Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign Extra: "Homecoming"

This is a nice little short story, written by my wife, that picks up soon after the end of Stefan's Seven. It's told from the point of view of two characters: Sun Runner Rycard Ryjerd (a character with a doomed future, since he died in the final session of the campaign we played on Sunday) and Stefan Cassadine. It's more a character study than a plot-heavy story, and does a nice job of bridging the gap between Stefan's Seven and the beginning of the next session.

The Ka’ja’les Dar dropped out of lightspeed and scant moments later began the procedure to dock with the Knife’s Edge. Once word came that the airlock was secure, Stefan Cassadine moved immediately to exit the cockpit and Rycard Ryjerd breathed a sigh of relief. The man had been like a stone wall every since they’d left Aargau behind and he was willing to bet that it had nothing to do with the botched heist, Kronos succumbing to his injuries, or even Stefan’s own brush with death.

When the ship had shuddered back into normal space, he’d glanced over at Stefan, impeccably dressed as always, to see what, if any reaction, the sight of his own ship might bring. He had ordered Rycard to push her hard, pouring every ounce of speed into the engines and they had roared towards the Knife’s Edge as though they had a whole fleet in pursuit behind them.

He’d cleared his throat. “There she is – right where you said she’d be.”

Stefan had nodded and said “Apparently so.” That hadn’t made much sense, but with a man like Cassadine, explanations weren’t likely to be forthcoming. Rycard had half expected him to pace down by the airlock until it was ready for him to pass through, but Stefan remained in his seat, staring out the window, face inscrutable.

Cassadine was almost unnaturally still. For Rycard, who seldom did anything quietly if he could help it (where was the fun in that?), the silence was unnerving. Finally, Stefan had risen to his feet, with the barest flicker of discomfort in his eyes. He’d glanced over at Rycard and stated simply “Tell Jocasta that delivery will be made on Etti IV.” Then he was out the door and gone.

A short time later, once Stefan had transferred over to the yacht, Rycard brought her back into lightspeed and set co-ordinates for Etti IV. With everything under control, he meandered back to the lounge, where the remaining Sun Runners, excluding Korg who remained in the cargo bay, were enjoying a few moments of respite. The mood was far from jocular – despite his odd ways, they’d all liked Kronos – and the attitude towards the room’s other occupant was on the chilly side.

Sunset Cassandra sat at a table and fiddled with a datapad that she’d snatched up the moment she’d come on board. She hadn’t strayed too far – which wasn’t surprising given Stefan’s rather strict orders. “Sit. Stay.”

Rycard felt a bit bad for her. She didn’t seem to be a bad kid, and he could see something of himself in her cocky attitude. He also wanted to erase the impression that she’d had of him back on Aargau. Sitting down at the table next to her, he offered a friendly smile. “You can relax, kid. Cassadine has gone home to his missus. Looks like he decided to let the Boss deal with you. That’s a good sign – the fact that he left you alive might carry some weight for her.”

Sunset Cassandra bristled. He wondered what had happened down there in the vaults. Greesh knew, but thus far, he wasn’t telling.

She looked up and he could see speculation behind her eyes. Seizing an opening, he began a yarn that he figured would help her relax and maybe, give him more insight into their newest crew member – assuming Jocasta didn’t just kill her on sight, of course. “Why don’t I tell you about the time that I tangled with a dark Jedi in a bar on Nar Shadda . . . a female dark Jedi and her gang of Duro pirates . . . .”


All was peaceful and quiet as Stefan walked back onto the Knife’s Edge – the ship’s engines hummed quietly and the attractive, though frightfully expensive recessed corridor lights cast a soothing glow in the middle of the ship’s artificial night. All appeared well, and yet Stefan could not erase the tension that had gripped him since Kronos had spoken those damnable words.

The one you love – if she chooses, she will not choose you.
He had plans in mind to see that the final future the strange lumpy man had prophesied never came to pass, but all throughout the journey back to his family – his and no one else’s – a dull fear had gripped him, that it was already too late.

He had tossed the few personal items he had taken with him on the journey to the servant waiting at the airlock and strode off down the hall to the family quarters. He had intended to go directly to Arresta, but he hesitated, then moved one door further down, to the nursery he’d had installed for his daughter.

At last, some of the knots relaxed as he heard her soft breathing as he quietly entered the room. At his entrance, the glowing eyes of the Nanny lit up, but, recognizing him as a “friendly”, quietly powered back down. Lying on her stomach, Allegra was nestled in her crib, sleeping peacefully. He bent to pick her up, but the pain from his wounds surged and he settled for laying a gentle hand against her warm back. He stood there quietly for a few moments until he sensed a presence behind him in the open doorway. Xam.

Running a gentle finger against the baby’s cheek, he padded softly to the door and joined his aide in the corridor. Xam was smiling, but shuffled his feet back and forth slightly. He may as well have been screaming that something was afoot. As quickly as his muscles had relaxed, Stefan felt them tense again.

He turned his most piercing gaze on Xam, who instantly quailed. “Mr. C . . . uh . . . welcome back . . . I . . . how did it go?”

“What is happening here Xam?”

“Sorry Boss, but Mrs. C, she made me promise not to tell!”

“Whatever she may think, my wife has no secrets from me.”

Xam looked pained. “Mrs. C will get really mad at me!”

Stefan said nothing, merely let Xam follow his train of thought to its natural conclusion. Finally, reluctantly, the Aqualesh spoke.

“Mrs. C wanted you to know that she didn’t forget, so we went shopping and we talked to the cooks and she even had me help her make a card from the baby . . . that finger paint was a mess to clean up . . . but she wanted you to be surprised!”

Stefan, having years of experience dealing with Xam, allowed himself a moment to filter this information. When he did, a pleased expression appeared on his face. “Arresta has planned some kind of surprise celebration for me?”

Xam nodded, eagerly. “For your birthday!”

He went on, but Stefan was no longer listening. For a few seconds, he felt almost giddy with relief. He was still in time. He could still protect his family from those who would tear them apart.

