SciFi: Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (Episode 1)

Somewhere in my parents’ house in Upper Michigan is a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema. The book taunted me from the shelves of the local bookseller for months before I shelled out the sixteen-dollar purchase price and took it home, fully intending to master the artistic secrets contained within.

Yeah, maybe the next time I’m in the U.P. I’ll grab the book so I can get to work on that.

In the twenty years since I bought How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way I’ve created — but not drawn — quite a few superheroes. In addition to not drawing the superheroes I create, I make a special point not to dress up in their costumes. This, along with a fairly firm grip on reality, is probably what separates me from the contestants on SciFi’s new reality series, Who Wants to Be a Superhero?Plus, I missed the audition deadline.

The series premiere introduced the twelve heroic hopefuls who, over the course of six weeks, will compete for their own Dark Horse comic book and SciFi Original Movie. In the first half hour, Stan Lee summoned the heroes to their secret lair, revealed a traitor in their midst, and booted one of the contestants, all before the competition even began.

The first challenge: find a discrete place to change out of your street clothes and into your costume, then run to the finish line. Monkey Woman, true to her character, climbed a tree for her costume change, while the gladiator-like Tyveculus hid behind a Porta Potty and Creature climbed into a trash can. Even in his street clothes, The Iron Enforcer is the antithesis of discretion, mostly because he’s toting around a huge freaking gun. All of the heroes eventually crossed the finish line, but only four stopped just a few yards from their goal to help the crying little girl who had lost her mother.

The true challenge, of course, was not reaching the finish line quickly, but being heroic by putting aside one’s own ambitions in favor of helping someone in need. Some of the contestants were in such a hurry that they didn’t even glance at the girl (whose pleas were far from quiet); others looked right at her and ran by, not even bothering to return once they had achieved their “goal”. Of the four who stopped to help the little girl, only one — Major Victory — was male.

Right off the bat, Major Victory stands out as having a bombastic, no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to acting the hero. Laura and I both laughed out loud as he leapt onto the scene, all exaggerated movements and cheesy persona. Victory is a cross between Austin Powers and The Greatest American Hero, and it works for him.Laura thinks his costume is a little too reminiscent of The Incredibles, where I felt it could have benefitted from a cape. Ridiculous? Yes. Fun to watch? Absolutely.

Another early standout is Lemuria, who is unique among the contestants in that she was apparently not chosen by Stan Lee, but rather voted onto the show by visitors to SciFi.com. She may also have been voted “Most Likely to Fall Out of Her Costume,” which goes a long way to explaining the motivation of the average SciFi fan.

The elimination ceremony at the end of the episode involves the heroes lining up in front of a billboard-sized video screen from whence Stan “The Man” Lee reveals which three contestants are on the chopping block. Each potential eliminee is required to convince the legendary superhero creator why he should allow them to remain in the secret lair, and ultimately one is asked to turn in his or her costume.

Stan Lee actually fills the role of mentor, taskmaster and judge quite well. An actor he isn’t, but he’s got a good personality for the role and he delivers his messages to the contestants — always via flatscreen television — with a charming-yet-earnest air. Anywhere else Lee’s persona might be jarring, but in the context of Who Wants to Be a Superhero? it fits perfectly, if only because… well, he’s Stan Lee.

I’m actually surprised with SciFi recently. Twice in the span of a week they’ve premiered new shows that have proven to be very watchable; Who Wants to be a Superhero? is the second.Eureka is the first; more on that later. As much as the concept piqued my curiosity and made me cringe all at the same time, the first episode was a lot of fun.

Podcast: The Round Table Season 2, Episode 11

The Round Table

Part of being human (as opposed to being a cyborg sent back from the future to kill a human) is making mistakes. I’d be willing to wager that we’ve all done some things through the years that we’re not exactly proud of; things that may have seemed like a really good idea at the time but when viewed through the lens of experience are revealed as just plain stupid (or at best poorly executed).See: Howard the Duck (George Lucas), the XFL (Vince McMahon), Give Yourself a Hand (Crash Test Dummies), Scrappy Doo, and Microsoft Bob.

