Archive for March, 2009

31
Mar
09

Everything But Imaginary #301: How to Make the Mouseworks Work

Gemstone Publishing’s line of Disney comics has come to an end. Someone else will doubtlessly pick up the license, but when they do, can they escape the same mistakes Gemstone made? This week, I talk about how to make Disney Comics that work.

Everything But Imaginary #301: How to Make the Mouseworks Work
Inside This Column:

30
Mar
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Three: The Woods

Chapter Three

The Woods

The field was Linda’s element. Benny may get the good grades, Jamie may have been the popular one, but if you gave her a ball or a bat, Linda would always be able to dazzle her siblings away. Just five minutes after she and Gail had joined the game she pulled Kevin’s team into a 3-3 tie with Gene. They’d be in the lead by now if Tony Zeringue weren’t such a good goalie.

Gene had the ball, twisting between Kevin’s players like they were in slow motion. The only one who could keep up with him was Linda – and she did. The ball traded places from his possession to hers, then back to his again. It was becoming a two-player game, with everyone else standing around watching, barely even moving because it was impossible to tell where the ball would go next. Most of the players stared at her in amazement – perplexed, no doubt, that such a small girl was creaming them. The only one who didn’t have a stunned look in his eyes was Gene, who actually seemed to be enjoying the contest.

“Nice to have some competition,” he said, swiping the ball back again. Gail spun around with his maneuver, turning around in a full 360-degree circle, her eyes glazing over the empty bleachers just long enough for them to register in her brain, resulting in sheer terror.

“Benny!” she screamed. Gene took advantage of her distraction, swiping the ball again and firing a shot past the goalie. His team pulled ahead 4-3, but the game was effectively over at that point, because when Gail saw what Linda was screaming at, she started screaming too.

“What? What is it?” Kevin shouted. Surprisingly, his mood had only gotten worse with each of Linda’s goals. Now that they were behind again, he was even grumpier.

“My brother!” Linda shouted. “He’s gone!”

The two teams suddenly began twittering and Linda abandoned the field. She ducked through the dugout, shouting “Benny!” the whole while. The other kids, one at a time, followed her out.

“Benny, where are you?”

“He’s over there!” Gail yelled, pointing across the canal to the edge of Kane Forest. Benny was standing beneath the shadow of the first row of trees, gazing into the woods. The man in the black coat was with him, stepping into the dark, one hand extended, one slender finger curling itself, beckoning the little boy forward. Linda didn’t waste time screaming again. This time she ran, and the others ran with her.

*   *   *

Benny was overjoyed by this man before him, urging him into the deep trees of the forest. He had never seen him before that morning, and he remembered, in some lonesome corner of his mind, how he had once found the long, dark coat and razor-sharp fingernails frightening. No more. Now he felt like he was standing with a great explorer; someone who could take him places that previously existed only in his imagination. He was a giant, taller even than Daddy, but his face was so friendly. Had he really thought, at first, that his new friend wore a sneer? That he could have had poison in his eyes? What a silly thought.

“My name is Baliwick,” his new friend had told him. “Come with me, Benny. I have something wonderful to show you.”

“How do you know my name?” Benny remembered asking.

“I know a great deal about you, Benny. I’ve been watching your family for some time, and I have decided you are worthy to come with me, to see something magical.”

“My sister…” Benny said, only partially aware that Linda was nearby.

“Yes, your sister. I am very interested in her as well, but you first, Benny. You come with me, and then we shall see about your sister later.”

That sounded reasonable, Benny decided. This man was so strange, but so nice. So comforting. He had never seen him before, he knew, but he felt like he remembered him somehow.

Remembered those incredible, glowing black eyes.

*   *   *

“Benny what are you doing?” Linda shouted. “Don’t go with him!”

“He’s not listening!” Gail huffed. Linda and Gene were well ahead of the pack. By the time she was staggering across the closest, narrow bridge across the canal, the others were just rounding the carousel or ducking beneath the swings.

Linda had never run so fast before. It was like Benny had lost his mind. The man in the black coat had his hand stretched out like he was pulling Benny with some invisible cord, slowly dragging him into the dark shades of the forest. When she shouted again for Benny to stop, to not go in, to come to his senses, the man in the black coat took notice. He looked at Linda – through Linda, it felt like – and wrapped an arm around Benny. He whispered something to the boy and pulled him into the darkness.

“Benny!”

Linda did not hesitate. She rushed down the path to the spot in the woods where her brother and the man in the black coat disappeared, then dove straight into the darkness after them.

“Linda!” Gail shouted.

“C’mon!” Gene shouted over his shoulder. He charged in after Linda, leaving the other kids behind them, grouping together right at the edge of the forest.

“I’m not going in there,” Tony Zeringue said. “I heard there’s a giant bat in there.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Ned Ryan said. “It’s a gargoyle.”

“Can’t you both stop being stupid?” Kevin said. He grabbed Gail by the arm and pulled. “Come on!” he shouted.

She was so surprised by his touch that she didn’t even try to argue. They bolted into the darkness before Linda and Gene were so far ahead that they couldn’t see where they were running, and they were the last two to go in.

