Art for this piece comes courtesy of Craig Bogart of “The Ineffables” fame. Craig Bogart’s The Ineffables on Amazon.
Look, I loved Star Wars as much as the next guy.
I had the Star Wars bedsheets. I built an Ewok village in the woods behind my house. My love for my Uncle Dale is based largely on the fact that he bought me a snowspeeder one Christmas. I remember vividly seeing Return of the Jedi in theaters with my Mom. I was 7.
But, I dunno, I kind of drifted out of it in high school. I recall rewatching Empire Strikes Back on TV — the good one, right? — and thinking “this dialog’s a little stilted.” And I did not have especially good taste as a teenager.
I sold almost all of my action figures to my biology teacher around 1993 … yep, only a few years before they might have been worth something.
I caught the first of the reissues in college, but I skipped the second two. Count me as a “Han shoots first” partisan. My primary experience of the original trilogy is a VHS set of the original, unfucked version. Those tapes don’t show a lot of wear.
And yeah, I saw the prequels. I can tell you the exact moment I sat up during Episode I and said “That was bullshit.” It’s when Qui-Gon and Darth Maul have a desultory fight on the ramp to the silver shuttle, and Qui-Gon just jumps aboard. It’s two swings and it’s over. We missed a cool lightsaber battle so we could watch a space rastafarian step in space poo.
It’s not that I can’t enjoy Star Wars. I caught the first season of the Clone Wars show on the Cartoon Network … I think Kevin Church referred to that series as the last time he sought out a Star Wars piece and actively enjoyed it. That’s about right.
But the nail in the coffin was something I actually really liked: Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. I devoured the whole series in about five days in 1998, losing basically a whole week of work productivity. I remember sitting in my car between assignments, anxiously reading the book. It’s expertly plotted, epicin scope, and brings the sci-fi action. Most notably, for the first time it gives an idea of the philosophy of the Imperial Navy.
Then I read the Dark Empire, an early 90s comic series from Dark Horse. It’s a standard GvsE with the Emperor returning in clone bodies, him tempting Luke for some reason, and friggin’ planet crushers.
The Zahn books are a hell of a lot better, but Dark Empire is a lot more Star Wars.
I’ll always be a fan of the original series, and I’ll watch new stuff if I have reason to believe it’ll be good. But I’m far from a fanatic.
One of my quarter bin pleasures is this goofy little Charlton horror comic called “Midnight Tales.”
“Midnight Tales” is an anthology piece nominally starring Prof. Coffin, aka the Midnight Philosopher, and his niece Arachne. It trafficked in light horror, PG-rated EC stuff, but it with a lot of heart and humor. It’s not too far off from what I’m trying to do here.
I digress. I was flipping through issue No. 11 (February 1975) when I found the following very classy gesture:
Yep, that is apparently a letter from Tony Isabella, creator of Black Lightning and “America’s most beloved comic book writer.” It’s pretty cool.
Here’s the front cover. If you ever see it in the wild, snag it. Tell ‘em Tony (Goins or Isabella, take your pick) sent you.
Forgive me if I’m giving all the most basic Comp 101 analyses here. I just read this a month ago. I hope some college freshman plagiarizes this essay in good health.
The original Frankenstein has a lot more poetry than I expected, and a lot fewer pitchforks.
I finally read it over the summer as part of my Back to Basics project. I have a friend who’s an English professor who regards it legitimately as one of her favorite books, and it’s not hard to imagine why. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein sets up the high brooding tone early and never lets up.
Large portions of the book are given over to the monster’s own narration, as he tells his story in florid prose. The monster is depicted as force for horror, although he insists he could’ve been a saint if he got the proper upbringing. I’m not sure you’re supposed to believe him — Shelley leaves that pretty open.
Seen through the eyes of a sea captain, Victor Frankenstein is painted in a very sympathetic light. Although all mad scientists believe they’re doing the right thing, Victor Frankenstein makes a particularly compelling case for himself as a man of virtue led astray by ambition. In leaving this question open, Shelley creates a character that really gets under your skin.
Every man hates the monster on site, although it’s not explained why. His physical form is described as hulking, but Shelley never spells out what about his visage causes everyone to recoil in horror. Perhaps the monster’s evil is easy to see? Perhaps he doesn’t have the capacity for good that he thinks he has? Or perhaps humans just fear the “Other.”
I’ve been mulling this point over ever since I closed the back cover. To me, after 200 years of Frankenstein knockoffs, the idea of a hulking human-like creation is not automatically a source of horror. Maybe I’d feel differently if I actually saw one. But I think the book Frankenstein may have paved the way for such a thing to be accepted in real life.
