Thursday, April 14, 2016

That Time Atomic Robo Got A Shoeshine From Short Round

So after a fairly heavy storyline in which Robo wakes up from his detour to the late nineteenth century to discover that the world in under the control of a US Government conspiracy started to oppose him, specifically, and being attacked by kaiju, the latest issue of the Atomic Robo webcomic is delving into the past for some wacky espionage shenanigans in 1938 China.

To be more precise, Robo visits the Japanese-occupied city of Shanghai, where he makes contact with a rather familiar-looking member of the resistance forces. It is, of course, Short Round, first seen rescuing Indiana Jones from gangsters in the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - the New York Giants hat is a dead giveaway. It only makes sense, after all, that even if he ended up spending some time acting as Indy's sidekick elsewhere in the world (he does pop up in this capacity from time to time in the Indiana Jones Expanded Universe, most notably in the sadly non-canonical Into the Great Unknown), he would return to his native Shanghai to help repel the invading Japanese. This would also explain what Short Round was doing while Indy was hunting for the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which also takes place in 1938.

And lest the reader think that the hat is a coincidence - it's not impossible that two such hats were floating around in Shanghai even in the 1930s - there's the little matter of the place Robo gets sent for the next meeting:

No, Robo, there is not.
While it's not quite the venerable Club Obi Wan (and yes, folks, that's a Star Wars joke), it might possibly be the same building, and it's almost certainly named after Willie Scott's memorable last performance before she got dragged into Short Round and Indy's escape. Perhaps Lao Che was in a nostalgic mood when he was doing the remodeling. We may yet find out, as Robo has yet to do more than walk in the front door of the club. Might Lao Che himself be waiting inside? It wouldn't be very much out of character for the writers of the comic - the last issue, after all, was very much a homage to Pacific Rim, while the one prior to that ended with cameo appearances from Agents West and Gordon from The Wild, Wild, West. And the name of this storyline, as it turns out, is The Temple of Od . . .

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bonne Jour Bissextile!

That's "Happy Leap Day" in French, for all my non-French-speaking readers (and if I happen to actually have any French-speaking readers, I apologize in advance and blame Google Translate).

Why French? Because following long-standing Internet Tradition, today happens to be the day for celebrating the one of the greatest French characters ever created by Marvel:

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Steampunk Sherlock

In the years since his debut, Sherlock Holmes has been a popular subject across practically every entertainment medium in existence - from his original stories, to radio shows, films, television shows both live-action and animated, and even video games, not to mention entire libraries' worth of pastiche novels.

This year, publishing company 18thwall Productions is going back to the beginning, so to speak, with a monthly series of e-novellas starring the Great Detective, replicating in a way  the original appearances of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's' shorter Holmes pieces in magazines like The Strand.

The first of these, The Curious Case of the Clockwork Doll, kicks the series off to an admirable start. The author, Heidi Hewitt, has captured Doyle's Watson-voice to a remarkable extent, and the classic elements - Baker Street, Lestrade, Holmes' eventual retirement to beekeeping- and references to other cases abound. An overabundance of these often works to the detriment of a pastiche work, but here it doesn't quite get that bad. I did question Lestrade's presence once Holmes and Watson leave London, but I suppose he also tagged along to Baskerville Hall, so perhaps his jurisdiction is flexible like that.

As the title of both the story and this post allude to, however, there's one element of this story that is distinctly un-Doyle-like - the clockwork robots that make up the client's serving staff. It takes a deft hand to add science-fiction elements like this to a historical setting without turning it into a parallel timeline, but as the story ends with the technology lost - in a fairly spectacular scene I think was the best-written in the piece - history can proceed unimpeded. The technology itself is only described in broad strokes, which makes sense as Watson is probably not up on the cutting edge of scientific theory, but a bit more explanation, even techno-babble, would have helped to sell the existence of these robots in 19th-century England, when the outpace even today's efforts.

Of course, with a mystery story the most important element is the solution, and here again is evidence of the author's painstaking craftsmanship - the denouement leaves no hanging threads (even to a seemingly unrelated robbery that I assumed was there to provide a cameo for one of the famous literary gentlemen thieves contemporary with Holmes) and, though surprising, in retrospect could have been figured out ahead of time, particularly for those with a Holmes-like memory for the details of the Sherlockian Canon. Even for readers without that, however, it was a very enjoyable story and I for one am greatly anticipating the second installment in this series.

(Disclaimer: the publisher provided me with a review copy of this story - my opinions, however, are all my own.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

For All Your Holmes Pastiche Needs

Thanks to a mention by Sean Levin over at the Crossover Universe blog, recently I have discovered a website that promises to be both entertaining and useful. It exists under the name Sherlock Holmes Pastiche Characters, although (as the introduction states) at this point it's really more an authoritative, if not quite exhaustive, guide to Sherlock Holmes pastiche works themselves. A remnant of the site's original purpose remains, however, in a list of "Historical & Fictional" characters - this last a great boon for the crossover researcher, especially in cases where more than one author has crossed Holmes over with the same character (perhaps not surprisingly, Count Dracula has his own page).

