Sunday, February 26, 2012

The "Flash Gordon" look

I was playing with the Style Tab on my DCUO hero, Rex Rumble, and put together this "Flash Gordon" look from my available costume bits.

I have no shame.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Equal Time for Villains

Just thought I'd give my villain some equal time.

The Crimson Apparition is "inspired"* by the pulps and serials of old.


*Shamelessly ripped off from

Friday, February 24, 2012

Rex Rumble, Super Hero

I play DC Universe Online off and on.  I am not committed to it and play for free, which means I only get 2 characters.  I kept making and deleting characters to try out different specs and powers and such.  What I finally decided was that I needed a character that could be easily modded, since gaining new costume bits is fun.  If I go to great lengths to design the perfect costume, like in Champions, I will become annoyed when a new piece of gear replaces it.  The ability to alter the style, that is, keep a look while equipping a new piece of gear, means you can have variation when and if you want it.
Which is what led to Rex Rumble.

I didn't really want a bunch of crazy powers.  I fancy the older Golden and early Silver Age heroes when a few powers, toned down, were the norm.
I think the domino mask is what really sells it.  Nothing says HERO like a domino mask.

Monday, February 20, 2012

In Defense of Plan 9 From Outer Space

Some Facts:
Working Title: Grave Robbers From Outer Space
Released: July 22, 1959
President of the United States of America in July 1959: Dwight Eisenhower (Ike)
Sputnik Launched Into Low Earth Orbit By the USSR: October 4, 1957
H.G. Well's War of the Worlds published: 1897 (serial format)
Them! released: 1954
Invasion of the Body Snatchers released: 1956
Creature from the Black Lagoon (final "Universal Monster" to hang with the "big boys") released: 1954
This Island Earth released: 1955
Forbidden Planet released: 1956
Starship Troopers published: 1959
Elvis's Army hitch: March 1958 to March 1960
Television: Twilight Zone debuts, Rawhide debuts, I Love Lucy in its penultimate season, Westerns are very popular, more so than science-fiction.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is famous as being one of, if not the worst film ever made.  It must be true because critics hold it up as a benchmark for low-quality film and popular culture proclaims it loudly.  Clearly these people have never seen Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, or Dinoshark, or Titanic.  Tastes are somewhat relative, but human nature is to follow the herd and obey "authority" figures like Roger Ebert and that guy who has his own blog (commence mind control feed now).  We are a social species and we follow the tastes of our society, and where we don't we usually go against the grain to prove we are not so easily led, which amounts to the same thing.
Is Plan 9 that bad?
Is it deserving of the being called (one of) the worst film(s) of all time?
I say it is not and it is not and, well, modern audiences actually seem to like it.
A quick look at the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and the Wiki articles will show that it has gained a loyal following in certain segments of society and acceptance in others.  There have been so many films since its release in 1959 that one could hardly hold this little Ed Wood opus responsible for the film making atrocities some have claimed it to have.
So it's not still considered the worst film ever, or even in the top 100 of worst films.
I, however, want to take a different approach here and say that I believe, and hope to prove here, that Plan 9 From Outer Space may be the perfect movie within the confines of its genre.
Plan 9 was shot in 1956, previewed in 1957 and finally released in 1959, written and directed by Edward D. Wood Jr. and starring footage of Bela Lugosi.  Everyone who has seen the film Ed Wood (by Tim Burton) knows what I have just written.  Now, put that into context.

1959 was the last year of the 50's.  The real 50's, not the television 50's.  In 1957 the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik into space and the supreme paranoia and fun of the Space Race began.  In 1945 the United States introduced the world to the power held inside the smallest atom in existence, effectively ending WWII and setting in motion the Cold War.  The Cold War was a great time that happened to also coincide with scientific advancement and social conformity.  Yay bombs!  Wood wrote and filmed his opus in the years following the creation of the Comics Code, prior to and along with Sputnik and the Space Race.

