Monday, November 24, 2008

Twilight on the St. Clair

On the American side of the St. Clair river, just south of Port Huron, stands a blocky brick structure crowned with eight narrow smokestacks. Heaps of black coal just south of the building and a tangle of steel transmission lines around it suggest that this edifice is a power plant of the decrepit coal-fired variety. This suggestion is both correct and misleading.

This was a power plant.

Marysville is not, technically, dead. Its switchyard has long been on life support, energized not by the cold and silent generators within the plant but by power transmitted from other stations. The piles of coal alongside the plant are not destined for the great stokers inside Marysville; the coal belongs to a nearby paper mill which finds the plant a convenient storage ground for their fuel. But the gate is still manned, the lights are still on, and deep inside the building, house-service transformers still hum.

And if you violate protocol at the gate, plant personnel will indeed come for you.

Marysville gazes into the abyss. Sarnia, on the the Canadian side, might aptly be dubbed the City of Dis. Refineries and chemical plants give Sarnia a wonderfully horrid skyline-- grim towers in daylight, a mirage-like shimmer of golden light after sundown, and a beacon of eternal flame poised above it like the Eye of Sauron over Mordor. The squat outline of Marysville is almost comforting when compared with the vista of industrial sprawl that is Sarnia. But Sarnia burns through the night because men are working and things are being made.

Marysville is a relic of the days when things were still made. Inside the plant one reads a litany of names from the gospel of American Industrial Might-- General Electric, Westinghouse, Worthington. The pumps were cast in Erie, Pennsylvania, the relays were made in Schenectady, the manhole covers in the parking lot bear the insignia of the power company's own shop. The Marysville shop is abandoned now; one can peer through the glass of the door and see tools and workstations, in disarray but apparently salvageable. Right outside the shop door is an outbox dedicated to issues of the Marysville Megawatt Monthly, something else the employees made to express their pride and sense of community. In the administrative building are other relics of that sense of community-- photographs from the nineteen-twenties showing happy employees outside the plant the day the first boiler was lit, showing the interior of the plant clubhouse, which boasted a cafeteria, a gymnasium, a movie theater. The clubhouse is still standing; the lovely brick mansion could pass for a private riverview home if not for its location. It has a glorious view of the switchyard, and of Sarnia. I wonder what they will do with the clubhouse when the lights go out in Marysville forever.

Marysville is, and it was. It lingers in twilight. The most recent of its generators has existed in cold storage, theoretically at the ready should someone call on its 150 megawatts of power. But the abyss it faces is not the view of Sarnia, but the day when the lights go out. It is not in production. It is not abandoned. It is filthy, derelict, inexpressably sad, like a cathedral after a bombing raid. No one ever comes to pick up the Megawatt Monthly from its yellow-lettered outbox. I have no idea when the MMM was last published. I don't know when the plant employees stopped counting their safe-work days-- the scribbled calendar on the bulletin board starts counting on some illegible date in 1988, but there is no end-point, no total of days counted. I don't know when the movie theater stopped screening films, when the Marysville basketball team disbanded. The team members grin out of a black-and-white photograph in a case at one end of the turbine floor. Their names are not inscribed on the photograph; does anyone still living remember who played for Marysville? What team did these young men play against-- did they have a spirited rivalry with the boys from Connors Creek?

Connors Creek, or the part of it that was standing when that photograph was snapped, is dust. Marysville, too, will be dust before its centennial. The age of DC distribution, of low-pressure generation, of breakers and pumps and turbines labeled "Made in U.S.A." has passed. The age of incandescent lightbulbs is slipping by, and across the river in Mordor/Dis/Sarnia, coal-fired power plants are scheduled to fade into history. Generator Number Eight will never be called back into service because power will come, in part, from the wind turbines sprouting like monstrous trillium blossoms all over the Great Lakes region.

