with the dial to the store safe.

“Almost got it,” Brian said. His tongue protruded from the corner of his mouth – a sign, Cade knew, of intense concentration. He didn’t know how Brian did it, his ear pressed against the door to the safe, his eyes shut, his tongue sticking out of his mouth, with no other equipment at all, but he was the best safecracker Cade had ever worked with. He’d wondered, once or twice, if Brian didn’t have some sort of super power that allowed him to do it, maybe without him even realizing it. No matter what it was, though, when he heard the door creak open, he knew Brian had pulled it off again.

“And a Happy Hanukah to me,” Brian said, swinging the door open wide. Within the three-foot safe were six sacks, each about the size of a large loaf of bread, each labelled and marked with an exact count of how much cash it contained, and in what denominations. Cade tried not to giggle, but it was getting harder and harder to restrain himself.

“Oh, this is sweet,” he said. The low light from the office’s fluorescents twinkled like Christmas decorations in his eyes.

“Well, it’s not exactly retirement money,” Brian said, pulling the sacks out and loading them into a black duffel bag.

“Maybe not, but it will send me on a nice Vegas vacation. Maybe I’ll win my retirement there.”

Once the safe was empty, Cade and Brian each hefted a bag over their shoulder and moved back out into the office. Steve and Andy were supposed to be there, with no job left except to alert them if the cops or Paramount showed up. The store was still and quiet, and the urge to comment that not a creature was stirring nearly overwhelmed Cade, but he managed to keep his mouth buttoned. Brian, however, found the voice to ask a question that would have been burning within Cade at any other time.

“Hey, where are those guys?” he asked.

It was a legitimate concern. He would have expected Steve or Andy to be skulking toward them by now, faces obscured by their masks so the security cameras couldn’t make them, but there wasn’t any motion in the store at all. Cade felt a thrill of excitement, like his moment had finally arrived. Even though there were none of the telltale signs that usually accompanied a battle with Paramount – a caved-in roof, a broken window, one of his friends tied up with an uprooted parking meter tied into a bow – Cade reached into his belt pouch and began to jiggle the little capsule of Darwinion. Once it was in his hand, it became harder than ever not to titter with glee. His time was finally here.

“Are you laughing?” Brian asked, perplexed.

“Oh he’s here, he’s here,” Cade snorted. “Oh man, is he going to be in for a surprise.”

There was a crashing sound in the dark, and a pair of mannequins fell to the floor. Unlike most mannequins, however, these two twitched and thrashed with life. Unlike even more mannequins, they were tied up with a thin cord, each with a tasteful silk necktie stuffed into its mouth to muffle its voice. And unlike virtually any mannequin Cade had ever seen, these two mannequins were, in fact, Andy and Steve.

“Oh crap,” Brian said, dropping the bag and putting his hands into the air.

“Wuss,” Cade snapped. He pulled the Darwinion out and opened it, waving the glowing stone in the air. “Come on out, Paramount! I’ve got a little stocking stuffer for you!”

“I’m sure he’ll appreciate the gesture, but I’m not Paramount.”

The woman who stepped from the shadows was clad in red, with blue trim and a white star on her chest. A long sword lay against her hip, and her mask clung loosely to her head, bulging underneath with what Cade assumed was hair. Only a small part of her face was visible beneath the blue cowl, but her dark lips smiled at him. “You like surprises, then?”

Cade looked down at the rock, then up at the girl, hoping against hope she’d be seized by Christmas spirit and let him go. No such thing happened, however, and as she stared him down he gradually realized who he was looking at.

“You’re that girl,” he said.

“I’m glad you noticed.”

“You’re the one who busted my brother on Halloween.”

“I made several arrests on Halloween. If your brother was one of them, I’m sure we can arrange for you to be sharing a cell by New Year’s Eve.”

Cade looked down at the worthless chunk of Darwinion in his hand, then up at the smiling girl. He had planned for everything. Everything.

Except this.

Taking his cue from movie serial villains from the dawn of time, Cade did the only thing he could think of: he threw the Darwinion at the girl. Without her smile even cracking, she held up a hand and caught it like a paper ball. “Excellent. I’m told Paramount is always grateful when someone finds one of these chunks. We’ve almost got the whole set, you know.”

“This isn’t right! You’re not supposed to be here!”

“Me? I’m not the one who set off the alarms, sir.”