Humans had shown an interest in the earliest science fiction since the likes of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, and maybe even as far back as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (which is apropos given where my argument is going) and we all know the historical significance of Orson Welles 1938 adaptation of H.G. Wells's classic 1897 War of the Worlds.  Horror and Science Fiction are siblings, perhaps lovers, I don't want to delve into this metaphor too much.  Any fan of H.P. Lovecraft knows that his Elder Gods are not demonic entities but alien lifeforms, uncaring and unknowable.  After the technological advancements of the Atomic Age began to get moving in full swing, an increased interest in Science Fiction was seen.  On television the popular programs were still Westerns and Police shows (and Western genre films would continue to be popular as B Movies, the stuff of the Double Feature), but the magazines and comics were reflecting the youth taste for horror and science fiction, and boy did they hunger for it.
In 1954 Atomic Horror brought us giant ants in Them! and in 1958 alien goo would devour humans (but not Steve McQueen) in The Blob.  Thanks to Senate hearings the comics companies would self-regulate and create the Comics Code Authority in 1954, toning down the gore and horror, but the kids still loved it.
In 1959 the film whose working title was Grave Robbers From Outer Space was released as Plan 9 From Outer Space.  What was Plan 9?  Long range electrodes shot into the pineal and pituitary glands of the recently dead, creating undead slaves to use against the humans by alien invaders was Plan 9.  Aliens using undead slaves to invade Earth.  A perfect synthesis of the two great genre themes of Science Fiction and Horror!

That was Plan 9 From Outer Space!
Is the film deserving of criticism?  Of course it is; what film isn't?
The acting is par, not bad, not good, just okay.  The sets were cheap, but then so were Shakespeare's.  The plot makes sense.  An advanced alien race finds mankind to be a threat to the universe at large (much like in The Day the Earth Stood Still [1951]) and as they cannot control humans ("Their souls are too strongly controlled") they use the recently dead as a (small) force to further their agenda.  There is a message in the film that is allegorical to atomic destruction and is, ultimately, not anti-war, but anti-destruction.  Yes, the aliens do seem a bit hypocritical at the end (and a bit loony) but that's how Ed wrote it.  At least it has less plot holes and better dialog than any of the Star Wars prequels.  1959 was the same year that Rod Serling's 
Twilight Zone premiered, and while not every episode is a gem, that show's success demonstrated the public's enjoyment of a morality tale disguised as Horror or Sci-Fi.
We who enjoy the twinned genres of Horror and Sci-Fi know how they play well in the right hands.  The Creature From the Black Lagoon broke conventions for its time talking about evolution and such (see article here) and This Island Earth had a signature monster in the Metaluna Mutant (pronounced Mute-Ant, interestingly enough).  Plan 9 offered us a similar mix of Monster and Alien mayhem.
Plan 9 Checklist:
Flying Saucers
Bela Lugosi Body Double
Square-jawed All-American Hero
How is this NOT an example of the greatest the Science Fiction/Horror genre has to offer?
Consider this:
The movies that are cult favorites were once first run films and the point of any film is to earn money.  Today we have Asylum Films and the SyFy channel to provide what the drive-in once did: cheap entertainment.  Films like Megashark vs Giant Octopus are simply fun.  Not truly mindless entertainment, they trade on the sort of comic book logic that gets the viewer to the action and if not predictable, they are at least comforting in their plotting.  These films earn money; they don't win Oscars.  Oscars are overrated anyway.
Now consider that Plan 9 was meant to make money.  It was a man's artistic vision, sure, but it was also not supposed to be charity.  This isn't the Diary of Anne Frank, here, it's a story about aliens that make undead slaves.  That's good genre stuff.
Most importantly, the thing I want to express is that this film combines horror and science fiction into a single film.  Aliens create undead (I refuse to pander to all you zombie people out there...although...undead slaves...okay, Space Zombies!).
It really is a good film for its genre.
Okay, it's not all good:
There are flubs, boom shadows, science abuse, yes all of that, and some poor dialog, but in its way, the dialog is fun.  Criswell's opening remarks, "Greetings, my friend.  We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.  And remember my friend, future events such as these will affect you in the future." are a particularly fine example of such dialog.  My favorite bits of dialog are delivered by Eros, the commander of the expedition to Earth.
"Stronger.  You see?  Your stupid minds!  Stupid!  Stupid!"
But it is lines like that above that really sell the film for me.  Just because you are part of an advanced alien race does not mean everything you say is going to be smart.  Look at humans...
Rise!  Rise, my undead slaves!