I looked away from the case of fading pictures, and stared across the ruined floor of the turbine hall. The dirty windows and overcast sky filtered sunlight into the green-tiled depths of the hall, and around me lay the carcasses of pumps and generators like undersea beasts. Above this Leviathan's graveyard, several stories up the wall, was a wedge of yellow light, and through a grimed glass I could make out the silhouette of my co-workers. I went back upstairs, where the relay panels still blink orange and white and red, and where the outdated posters on the wall hail from the last decade rather than 1988, or '58, or '28. And my co-workers set about bringing forward the day when Marysville slips from twilight into darkness.

When that day falls, I hope someone remembers to slip into the green silence of the turbine hall, and liberate the smiling ghosts of Marysville from their glass case. Marysville's turbines helped power an empire; as that empire, too, falls to twilight, perhaps the ghosts should have their say.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Subspace Emissary, Part IV: A New Hope

So, we left off our narrative with mopey psychic-kid Lucas teaming up with cocky Red the Pokemon Trainer. Now, we drastically switch gears. I was going to call this segment "Together, We Run Around Aimlessly!" but figured the Fire Emblem reference was too obscure. So, I'll call this portion what it is.


The Battlefield Fortress:

A vast and crenellated fortress lies in a wasteland. It appears to have been under siege for a long time, given the number of spent arrows lying in the dust. No dead bodies, though-- weird. Pan over to-- hey, another Subspace Bomb! Two more ROBs activate the thing, bowing their little robotic heads in sorrow as they accept their duty and their fate. Poor sad robots! Bomb goes ‘splodey and rips open another abyss, which reaches almost to the fortress itself.
One lone figure stands on the ramparts, watching the devastation. He has a cape. He has blue hair. Atop that blue hair is a precious little tiara. Yes, indeed, we have our next Secret Character-- Marth Lowell, Prince of Altea, the bearer of Falchion the Sword of Light, aka Pit’s competition for Most Androgynous Brawler. We have another bishounen here, in other words, fair and slender with lovely hair. Marth’s smooth, pretty, big-eyed face isn’t designed to express much in the way of emotion, and what he does express is anxiety-- tightly restrained, highly refined anxiety, of course. Kid’s not happy. Neither would you be, alone and surrounded by enemies with really freaky bombs.
Marth witnesses the Ancient Minister spawn an army of Primids out of the dust, so he takes action. Dramatic music plays, and Marth draws Falchion and does this neato trick with it wherein it sends a beam of light far off into the distance. I dunno whether the Sword of Light actually generates light, or Marth was catching a sunbeam with it. Anyway, scene over. It remains unclear as to whether the gesture with Falchion was a threat or a distress call.

Grade: Uh, why is Marth alone in the humongous fortress? Is everyone else already slain in defense of the place? I guess Master Hand has basically just installed Marth in the Fire Emblem equivalent of the Barbie Dream House. I hope Crazy Hand lets Zelda come to visit Marth when Crazy plays dolls with the trophy collection. Oh, yes, I was rating the actual scene. You like Marth? You’ve been dying to see him, up close and adorable? Then A+++ for sure. Otherwise, I give it a B+, mostly for the oddly sympathetic bomber-robots. And I do like Marth, but I like him best when he talks, and he’s not saying anything here. Again, it’s pretty much pure fan-service.
I still have watched this scene eighteen times. Sigh.

The Meta Knight Encounter:
Marth gazes up into the abyss. His large cerulean-blue eyes narrow in sudden apprehension. Meta Knight comes barrelling down from the sky and they briefly duel. I understand Marth’s reaction, given he’s already under attack, but MK’s motivation is unknown unless he thinks Marth was the guy who hot-wired the Halberd (Hint: No). Anyway, they fight, and meanwhile a bunch of Primids surround them. Marth and MK have a simultaneous enemy-of-my-enemy moment and essentially team up.

Grade: If you want to look at Marth (or Meta Knight), you will like it. Otherwise, I give it a B-. No, really, I saw people describe this scene as “epic”. The “duel” featured stylized and jerky animation and was over in seconds, so I dunno what was so awesome about that. Marth cute, Meta Knight badass, nothing more to it. And if Meta Knight's a good guy, what's with the ambush?