“But… it’s Christmas Eve!”

She shook her head. “Not everyone celebrates Christmas, you know.”

Her blue-gloved fingers closed in around the red glow of the Darwinion, and then proceeded on a rapid journey towards his face.

 

After the police collected the robbers, after her patrol of Shuster Village was over, after the New United Statesmen finished their yuletide festivities for the year, Adeelah Zahra checked in at the headquarters, entering under a concealed door beneath the city’s monument to Nightshadow, Witch Raven, Indestructagirl, and the rest of the original United Statesmen. When the team re-formed in Shuster Village, she was told, they decided that beginning each shift in the shadow of the founders would be a nice symbolic touch. Adeelah didn’t really have strong feelings about that one way or another – she’d always been a bigger fan of the Lightcorps – but she had to admit she wondered sometimes if someone like Blast Lass had felt like as big an outsider in the 1940s as she did today.

There were still a few stragglers in the headquarters, singing carols in quiet corners or curled up on lounge chairs regaling one another with old war stories. Adeelah didn’t have many of those yet. And regardless, she still had work to do before she thought of recreation. She made her way to the command station and logged in her report for the night, concluding with her capture of the robbers at Weggener’s and her retrieval of the piece of Darwinion. The computer instructed her to retrieve a containment capsule from storage and put the chunk away, which she promptly went to do.

Almost as soon as she sealed the containment capsule – a metal tube rather similar to the one Cade Matthews produced the stone from in the store – she felt a burst of air. In the doorway to the storage room, Paramount grinned at her. He had a bold, square jaw that cradled the smile, and every inch of his red-and-grey garbed form carried itself with pride.

“I heard our newest recruit had a Christmas present for me,” he said.

“I suppose you can call it that,” she said. “One more shard of Darwinion. Maybe 20 grams worth.”

“That’s good. Less than three ounces left in the wild, and I’m sure a good portion of that has flaked away as dust by now.” He took the tube from her and held it up to the light. “Thanks. It’s a bit terrifying, know that something so small can leave you crippled. I always breathe a sigh of relief when someone brings in a piece.”

“Glad I could help.”

“More than help. I owe you one. Two, actually, since you took my patrol so I could go to the party.”

“No worries.”

“No, it was kind of you. You didn’t have to do that. We’ve all sat out our share of holidays and birthdays and assorted festivities, it comes with the job.”

She shrugged. “Tonight didn’t have any special meaning to me, so why not give my evening to someone who can enjoy it more?”

He smiled, and for a moment she thought he was being patronizing. When he spoke, though, the calm quiet in his voice made her believe he was completely sincere. “Just because you don’t do Christmas doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the party. Not everybody who was here celebrates either, you know. Catalyst is Jewish. Helen of Troy worships the pantheon of Ancient Greece. I know Stealth just doesn’t care for the holidays. There are even a few atheists on the team – I have to admit, considering how many ghosts and gods we’ve encountered I still don’t quite how someone can be skeptical of an afterlife, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, all of those people came out.”

“They’ve been here for years. They’re old friends.”

“And you’re a new one.”

“I’m different and you know it. Can you imagine what people would say if they knew the new All-American Girl was Muslim?”

“To hell with them. You’ve proven yourself. As far as anyone here is concerned, the only difference between you and somebody who’s been here for eight years is that you haven’t heard all our stories yet.” He chuckled. “And that just makes you a more appealing companion.”

She laughed. “Defender never told me about that stuff before he gave me the sword.”

“Defender was a good sort, but he was never one to really take part in the festivities. I hope that taking on his job doesn’t mean you need to take his disposition.”

“Not the last time I checked, no.”

“Good, then. The party is over, but there are still several of us down in the lounge. They’ll be there swapping the same stories we’ve heard a thousand times until Santa makes it back to the North Pole. Want to come down and join us?”

“You know? I think I’d like that. When you put it that way, Christmas sounds downright jolly.”

“I hoped you’d feel that way,” he said. As they walked down the hallways to the lounge, they passed under a sprig of mistletoe. For a second, she thought Paramount would be old-fashioned enough to try to kiss her, and for another second, she was disappointed that he was evolved enough that he didn’t. She kissed him on the cheek instead.

“Merry Christmas, Paramount.”

“Welcome to the club, All-American Girl.”