I admit that much of this started because of the Fome Guild Mages.

See, I recently purchased a board game (which is something I haven't done in quite a while) called Conquest of Planet Earth.  It is made by Flying Frog and is a game of 50's sci-fi stylings where you play an alien race attempting to conquer Earth.  One of the races, the above mentioned Fome Guild Mages are aliens that use space-necromancy to raise undead armies.  Which pretty much describes Plan 9, doesn't it?  And that is what got me thinking about all this.  So I maintain that Plan 9 is a great example of the Horror/Sci-Fi film in concept, if not in execution, and that we should cut it a break on execution because it is just too cool.
I also freely admit that I am some sort of freak who should probably not be allowed in polite society.  Which is why I work in IT.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

You say B movie like it's a bad thing...

Language and culture are evolving things, ever-changing as the disparate components that use it and make it up, respectively, change themselves.  I don't mean to suggest that by evolution they get better; that is a misunderstanding of the definition of evolution, but that misunderstanding does illustrate my point about language and culture.
Take for example the word moot.  Moot is an Anglo-Saxon word that means a meeting and carried the further definition of an argument, discussion or debate.  Thus when used in the following sentence, "That is a moot point" it meant that the point was open for debate or discussion, hardly a solved thing.  Now it means something like "decided" or "rendered meaningless".  It got this way through usage, which is how languages change over time.  For an old English major like myself (a construction that Microsoft grammar checker hates, but it is completely legitimate) this is a major annoyance.
I liked the old meaning and saw no reason for it to change save for ignorance.

This brings me to my point as stated by the title of the post.  B movies are not, de facto bad movies.  B movie was an industry term for the second film in a double bill, typically this was a film made on a lower budget than the A film and featuring less, shall we say marketable stars.  I could have said lucrative in that sentence as well.  This does not imply a hack film, poor quality film or exploitation film.  Genre films are often chosen for the B slot, but again that does not mean poor quality.  Yet over time people, and not professional critics and film historians (at first, at least, but even they change to suit the audience tastes) have equated "B" with "trash".  This is often taken to the extreme of poor acting, bad dialogue, cheap sets, inane plots, and insane concepts.
You know, Roger Corman pictures.
In defense of Mr. Corman, he is a great movie-maker.  He freely admits that his style of film making has been called high concept, exploitation, and genre films, noting that regardless of what you call it, he can make it.  Corman was an expert at shooting a film when a major star had 4 days left on a contract and the studio handed that star over to get the last bit of work out of him, or when the sets still had 2 weeks left on the lease.  The money was spent, the studio reasoned, might as well use it.
The best way to think of the B film is to think of the early days of record studios when the 45 single was popular.  The artist would record the "hit" single then the studio would need something for the B-side of the record.  Usually these were not very popular, but sometimes due to public tastes, fate, or whim the B-side became popular, maybe even more than the A-side.
So that's what a B film was.  What people seem to have forgotten is a thing that got rolled into the populist concept of the B movie: the Potboiler.
Ah yes, the Potboiler.  Oh, you don't know what a Potboiler is...okay, let's see...
A writer, director, producer, painter, what-have-you needs to eat.  This creative person who very much loves designing conceptual weapons of war or writing avant-garde music or fiction needs to keep the lights on, keep the landlord happy, eat food, and, essentially, needs wood to keep his cooking pot boiling.  So this artiste makes a work in a commercially proven genre to pay the bills.  That work is a Potboiler.  You see these novels in airport bookstores; they are often the size of a small nation and are just as stupid.  Sometimes the Potboiler is an attempt to get some capital for the "real project".  Such happened with Sean Cunningham made Friday the 13th in an attempt to "keep the lights on" while he pushed for a television pilot about a soccer team.
Yep, Friday the 13th, today a classic, was a Potboiler (although a quality Potboiler).
After the drive-ins closed and cinemas stopped showing double features (remember, at one time it was cartoons, shorts, a newsreel, and a feature or a double feature all for one low price) the niche left by Potboilers, exploitation cinema and B movies would be filled by home video and cable television.  I could go into the genius of Full Moon at this point, but instead I will just say that this is when Full Moon found great success by making straight-to-video films.  Those films were Potboilers and exploitation films, but by that time people had started using the term "B movie" with a sneer and the insulting connotations could not be removed.
Thus a solid film with solid actors, as opposed to glitzy, high-dollar Movie Stars, became a term for cheesy schlock, which is a genre in its own right and should be respected as such.
That really is the worst thing about this lumping together of multiple genres, we fail to appreciate the multitude of choices and products due to negative labeling.

