writer, speaker, content creator

I Have a Podcast Now!

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Several people have been telling for some time now to do a history podcast. Well, it exists now. Interesting Times is about obscure, weird, and out-of-the-way historical bits that you might not have heard of. There’s not going to be any grand histories of Rome or WWII here. Mainly, it’s going to be weird stuff that I think is cool. I’ll be updating every Thursday.

Free Wolverine Ideas!

In Comic Books on October 15, 2014 at 9:06 am

Marvel comics is going to kill Wolverine. Wow! That is a really big deal. He’ll come back, though. This is comics. People come back. Wolverine will probably just take a really, really, really, really long time doing his healing factor and then be like “Hi guys, I got better.” Knowing what to do with a character when they come back to life can be hard. Like, they just died! How do you top that? What new adventures can they have? It is difficult to think of things!

This is a real Wolverine! It does not have an adamantium skeleton.

This is a real Wolverine! It does not have an adamantium skeleton.

To help Marvel out, I’ve decided to post my Free Wolverine Ideas. You guys can just go ahead and use these, okay? Okay. Here goes:

-Wolverine insists that all Canadians say “bub.” Northstar says “I don’t say ‘bub'” and then Wolverine says “Well, maybe it’s an Alberta thing” and Northstar says “You’re from Alberta?”

-An issue just like Hawkeye’s Pizza Dog issue, except from the perspective of Wolverine’s hair.

-Wolverine and Cyclops get drunk at the Hellfire Club and then get into an argument about metric versus imperial units. It gets heated, they start fighting and then there’s a quiet moment where they lock eyes and say “None of this will bring Jean back!” (Oh yeah: Jean Grey is dead in this story) They look at each other and then both get really sad and then hug.

-Wolverine tries to start a hockey team at the Xavier school. Only Beak shows up.

-Storm says that she’s really proud of Wolverine for quitting smoking. Wolverine says that it wasn’t that hard, just took a bit of willpower, but Storm knows better and is still really proud of him.

-The Xavier School has a World Cultures Fair and Wolverine makes poutine. Jubilee says that it’s really good poutine and Wolverine is all like “I’m the best there is at what I do.”

-Colossus and Wolverine start a craft brewery at the Xavier school. Colossus wants to make a Russian style stout. Wolverine’s more into lagers. Nightcrawler says that he had a really good kolsch the other day.

-Wolverine reminds everybody that the US tried to invade Canada once and it didn’t work out too well. “Wait, that happened?” says Rogue. “Yeah, exactly,” says Wolverine.

-X-23 and Daken hang out at the school during Bring Your Kid to Work Day. Iceman and Daken don’t get along. X-23 and Kitty Pryde have a rousing game of squash.

-Emma Frost and Wolverine get into an argument about the central message of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Wolverine is like “I met Hemingway! I am over one hundred years old and fought in World War One!” and Emma Frost is like “It doesn’t matter, authorial intent is irrelevant!”

That should be enough for a few issues after Wolverine comes back, and I look forward to seeing Marvel running with these ideas in another year or so. Wolverine, guys! He’s a cool dude. SNIKT!

D&D Will Kill You: That One Alarmist Comic is a Movie Now

In Games, Movies, Religion on August 27, 2014 at 3:15 pm

If anyone sits down and watches Reefer Madness nowadays, chances are they’re probably stoned. The 1936 anti-marijuana movie, if it’s viewed at all, is generally only watched by aficionados of the very substance that it’s attempting to decry, viewers reveling in retro irony.

Pictured: Game night at my place, every Tuesday

Pictured: Game night at my place, every Tuesday

Dark Dungeons, a forty-minute film released earlier this month, calls back to Reefer Madness’ unintentional kitsch by being a faithful adaptation of one of the most infamous religious comics ever made. You’ve probably been handed a Jack Chick Tract at some point. The small, black-and-white comics handed out by street preachers and self-appointed missionaries warn of hell and damnation for listening to rock music, doing drugs, being a member of the Catholic church, and, memorably, playing Dungeons and Dragons. The Dark Dungeons comic is a tiny screed against fantasy roleplaying games. According to Chick, if you roll dice and pretend to be an elf you’re on your way to dealing with black magic, worshipping Satan, and killing yourself. The only way out is to trust Jesus and burn your fantasy novels. Really. Read the comic. It ends with a book burning.

The short screed is very much a product of its time. Heavy metal, Satanism, dark magic(k) and imagined occult conspiracies were a persistent bugbear of the 1970s and 80s. Bands bedecked themselves in “Satanic” imagery in order to look edgy, and Beatrice Sparks (the literary charlatan behind Go Ask Alice) “discovered” a (fake) diary about a kid who’d supposedly gotten involved with the occult. Dungeons and Dragons, a game where kids pretended to be magical people who cast magic and sometimes worshipped fictional gods, was the source of a healthy amount of pearl-clutching, and Dark Dungeons is the apex/nadir of all of the hype and hoopla of that era.

Two things happened, though, that soon destroyed America’s obsession with the dangerous, imagined occult. The first is that grunge and gangsta rap unseated pentagram-strewn hair metal as the dangerous genre du jour. Soon, being edgy wasn’t about invoking demons or screaming about hell. Being transgressive was about drive bys, drugs, and not giving a shit. By the middle nineties, the panic over kids worshipping Satan seemed ridiculous.

The second thing (related to the first) is that popular culture gradually realized that people who are obsessed with demons and elves are fucking dorks.

This wasn’t exactly a secret or a revelation, of course. This is Spinal Tap is all about how metalheads who sing about Stonehenge are sort of doofy, and even if more genuinely dangerous music hadn’t showed up, the whole metal/occult/Satan thing would have probably drowned in its own excess anyway. Anymore, bands that steep themselves in sword and sorcery type imagery do so in such a way that acknowledge their inherent ridiculousness. Any pretense of actual edge takes a back seat to deliberate kitsch.

The point is, a cultural wave that was previously perceived as dangerous very quickly turned into a source of ridicule, and the shocked masses of that era look not so much like they are clutching at pearls, but straws.

The Dark Dungeons film does not need to be a spoof of 70s and 80s moral panic. In fact, it is officially licensed by Jack Chick, and every single line of dialogue from the comic makes it into the movie. Make no mistake, the folks who made this movie are a bunch of gaming dorks with cameras who completely disagree with the source material, but the filmmakers are smart enough to know that they don’t need to wink at the audience very much, if at all. Chick’s words and ideas about how D&D will lead to demon-summoning and suicide are their own, best counter-argument. The movie isn’t a masterpiece (there’s some Cthulhu stuff in there that feels sort of forced) but does work as a sort of reverse-engineered Reefer Madness. The only people who are ever going to watch it are dorks like me, but when I saw it I got a bit of nostalgia for a time that, admittedly, I was a bit too young to take part in.

I looked around at the other gaming people in the room and thought. “Hey guys, remember when the preachers and moms were afraid of us? Remember when we were dangerous? That was kind of fucking cool.