(Above is an image from the early 70s “Spawn of Frankenstein” feature that ran as a backup in the Phantom Stranger. In retrospect, it’s a very faithful adaptation of the concept.)
I just re-read Dracula, with the benefit of nearly 70 years of fanboy pathology.
I read it in high school, but I found the epistolary format kind of boring. Re-reading it for my Back to Basics project, it worked a lot better. Each “letter” ends on a cliffhanger, which keeps those pages turning.
The format shits the bed at the end, though. The Count’s final demise is narrated in Mina Harker’s journal, and she sees it through binoculars. It’s pretty anticlimactic.
A few random thoughts:
1. Dracula is essentially beaten by 19th century information technology. There’s a terrific scene at the midpoint where Mina Harker types up all the relevant diaries, giving them access to all the data on the Count. Telegrams send information faster than the Count can move, as do multiple mail deliveries. At one point, Mina’s knowledge of local rail tables is pivotal. Dracula isn’t beaten by a stake, but by Mina’s typewriter and Dr. Seward’s phonograph (wax cylinders, natch).
2. The setpieces are phenomenal. A ship of the damned ramming the harbor under a thundercloud, the Count walking down the wall, hypnosis by dust motes … Stoker came up with some amazing imagery.
3. The piece relies a literal belief in God. Turning into a vampire isn’t just death, and it isn’t just turning into a monster. It’s depicted as a stain on the character, almost like an irresistible temptation to sin. It’s made clear that the vampire’s immortal soul is in torment until the curse is released. It raises the stakes in a way Buffy the Vampire Slayer never could do.
4. Fan service has deep, deep roots. The book’s most shocking scene comes around the end of Act 2. Dracula invades their castle, puts Jonathan Harker in a trance, and attacks Mina. As the hunters burst in, the Count is holding Mina’s hands with one hand, while his other holds her head to his chest. He’s forcing her to drink his blood!
Immediately after that scene, the “God talk” increases, and everyone spends more time discussing and praising God. That allow readers to pretend they didn’t enjoy the scene they came here to see.
5. It would have gone a lot better for the Anti-Drac Squad if they trusted women a little more. Surely some of the silly women servants could have donated blood to Lucy Westenra, not just the strong men. And there’s some mid-book complications after the Squad decides to keep Mina out of the plans.
6. It would’ve gone better for Dracula if he picked a different woman to bite. Of all the women living in London at the time, he chose to victimize the two who were loved by a pack of vampire hunters.
7. Count Dracula’s powers are ill-defined, and that’s good. At one point, the Count is perfectly able to walk around in daylight. At another point, Jonathan Harker finds the Count in his coffin during the day, and he’s so dead asleep that he takes a shovel to the head without waking up. The Count clearly has limits, but it’s difficult to tell what they are. Sometimes, he walks and talks among people like a man. Other times, he’s a literal demon.
These inconsistencies might be the result of Bram Stoker needing to hit a word count on a deadline, but to me it adds to the mystery. A monster that can be defined is one that can be understood, and can be easily fought if you know the right formula.
To me, it’s more horrifying if you don’t know the rules. It’s the difference between a ghost story and an action movie.
8. There’s one American, a Texan, and he carries a gun.
9. Bram Stoker loved a good accent, boy howdy you betcha guv’nor.
If you’re anything like me, you thrilled this week to see Paul McGann return as the Eighth Doctor in “Night of the Doctor.”
Count me as one who didn’t hate the 1996 Fox TV movie, and one who’s really enjoyed McGann in the Big Finish audios. That man has a hell of a voice, and he’s what I “hear” now when I think of the Doctor. And when he calls out his audio-only companions? Great callback.
But I have one note of foreboding: I think they’re going to detail the events of the Last Great Time War. Here’s Ten referring to it obliquely near the end of his run:
The Skaro Degradations? The Could’ve Been King? The Nightmare Child? Those sound pretty awesome, right? But I fear they’ll be much less awesome when explained. Some things work better as vague references, adding texture of a work.
There’s a powerful geek urge to fill in all the corners of things we love. At best, it adds depth to the world. At worst, it turns a work into a Wikipedia page. Think Midichlorians. Han Solo’s pants have an origin.
And more than that, it makes the world smaller. I was disappointed when River Song turned out to be the Ponds’ child. The great promise of Doctor Who is that you have all of time and space to play in, a great big wibbly-wobbly ball of possibilities. Why tie everything into a neat package?