Waving Xam away he made his way at last to the bedroom he shared with Arresta. Feeling inside his suit pocket, he retrieved the jewellery box he’d picked up on Aargau before the mission began. A quick glance at the blue and silver gems and he closed the box with satisfaction. He knew how much the gift would please her.

Very well. Tonight would be about family. Tonight and perhaps tomorrow, since she’d gone to so much trouble. Then, they would both have journeys to make and tasks to perform that would secure the future of the Cassadines. That future, which he had waited so long for and which had been thwarted so many times, was now within reach. And woe betide anyone who tried to stand in his way.

Smiling to himself and thinking eagerly of all he had to look forward to tonight, tomorrow, and in the long-awaited task that would follow after, Stefan Cassadine opened the door and went to reunite with his wife.

Return to Clone Wars Campaign Main Page

The Anubis Murders (Planet Stories # 1)

First off, great cover art by Andrew Hou! It immediately gives the impression that, although the novel is written by D&D creator Gary Gygax, The Anubis Murders isn't set in the generic medieval Europe that is so common to fantasy novels.

Second, interesting protagonists. Magister Setne Inhetep, a worshipper of the Aegyptian god Thoth, specializes in solving mysteries and catching criminals. He's depicted very similar to Sherlock Holmes, actually, down to identifying people's occupations by merely glancing at their hands or disguising himself as street riff-raff to infiltrate nefarious organizations. He's aided in crime-solving by Rachelle, officially his slave, but actually his body-guard and adventuring companion.

Third, a good mystery. High-level leaders, kings, and sorcerors are threatened with death unless they turn over power to a mysterious Master of Jackals. When they refuse, they're soon found murdered in ways that are seemingly impossible. Who is the Master of Jackals and what ties all of the murders together?

Fourth, middling execution. Gygax is certainly competent as a fantasy writer, and sometimes very good--the opening chapter is quite atmospheric, for example. As a mystery writer, however, he's unfortunately below average. The Master of Jackals is revealed to be a character never before seen, and the way Inhetep solves the mystery doesn't seem particularly plausible to me. In other words, this is not the type of whodunnit that can be solved in advance by a careful reader, because the solution comes from way out of left field. A good introduction by Erik Mona speculates that perhaps Gygax thought that the mere mention of the villain's name (taken from real-world Finnish mythology) would be enough to make readers gasp with excitement. If so, he thought wrong.

Overall, not great but not terrible--and a good example that writing a solid mystery novel is harder than it appears.

The Life of Pope John Paul II [Comics]

Several years ago I came across Francis, Brother of the Universe, a Marvel one-shot chronicling the life of everyone's favorite saint whose name begins with the letter "F." I wrote up a quick review of the comic (reprinted here), and promptly received notice that Marvel later published a biography of Pope John Paul II. Ever since, I've kept my beady eyes open for it whilst scouring the bargain bins. And lo, as if God himself has intervened, a copy appeared . . .

The Life of Pope John Paul II, published in 1982, was a 64-page one-shot selling for a dollar-fifty. The framing sequence for the biography is the Pope's appearance at Yankee Stadium in 1979, as a reporter sits in the stands and tries to figure out what to write about the event ("Me? I'm a newspaper man--and The Pope is my beat!"). As a gang of "hoodlums" get ready to make fun of the Pope, the reporter flashes back on the religious leader's childhood in Poland, his narrow escapes from the Nazis, and his gradual ascent through the Catholic hierarchy. When the flashbacks are completed, the Pope appears at Yankee Stadium and the hoodlums are so astonished by his words that listen raptly through the entire event.

As much as I like to tease, it's a very well-researched and interesting story, and comics are a far more entertaining way to learn a little history than official church biographies or something like Wikipedia. This is, however, a fully-authorized biography written in close connection with the Catholic Church, so you won't see anything in the way of analysis or criticism about how Vatican policies operated under PJPII's reign. Still, as a very introductory biography, one could certainly do worse . . .

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Marvel No-Prize Book [Comics]

I'm pretty sure The Marvel No-Prize Book (1982) is unique in the history of comics: a one-shot devoted entirely to chronicling a company's mistakes over the years. With Stan Lee as narrator, the comic points out all sorts of goofs: characters given the wrong name (Spider-Man's secret identity is "Peter Palmer" in Amazing Spider-Man # 1), stories with poor continuity (Captain America's shield destroyed in one panel, and back on his arm the next), and art goofs (my two favorites being a one-eyed pirate looking through a periscope with an eye-patch, and Daredevil inexplicably depicted with a pistol and holster). The best one comes from Tales of Suspense # 92, as Captain America threatens an enemy:
"Okay, mister--I'm ready for you! So let's wrap it up! Only one of us is gonna walk out of here under his own steam--and it won't be me!"

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Buffy Comic Project: "White Christmas"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 4

(Volume 1) (Dark Horse, 1998-2003)

Creators: Andi Watson (writer), Hector Gomez (penciller), Sandu Florea (inker)

Setting: Season Two

T.V. Character Appearances: Buffy, Giles, Angel, Oz, Willow, Xander, Cordelia

Major Original Characters: Mr. Richter (employer)

Summary: Buffy loses her savings after wrecking a car during some midnight vampire slaying, but a school dance is coming up and she wants a new dress. Making the same mistake as teenagers everywhere, she decides to get a part-time job. Enter Sunnyvale Mall, home of the Popsicle Palace, where Buffy sells frozen treats to Christmas shoppers. Only her boss, Mr. Richter, keeps disappearing into the off-limits storage room. Unbeknownst to everyone, Richter has been practicing how to summon an ice demon. Success brings disaster, however, when the demon breaks free. Fortunately, Buffy is there and, after the mall suffers catastrophic damage, she manages to rip up the incantation book and put things back to normal. With her dress ruined for the dance, she and the Scoobies partake in a celebratory snowball fight.