*   *   *

It was very dark in Kane Forest, Linda realized, but not quite as dark as she’d been led to believe. Her eyes adjusted slowly to the conditions around her and she saw the black coat fluttering through the dark gray woods in front of her. She realized soon that he was not slowing down, not turning. He was charging in a straight line, and the light that came in from the edge of the woods was getting farther and farther away. As she ran, she reached up behind her, pulled the red scrunchie out of her hair, and threw it to the ground next to a tree.

“What are you doing?” Gene huffed behind her.

“Leave a trail!” she shouted at him. “Give them something to follow!”

Gene wondered exactly which “them” she expected to come barging through the woods after them, but he pulled the watch from his wrist and tossed it on the ground a few dozen yards later. “A trail!” he yelled back at Gail and Kevin. “Leave a trail!”

Kevin stuffed his hand into his pocket to pull out a note Gail passed him in school that day, but when he got his hand caught he lost his concentration. His foot caught on a root and he tumbled forward into the dirt.

“Kevin!” Gail shouted. She dropped back and helped him to his feet, throwing her purple hairband off as they went.

“Are we still going in the right direction?” Kevin wheezed.

“I think so,” Gail said, but in truth, she wasn’t sure. The man in the black coat and Linda were both way ahead of them, far outside of their field of vision. Gene had on a pair of blue shorts and a gray tee shirt. Next to his dark brown skin and black hair, he was almost impossible to see in the middle of this forest.

“Yeah, this is the right way!” Kevin said. “That’s Gene’s lanyard!” His friend’s yellow cord, his school ID held in the plastic pouch at the bottom, was dangling from a low-hanging branch a few yards away. “Come on! We’ve got to catch up!”

*   *   *

Benny had never experienced anything like this. Baliwick scooped him up like he were a cat and was carrying him through the woods at top speed. When his family went to Six Flags a few years ago, Dad wouldn’t let him go on the good roller coasters – he said he was too little. This was much better than any thrill ride, he knew. Branches zipped past his head at amazing speeds. Leaves hummed through the air like confetti. Wind battered his face, his hair danced like he was staring into a fan. He should have been terrified – of being with this strange man, of being whisked off to some unknown location, even of falling during this amazing race – but he was not.

“Are you having fun yet, Benny?” Baliwick asked him.

“Yeah!” Benny thrust his fist out, shouting as though he was on the roller coaster he never got to ride. “Woo-hoo!”

Baliwick laughed. “Oh, I’m glad, Benny. I’m very glad indeed.”

They continued to run.

*   *   *

When she heard her little brother scream, Linda’s legs were beginning to wear down on her. She wasn’t used to this. She was an athlete, yes, but she was a sprinter. This was like running a marathon to save your life. She had already been using up energy on the soccer game. She lost track of how long they had been running through the trees, lost track of how far they’d gone and how far behind her the fading daylight was. Her mind was split right down the middle on two tracks – mortal fear for her brother and a screaming in her legs that made her afraid she would not be able to run much farther.

Then she heard Benny scream.

She ripped the baseball cap from her head, tossed it aside, and ran faster.

*   *   *

Linda’s flying cap almost hit Gene in the face. He managed to bat it aside without missing a step. He couldn’t afford to miss a step. He’d never seen anyone running as fast as Linda was after that weirdo that had her brother. Of course, he’d never seen anyone running after some weirdo that was kidnapping her brother before, either. All things considered, her surprise velocity was probably a good thing. Still, it was impossible not to be impressed. He was going as fast as he could and he was only barely keeping up with her. It was remarkable, what a little incentive could do for a person.

“Root!” he shouted to Kevin and Gail, hurtling the offending limb reflexively. He was working up quite a sweat in this mad rush. If Linda weren’t in such a mad panic, this would almost be fun.

He imagined himself as a superhero, charging through the woods at the speed of light. Even better – leaping through the air, pouncing from tree to tree, dressed in a costume like some giant animal, landing in front of the villain just before he could make a getaway, saving little Benny from the clutches of evil. He’d read enough comics to know how it would work. A few well-placed kicks, a blow to the nose and his enemy would crumple like a tissue. It always looked so easy. Superheroes in the comics, typically, did not have to do quite this much running.

*   *   *

Benny felt like he would take off. It was like being on a horse… no, a motorcycle! No, a convertible! A runaway convertible tearing down the freeway—

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, the wind stopped. Benny felt a short jolt as he and Baliwick came to a halt and the whole world came into focus around him. Baliwick was smiling.

“We’re here,” he said.

But where were they? There was light here, for the first time in what seemed like forever, and the trees were wide open in front of him. The ground Baliwick placed him on was some sort of heavy, grainy sand and in the middle of the clearing…

Oh.

It was the pond. The pond in the middle of Kane Forest he had been warned about his whole life. He’d often been kept awake with nightmares about the beasts that were drifting through the murky, stagnant water – giant blue fish with foot-long teeth or ugly, scale-covered swamp men that slept at the soft bottom of the water until they heard unsuspecting children splashing around above them.

But this wasn’t the sort of murky slime he expected at all. This water was smooth, silver, perfect – like looking down into a giant mirror. He gazed down into the pond and saw himself looking back up in astonishment, smiling, his eyes glimmering with just the slightest hint of orange behind the usual green. Well that was odd.

“Baliwick?” he said.

“No time, Benny. This is just the beginning of the journey, after all. I just wanted to give you a moment to catch your breath before you had to hold it.”

“Hold it?”

“Your breath, Benny, hold your breath.”