20
Sep
14

I guess it’s up to me to fix the NFL…

Okay, everybody, I guess it’s up to ME to fix the NFL. AGAIN. Listen up, here’s what we have to do:

1. First of all, we all agree that Roger Goodell is a lying sack of crap that needs to go, right? Nobody is buying this “I didn’t know” garbage regarding Ray Rice anymore, and we know Goodell wasn’t going to do anything because there was no chance of the Ravens playing in a home field Super Bowl this year, so why wouldn’t he try to cover it up? What’s more, with the two or three or 19 (I’ve lost count) other players currently being investigated for assorted violent crimes, the fans are finally good and fed up with this stuff. The thing is, the NFL doesn’t actually care what we think. Hell, they don’t even care what the majority of players and coaches think, save for a few pets in the Commissioner’s pocket. Our opinion is worthless, they just want our money.

So we need to stop giving it to them. Stop watching the games. Stop attending the games. Stop buying NFL merchandise until Roger Goodell and anybody else involved in covering up violent crimes is unceremoniously removed from their position. Of course, even if we COULD convince millions of football fans to do this, that would only be a drop in the bucket to the money this “non-profit organization” pulls in annually, so that brings me to step two:

2. We need to stop supporting their SPONSORS. The companies that give the NFL their REAL money are already pissed off about all this, and they have FAR more influence than we do, so it wouldn’t take too much to get THEM to turn up the heat. So until Goodell and company are gone, we need to stop supporting companies including — but not limited to — Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Gatorade, Visa, FedEx, Nike, etc. Oh. And Covergirl. Why the hell the NFL has an official cosmetic brand is beyond me, but there you are.

3. So let’s say we take out the trash in the front office. The NFL will still have a black eye as long as we’re convinced this crap will just keep happening… and it WILL keep happening with the NFL’s current policies. Here’s the most absurd thing — to me, at least — about this whole affair. As ludicrous as Ray Rice’s original two-game suspension was, it was IN KEEPING WITH NFL POLICY FOR THIS TYPE OF INCIDENT. SERIOUSLY.

So the policy needs to be changed. Any player (or coach or staff member, for that matter) indicted for a violent crime needs to be placed on immediate suspension pending an investigation. Anyone CONVICTED of a violent crime needs to be expelled from the League. Permanently.

There we go, football is saved. You’re welcome. Call me back tomorrow, I’ll tell you how to fix Hollywood.

21
Jul
14

Where I’ve been, what I’m doing, and welcome newbies

It’s been a short, busy summer for me. As I told you guys the last time I posted, Erin and I got married last month. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of moving, shopping, refinishing furniture and trying to find time to simply enjoy being together. It’s been nice, but the summer is sadly nearing its end for this teacher.

I have managed to finish the second draft of my next book, Everything You Need to Know to Survive English Class. I’ve sent it out to some faithful beta readers and I’m working on getting a cover put together as well. I’d really like to get it out to the universe by the beginning of September, to really catch the wave on the back-to-school madness, but I don’t know if I’ll quite make that self-imposed goal.

In the midst of all this, I’ve happily noticed a little bump in sales for my first novel, Other People’s Heroes. Hey, cool! Always nice to have some new readers in our midst, and OPH is most certainly the perfect gateway drug into my ever-expanding universe. If you happened to find this post because of OPH and you’re wondering where to go next, may I suggest the other tales in the world of Siegel City?

  • Associated Pressure is a (very) short story that takes place during the final chapter of OPH, demonstrating Josh’s first battle with the most insidious foe of all: the media.
  • The Restless Dead of Siegel City picks up Josh’s story the following Halloween, when an army of the undead arrive in his town.
  • The Ghost of Simon Tower has Josh encounter a mysterious visitor on a cold Christmas Eve.
  • Lucky Penny, another Christmas story, follows a reformed villain trying to make an honest living in Las Vegas, but there’s a hero that won’t quite let him get on with his life.
  • The Pyrite War, a full-length novel, takes place in the Golden Age, and tells the story of Siegel City’s very first superhero.

And if you’re interested, I’ve got a few non-superhero novels and works of Geek Punditry on Amazon and other such sources as well. I’m out there. I hope you find something you like.