Review: There's no death, drama, or angst here, but Watson serves up another more or less likable Buffy story. Demon summoning is very much overplayed in the Buffyverse; but I can't complain, as I had the summoning of an ice demon as the plot of my never-to-be-published Buffy novel titled Hell Frozen Over. Buffy's job at the Popsicle Parlor foreshadows her minimum wage job at the Doublemeat Palace in Season Six, and she has a conversation while ice skating with Angel about her poor career prospects that is very reminescent of the What's My Line two-parter in Season Two. The dialogue continues to be solid but unspectacular, with little of the laugh-out-loud humor that Whedon always brought to the show.


* An interesting response from editor Scott Allie to a letter about where the comics are set in the show's continuity. "Yep, all of the events you're reading about in the various Buffy comics take place during season two, before Angel lost his soul. . . . But if you try to think too hard about where exactly all this fits into the series, you're gonna hurt yourself." I guess I can buy Season Two, though Season Three also fits most of the stories, especially the Halloween story in Issue #2, which could only take place a full year after the Halloween episode of Season Two (unless residents of the Buffyverse celebrate two Halloweens per year . . .).

* A letter from a reader in Malaysia, a country which apparently banned Buffy from airing on t.v. The reader is quite confused about who the characters are in the comic and what the heck is going on, which is definitely understandable if you've never seen the show. I had never thought about people picking up the comic who weren't already fans of the show, but maybe once in a great while things move in the opposite direction . . .

* I would normally say "who the heck buys popsicles during Christmas!", but I guess this is California and all the shoppers are depicted in shorts and t-shirts . . .

* I liked the picture here, and could imagine stealing it for a Christmas card if the wife and I didn't already have a cat-in-funny-costume theme going. I perversely imagine that Buffy has focussed all of her payback for various catty comments over the years into one super-powered 130 m.p.h. iceball that breaks Cordelia's jaw, while Giles and Angel look on a laugh.

Next Issue

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Torchwood Magazine # 21

Torchwood Thursday brings you the twenty-first issue of Torchwood Magazine. Here's what I noticed:

* The cover blurb, "Win 16 inches of Jack!" Woof! (UPDATE: Apparently this refers to some sort of doll. BOO!)

* An interview with Gareth David-Lloyd (Ianto) about life after Torchwood. Reading between the lines, the sense I get is this: he's happy with the exposure and attention he got from the show, but he neither wants to or can make a living out of fan convention appearances. But despite having a new U.S. agent, he hasn't been able to land any substantive acting roles . . . I think this is the same thing Nicholas Brendon (Xander) faced after Buffy went off the air. Both played much-beloved characters, but outside of that fan community there's a lot of twenty-something actors out there vying for roles.

* "Postcards From the Rift", a short story by Guy Adams. This has to rank among my favorite Torchwood short stories yet. A teenage girl starts finding cryptic messages under a stone in her back yard, along with cash and instructions not to tell anyone. I won't give away any more of the plot here, but it's very well-written and has a great twist at the end.

* The first installment of "Shrouded", a comic strip written by Gareth David-Lloyd. No surprise, then, that Ianto is the main character, but it's honesty quite good. Set back when Ianto, Owen, and Tosh were still alive, the stories sees Ianto visited by Rhys--future Rhys! Future Rhys comes from a time period after Children of Earth and is very careful what he tells Ianto about what is going to happen, but he does tell him that there's a time-travelling assassin after him. And then we find out that Rhys is being helped by none other than Captain John, making his first appearance outside of the show. This strip is longer than most, but it deserves it, and is accompanied with (a rarity for the magazine) quite good artwork. I'm looking forward to the next part . . .

* "Reflections", a short story by Juliet McKenna. This one is Rhys-focussed, and I'm glad they're starting to feature some of the supporting characters from the show. There's an interesting adversary here, who has some sort of strange affiliation with mirrors, but otherwise the plot is pretty standard.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Diamondback's "Undercover" Costume [Comics]

I was a big fan of the character Diamondback during Mark Gruenwald's excellent run on Captain America in the late 80s/early 90s. A member of the Serpent Society, Diamondback was a super-villain who specialized in throwing trick diamonds (a goofy power, admittedly) before falling for Cappy's charms and becoming his part-time girlfriend/adventuring buddy. As I said, I loved Gruenwald's run (a subject for a lengthier post another time), but once in a while his ideas just didn't work out. For example, in Captain America # 374, Diamondback decides she needs a new costume for undercover work. "I had it made for when I don't want to be recognized as Diamondback," she explains.
Let's compare her normal costume (below) and her "undercover" costume (bottom), and see if the disguise works . . .

Okay, the one on the bottom is the "undercover" costume, complete with diamond-shaped torso pattern, diamonds around the neckline, and a freakin' diamond handing from the middle of her forehead.
Were this a role-playing game, I could only imagine she rolled a natural 1 on her disguise check . . .

Cable--Blood and Metal [Comics]

I've never particularly liked Cable. Objectively speaking, there's nothing inherently more unrealistic about a time-travelling mercenary with cybernetic parts, incredibly broad shoulders, and massive firearms than with incredible hulks and spider-men. I think it's just that the time the character became popular (early 90s) is associated in my mind with terrible artwork, tortured continuity, and the sort of teenage wish fulfillment that resulted in every male character being incredibly well-muscled, carrying incredibly huge guns, having a "kill first" mentality, and hanging out with buxom, scantily clad super-heroines.

The character's first limited series, Cable--Blood and Metal, definitely fits into this vein. The artwork is shite (little in the way of backgrounds, poor facial expressions, everyone's as broad-shouldered as Cable), there's little in the way of non-combat scenes, and Cable has a profound internal dialogue that includes thoughts like "Time to show him what one man can do . . . when that one man . . . is ALL WEAPON!" and "All I can do now . . . is make sure none of them slip through my fingers again . . . and the only way to do that . . . is by CLENCHING MY HAND INTO A FIST!!".