Ike Unleashes Aether:
Oh, good. It’s the Ancient Minister again, and he has another bomb. Yay. And Marth and MK are trying to catch him. Marth attacks and just misses, then MK lunges and is shot in the wing. He looks more annoyed about it than anything. Offended, maybe. So, fail and double fail.
Then we see this BIG sword, floating in the air behind the Ancient Minister. Said sword belongs to a different blue-haired young man in a billowing cape, and he grasps the sword, lets out a bellow of “Great... Aether!” and then slices the bomb clean away. The Ancient Minister goes spinning away into the distance, and the bomb falls harmlessly to the earth. Our Hero then receives a lovely close-up (squeeeeee!!!). Meet Ike, ladies and gentlemen. Ike can be differentiated from Marth in that his sword is really big, he wears a filthy headband instead of a tiara, and his cape is all tattered at the edges. In short, Ike is not a sissy. He also gets one of the few “speaking roles” in Subspace Emissary, as he’s allowed to give his battle cry. There’s no explanation as to why Ike is here, so maybe the viewer assumes that Ike saw that bat-signal trick Marth did with Falchion a couple of cut scenes back and came running. Ike’s sword is named Ragnell, by the way. I don’t know if Falchion and Ragnell are friends, but Ike and Marth do a little victory flourish before the cut scene ends, so I’ll assume they at least know one another in this continuity.

Grade: B+ Ike rocks and all, but even so, the scenes with the Fire Emblem boys have a stagey lifelessness to them. There’s no humor to be found in the vicinity of the Battlefield Fortress, so all the viewer gets is the Epic, and Epic in this case means a couple of kids with big swords hanging out with a flying bowling ball.

Three Warriors and the Ancient Minister:
Three guys with swords in hot pursuit of the Ancient Minister. MK flies, and Marth and Ike run along like they’re planning to head-butt the Ancient Minister, Zidane-style, when they catch up with him. They reach the edge of a cliff, and the Ancient Minister escapes.

Grade: C Dude got away. That’s it. Nothing more to see here....

In fact, nothing of any import happened in this entire four-part sequence-- another Subspace Bomb, another appearance by the Ancient Minister, another futile chase, another escape. Same old, same old. We got three new characters, and that’s... it.
But, hey, there is one thing-- all three of them were still standing at the end of the sequence. Nobody got trophy-gunned. That was unexpected; I went into this figuring Secret Character #2 would go the same way as SC#1 (R.I.P. Ness). After all, you don’t need two kids with similar psychic powers, and you don’t need two guys with blue hair and swords when Ike is obviously up to the task on his own. Hmm. Are they actually going to do something with Marth besides have him look pretty? Probably not: Marth and Ike have very different styles of fighting, far more so than Ness and Lucas, making both FE boys useful to the player. Ike is powerful as hell but runs like molasses and can’t jump well. Marth is nowhere near as strong but is quick and highly agile. In short, they’re a matched team, instead of a set of clones.

Oh, yeah. Squeeeeeeee!!!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Subspace Emissary, Part the Third

OK, let's get back to the action, shall we? We left off with Diddy Kong (ugh) teamed up with Fox McCloud (yay). There's still about 30 protagonists to go....

Oh, Mother! Middle School is Hell!

The Pig King Statue Targets Lucas:
Cut to a strange grey world of chain-link fences, palm trees, and desolation. A sad-eyed little boy wanders what appears to be an abandoned playground, kicking a soda can. Meet Lucas, hero of Mother 3. Except Lucas is not feeling very heroic right now. Purple spores descend, and Primids surround the whimpering Lucas. Then this bizarro statue of a fat kid wearing a crown, like a fast-food mascot gone wrong, shows up and starts chasing poor Lucas. Lucas screams and runs, the animated statue in pursuit.
Grade: A- Wow, major shift in priorities here. This world is grim, realistic, desaturated of all color and life. And the emotions here are genuine human emotions, instead of cartoon-hero cockiness and slapstick. Things are looking up.