As if that wasn't useful enough, the site also hosts a number of specialized lists (the one recounting the non-canonical family members of Holmes and Watson is especially interesting), as well as the modestly named Indexes to Classic Sherlockian Works. This last may be the greatest page on the entire site, for two of the works that have been painstakingly indexed are none other than Crossovers I and Myths for the Modern Age. Just those two would be a find - taken as a whole, the site is a treasure trove comparable to the Agra treasure, and great thanks are due the hands that built it.

Friday, July 03, 2015

"30 Years . . . It's a Nice Round Number"

On July 3, 1985, movie-going audiences were treated to the first-ever showing of Back to the Future. Since then, there have been two sequel films, an animated TV series, many video games, and uncounted jokes, references and allusions in pop culture and beyond - even President Reagan once quoted Doc Brown in his second State of the Union address.

This year, 2015, is of particular interest to fans of the Back to the Future trilogy, as it's finally the year that Doc, Marty, and Jennifer visit in Part II. Obviously The Future didn't turn out much like that film showed (although we still have a few more months), although not. perhaps, for lack of trying. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is that the characters and imagery of Back to the Future is still a part of the cultural language.

But why is it, after all that time, that this movie is still so beloved - even by fans, like me, who weren't even born yet when it premiered?

Part of it, I think, is that it's very well done, technically speaking - the story, despite being science fiction of the best kind, is not particularly effects-heavy, and the effects are there succeed (mostly) at seeming realistic, even compared to today's CGI-heavy films.

Aside from the spectacle, Back to the Future also allows for criticism at a deeper level. One example of this is the continuing motif of paradox, not just in the main conflict of the story - Marty imperiling his own existence - but also in the background, such as the name of the town (Hill Valley*) and that of the movie itself. The movie also uses repetition for both humor and dramatic purposes - this is more clear across the whole trilogy, with each new era getting its own Mister Sandman Sequence, but can also be seen in just the first film - as is pointed out at that TvTropes link, Marty's trip across contemporary Hill Valley can be seen as another such sequence, inviting comparisons to all the rest.

 But most of all, while clever and well-done, the most important aspect of the movie is that it is fun to watch. Comedy and drama are present in equal amounts, and even when it touches on heavier topics it does so with a light touch. There's an element of wish-fulfillment present, in that almost everyone has at least wondered what it would be like to visit another time, while simultaneously we see some of the problems - even just minor things, like Marty trying to order soft drinks that haven't been invented yet - such travel would cause. But finally, in the end, the seemingly insurmountable problems are overcome, and the adventure continues.

Oh, and the music is great, too.

* Supplementary material claims this is because the town was founded by a man named Hill, but I bet even he could see the humor in it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Good Feeling About This

Regular readers of this blog would be forgiven from assuming that I neither read nor watched anything of interest for most of 2014. This is of course untrue, so the next few posts will probably be "catch-ups" of a sort.

But first, I'd like to point out that about a month ago we saw the appearance of a long-awaited Star Wars-related video - no, I'm not talking about the first The Force Awakens trailer, but rather fan-film studio Bat in the Sun's Super Power Beat Down Episode 14, "Batman Vs. Darth Vader". And man, but it was worth the wait:

Once the sheer geeky joy of seeing Batman lightsaber-dueling with Darth Vader had subsided somewhat, I was able to appreciate some of the finer details of the film. While the production values of Bat in the Sun's productions have always been high, this one really raises the bar - yes, in terms of overall special effects and set and costume design (all of which are spot on), but also in the little details, like Batman's nose bleeding after his abortive attempt to breathe in space.

Although the final result of the battle was dictated by popular vote*, I was also impressed by the writing of the piece. While it would have been nice to get some hint of the (allegedly plotted out) events that got Superman trapped on the Death Star - giving Batman the opportunity to use the "That's no moon" line was a nice bonus to picking that setting, by the way -  in the first place, once the Bat-wing** docks things flow fairly logically, given a Batman with some idea of Darth Vader's capabilities. Sneaking a lightsaber (presumably Obi-Wan's, which would imply that this whole fracas takes place during the Yavin 4 briefing scenes from A New Hope) from Vader's armory was an especially good idea, though it might just be because it leads to this reveal:

"I underestimate nothing!"
Anyway, it's plain to see that this is a fan-film, in the best sense of the word - if the creative teams working on The Force Awakens and Batman V. Superman show as much obvious care for the settings and characters as Bat in the Sun has, then in terms of fan response they should have nothing to worry about.

*Not that that will stop BitS from releasing an alternate ending next month. 

**Never before has this alternate term for Batman's aircraft been more apt.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Atomic Robo Goes Full Digital

In some stunning news from Tesladyne Island earlier this week, the writers of the Atomic Robo comic announced that as of 2015, the comic will be transitioning from a traditional by-the-issue publishing model to a three-times-a-week webcomic. This means, among other things, that the entire 54-issue run of the comic thus far will be free to read - eventually, their plan is to release one issue a week until they catch up, starting today - and then continuing with the new stuff. Which, cleverly, they now have over a year to come up with, though as today was the expected release date for the Volume 9 trade it probably would have been about that long anyway.

Anyway, it looks like it's going to be an interesting year, to say the least, for Atomic Robo fans as things roll out. But there are still unanswered questions - such as, how long will the "Free Comics" page remain in its current form? Will the new paradigm work as well as the creators hope it will? Will it include the Real Science Adventures spin-off? Will Dr. Dinosaur ever top his first two appearances?

The answer to that last one is, "No".