The story operates at two time-periods, the present day when Cable is operating on his own, and seven to ten years ago when Cable is leader of the "Six Pack", a group of mercenaries. One of the things that actually works well in the book is that we're told, in the present day section, that Cable betrayed his team members and got most of them killed, which provides some narrative drive to the flashback sections as the reader is curious when and how it happens. Although I just read the series, I didn't otherwise grasp the plot beyond the fact that there's a villain (Stryfe, who looks identical to Cable) and that Stryfe wanted some ancient artifacts created by Apocalypse for some reason I'm not sure of.
All of that being said, I've actually been mildly tempted to pick up Cable's current series, which sees him as the protector of the first mutant child born since House of M. So far, however, memories of the early 90s have sufficed to stop me.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Movie Career

When I first moved to Toronto, it took me a while to find a job. I flailed around for a bit, trying out several different things: a door-to-door sales job (one day), a job in a shady paralegal "divorce factory" (one week), and a stint as a telemarketer (several months) before chucking it all, getting my LL.M., and (eventually) getting hired on at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Sometime during this work-hunting period, I hit upon the idea of being a movie extra. There were always several advertisements in the newspaper, and it seemed like an easy way to make some cash. So I walked into an agency one day and signed up ("Do you have any special talents?" "No." "Could you dance, like, in the background of a nightclub scene?" "I . . . guess."). The idea was that they would find me roles, in return for getting a percentage of whatever the production company paid me. I'm sure many of these "talent agencies" are legit, but this one was a one-woman operation that, I'm guessing, survived primarily on the $ 75 "application fee" that was required when someone signed up . . .

I only ever got called in once to actually be an extra, and it was to play a Neo-Nazi skinhead.

After being bussed out to some small town a couple hours outside of Toronto, the costume designer put me in a ripped Metallica t-shirt, gave me a bunch of fake tattoos (cheesy ones, like spiders and lightning bolts), and sent me to hang out with some other Faux-Neo-Nazis. It was a pretty easy gig. I hung out for several hours, read an entire Stephen King novel, had some lunch, and then got called on set.

The movie that was being filmed was Jasper, Texas (based on a horrific real-life murder), and starred Jon Voight and Lou Gossett, Jr. I was in two scenes: (1) Me and my Faux-Neo-Nazi friends walk across some train tracks, trying to look tough; (2) Every single extra they had the budget for joined a big "protestors outside the courthouse" scene, in which we were supposed to chant and yell as if furious. I realized during the protest scene that I could never be an actor, because I can't help smiling when asked to pretend to be upset and angry. During the frequent pauses to allow cameras to be set up and so forth, one of the extras helped pass the time by telling several quite funny dirty jokes about Jon Voight and his daughter, Angelina Jolie . . .

When I finally made it back to Toronto that night, I was starving and didn't want to waste time washing off the fake tattoos. As I walked down Church on the way to the pub, a young woman stopped me on the sidewalk and asked if I wanted to donate to some charity or another. I shook my head and said no thanks, and then she became very agitated. "Is it because I'm Asian?" she said, before walking quickly across the street. I was mortified, of course, but gained a newfound respect for the costume people and what I had thought were their very cheesy ideas of what Neo-Nazis looked like . . .

And the kicker to the whole story is that I never did get paid. My talent agency soon went out of business, and never passed along my cheque from the production company. And thus ended my movie career.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Buffy Comic Project: "Cold Turkey"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 3

(Volume 1) (Dark Horse, 1998-2003)

Creators: Andi Watson (writer), Joe Bennett (penciller), Rick Ketcham (inker)

Setting: Season Three

T.V. Character Appearances: Buffy, Joyce, Xander, Willow, Cordelia, Oz, Giles

Major Original Characters: Selke (vampire)

Summary: Thanksgiving has rolled around, and its up to Buffy to buy all the ingredients for her mom's turkey feast. Finding the stores too crowded during the day, Buffy resolves to hit the All-Nite-O-Mart in the wee hours of the morning. On her way back, however, she's ambushed and knocked unconscious by Selke, the vampire who managed to limp away alive at the end of last issue. Even with her hands and feet tied, however, Buffy is more than a match for a single vampire and manages to knock Selke into a fire pit. Thanksgiving dinner is saved!


It's clever how Dark Horse planned issues of the monthly comic to fit nicely into the Fall/Spring run of the show, and used the comic to hit some of the holidays that the show skipped in Season Three (Halloween last issue, Thanksgiving here, and Christmas next issue). Scenes of the Scoobies bantering in Home-Ec class are fun (Willow makes a terrible cake), and the comic maintains an amiable tone throughout. I'm not spoiling myself by looking it up, but I remember Selke having a larger role to play in these early comics--perhaps she survives the fire pit? Her revenge plan on Buffy was kind of a let down.


* Buffy and Giles have a really fun scene, part of which includes Buffy flipping through "Medieval Survivalist Monthly" and trying to get Giles to order her more obscure weapons. Giles rightly points out that his office closet is full of such weapons, and Buffy never actually chooses to use them.

* Not sure what the deal with Selke is: she's depicted as a completely monstrous, dessicated corpse with glowing orbs for eye sockets--completely different than the usual "game-face" that vampires in the show adopt. Is she still supposed to be recovering from the knife stab wound she received weeks ago (in comic time)? Vampires are hardier than that, at least from what the show tells me . . .

* Those of you hoping for some Xander/Willow bondage action based on the cover art will be sorely disappointed--they never get kidnapped in the comic itself.

* The winner of the "Name-the-Letter Column" contest is Frans Jansen with Slay the Critics. The page also includes a funny/snide letter from the editor's ex-girlfriend.

Next Issue

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Random Law Review # 12

Valerie Bittner's Wolves in the Crosshairs: A Scientific Case Against the Final Rule of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Removing Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves From the Endangered Species List in 15 Hastings West-Northwest Journal of Environmental Law and Policy 281 (2009).