The most recent episode of The Round Table is — mercifully — the result of Mick Bradley, Chris Miller and myself recognizing that what we had produced after two hours of recording last Friday night was not something that we would be proud of were we to release it on an unsuspecting Internet. It would have been easy to simply ditch the episode entirely, but Chris decided to record some new content, scrape together some of the less offensive bits and release it as the final episode of season two, promising a return to the mythic focus we had earlier this year.

Chris and Mick will be attending GenCon next month, where they may or may not put together an anniversary show, but will definitely get together with several other podcasters for what has been dubbed GenCon (Almost) Live! Provided they survive the festivities, we’ll assemble sometime in August to begin season three and our ramp-up to International World Creation Month (IntWoCreMo), which we’ve scheduled for January.

Podcast: Misfit Brew Episode 15

Imagine for a second that you are Ray “Bones” Barboni; there’s a knock at the door, you open it, and Chili Palmer’s fist connects with your nose. That’s pretty much how it went down last week: the Internet was just sitting at home, probably enjoying a cigar, when there was a knock at the door; only it wasn’t Chili Palmer at the door, it was episode fifteen of Misfit Brew.

The new brew is big. For this episode, Mick Bradley set aside the standard 24-oz. stein in favor of a super-sized, 48-oz. monster mug filled to the brim with geeky goodness. Apart from Mick’s Misfit Musings, there’s an essay on writer’s block by Indiana Jim from the As-Yet-Untitled Podcast, Unquiet Desperado Chris Miller and Dragon’s Landing co-host Lonnie Ezell discuss Lonnie’s new book, Daughter of the Sun, Fledgling Misfit Rae Lamond returns with an essay on blogging, Mick presents his Flavor and Style Manifesto for the Vegas After Midnight tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying game, and David Moore of the After Serenity podcast presents audio fiction featuring Slick Vic, his character in the VAM play-by-post campaign.

Bam! The Internet is laid out with a bloody nose, but the important thing is that Chili’s got his jacket back and he’s the guy telling you how it’s going to be: you’re going to download episode fifteen of Misfit Brew, or better yet, add the feed to your favorite podcatcher so you don’t miss out on future episodes.

SciFi Preview: Who Wants to Be a Superhero?

This Thursday, the new “reality” series Who Wants to Be a Superhero? will premiere on SciFi, the channel that brought you Battlestar Galactica and Mansquito. Eleven superheroes will compete with one another for the grandest of prizes: a comic book developed with Stan Lee and a SciFi Channel movie.

With the exception of the second season of The Mole and accidental exposure to an all-day marathon of The Amazing RaceI was not granted super powers. on Bravo last year, I generally avoid reality television, but Stan Lee and SciFi know just how to push my buttons; I’ve already got the Season Pass for Who Wants to Be a Superhero? set up in the TiVo and my expectations set very, very low.

More on this soon, I expect.

Movie Stuff: Godzilla, War of the Worlds (the other one) and Hudson Hawk

There is plenty of air at the International House of Johnson, but as I have mentioned previously, it is not conditioned. This leads to a hot, muggy house (93°F yesterday evening), which in turn leads the occupants of said house to do one of two things: sit around and watch television while they melt, or escape to cooler surroundings. In the past three evenings, we have achieved escape velocity, fleeing to the Miller residence, Don Pablo’s mexican restaurant, and the Arabica coffee shop in Wickliffe.

Prior to our evening excursions, however, I spent a good deal of time this past weekend watching movies and guzzling iced tea. On Saturday afternoon I watched the 1998 Dean Devlin/Roland Emmerich version of GodzillaCommonly referred to as “the American version.”, a movie of which—unlike the apparent majority of its audience—I am a fan.
Godzilla DVDI think I like the Devlin/Emmerich version simply because it doesn’t try to be the classic Toho Godzilla. As much as I enjoy watching a guy in a rubber suit crush a model of Tokyo underfoot, that’s not what I’m looking for from an American movie released in 1998. I have nothing against Toho continued to produce and release that kind of movie, but I expect something different from the guys who brought us Stargate and Independence Day; ((For the record, I enjoyed Independence Day (or “ID4” as they call it in the street) when I first saw it, but I can’t watch it anymore; it simply doesn’t stand up to multiple viewings in my eyes.)) I expect something fast-paced with a lot of slick special effects, and that’s just what they delivered.