“Why?” Benny said, but when Baliwick grabbed him again he inhaled heavily and didn’t let it go, even when Baliwick leapt into the air, still holding him, and crashed forward into the freezing water.

*   *   *

There was some sound ahead of Linda – it sounded almost like a splash – and she tried to press forward harder, but she was already going as fast as she could possibly manage. Even here, at the point of her exertion, she could feel Gene nipping at her heels. She’d lost track of how long she had been running, and her watch was long gone, discarded next to some bush somewhere, but it was long enough for her eyes to grow quite accustomed to looking through the darkness. She kept the man in the black coat in her field of vision until all of a sudden he was surrounded by a halo of light that hurt her eyes. The splash came only seconds later, and there was a flood of light in her face, almost blinding her.

“Benny!” she shrieked, unable to look anymore. Gene began to push her forward, using her body to block the light from ruining his own vision, and they both could see a bit clearer when their feet pounded into the sand.

“Linda, hold it!” Gene yelled, holding her back before she flipped forward into the water. They both beat their eyes, trying to adjust to the light.

“Where are they?” Linda said.

“They must have jumped in! I heard a splash!”

“So did I, but… look at the water! There aren’t any waves or ripples or bubbles or anything! Nobody jumped in there!”

“Well he couldn’t have jumped across! And there’s no where else they could have gone!”

“They had to go somewhere!

“Well – oof!”

They got slammed by Gail, still moving at a full clip and apparently unaware that her friends had stopped moving. Gene stuck his feet out in front of them, digging into the sand and holding them in place. There were only a couple of feet between them and the edge of the water to begin with. Two more inches and they would have fallen in.

“Where are they?” Gail said.

“We don’t know!”

“Where’s Kevin?”

“Behind me!”

Just as Gail was getting her bearings, Kevin hit the entire pack. Gene was caught off-guard and his feet skid, hitting the surface of the pond and sliding like it was ice. There was a chorus of screams and a chorus of splashing, and all four of them fell into the pool in one big, tangled mess.

*   *   *

It was cold, Linda thought. For a long moment, it was the only thing she thought. Slowly, other ideas entered her head. She could not see. She could not breathe. She didn’t even know which way was up. It was like she and the others were falling through the water, if such a thing were possible. She flipped several times, her head and feet spinning around over and over each other, her lungs beginning to ache. How long had it been since she took a breath? She was gasping when she fell in; she had not inhaled deeply. Could she possibly stand this much longer?

She was a good swimmer, she always had been, but she wasn’t sure which direction to swim. She couldn’t believe how deep this pond was, especially so close to the shoreline. The direction that “felt” like down could have been up or sideways or anything. Or she and her friends, still in a bundle next to her, could have been getting farther and farther from the oxygen they needed. How long could the others hold their breath? Not long, she bet. Maybe Gene could outlast her, but she doubted Gail or Kevin could.

Just when she thought she would last no longer, her mouth cracking open underwater to unleash a frustrated scream, her hand broke open into precious air. It was “down” after all, if she had tried to swim in the direction she thought was up she just would have made things worse. She spun around and thrust her head up through the surface of the water, taking in air in deep, desperate gulps. Around her she could hear the others do the same, although she couldn’t see anything yet, there was still too much water in her eyes. Trying to wipe them clean, she beat her feet, trying to swim in the direction she thought the shore was. As the water drained out of her face, allowing her to crack her eyes open, she realized they had spun out into the center of the pond.

“Kevin!” she heard Gene gasping. Behind her, Gene was trying to help his friend stay above water. Gail tried pushing him as well, and Linda swam back to help. Together, the three of them managed to get Kevin to the shore, where they lay him out at the foot of a tree and collapsed in a heap next to him.

“Remind me… (gasp)… never… (gasp)… to do that… (gasp)… again,” Gail managed to say.

“No argument,” Gene offered.

“Benny…” Linda moaned. “Where’s Benny? Where did they go?”

Gene inhaled sharply, looking around. “I don’t think they’re here, Linda.”

“How can you tell that?”

“Because I don’t think we’re here.”

Confused, Linda forced herself to look around. They’d set ashore next to a tree all right, a tall, mighty oak, but now it was the only tree growing next to the pond. Next to this pond, anyway. In every direction she saw more ponds, more and more, stretching out into infinity, each filled with the same perfect silver water as the pond they just escaped.

Next to each pond grew a single tree. Some looked familiar to her – they could have been fruit trees or palm trees or even the occasional evergreen. Some looked quite alien, made of rock or crystal. One she saw in the distance even seemed to be made of some reddish fleshy material. As if to confirm this, its branches lashed around like the tentacles of an octopus, flailing in the air.

Then there was the sky. She had expected the sun to blind her the way it did when they broke through the trees, but it did not happen. There was no sun. No moon, either, and no stars. There was some sort of illumination, but there didn’t seem to be any light-source, she could just see everything. The sky above, rather than blue or purple or midnight-black, was a sort of cold gray… no, it wasn’t gray, that was just her brain trying to make sense of what she was seeing. It was nothing. No color at all.

All four of them were staring at their surroundings now, even Kevin, who seemed all right once he took a few breaths. Gene had scooped up a handful of the sand they were lying on and saw that it wasn’t regular sand either. It was some sort of coarse, gray, gravel-like substance, but softer than stone and easier against their skin. Each gray bead seemed to absorb some of the water that was dripping from their bodies.