Okay, this one takes the prize for longest article title combined with longest journal title. That citation is longer than many paragraphs I write. Anyway, the issue discussed turns out to be an interesting one: after several decades on the endangered species list, the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf was recently certified for de-listing by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The article argues that the Service erred by using a simplistic baseline for determining that the gray wolf had recovered and was no longer in danger of extinction. According to the article, the Service chose, in a rather arbitrary fashion, a fixed number of wolves that would constitute "recovery" and potentially open the wolves up to hunting. In fact, Bittner argues, the determination of when a species is truly self-sustaining is a much more complex one, and requires consideration of factors such as how quickly they breed, how much of their territory is being encroached upon, what other species prey on them, etc.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion of the need for genetic drift. Six hundred wolves in a rather limited geographical setting will share a great deal of genetic intermixing through breeding. In contrast, four groups of 150 wolves, although equal in total number, may succumb to numerical depression through genetic inbreeding if the four groups do not share contiguous geography allowing their members to breed with members of the other groups. According to Bittner, the Service has not taken into account the difficulty wolves in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming have in travelling outside of their "home" hunting ground to breed with wolves in other packs (I assume here, perhaps erroneously, that their natural corridors of travel are often blocked by man-made obstacles, such as fences, highways, cities, etc.).

A good experience this time around on the Random Law Review: I learned a little bit about something I knew hardly anything about, and gained even more respect for the difficulties environmental lawyers have in dealing with government agencies.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bad Twin [Book Review]

A couple of years ago, I reviewed the three paperback novels published to tie into Lost. Set on the island, and featuring other passengers of Oceanic Flight 815, they were a failure both as standalone novels and as t.v. show tie-ins.

I wasn't expecting much, then, from Bad Twin. This is the book written by the fictitious Gary Troup, a passenger on Flight 815 who died in the crash. There's a scene (maybe two) in the show where Sawyer is reading a book manuscript and announces that it's pretty good--that's this book, and I have to agree.

It starts with a note "from the editors" mourning Troup's presumed death aboard the plane, and includes some correspondence between Troup and the editors that reveals he had a thing for Cindy, the flight attendant who is in several episodes of the show. The book itself is an homage to hard-boiled private detective stories, as down-on-his-luck P.I. Paul Artisan gets hired by the wealthy Clifford Widmore to find his missing brother. Artisan gets drawn into the usual web of lies and deceit, but the story is nicely paced and there's a solid mystery underneath.

Even though the name Widmore is used, and there are references to the Hanso Foundation, Paik, and other elements of the show, the book doesn't tie directly into the island or the main cast. It does, however, include several of the themes that came to the forefront in the final season of Lost: twin brothers, good and evil, the nature of fate, etc. Although the book came out in 2006, it makes me think the show's producers really did know where they wanted the show to go. As a standalone mystery or a t.v. tie-in, this one is worth getting.

Les Robinsons de la Terre [Comics]

Roger Lucureux, who wrote Les Robinsons de la Terre ("The Robinsons of Earth"), must have had a thing for dinosaurs, as a different one menaces the protagonists of this French graphic album every few pages. The four heroes of the book (natives of a pacifistic, highly advanced society that exists inside a mobile space colony named Thula) find themselves trying to survive in prehistoric Earth after the evil Zorkiens invade and conquer their homes. The title, I'm guessing, is a reference to Swiss Family Robinson, though the family in that book didn't have access to K-2, a flying starfighter armed with a paralytic blaster! This is a straightforward adventure comic, and from the internal cliffhangers I'm guessing it originally appeared in serial form in magazines. Not really my cup of tea, but if you're desperate to see pacifistic spacemen forced to fight dinosaurs while shouting in French, now's your chance . . .

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blasphemy and Atheists Without Borders

I've been invited to speak about blasphemy at Atheists Without Borders, the 2010 North American conference for Atheists Alliance International. The conference takes place in Montreal in October, and should be a great experience. The Conference's website is here. I've always enjoyed visiting the city and there's a great line-up of speakers on a wide variety of skeptical and freethinker topics--in other words, this will probably be the first academic conference I've attended where I actually want to go to the panels. For my part, it'll be challenging as well--they've given me 45 to 60 minutes to speak, followed by a half hour of questions; I'm used to talking about blasphemy for about 15 minutes while on a panel with a bunch of other people. It'll actually be nice preparation, however, for any job talks I might be asked to give during the Fall law school hiring process.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Buffy Comic Project: "Halloween"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 2

(Volume 1) (Dark Horse, 1998-2003)

Creators: Andi Watson (writer), Joe Bennett (penciller), Rick Ketcham (inker)

Setting: Season Three

T.V. Characters Appearing: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Principal Skinner, Giles, Joyce, Oz, Willow's Parents (voices only)

Major Original Characters: Selke (vampire)

Summary: Halloween has rolled around again, and just like last year Principal Snyder forces the Scoobies to dress up and escort some kids trick-or-treating. The night before, however, Willow gets into a fight with her parents and storms out of the house. On her way to the Bronze, she's abducted by a posse of vampires who plan to have her for a Halloween midnight snack. The remaining Scoobies search desperately for their missing companion, until Buffy stumbles upon an abandoned house and notices Willow's jacket. Buffy does what Buffy does best, and stakes all the vampires except for one that runs away. Willow is found safe and sound, though her parents promise to ground her for the next decade.

Review: Kinda fun. Again, nothing particularly original here in the plot (a Scooby kidnapped by vampires) or the resolution (Buffy saves the day), but a pleasant enough way to spend a few minutes as long as expectations aren't high. There's some jokes that are pretty pathetic (Buffy staking a vampire with the line "Let's get to the point", Xander getting sick from eating too much Halloween candy), but characterization seems solid. I think it's unfortunately easy for Buffy writers to get into a formula--Buffy fights, Giles mentors, Cordelia snarks, Xander wisecracks, Willow researches--but breaking out of that formula is the only way to write really interesting and memorable stories.


* This story actually works as a continuity plug-in for what happened on Halloween in Season Three, since the show didn't produce a Halloween episode that season.