14
Jun
14

Things I love Erin more than

For a long time now, I’ve occasionally taken a moment to tell Erin something that I love less than her. This is, of course, a substantial list. It has gotten rather long over time, as I would glance over at her and say, for example, “I love you more than The LEGO Movie and Titleist Golf Balls.”

Since I’m going to get to marry her this afternoon, I thought I would share with you a few of the things that I love Erin more than. This is, you understand, a woefully incomplete list. There are many, many things I love less than her that are not represented here, simply because really, who has that much time to do a complete list? But for now, until I see her walking down the aisle, here’s a partial list of things I love Erin more than.

A&W Root Beer
AA Batteries
Action Comics #1
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle
All you can eat salad and breadsticks
Aluminum Water Bottles
Andy Richter
Applesauce
Back to the Future Part II
Bacon
BACON.
BA. CON.
Barbecue Fritos
Barq’s Root Beer
Batman
Bejeweled Blitz
Benjamin J. Grimm
Bitstrips
Blu-Rays
The Blue Lion from Voltron
Bluebell Ice Cream
Blueberry Pancakes
Boardwalk
Bob Sagat
Bottled Water
Bread
Breaking Bad
Broccoli
Bryan Cranston
Bugs Bunny
Cadbury Creme Eggs
Candy
Candy Crush
Caramello
Cap’n Crunch
Carrots
Carrot Cake
Cheerios
Cheese
Cheese Grits
Cheese Pizza
Cheeseburgers
Cheesecake
Cheesy Pita Bread
Chex Mix
Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza
Chocolate
Chocolate Bunnies
Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Chocolate Pickles
Christmas Crunch Cereal
Christmas Trees
Chuck Jones
Cinematic Titanic
Claw-Foot Bathtubs
Clerks II
Coca-Cola
Coke Zero
Color pencils
Comic Book Conventions
The Complete Works of Herman Melville
Conan O’Brien
The Constructicons all together (i.e. Devestator)
Corn Pone
Count Chockula
Cracker Barrel
Cupcakes
Dalek/TARDIS Salt and Pepper Shaker Set
Dexter
Drake’s Coffee Cake
The Dewey Decimal System
Digital Chickens
Don Knotts
Drive-In Movies
Ducky Momo
The Easter Bunny’s Chocolate Droppings
Egg Nog
Electric Blankets
The Electric Light Orchestra
Every German Gymnast
Facebook
The Films of Matt Damon
Flatbread
Flintstones Push Pops
Forever Stamps
Freddie Mercury
French Toast
Friendster
Fruit Stripe Gum
Garlic Bread
Garth Brooks
Geoff Johns
Ginger Ale
Ginseng
Girls with Scottish accents
Glazed Donuts
Glitter Paint
Grape Soda
Gravity
Grilled Cheese
Grimlock
The Guild
The Hadron Supercollider
Hall AND Oats
Hershey kisses
Hot Dogs cut to look like Octopi
Hyperactive turtles
Ibuprofen
Ice Cold Spring Water
Ice Cream Cake
Injection Molded Plastic
The Internal Combustion Engine
Iron Man
Ironing Boards
iTunes
Jambalaya
Jellybeans
Kettle Corn
Kinetic Balls
Kool-Aid
Kosher Dill Pickles
Kumquats
The Last Day of School
Lime Sugar Free Jell-O Cups
Lipton Green Tea
The Loch Ness Monster
Lollipops
The Lone Ranger
Lost
Lucille Ball
Macaroni and Cheese
The Magical Comedy of Mr. John Cleese
Malted Milk Balls
The Man-Eating Shark Saturday Night Live sketch
Marmalade
Marshmallow Peeps
Marvin Gardens
Math
Maxwell House Coffee
Meatballs
Men’s Wearhouse
Michael Phelps
Mister Bean
The Mona Lisa
Monty Python
The Moon
The Mountains
The Movies of Jerry Lewis
MRI Scanners
Multivitamins
The Music of Jerry Lee Lewis
The Music of Mr. Conway Twitty
MySpace
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Nacho Cheese
Nasal Decongestant
National Novel Writing Month
Nestle Qwik
Not Being Sick
Olympic Bobsledding
One Froggy Evening
Optimus Prime
Pancakes
Pancakes, Blueberry
Parades
Park Place
Pasta Primavera
Pastalaya
Pastrami
Paul Harvey
Peas
Penguin families
Pepperoni
Period Costumes
Pepto-Bismol
Pez
Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese
Pickled Beets
Pickles
Pixie Dust
Pizza
Pizza Bagels
A Platypus?
PERRY the Platypus!
The Power of Shazam!
Precious: Based on the novel Push by Saphire
Pop Rocks
Pop Tarts
The Prometheus and Bob Tapes
Promotional Giveaway Lantern Rings
Pulp Fiction
Pumpkin flavored foodstuffs
Pumpkin Pie
The “Puppet Master” series of films
Purple
Radial Tires
Radon Detectors
Rick Riordan
RiffTrax
Ritz Crackers
Robin Sparkles
Ryan Styles
Salami
Salvador Dali
Santa’s Elves
The Seas
Seinfeld reruns
Sesame Street Old School DVDs
Slumdog Millionaire
Smoked Turkey
So Long and Thanks For All the Fish
Socratic Method
Spackle
Spaghetti
Spaceballs: The T-Shirt
Spaceballs: The Coloring Book
Spaceballs: The Lunch Box
Spaceballs: The Breakfast Cereal
Spaceballs: The Flamethrower (Da kids love this one)
Spirit Halloween Superstores
Spring Rolls
The Stars
The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man
String cheese
The Sun
Sunshine
Superman
Swizzle Sticks
This List
The Tick (animated series)
The Tick (live action series)
Tide with Bleach
Totino’s Pizza Rolls
Traffic Cones
Troll
Troll 2
Tron
Twenty Percent Off Sales
Twitter
Valium
Vicodin
Vinylmation Figures
Wayne Brady
Whipped Cream
White Chocolate Reese’s Cups
The Works of Agatha Christie
Xylophones
Zambonis
Zombieland
The World and Everything in It