“Do you feel that?” Gail asked. “It feels so weird!”

Linda was about to say, “Feel what?”, but before she could, she realized what Gail was talking about. The water that was clinging to their skin, their hair and their clothes when they came out of the pool was no longer clinging. It was flowing instead, dripping down their bodies like it was being pulled down by some sort of water-magnet. They could feel the droplets sliding down so the gray sand could leech it up. In a few seconds, they would all be completely dry.

“Where are we?” Gene whispered.

“How do we get home?” Gail asked.

“What happened to my brother?” Linda said.

None of them were given an answer.

Next: Chapter Four-The Place

29
Mar
09

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 112: Kurt Busiek

The boys are back with another creator spotlight, this time on writer Kurt Busiek! From his early days on Justice League of America and Power Man and Iron Fist, through his career-making work on Marvels and Astro City, right through to his current work on the weekly maxiseries Trinity, the guys break down all of his work, talk about their favorites and least-favorites, and discuss the next project he’s going to be involved with, Wednesday Comics. In the picks this week, Blake recommends Batman: Battle For the Cowl #1, Mike dug Action Comics #875, and Chase is all about Thor #600. This week’s graphic novel pick: American Flagg Vol. 2! Write us with comments, suggestions, picks of the week, “Ask Chase Anything” questions, or anything else at Showcase@comixtreme.com!

Episode 112: Kurt Busiek
Inside This Episode:

PLUS: It’s Week in Geek time again! This time out, Blake and Chase discuss Lost: He’s Our You. Chase gives his thoughts on the final episode of Battlestar Galactica and last week’s South Park, Blake talks about the episode of Dollhouse that rescued his interest in the show, and both boys dish on recent episodes of Smallville, Heroes, and Kings.

Week in Geek #14: Battlestar Galactica finale, Dollhouse “game-changer,” and more!

28
Mar
09

Yes, I still write reviews

The Muppet Show #1It’s been some time since I updated you guys with my recent reviews over at Comixtreme. I am still writing them, though! Not as many as I used to — we don’t do the Marvel advance reviews anymore, which reduces my workload considerably. Now I’m only reviewing the books I volunteer for. It’s still quite a bit, though. This week, for instance, I reviewed the first issue of The Muppet Show from Boom! Studios. This book is really good — the writing is sharp, funny, and perfectly mimics the TV show. Even the musical numbers are still intact. I love it.

Other recent reviews from yours truly have included…

And of course, you can always shuffle through my past reviews at the terribly incomplete and constantly-being-updated Comic Reviews Archive Page right here at Evertime Realms.

27
Mar
09

What I’m Reading: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard BookI am, without apology, a big fan of the work of writer Neil Gaiman. His Sandman series is nothing short of a masterpiece, and the several of his books I’ve read have always entertained me to the fullest. Having just finished his latest novel for young readers, The Graveyard Book, I can proclaim his track record unbroken.

This book, which was the winner of last year’s Newbery Award for outstanding children’s literature, opens up with a murder. Several of them, in fact, as a man named Jack kills three people in the dead of night. The fourth member of the family, an infant, escapes and is spirited away to a nearby graveyard, where he is adopted by a pair of friendly ghosts. As the boy, named Nobody Owens, grows up, the book follows his adventures — both in and out of the graveyard — until the young man he has become faces an inevitable confrontation with his parents’ killer.

Gaiman is at his best when he’s pulling out the really bizarre, out-there concepts, and that’s what this book gives us. Nobody (“Bod” for short) grows up raised by a pair of ghosts, living in a graveyard full of intriguing characters that are just as dead as Bod’s parents. Teachers, children who stay the same age as Bod grows up, the mother who died in childbirth that still fusses her grandson buried in the same cemetery, and the teenage witch who watches as Bod evolves past her all help make this book a fantastic piece of work. Silas, Bod’s guardian, is a particular enigma. He’s not a ghost, but nor is he alive. He, like Bod, has been given the “freedom of the graveyard.” His attempts to teach Bod and protect him often lead to different adventures than those he was attempting to avert.

The book is fairly episodic in nature, telling short stories about Bod at different points of his life, beginning at his infancy and leading to his teen years. Some of the stories pay off at the end, but others are plot threads that simply end as Bod grows up, much like real life when you get right down to it. As we go through the stories, though, we see hints and pieces of a larger mythology that Gaiman has crafted for this universe. A great number of ideas are left dangling, but it seems clear that the writer intends to return to them later.

This is without a doubt one of the strongest young readers’ novels I’ve come across in years. It’s fully deserving of the accolades it has received, and has me intently awaiting whatever comes next.