And yes, I like B Movies.  And schlock.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Go, Wolfman, Go!

So I've loved monsters since I was a kid.  I was also a total chickenshit growing up.
No, seriously.  You wouldn't think that a person who is obsessed with sharks and skulls and ghosts and such would have been a total coward in his youth but I was, so there.
Be that as it may, a show from my youth called the Electric Company had a few segments in its run with a Frankenstein monster, a Dracula-esque vampire (played by Morgan Freeman) and a wolfman, "Call me, Manny".
I loved those guys.
Then came the Saturday afternoon monster movies on my local channel and my young (7?  8?) self was instantly enamored with the Wolfman.
LEGO Wolfman...cute and deadly all in one tiny package!
Ah, Larry Talbot, the cursed Wolfman.  Here was my instant favorite monster.  That mute dolt with the bolts through his neck?  Easily foiled.  That ponce in the opera cloak?  Old man who menaces silly girls.  But the Wolfman?  Now there is a monster, friends!  Even at that young age I knew, with absolute faith, that the Wolfman could take them all, in a fight, if it came to it.
I was never scared of the Wolfman.  Oh no.  I took great glee in watching the Wolfman menace victims, stalking moors and killing.  When he met Frankenstein (or the monster of, to be correct) I knew whose corner I was in from the start.

Go, Wolfman, Go...choke that stupid flat-headed spaz!
(Whole damn film just for a 4 minute fight scene...but oh is it worth it)
Those Remco monster toys?  I had a shit-ton of those and my favorite two were Wolfman and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. (And we all know how I feel about the Gillman).
So apparently from a young age I dug on monsters, but I didn't know it.  I had a t-shirt with a Frankenstein-like monster on it when I was 5.
I was convinced that Godzilla was King of the Monsters.
And still I was a total coward.
Hated spooky things.
I guess Wolfman was like a friend to me or something.  I realize that I was really afraid of ghosts and psycho killers, when I look back on it.  Monsters and the like were always friendly to my mind.  Psychos and ghosts scared the Hell out of me until I was about 15.  Late bloomer there.
Very Angry Werewolf by Papo (a company I've reviewed in the past).

I'm convinced everything is better with werewolves in.  Marvel did that whole zombies thing a few years back and that shit just got out of hand, but who can forget when Captain America was turned into a werewolf?  Or Werewolf By Night, which ran for 43 issues in its first incarnation.  Love me some Wolfman.

And still today I can't help but smile as I remember the childish glee of watching my monster hero stalk the misty moors of Britain and like Bill Cosby (Go, chickenheart, go get 'em) in his classic routine, I say, "Go, Wolfman, go get 'em!"