21
May
14

About ‘Batman v Superman’…

Batman v Superman-Dawn of JusticeEarlier today, Warner Bros finally announced the title of the upcoming Man of Steel sequel, which we all know would co-star Ben Affleck as Batman and do the  legwork for setting up the Justice League movie that will come out a year later. As a lifelong comic book nerd and especially a Superman fan, I of course had an immediate reaction upon hearing the title Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. So rather than go over it time and again, I thought I would say it here, once, for posterity:

The internet is absolutely full of assholes.

I happened to be at work when the title was announced, so I didn’t see it until later in the day, more than enough time for every nugget-brained, mouth-breathing, soulless, spiteful, hateful jackass on the plant to crawl out of the woodwork and start hurling invectives at Warner Bros, at DC Comics, and especially, at each other. Because, you see, knowing the title of a movie is pretty much the same thing as seeing the finished product, as we all learned from Naked Lunch.

A short collection of the kind of comments I found, except with better spelling, because it’s almost the end of the school year and I can’t bear to torture my brain by attempting to accurately emulate the comments of these people:

  • “This sucks.”
  • “This just proves it’s gonna be The Dark Knight Returns. This sucks.”
  • “Gal Gadot is too skinny to be Wonder Woman. This sucks.”
  • “STUPIIIIIIIIIID.”
  • “This just proves it’s not gonna be a Man of Steel sequel. This sucks.”
  • “Something something pretentious, I’m going to go back and watch Tree of Life.”

And so forth.

Now I want to be clear here, I’m not writing anything in defense of the movie. That would be impossible. Because the damn movie has not been made yet. There is literally nothing to defend. Principal photography began, literally, this week. Yet this hasn’t stopped pretty much the entire internet from vomiting out the contents of its gall bladder into the ether.

To be fair, the defenders of the film were, in many cases, just as inarticulate. Phrases such as “not a true fan” were thrown around, which is frankly just as noxious a term as “fake geek girl” to me. If there’s anything less possible to predict than the quality of a movie that has not yet been filmed, it’s the inner devotion of a person to an idea, concept, or fandom. Or to simplify that, just because someone doesn’t feel the same way about a franchise as you do doesn’t make them any less of a fan.

For some time now, I’ve found myself getting more and more irritated with fandom in general, at least its online iteration, because it seems quite clear that the only thing anyone is interested in spewing is negativity. String theory posits that every possible title for this movie was actually selected in some alternate universe or another, because all possibilities are reality somewhere in quantum space. However, I promise you, in every parallel reality it’s mostly the same people bitching and moaning about the title for a movie that — again, I remind you — they have not seen yet. A small sampling of whining jackasses from other planes of existence:

  • World’s Finest? Sounds pretentious.”
  • Superman V Batman? What, Affleck doesn’t get top billing?”
  • Man of Steel 2? What, they couldn’t be more original than that?”
  • “Gal Gadot is too skinny to be Wonder Woman. This sucks.”