26
Mar
09

Toy Stories: Batman and Friends

It’s that time again! I’ve managed to scrounge up a few more DC Universe Infinite Heroes action figures, and I wanted to share them with you guys. I’m getting a bit frustrated in looking for more, though. I know they’re out there, I follow the action figure sites frequently, but they don’t appear to be getting to the stores in the New Orleans area. I’ve got to find more somehow. Anyway, first up are a few I picked up with Erin during her visit last month:

Black Lightning and Batman

Black Lightning and Batman

Erin got this dynamic duo for me herself. For those of you who don’t follow comics, Black Lightning here is Batman‘s sometimes-teammate, both in the Outsiders and in the more prominent Justice League of America. Jefferson Pierce is a cool character, and a particular idol of mine because he’s a teacher. If I could tell you the number of times I’ve wished I could sent electric shocks through some of the — ahem. But I digress. These two figures use the basic IH body, with the addition of a cape, belt, ears, and pointy glove-thingies to Batman. It looks like Black Lightning’s head sculpt is slightly different as well, which is a nice touch, as it looks much more like he would in the comics than he would with a basic head sculpt. This figure is cool, and it really makes me hope they find a way to do the Milestone heroes in this scale, if for no other reason than so I can reenact the scene where Jeff wants to know why everyone keeps asking if he’s related to Static.

The Spectre and Doctor Fate

Here we have the recent incarnations of two of DC’s Golden Age heroes, the Spectre and Dr. Fate. The Spectre is the Spirit of God’s Wrath on Earth, but needs a human soul to bond with to keep from getting too out of control. The ghostly Van Dyck on the Spectre’s face tells me that this is former Gotham City Police Department Detective Crispus Allen, the Spectre’s current host, who was bonded with the spirit following his murder by a crooked cop. The rather ornate collar on Dr. Fate, whose helmet channels the power of Nabu, one of the gods of Order, tells me that this is actually the good Doctor’s second-most-recent mantle-bearer, Hector Hall. The current Dr. Fate, Kent Nelson (nephew of the original Dr. Fate) has a more streamlined look.

The Joker: Clown Prince of Crime

Finally, there’s the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. This is one of the few figures that uses virtually nothing from the “basic” body, but it looks pretty good. The vest/coat/flower combination is sculpted well, and the pants look good. I like the rather pointy chin the sculptor whipped up for him too. He’s also one of the few figures in this line to come with an accessory, his cane. The only thing I don’t really care for are the little “devil points” his hair curl up into. A little too on-the-nose, if you ask me. 

All five of these characters have had different looks over the years, either with someone else wearing the costume or with the same person just changing clothes. This brings me to an interesting point: I rather like variant action figures, provided the variants make sense. I’d gleefully get the original Black Lightning costume, the Hal Jordan version of the Spectre, or any of the half-dozen costumes Batman has worn over the years — or even (perhaps especially) any of the dozens that have shown up in various alternate reality stories. But I want these figures authentic to the comic, or TV show, or movie. Back during the Batman: The Animated Series years, they released about a quatrillion Batman figures wearing the stupidest costumes — white, camo, neon orange, etc. I want something, for lack of a better term, that’s “real.”

Of course, when you’ve got several versions of the same character in the same case, chances are good that they’ll run into each other at some point, and when that happens… well…

25
Mar
09

Everything But Imaginary #300: Then and Now

Six years and 299 columns later, I sit down to write the 30oth installment of Everything But Imaginary. This week, I look at how the comic book landscape has changed since the first column came out, comparing comics THEN to comics NOW. Plus, my pick of the week: Ender’s Game: Battle School #4!

Everything But Imaginary #300: Then and Now
Inside This Column:

24
Mar
09

I’ve Been Committed

My own "Dark Art"

My own "Dark Art"

Okay, I’m gonna keep telling you about this stuff until every one of you has committed yourself. I know I said I wasn’t going to take part in the first “assignment” in J.C. Hutchins’ The Brink alternate reality game, which of course is part of the lead-up to his new novel Personal Effects: Dark Art, but I couldn’t control myself. So I picked up my pencils and multicolored Sharpies and crafted the work of art you see to the right of this post. I fully expect the Metropolitan Museum of Art to come calling at any moment.

Once you’ve created your own “patient artwork,” you can upload it at The Brink site to “commit yourself” to Brinkvale Psychiatric Hospital. But that’s not all! You can also write a brief history of your character, the patient at the Brink that will represent you in the ARG. For example, my patient profile reads as follows:

My patient papers

Patient believes himself to be some sort of comic book “superhero.” Patient was discovered in Central Park assaulting anyone wearing sunglasses, screaming, “SHOW YOUR EYES! SHOW YOUR EYES AND SHOW THE TRUTH!” Attempts to identify the patient or locate next of kin have been unsuccessful.

Yeah, I know. I’m going to tell you the same thing I tell Erin — I very often conjure up things that I work into my stories that I think might be fun to come back to later. This is one of those. I can very easily imagine a story involving this character some day. But in the meantime, I’m more than happy to have him waiting for me in The Brink.

Also, when your artwork is processed, J.C. himself sends you your patient’s paperwork, in a format suitable for printing out and showing your friends — that’s the thumbnail you see above. And, if that wasn’t enough, you also get this handy-dandy stamp that can be used as an avatar or other word-spreading purposes.

Get yourself committed

Am I pushing this hard? Damn right I am. Because I genuinely believe in J.C.‘s work — the guy is a great writer and he deserves the attention. And also, because this really is a new way of storytelling, and that in and of itself is something I’m always in favor of. So c’mon. Go to the Brink and take a look.