Perhaps it was the campy dialogue and performances (especially by Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno and Hank Azaria) that turned audiences against Godzilla, but here again is where I appreciate the lengths Devlin and Emmerich went to in order to differentiate their film from its Japanese predecessors. The classic Godzilla films are campy in their own way, but not intentionally; the actors are always stoic and serious when faced with the problem of a giant lizard tromping through Tokyo or battling a flying turtle. In contrast, the creature Devlin and Emmerich’s Godzilla isn’t inherently campy, but the people upon which it threatens to tread most certainly are.
H.G. Wells' War of the WorldsNext up we have H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds, starring C. Thomas Howell as the astronomer who runs away from Martian invaders a lot, talking to soldiers and confused Australian priests while trying to get to Washington, D.C. I must admit that I’ve never read H.G. Wells’ novel, but I hope his original story isn’t as desperately boring as this particular movie incarnation.

Part of the problem is that George Herbert (C. Thomas Howell) doesn’t have much of a personality; his sole purpose is finding his wife and son in Washington, D.C., and why the various other characters take any interest in him—beyond the fact that he’s a scientist—is a mystery. The people George meets along the way aren’t terribly interesting, either. Sgt. Kerry Williams (Andy Lauer) is probably the most likeable of the bunch, but his role is ultimately pointless. Pastor Victor (Rhett Giles) babbles relentlessly, proclaiming that mankind should not believe that God hates us and those the “demons” have killed are in a better place… right up until something awful happens to him, at which point he flips like a blueberry pancake down at the local IHOP.

I’m guessing that the filmmakers wanted H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds to be a character study wrapped in science fiction, but the whole thing is so ponderous and heavyhanded that it doesn’t work. When the ungainly, five-legged beast finally lumbered to its anti-climactic close, I was only too happy to instruct TiVo to delete it.
Hudson HawkLast but not least in the overheated movie marathon was Hudson Hawk. Like Godzilla, this is a movie about which I seem to hold the minority opinion: I really like it. Hudson Hawk is probably the second most underrated comedy of 1991. ((The first being L.A. Story.)) From the opening and closing narration by William Conrad to the candy bar codenames of the CIA operatives to Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello singing “Swing on a Star” while they rob the auction house, I enjoy almost every aspect of the movie.

Almost.

There are three things that bug me about Hudson Hawk:

  1. The smirk on Bruce Willis’ face on the DVD cover.
  2. The “hat convention” line.
  3. Anna’s (Andie MacDowell’s) dolphin impression.

That’s it. Even Sandra Bernhard, whose voice alone is usually enough to drive me straight up the nearest wall, is perfectly cast in Hudson Hawk. That alone is nothing short of miraculous, ((Coincidentally, David Caruso’s turn as the silent Kit Kat marks the only role he’s ever played in which I didn’t feel like removing his smirking lips with a belt sander.)) but pairing her with Richard E. Grant (who also appeared in the single most underrated comedy of 1991) was sheer brilliance. The interplay between their characters (Darwin and Minerva Mayflower) is over the top, insane and simply hilarious. Similarly, Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello have great chemistry together, and they are both at their comedic best.

Hudson Hawk. I like it.

Welcome to Parenthood: Six Months

The Young Apprentice

Kyle is six months old today, and it’s true: he has no job. I’ve been trying to help him with his résumé, and I’ve come up with a fairly impressive list of skills:

  • rolling over (back-to-tummy)
  • grabbing own feet
  • grabbing daddy’s glasses
  • drooling/slobbering
  • burping/barfing
  • assorted cuteness

He is also working on becoming fluent in babble and is taking a class to master tummy-to-back rollovers. His short-term goals include achieving mobility and getting a good grip on daddy’s beard.

Podcast: The Round Table Season 2, Episode 10

The Round TableWhat do you get when three geeks get together on a Friday night to talk about roleplaying games, movies, and mythology? What you get is a giant, nigh-unintelligible mess, which is why we don’t just drop The Round Table on its unsuspecting listeners immediately after we record. Instead, Master Misfit Mick Bradley takes our incoherent ramblings and tangential flights of fantasy and molds them into something that almost makes sense.

Once again, order has been created from chaos, and The Round Table Season 2, Episode 10 is available for download. Tune your podcatcher to the feed, grab the latest episode, and push Play.