So allow me to make this simple. You haven’t seen the movie. So you don’t know. That doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed an opinion. It just means that if you have no intention but to hiss clouds of venomous mist in the direction of anybody who has the audacity to be excited for the movie, I really don’t want to hear a single syllable out of you. It means that if you honestly believe you know all there is to know about this movie just from the title and the tidbits of information released so far, you’re an idiot. It means that if you think somebody else is less of a fan than you are because they don’t like the title, you’re an elitist snob. It means that if you’re actually so stupidly arrogant as to presuppose that there is nothing else to be discussed and your opinion is inviolate and unerring and that nothing will lodge you from your perch, do us all two favors. First, shut up, because you’re not going to contribute anything to the discussion. Second, when the movie comes out, don’t bother to see it, because you’ve already made up your damn mind two years ahead of time and nothing that anybody puts on that screen could possibly change it at this point, so why waste your time?

There. Rant over. Except to say that if I’m talking about you even a little, you need to grow the hell up.

Hmm? What did I actually think of the title? I actually quite like “Dawn of Justice,” but I’m not crazy about the “v” part, as it implies “versus.” A certain degree of conflict is inevitable, I suppose, I just hope it’s not the entire blueprint of the story.

See how easy that was? Try doing it like that some time.

01
Apr
14

How I finished “How I Met Your Mother”

I have written before — and often — of my love for CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, which ended its nine-year run Monday night. It was a show of true heart, relateable joys and heartbreaks, and outrageously funny characters that have kept me entertained for nearly a decade. I didn’t want to fire off a knee-jerk reaction to the finale — as the internet has proven time and again, that way lies madness. I wanted a little time to ponder, to sort out my feelings, to understand them before I tried to explain them. Now that I’ve thought it through, I think I’m ready.

Be warned. Spoilers ahoy.

To say the ending left me feeling conflicted is an understatement. There were certainly fine moments, and the structure works. At the end, the show is finally given its true context. The framing sequence, when Ted Mosby circa 2030 is telling the children how he met their mother, is really Future Ted’s attempt to explain to his children why — six years after the death of his wife — he’s considering trying to start up a relationship with their “Aunt Robin.” It explains succinctly why the story started with his and Robin’s first meeting, why so much of the story has centered on her, why over the years Ted and Robin  would backslide to one another so often. It makes sense.

Despite making sense, though, something about the finale left me feeling… hollow. And I needed to decide what that was. It wasn’t just that Tracy, the mother, was dead. I didn’t want that, but I’ve also never thought it was fair to judge a story by what you want it to be rather than what it is. And it isn’t that the ending was, at best, bittersweet, because those are often the most emotionally rich and spiritually honest ways a story can end.

My problem, I think, stems from the fact that the final few minutes of the show thrust Ted and Robin back together again — this after years of Ted trying to get over her and finally succeeding just a few short episodes ago. In the penultimate episode, in fact, he underlined that moment, telling Robin that he was not in love with her anymore. To leap, then, from that point to Future Ted returning to Robin’s apartment with the blue French Horn from so long ago… it felt like all the character development had evaporated. I could deal with Robin and Barney’s divorce, sad as that was. I probably even could have dealt with the Mother dying, as such sadness is true to life, is what ultimately makes the moments of joy all the greater. In the last minutes, though, I felt like we bounced back to square one.

In a way, I think the writers trapped themselves. In any long-running story — especially on TV, where the writer’s goals can be derailed by actors leaving, dying, getting arrested… really any circumstances where real-world events can intrude on the storytelling — there has to be room for flexibility. We all know that Aaron Paul’s character was originally slated to die in the first season of Breaking Bad, but Vince Gilligan changed his mind, and thank goodness. Then we have LOST, which initially hung a lot of significance on a 10-year-old named Walt. The mysteries around that character had to be dropped, though, because while only a few months passed on the show, in real time several years passed. The actor aged and hit a growth spurt. Now I remain a defender of LOST, I liked the ending, but I can’t deny frustration at some of the questions that were never answered because nature necessitated putting him on a boat off the island.