23
Mar
09

Lost in Silver Chapter Two: The Park

Chapter Two

The Park

When Benny was four years old he was almost lost in the blackened woods of Kane Forest. The 57-acre expanse of thick trees took up a substantial portion of Timberton Parish, Louisiana, and also supplied the children of the area with all sorts of wild tales about monsters. Ghosts, vampires and boogeymen. The creatures supposedly drifted through the trees of Kane Forest even during the day, because the ceiling of leaves was so thick that even in the brightest sunlight it was very dark near the ground. The only open area in the entire forest was a small pond in the center, which nobody ever fished or swam in because no parent in their right mind would allow their children to walk through a forest that dark, boogeymen or no. Adults didn’t relish the thought of venturing into the thick either. Linda had never entered the forest. Benny had only gone in the one time.

Jamie had taken him to the park that day by herself. Their mother was working late at her job at the parish courthouse, and their father had to pick Linda up from soccer practice. It was Jamie’s first year of high school at the time, and although she liked getting extra spending money for watching after her little brother and sister, she would sometimes get embarrassed if any of her friends saw her with them. She carried her English book to the park with her to study, and her portable CD player and the latest album from a group called the Goo Goo Dolls that she liked but that Linda thought had a stupid name. She sent Benny over to the sandbox to play, found a bench where she could keep an eye on him, and began to study.

The park was not immediately beside the forest. There was the parking lot to the far eastern edge, then the benches, sandbox and teeter-totter for smaller children, then a jungle gym and some swings for bigger kids. On the western edge of the park was the baseball diamond where Linda’s softball team played during the summer. All along the northern side of the park was a 10-foot wide canal full of water, with only two small footbridges and one wide bridge for cars. On the other side of the canal was Kane Forest. None of the bridges were particularly close to the sandbox or the benches, though, so Jamie was very surprised when she looked up from reading the Flannery O’Conner story in her English book to find that little Benny was gone.

Jamie panicked, of course, and dropped her book and CD player on the ground, breaking the machine and getting dirt all over the section on short stories. She didn’t care. She started racing around, asking every child and parent if they had seen her brother, checking the tunnels near the jungle gym, between the cars in the parking lot, even under the bleachers next to the baseball diamond. She finally found a little boy who said he saw Benny walking across one of the bridges just as Jerry Watson pulled into the parking lot with Linda in the passenger seat, balancing a soccer ball in her lap.

“Hey, sweetie! Where’s your brother?” he asked Jamie, whose blood was running like ice.

“Daddy he… I was reading my book and… I just looked up…”

Jamie suddenly burst into tears, something Linda had never seen her older sister do before, and somehow between sobs her father got the message that Benny had wandered to the other side of the canal and might be in the forest. Her father’s face went white under his auburn hair, looking more terrified than the night their mother caught him and Linda staying up late to watch zombie movies on TV. He scrambled into his pocket for a handful of coins, which he gave to Linda, telling her to call her mother at work. Then he took Jamie by the shoulders, and said, softly, “we’re going to find him, sweetheart, but I need you to stay calm so you can help me, okay?”

Jamie wiped her red face and nodded and they went across the bridge together, joined by a few of the parents whose attention they had captured when Jamie began crying and realized what had happened. Linda called her mother from the park’s pay phone, then waited on the bench as the little kids kept playing and their parents stood a little closer than usual to the playground equipment, their eyes almost never leaving the edge of the forest, where voices were shouting out, “Benny? Benny?” every few seconds. Their mother arrived in about five minutes with dad’s brother, Uncle Marty, who looked and sounded so much like their father, even though he was a few years younger, that Linda would sometimes get them mixed up from a distance until she was seven and her father shaved off his mustache.

It was Uncle Marty, fuzz still on his lip, who did the talking when they got there – Mom was stammering, looking terrified. “Linda, did they find him yet?”

“No, Uncle Marty.”

Uncle Marty nodded and said a word that got Jamie in trouble when she said it, then took a pair of flashlights out of the pockets of his big work pants, handing one to Mom. “You stay here, hon,” he said, “We’re gonna go help your daddy look for Benny.”

“Okay,” Linda said, resuming her seat on the bench. She wondered, if they didn’t find Benny soon, would they call the police? She saw on a TV show once how, when the police were looking for someone, they put out a “dragnet.” She had never seen one, but she was imagining a giant net hanging delicately from a dozen helicopters, sweeping the forest until they pulled Benny out.

As the adults got deeper and deeper into the woods, Linda heard sounds besides simply her brother’s name. Grunts. Shouts. Then a single scream that she thought was her mother, but she couldn’t be sure. Most of the small kids left on the playground ran to their parents. There weren’t many left anyway, it was getting dark and a lot of the families brought their children home, although more than a few of them had returned with lights. Two police cars did arrive, but Linda didn’t see any dragnets. Maybe that was something they just used in a really bad emergency.

It felt like it had been hours since Mom and Uncle Marty rushed into the woods with their flashlights, but it couldn’t have been that long before they came out, because the sun had not fallen beneath the horizon. Mom and Jamie came first, both with red, wet cheeks, holding on to each other. Uncle Marty was behind them, holding two flashlights, and behind them, in front of the parade of police and onlookers that had joined the search, was Dad.

And Dad was holding a very confused Benny.

*   *   *

In all the fuss that followed that day, no one remembered about putting Linda to bed. Uncle Marty came home with them and made dinner while Mom made a fuss over Benny and Dad had a long, but not angry, talk with Jamie about responsibility when she was supposed to be watching her brother and sister. Jamie kept quiet and nodded, but Linda suspected she would never need a reminder of her duties again.