* The vampire that got away--a glamorous brunette in a mini-skirt named Selke--reappears in later issues, so here we have the first attempt to set up some internal comics continuity.

* Giles mentions he's planning some research on the Necronomicon--Don't do it!

* Halloween costumes this time around: Buffy as Jason from Friday the 13th; Oz as a shark; Xander as a vampire.

* My WTF? Moment: This guy is supposed to be the school principal, but he looks nothing like Snyder. Maybe the comic didn't have likeness rights from that actor?

* Editor Scott Allie presents a long (three page) account of his visit to the San Diego Comicon to host a signing with Joss Whedon and Buffy actors. This is at the point when fandom for the show was at its height, and it sounds like a near riot started when the celebrity guests appeared.

* The art cover, with Buffy chewing gum, was chosen for the cover of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Panel-to-Panel art book.

*  Apparently, this issue also had a "Dynamic Forces Bloodchrome Edition" cover.  That one's not part of my collection, alas.

Next Issue

Beyond Case Reporters: Using Newspapers to Supplement the Legal-Historical Record

The most recent chapter of my portfolio dissertation, Beyond Case Reporters: Using Newspapers to Supplement the Legal-Historical Record, is now available on SSRN. Here's the abstract:

Judicial opinions selected for inclusion in case law reporters are only a small fraction of the universe of legal materials that may provide insight into the history of how legal concepts work in practice. This article examines a neglected source of information: newspaper archives, many of which are becoming available in full-text electronic databases. This article argues that newspapers are a valuable supplement and corrective to legal research performed through traditional means. It includes a test case of how research on a discrete legal topic (Canada's prohibition on blasphemous libel) turns up very different results in newspaper archives compared to case reporters.

In related news, a previous chapter, Blasphemy in Pre-Criminal Code Canada: Two Sketches, has now been published by the Saint Thomas Law Review and can be downloaded here.

Lord of the Spiders (Planet Stories # 8)

Michael Moorcock's Kane of Old Mars trilogy continues in the eighth Planet Stories book, under the name Lord of the Spiders* (I reviewed City of the Beast here). After his untimely departure from Mars, Kane enlists a wealthy benefactor to help him recreate the machine that sent him to the red planet. The device works, but Kane finds himself in an area of Mars far removed from where he was before--and this time, he's caught up in a war between rival sects of the Argzoon, the blue giants he fought in the previous book. Kane becomes the battle-tactician for one of the factions, and discovers that an old enemy is responsible for the war. And will he ever see his beloved Shizala again? (sigh . . .)

Not surprisingly, this book is very much in the same vein as the first one. It is fast-paced, heavy on the action, and light on the exposition. More time, however, is spent on the history of Old Mars and the ancient beings responsible for the amazing technological advances present (probably my favorite part of the book is when Kane leads an Argzoon expedition to survey a lost city of the ancients). At 132 pages, this is another quick and mildly enjoyable read--it won't transcend any stereotypes, but it's fun for what it is.
* The original title of the book is Blades of Mars. I'm not sure why Paizo titled the book Lord of the Spiders, as there's only one brief chapter involving the man-spiders depicted on the book's cover.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Buffy Comic Project: "Wu-Tang Fang"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 1

(Volume 1) (Dark Horse, 1998-2003)

Creators: Andi Watson (writer), Joe Bennett (penciller), Rick Ketcham (inker)

Setting: Season Two

T.V. Characters Appearing: Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander, Cordelia, Oz

Major Original Characters: San Sui (Kung-Fu Vampire Master); Unnamed Kung Fu Sensei

Summary: After getting beaten up by some vampires and watching Blood Fist Warriors of the Harvest Moon, Xander decides to take up martial arts. He joins a local Kung Fu school, but the instructor is disdainful, calls him "candy-boy", and regularly roughs him up. Meanwhile, (and completely coincidentally), Lolyd Modano, the Sunnydale High "Karate Champion" is found murdered. Research by the Scoobies points to a legendary vampire Kung Fu master named San Sui, who travels the globe looking to challenge other martial artists in duels to the death. During one of Xander's Kung Fu classes, San Sui attacks and kills his Sensei; fortunately, Buffy appears on the scene just in time and holds San Sui off long enough for Xander to plunge a stake in the vampire's back. Buffy and Xander agree that, in the future, she'll do the fighting and he'll do the punning.

Review: A good example of what the first couple of years of the comic is like: a story that is appropriate for teens, concluded in a single issue, and full of action. I liked the Xander subplot here--him wanting Kung Fu lessons is something I could imagine happening during the show, and it fit in nicely with the main plot. Overall, not a deep or meaningful debut, but a pleasant reminder of the show as it was early in Season One.


* This issue begins Dark Horse Comics' practice of printing two editions of every issue: one with a standard art cover and one with a photo cover. I far prefer the art covers, because they're at least something original, whereas the photo covers quickly get tiresome as they're based on a limited pool of official publicity pics. I've read elsewhere, however, that the photo covers far outsold the art covers--I'm guessing they did a better job of catching the attention of people who don't normally buy comics.

* There's not a lot of pomp and circumstance with the first issue, but editor Scott Allie includes a text page introducing the comic's creators and announcing a "name the letter column" contest. He mentions that "everything we do here is seen first by Joss Whedon, creator of the show, and all the artists are approved by Sarah Michelle Gellar."

* Speaking of art, it's serviceable and the characters look pretty close to their T.V. counterparts--though with the annoying comic book tendency to make everyone look like a super model. And, for some unknown reason, Xander is given a light beard. I'll assume his friends were so horrified by it that he shaved it between episodes . . .

* Merchandise of the month: A stake-shaped incense holder, complete with 100 sticks of incense. Man, for only $ 17.95 I could finally put all my incense in one container! Second place: A "Silver Plated Logo Chalice" for $ 24.95.

*  According to, this issue had a second printing by Dark Horse with a variant photo cover.  There were also Gold Foil art and photo covers.