HIMYM’s problem wasn’t as dramatic — there was never a question of removing an actor or one of them leaving the show. Instead, the characters moved in a direction I don’t think the creators anticipated by focusing so much of the show of Ted trying to get past Robin, to the point where many viewers (I’m raising my hand here) wanted to just get past that and get on with the story of the Mother.

But the die had already been cast. To avoid “The Walt Problem,” they filmed scenes of Ted’s kids reacting to the end of the story eight years ago, before they had visibly aged from the scenes they shot for the first few episodes. It was a good strategy, but it kind of locked them into the ending, in which the kids gave Ted their blessing to go after Aunt Robin. With no wiggle room, they took an ending that may have worked in season two, or three, or even five, and applied it to characters who — by season nine — had outgrown it. The ending planned no longer rang entirely true.

I don’t hate the ending. There was, in fact, some fine work in there. Lily and Marshall have always been the stable core of the group (save for a brief period in season two), and having them act as a sort of Greek chorus in this finale, shuffling them between Robin, Barney, Ted and Tracy, all rang true.

Neil Patrick Harris, to use a baseball analogy, gets the save here. One of the best aspects of the show for the past few years has been the slow growth and development of Barney Stinson from a one-note character to someone you truly wanted to root for. When he and Robin broke up and he reverted to form, it was heartbreaking. In his case, though, it was not a question of true backsliding, of him becoming the person he once was. Even sadder, he was trying to return to the person he used to be, and with each protest that his friends “let me be who I am,” it was increasingly clear he was no longer that person.

Then he held his daughter and professed his truest, most sincere love. In that moment the old Barney — the Season One Barney, the Barney he put back on life support when he and Robin called it quits — well and truly died. And as sad as his split with Robin was, I don’t think the new Barney, Daddy Barney… hell, the real Barney… ever could have existed without her. It was a phenomenal moment, and although we didn’t get to see much of Barney as a dad, I have no doubt that it was Legend — wait for it…

And finally, Cristin Milioti as Tracy, the Mother. She gets this season’s MVP award. To come into a show in its ninth and final season would be daunting under any circumstances. To do so in such a way that makes the viewers feel for her and care about her as deeply as the five characters the audience has known all this time… it’s heroic. She was simply magnificent. We accepted easily how quickly Ted fell in love with her, because we did too.

I believed Tracy as the love of Ted’s life. Which is initially why that ending felt like a gut punch. upon reflection, though, I think I also see a seed of redemption in it. I can use it for a little perspective. Ted, after all, was the one who turned down Robin when she tried to take him back at her wedding. Tracy wasn’t his second choice, like I felt at first. Even though he didn’t know her yet, he gave up Robin to look for her, and he was rewarded. And it’s not like he ran back to Robin as soon as his wife died — he took six years, a more than respectable amount of time, before he decided it may be worth pursuing. Even then, he put the wishes of his children — Tracy’s children — before his own. Through that prism, I can see it as Robin and Ted finding solace with each other after her unexpectedly lonely life and the loss of his true love.

It’s not what I expected. It’s not how I would have ended it. But it has some truth to it nonetheless.

So while I’m not fully satisfied, I’m not really upset either. I’m certainly not angry. How could I be? For nine years, I’ve been allowed to join in on the adventures of characters right in my own stage of life, allowing me to grow with them. As Ted’s friends married and had children, so did mine. The first time Ted ever heard Tracy’s voice, she was singing “La Vie En Rose,” and as Erin and I prepare for our own wedding, they’ve given us the song for our first dance.

So thank you, show creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas, and thank your writers, for nine years of joy. Thank you to Pamela Fryman, who directed nearly every episode of the series (a Herculean feat in and of itself). And thank you to our six incomparable friends, and the countless supporting players, for the pop culture milestone you’ve created.

For robot wrestlers and the Kennedy package. For slap bets and for Swarley, duckie ties and dopplegangers. For never buckling to peer pressure and explaining about the pineapple. (Yes, I’ve heard the rumors of a DVD extra. Shut up.) For making interventions fun again. For extending the cultural significance of the hanging chad by a good 13 years.

For making me cry more than once and never making me ashamed of it.

For blue French Horns.

For yellow umbrellas.

I request the highest of fives.

 

–dary.

Yeah. Totally worth the wait.




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