Non Sequitur: Identity Theft and Elite Radio

I thought I’d take a moment to comment on a couple of television commercials that have been in regular rotation recently. As I normally time-shift my viewing thanks to the magic of TiVo, I generally don’t watch a lot of commercials. There are exceptions; every once in a while something catches my eye while I’m fast-forwarding through an ad block and I’ll rewind to give it a look. Then there are occasions when I actually watch live television ((For example, I spent much of Independence Day watching the Dirty Jobs marathon on the Discovery Channel with Laura and my parents. Take that, King George!)) and cannot avoid the commercials in my customary fashion.

One series of commercials that I like is Citi Identity Theft Solutions, which feature people speaking with voices that clearly do not belong to them, recounting all the fantastic stuff they purchased with ill-gotten credit cards. As a victim of identity theft myself, I can relate to their plight; the idea of someone running around Columbus, Ohio using my identity to run up $20k+ worth of store-credit purchases at CompUSA, Service Merchandise and Helzberg Diamonds chars my biscuit to this day. The aftermath is not at all fun; in fact clearing everything off your credit report is nothing less than a huge, drawn-out pain in the ass.

As serious as the problem is, the commercials are hilarious, especially the most recent installment, in which two elderly women talk about the motorcycles “they” purchased with their stolen credit cards. “Them bikes was, like, waaaaaaah!” one woman says. “No,” the other interjects. “They was, like, brubba-brubba-brubba!” The first woman then declares that the bikes “sound good ’cause they free.”

The juxtaposition of the visual and the voices is simply brilliant, moreso than any of the other ads in the series (all of which are pretty good). I can’t not laugh when I see it, and I will go out of my way for the opportunity to do so.

On the flip side of the coin is an advertisement for a luxury car that begins with a tight shot of the driver tuning the radio. I think it’s a Mercedes ad but I can’t say for certain; probably because my brain shuts down when the radio is tuned to 112.7. Apparently along with seat warmers and luxuriously-appointed leather interior, this particular vehicle comes with the ability to receive radio stations beyond 107.9MHz, the top end of the FM dial in every car I’ve ever owned.

No doubt there are secret, commercial-free radio stations owned by the nouveau riche and run by illegal immigrants. ((I’d call it Mexican Radio, but Wall of Voodoo has a Wall of Lawyers on retainer for just such a violation of their intellectual propery rights.)) These stations broadcast on frequencies that Joe Middle Class believes to be reserved for aeronautical navigation but are instead filled with an uninterrupted stream of hard trance, ambient techno and classical music. It’s elite radio, just a few megahertz beyond the capabilities of the MVoD. Visit your Mercedes dealership for a complete denial of its existence. ((The first rule of Elite Radio: Do not talk about Elite Radio.))

Non Sequitur: Diet Coke and Mentos

Diet Coke Fountain
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If you frequent YouTube.com or Google Video, you’ve almost certainly seen a slew of videos in which people combine Mentos mints and Diet Coke with explosive results. Sunday evening after dinner, we were relaxing on the deck with friends and family after dinner when my mother declared that she wanted to see the Mentos and Diet Coke experiment.

We had neither Diet Coke nor Mentos in the house, so a trip to the grocery store was in order.

  • One box of Mentos mints: $1.09
  • Three 2-liter bottles of Diet Coke: $3.00
  • Mom encouraging her kids to play with their food: priceless

Podcast: Planet Retcon Episode 25

Planet Retcon is a podcast featuring a mix of episodic and standalone science-fiction written and produced by Wesley “Yotto” Clifford. Every other week, a fresh, new episode is released, featuring Wesley and his stable (or perhaps harem) of voice actors. On the off weeks, listeners are treated to a short blooper reel from the previous week’s episode. The series longest-running feature is StarGate Cafe, which has been described as “Cheers meets that bar from Deep Space 9, but without the aliens.”Just now. By me.

I missed out on a chance to play one of the main characters in StarGate Cafe due to my own dogged procrastination, but Wesley gave me an opportunity to be a guest voice in the most recent episode. If you’re not already subscribed to the Planet Retcon podcast, go to the site and grab the feed. If you are, then there’s a good chance that Episode 25 has already been caught by your podcatcher. Either way, give it a listen and bask in my geeky glory.