Gold Foil Photo Cover

Second Printing Cover

Next Issue

The Buffy Comic Project: Introduction

I've been working on a complete collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics for a while now, and while I'm not quite there, I'm pretty close. As an incentive to get me to go through the comics and complete the collection, I've decided to start reviewing them here on an (at least) weekly basis. Each entry will include notes on what season of the show the comics are set, which characters appear, and even anything that catches my eye from the adverts or letters pages. Here we go, starting with Dark Horse Comics original run of Buffy comics, which lasted from 1998 to 2003.

Next Issue

Monday, June 14, 2010

Random Law Review # 11

This article argues that the British Virgin Islands should revise and codify its labour laws, which are currently spread across several statutes and are outdated in light of recent international treaties regarding gender equality. Most of the piece is actually a very general summary of some of the principles of quality legislative drafting provided for in textbooks and other treatises, so there's not a real deep analysis of BVI labour law--and apart from some conclusory statements, no real evidence that the scattered nature of the statutes creates major obstacles for practicing labour lawyers. I'm generally a proponent of the modernization and consolidation of statutes that comprehensive codes provide, however--it's just hard to get legislatures to take the time and trouble to do it.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Torchwood to Return Next Summer

According to Earthtimes via HeroPress, the next season of Torchwood will take place in Summer 2011, and consist of 10 episodes. John Barrowman and Eve Myles will be back as Captain Jack and Gwen, respectively, along with some new cast members. The show will be broadcast by both the BBC and an American network named Starz, but (as far as I can tell) will not be an American remake.

The Amazing Spider-Man: Skating on Thin Ice [Comics]

Did you know that Spider-Man once fought Electro in Winnipeg of all places? Thanks to The Amazing Spider-Man: Skating on Thin Ice, I do. Why wouldn't they, Winnipeg-ians(?) are thinking, Winnipeg is a cosmopolitan, international city. But I digress . . .

This was a 1990 giveaway comic intended to educate Canadian schoolchildren on the dangers (not joys) of recreational drug use. It's a full-size comic, and they even got Todd McFarlane to do the cover: as you can see on the right, the kids are facing: a marijuana cigarette, a can of beer (Beer brand beer), a bottle of beer (Beer brand beer), something in a glass stopper (coke?), cigarettes (Cigarettes brand cigarettes), a syringe (heroin?), a prescription drug bottle, and another container that disappears off the page. But don't worry kids! Spider-Man, along with advertisements for . . .

Canada Post stamps ("A unique gift for any occasion")

Kraft Peanut Butter ("Hey Kids! Let everyone know you make your own choices, and if anyone tries to change your mind . . . Don't even give them the time of day!" Unless, presumably, you've chosen drugs, in which case you should give anti-drug comics the time of day, but once again I digress!)

Downy laundry detergent ("All right! Spider-Man, thanks for being there when we all need you the most.")

Ultra Cheer detergent ("3 Cheers for Spider-Man")

Nestle Quick and Libby's Zoodles ("You can't beat this lunchtime crowd!")

Marvel Comics Subscriptions

Marvel Masterworks Books

Kellogg's Frosted Flakes ("Join the 'Drug Free' Team." Are the words "Drug Free" in quotation marks because they're supposed to be sarcastic? Is Tony the Tiger a pusher? You Decide!)

Coca-Cola (Don't ask for "Coke" when ordering kids--you may get more than you bargained for!)

. . . is there to save the day! After beating up Electro, Spider-Man convinces a young hockey player named Alan that he doesn't need beer and cigarettes to celebrate his first hat trick. Good job Spider-Man! One kid down, only several million to go!

I'm pretty sure this is part of a series of giveaway comics featuring Spider-Man across Canada, as I also own Crisis in Calgary and another issue advertised as Double Trouble is set in Fredericton. I wish I had gotten comics like these as a kid--even if they are a bit cheesy, they would have been a hundred times better than most school-related handouts.

Mansfield Park [Worth Press]

The interesting thing about Mansfield Park is that the protagonist is not--interesting, that is. Fanny Price, a poor girl sent to live with wealthier relatives, is excessively shy, cautious, decorous, moral, and unassuming. The most exciting thing she has happen to her in the book is a marriage proposal from a relatively rich man whom she refuses on the belief that his character is unworthy. She then ends up marrying her cousin, a man who is just as boring and upright as she is. Thus, the interesting characters in the book are the ones that are supposed to be models of how not to behave: bold, witty, reckless, etc. I was happy to see in some of the introductory essays that this reading of the book was shared by contemporary critics soon after the book was originally published, making Mansfield Park one of the less successful Jane Austen novels. The problem is not that the characterization is poor--Austen draws vivid and believable portraits of each of the characters (my favorite is busybody Mrs. Norris, the aunt of Fanny, who cannot help remind the girl of her inferior status at every possible moment), but she centers the book around the characters who are simply the least interesting.
The Worth Press edition has four essays. Modern Interpretations by John Wiltshire is the most interesting, and covers literary criticism as well as recent movie adaptations; of particular interest is the role of overseas slavery as the basis of the wealth for the family that Fanny lives with. Regency Life by Maggie Lane talks about the role of the church (an occupation mainly chosen by sons unlikely to inherit family wealth) and the idea of improving houses and their surroundings by landscaping, a major obsession of landowners at the time. Caroline Sanderson writes Geographical Settings, an essay that does not do much for me because I have no conception of the places she refers to. Finally, Josephine Ross offers A Modern Perspective and tries to defend Mansfield Park against its many critics (unsuccessfully, in my opinion).

Next: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Passage [Book Review]

Several years ago, I read Connie Willis' The Doomsday Book and thought it was stupendous, so I recently picked up another of her novels, Passage. This one has an intriguing premise: a researcher into near-death experiences believes that there is some sort of pattern involved in what people see, so she decides to start simulating the experiences through chemical hallucinogens. (in other words, the plot is a bit like Flatliners, but she is not actually dying each time). The first hundred or so pages are as exciting as anything I have read in recent memory, but then it begins to drag--there is a lot of repetition (a character who always tells war stories, difficulty in figuring out how to maneuver through a maze-like hospital, etc.), insufficient characterization for the main protagonist (she does not seem to have much of a personality apart from an obsession with NDEs), and an annoying back-and-forth about whether what she is seeing is real. At almost 800 pages, I think a good editor could have solved a lot of these problems and delivered a slimmer, most powerful book. There are some great ideas here, but they are not expressed in a great way.