Linda fell asleep on the couch after dinner, waking up a few hours later. The Watsons had a combined living room and dining room, so she could hear Dad and Uncle Marty, sitting at the dinner table, having the sort of conversation that Linda thought they probably wouldn’t have been having if they knew she were awake.

“—never been so scared in my life, bro,” Dad was saying. “I thought we would never find him.”

“You don’t need to tell me,” Uncle Marty said. “The stuff they have in those woods…”

“Do you really believe all of those stories?”

“I don’t know if I believe them all, but I remember when those professors from the college disappeared in there, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“What was he doing when you found him?”

“It was so strange. He was sitting in the dirt next to some bushes, just moving rocks around like they were toy cars or something, then he saw me and he started screaming ‘Daddy’ and ran right up to me.”

“Did he tell you why he went in there in the first place?”

“I kept asking him,” Dad said, “but all he would say is ‘eyes’.”

“Ayes?” Uncle Marty said, “as in ‘The ayes have it’?”

“I don’t think so,” Dad said. “I think he meant ‘eyes’ like the eyes in your head.”

Linda swallowed when he said that, a big hearty gulp, and they both stopped talking. She heard movement, then felt her father standing over her.

“Linda, sweetie, are you up?”

She rubbed her eyes. “I just woke up, Daddy,” she said.

He smiled at her and she felt relief – he wasn’t mad at all – and he took her to bed. She didn’t hear the rest of the conversation, but she never forgot what she did hear, either.

*   *   *

She didn’t think about it much either, though. Benny had come home safe, she got older and less inclined to believe stories about ugly, bloodthirsty ghouls in the woods, and on the day the man in the black coat appeared at school she was not thinking of that long-ago conversation at all.

She was thinking of Benny, however, and she and Gail flanked him as they boarded the bus to go home. Usually she didn’t let her little brother sit with her, but today they managed to find space for him. On the way home she and Gail held a conversation consisting mostly of abrupt sentences and meaningful glances while Benny went back to reading his book. She couldn’t understand how he read on the shaky, rattling school bus. Any time she tried, she couldn’t hold the book steady and the words zipped all over the page until she got sick.

The bus dropped them off in sight of Linda and Benny’s house. A big, silver minivan was in the driveway.

“Mom’s home from work early,” Linda said. “I’ll make sure it’s okay for you to stay over.”

“I’ll go home and pack my clothes,” Gail laughed. In all the years she’d lived a block over from the Watsons, Linda’s mother had never denied the girls a sleepover without extremely good reason.

Mom was in the living room when they got home, flipping through some paperwork and not really paying attention to the talk show she had on TV. She worked as a court reporter at the Timberton Parish courthouse, and it was not unusual for the judges to arrange the docket so they could leave early on Friday afternoons. Mom didn’t complain when she got home before her kids.

“Hi Mom,” Linda said sweetly, giving her mother a hug.

“Hi, baby. What do you want?”

“What makes you think I want something?”

“You hugged me the minute you walked through the door,” Mom said, with a small grin.

“Can Gail sleep over tonight?”

“Sure, honey. I’ll call your dad and ask him to grab some fried chicken for dinner on his way home.”

Linda thanked her mother and went to her room to change into some comfortable shorts and her favorite, beat-up sneakers that fit over her feet like a second skin. Mom kept bugging her to throw them out, but Linda refused. She always proclaimed she would wear these shoes until her feet got too big to take them off. By the time Gail made it, she’d dug out her own baseball glove and was having a solo catch in her room, a frequent hobby that her mother would have a fit about if she ever saw it. She clutched the ball in her glove and met her friend in the living room.

“What do you wanna do?” Gail asked.

Linda shrugged. “Go to the park?” It was safe enough. Linda got the exercise she liked; Gail got to watch the boys playing ball.

“If you’re going to the park, take your brother with you,” Mom said. Linda recoiled.

“Mom, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”

“Take him. He needs some fresh air.”

Benny, who was hanging upside-down on the couch with his book in front of his face, let out a groan. “Aw, ma…”

“No ‘aw’s, Benny. I couldn’t be prouder that you’ve read fifteen books since the first day of school – don’t look so surprised, I saw the list on your desk – but you need to get out and play sometimes, okay?”

He pulled himself upright, somehow managing to slump even on his way up. “All right, Mom.”

“But Mom–”

“No ‘buts,’ Linda. It won’t hurt you to spend a little time playing with your brother. Go. Have fun. Beat those boys at catch, then Gail can comfort them. Everybody wins.”

Gail giggled at that. That was one thing about Denise Watson – she knew what went through the minds of every child that spent any time in her home. Gail stopped laughing quickly, though, looking at the worried expression on Linda’s face.

“Did you tell her?” she whispered.

“No. Do you think I should?”

“Would he follow us to the park?”

Gail shrugged. “How should I know? I’ve never met the guy.”

Now that Mom had it in her head that the girls were taking Benny out for fresh air, though, she was steadfast. Before Linda had time to formulate another protest she and Gail found themselves on the sidewalk, Benny between them, walking the three blocks to the park.

Benny had not mentioned the strange man at the school playground since that morning, and he seemed more interested in things like a lizard they found sunning itself on the sidewalk, which Gail almost stepped on.

“Look out!” Benny shouted, before she could put her foot down.