London Calling

Just got back from a week in London, and had a great time. My lovely wife and I took in most of the usual tourist sites--Stonehenge, the Eye, the British Museum, the British Library, a couple of West End shows, and more. The Forbidden Planet was very cool--probably the largest pure collection of comics- and genre-fiction related merchandise I've ever seen in one place, and roomier to walk around than the Silver Snail (though the latter has more actual comics, and I didn't notice much in the way of homegrown British superhero comics at the former). My personal highlight on the trip was seeing the Marvel Super Heroes 4-D show at Madame Tussaud's. Apart from the life-size statuary (that's me next to my good friend, Iron Man, on the right), there's an incredible 3-d animated short that features Wolverine, Captain America, Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Iron Man, and the Hulk taking on Doctor Doom in downtown London. The effects are amazing, the dialogue is witty, and it was just all around a lot of fun.
I found the city was easy to get around, once the spaghetti-like subway system is deciphered. It is rather expensive (I think I paid the equivalent of $ 5 Canadian for a single Diet Coke in a lot of restaurants), but there was plenty left to see and do and I would happily return someday.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How I Survived My Summer Vacation [Buffy]

How I Survived My Summer Vacation

(labelled as “Volume 1”, though no further volumes were released)

By Cameron Dokey, Nancy Holder, Yvonne Navarro, Paul Ruditis, and Michelle West

RATING: 4/5 Stakes

SETTING: Between Seasons 1 and 2

T.V. CHARACTER APPEARANCES: Buffy, Angel, Giles, Xander, Willow, Joyce, Hank Summers, The Anointed One, Jenny Calendar, Absalom, Deputy Mayor Allan Finch, Principal Snyder

SIGNIFCANT ORIGINAL CHARACTERS: Amber Thierson (Hemery friend); Mrs. Aragon (L.A. shopkeeper); Patrick Beverly (vampire); Samson Murray (undead General); Elisabeth (actress); Jay Nichols, Corvelle, Kevin (vampires)

BACK-OF-THE-BOOK SUMMARY: “When sophomore year ended with Buffy’s defeat—just barely—of the Master, she headed off to spend the summer with her father in L.A. The theme was R&R, parties, and an occasional shopping spree. But things that go bump in the night don’t take vacation. So Buffy’s trying desperately to keep a lid on things in L.A.—and to keep her secret identity from her father. Meanwhile, back in Sunnydale, trouble keeps popping up in the darnedest places. Giles wants Willow and Xander to have a ‘normal’ summer, so he and Jenny Calendar, whose budding romance is progressing to full bloom, attempts to stave off the forces of darkness sans Slayer and Slayerettes. And Angel, grappling with Buffy’s brush with death, must decide: Does he want to be a more permanent member of the Scooby Gang? Concerts. Picnics. The resurrection of an ancient monster or two. Just your typical fun in the sun.”


How I Survived My Summer Vacation is a collection of six original Buffy stories set between Seasons One and Two. This is the period where Buffy has left Sunnydale to live with her Dad for the summer, leaving her friends to mind the store. Two of the stories in this collection are Buffy solo stories set in L.A., while the other four focus on the remaining White Hats: Giles, Jenny Calendar, Xander, Willow, and Angel.

“Dust” by Michelle West is a nice continuity-implant that helps to explain just why Buffy was in such a bad mood when she returned to Sunnydale at the beginning of Season Two. Just as she’s getting ready to head to L.A. to see her Dad, the Anointed One hits Buffy with a magical curse: every time she touches someone, she flashes to a vision of that person dying. Separated from her friends, trying to adjust to living with her Dad, and being unable to even walk down the street without worrying about bumping into someone and envisioning their death are the themes of this story—one definitely worth reading.

Nancy Holder’s “Absalom Rising” shows the Scoobies trying to figure out what to do with the Master’s bones, while the Anointed One and Absalom try to get them back. There’s a lot of running around, but since we know the bones get buried (since they’re dug up in the first episode of Season Two), there’s not a lot of excitement.

“Looks Can Kill” by Cameron Dokey is the typical “villainous shape-changer comes to town” story, even going so far as to include a big finale where the villain has assumed the form of a hero during a fight, and now said hero’s friends have to figure out which one is which. It’s a little better than it sounds, but no points for originality here.

I really liked Dokey’s other contribution, however, “No Place Like . . .” This one sees Buffy encountering an aging Mexican shopkeeper whose daughter died years before—but the little girl’s spirit is trapped and Buffy has to find a way to set her free. There’s a really nice use of Buffy’s cousin Celia (from Season Two’s Killed By Death), and a story that’s resolved through brains instead of violence.

Yvonne Navarro’s “Uncle Dead and the Fourth of July” was a story that would have been just plain fun to see on the screen: a famed, crazy, and over-the-top General is raised from the dead and amasses a patriotic zombie army to keep Sunnydale safe from “enemy forces.” Giles promptly raids a costume store to go undercover as an “Allied” officer, but things do not go as planned . . .

Finally, there’s Paul Ruditis’s “The Show Must Go On.” A repertory theatre has stopped in Sunnydale for a couple of weeks, and Xander and Willow get hired on as stagehands—unfortunately, the rest of the crew are vampires. Although the idea isn’t brilliant, it’s executed well, as there’s a lot of comical running around backstage because Angel, Giles, and Ms. Calendar don’t want Willow and Xander to know what’s happening.

All in all, this is a nice collection of stories, and the sort of project I wished had been repeated for other summer breaks. The timing of this one was probably the problem, however—it was released in August of 2000, which places it after Season Four! Way to seize the momentum, Pocket Books!