“What, what is it?” she said, but quickly saw what it was as the gray lizard scuttled out from under her shoe and into the green grass.

“I didn’t even see it,” she said. “Ew.”

“That’s because it can change its color so it’ll blend in wherever it goes,” Benny said. “I read about it in a book. Lots of reptiles do that.”

“You sure do read a lot,” Gail said.

“How else are you supposed to learn things?” Benny asked.

“That’s another thing,” Linda said. “All this extra learning you do. What’s up with that?”

Benny shrugged. “I like to learn.”

“Well try not to let that spread too much. People are gonna think our family is weird or something.”

Benny fell silent, as he always did when Linda picked on him, and she immediately felt bad about it. She tried to let the little things slide, but when her brother insisted on acting like such a nerd all of the time, she found herself growing short with him, even when he didn’t deserve it.

The park was fairly crowded for an early Friday afternoon, but soon the kids would be wandering home for dinner or to go to a movie with their parents or to greet their babysitters so their parents could go out on their own. In the meantime they were occupying themselves on the swings or the slides or the jungle gym all things Gail and Linda decided they’d outgrown. Both of them were focusing more on the kids their age battering around a soccer ball on the baseball diamond. Gail was looking at Kevin White, while Linda was counting the number of ways, in a proper game, she could easily get the ball away from the boy who had possession, which in this case was also Kevin.

Gene Patin slipped his dark leg in and stole the ball away from Kevin’s pale white limbs. He jogged off, chuckling, and Linda noticed for the first time that Gene was actually a better athlete than his friend. After Gene had the ball he darted past a couple of defenders and shot the ball right past Ned Ryan, who was standing between the paper plates someone weighed down with rocks to mark the boundaries of the goal. Gene cheered, bouncing the ball up on his knee a few times.

“Goal, goal! Hey – look, Kev.” He pointed to where Benny and the girls were watching on the other side of the fence. “Hey Linda! Gail! You know how to play?”

Linda laughed. “Good enough to whip you!” she said, not in an angry way, but with a hint of laughter in her voice.

“Oh yeah? Prove it! You can be on Kevin’s team and Gail can be on my team.”

Linda wanted to jump right in, but she looked down at Benny, who was watching the game passively. “I don’t know,” she said.

“C’mon! You’re not scared, are you?”

Gail tugged Linda’s arm. “Come on, don’t you want to play?”

“You just want to impress Kevin,” Linda said. “We really should be watching Benny.”

“Benny will be fine. You can sit on the bleachers and read your book, can’t you Benny?”

“Yeah!” Benny said, showing enthusiasm for the first time since leaving the house. He took Ozma of Oz from his pocket and climbed onto the bleachers, lost in the fantasy world already.

“See?” Gail said. “He’ll be fine up there, and you can keep an eye on him from the field.”

“Well…” Linda said, which to Gail was as good as an agreement.

“We’re coming, Kevin!” she said, even though it was Gene who invited them to play. The girls rushed through the dugout and onto the baseball diamond. With them, there were five on each team, and Gene’s team was ahead 3-1. Good. Linda liked a challenge.

*   *   *

Benny half-watched the game from the bleachers. It was difficult to pay attention to something as silly as a soccer match when his friends still had to escape the treacherous Gnome King. That was how he thought about his books – the heroes were his friends, the villains and monsters his enemies, and if he should ever find himself swept away to one of those magic realms – to Oz, to Narnia, to Neverland – he needed to be smart enough, wise enough to help save the day. It would never happen, of course. They were just stories in books, he knew that.

But knowing something and believing it are two very different things. Benny knew there were no mysterious islands or desert-locked fantasy worlds. He knew there were no monsters or vampires or robots or dragons. He knew there was just the regular world, where what you saw was what you got.

He knew these things, yes, but in the deepest corner of his heart he didn’t believe that the ordinary, regular world was all there was. It was probably this belief that kept him from screaming in fear or running away in a mad panic when a voice behind the bleachers whispered, “Benny…” and he looked through the metal slots to see the skinny, smiling man in the black coat.

Next: Chapter Three-The Woods

22
Mar
09

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 111: 90s Cartoon Extravaganza

Our 80s Cartoons Episode was a hit, and we’re not above repeating our success. This week, the boys talk about their favorite cartoons from the long-ago days of the 1990s, from the Batman and Superman animated series to the battles of the Beast Wars. Join the guys as they debate whether the Marvel cartoons were a cohesive universe, the pros and cons of Nicktoons and Cartoon Network originals, and whether it’s called the Diniverse or Earth-Timm! In the picks, Blake chooses Secret Six #7, Chase liked Gotham Gazette: Batman Dead?, and Mike can’t wait for Spider-Man 2099 Vol. 1! Write us with comments, suggestions, picks of the week, “Ask Chase Anything” questions, or anything else at Showcase@comixtreme.com!

Episode 111: 90s Cartoon Extravaganza
Inside This Episode:

PLUS: The guys have a little audio trouble this week, so bless ya if you can get all the way through Week in Geek #13. If you DO manage to listen to the entire episode, you’ll hear the guys talk about the most recent episode of Lost, Namaste, the premiere episode of Kings, and the final few episodes of ER — plus the usual assortment of tangents, debates, and shameless plugs.

Week in Geek #13: Lost, Kings, and ER




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