Ness and Porky Face Off:
Lucas runs frantically through the desolate schoolyard, the Pig King statue in pursuit. Lucas trips over what appears to be either a bit of rope or a dead snake (Rope Snake?); he cries out and buries his head in his hands, believing he’s about to meet his death. Out of nowhere, a cry of “PK Thunder” is heard, and a thunderbolt smacks the statue right in the face. The statue crashes to ground. Lucas’s savior touches down in front of him. It’s another little kid, but he has a red baseball cap and a smile. He sparkles as his feet make contact with the earth. Ness! Ness! Ness of Onett, he of the mighty baseball bat and killer yo-yo! Our first Secret Character makes his appearance; up to now, all the protagonists have been the official and public slate of Brawl contestants, the guys featured on the cover art and in the booklet.
Ness levitates and unleashes PK Cross, which obliterates the Pig King statue in a burst of green light and concrete fragments. Surprise! The statue contains a nasty spider-like mecha, powered by... a little fat kid. Ness touches down lightly, and wipes his brow. Ness sparkles. He’s cool, and he’s ready for battle.
Grade: A. Neeeeeeeessss!! It’s Ness! Yay. I love Ness. Seriously, this scene is pretty damn good. You have Lucas, who is too overwrought to unleash whatever powers lie within him, contrasted with Ness, a cool-headed master of his own psychic abilities. I want to see a whole movie about these two.

Lucas Leaves Ness:
A huffing, puffing, Lucas runs up to Ness, who looks fresh as a daisy after his victory over the Pig King. More trouble awaits our heroes-- perched atop a rock formation is Wario, holding his trophy gun.
Wario aims at Ness! He fires! Ness evades once, twice, five times in all! Wario, man of cunning, aims anew at the weaker party, poor dazed Lucas. Ness dives to intercept the hit! Ness goes down! He’s trophyized, folks. Ness of Onett is out of commission.
Wario leaps down to claim his prize; he holds what’s left of Ness aloft, cackling up a storm. Literally. A storm starts, with rain and lightning. A traumatized Lucas shows his own heroism by running away, abandoning Ness’s remains to the tender care of Wario. Lucas ends up running bang into Pokemon Trainer, who looks kind of like Ash but isn’t. This is good, because more Primids are popping up, and Pokemon Trainer (let’s call him Red) has a Squirtle in his pocket. Otherwise, Lucas doesn’t stand a chance.
Grade: A+ This was fantastic-- miserable Lucas, cocky but heroic Ness, disgusting but clever Wario. It was more logical and less cracked than previous installments, Ness and Lucas being a natural pair. Dunno about this Pokemon trainer dood, though. We’ll see about him in a bit.

Lucas Joins the Pokemon Trainer:
Red looks wary but zaps his Squirtle back into its ball with a stereotypical PT flourish. Red waves bye-bye to Lucas and walks off. Lucas pouts and whines and has grayscale flashbacks to the demise of Ness. Lucas snaps out of his horrible fantasies, looks grim, and runs to catch up with Red. The Pokemon Trainer agrees to recruit Lucas into his gang, which smuggles heroin in Poke Balls. OK, I made that last part up.
Grade: A- Lucas is messed up. And I mean that in a positive sense, and this is a character actual human beings can possibly relate to.

Overall, this is really looking up. This sequence is so much more gripping than the previous character arcs that I can only resort to superlatives. Let's see if SSE maintains this momentum for the next installment, the Misadventures of Puffball and Pixie Girl. And no, I don't mean Kirby and Peach.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Subspace Emissary, Part Deux

So, last time on The Subspace Emissary... stuff happened. Yep. Now, for more epic fun!

I’m With Stupid:
Cut from The Sea of Clouds to a lush and mountainous jungle. A cart piled high with bananas and driven by a minor Koopa careens along the edge of the cliff. In the jungle, a giant ape trashes Koopas and Goombas without mercy. I guess King Bowser has started a banana cartel, and the ape works for the CIA or something. The great ape strikes a pose at the edge of a cliff, beats his chest and roars. Yay, Donkey Kong. But wait, it’s DK Country-type Donkey Kong. This cannot be good.
The departing banana truck fires Bullet Bills at DK, who sends for his backup. Yes, it’s little Diddy Kong, with his prehensile tail, his baseball cap, and his peanut pistol. Sigh. Diddy takes out the Bills with his peanut gun, and the “cousins” strike victory poses as the last BB goes off behind them.
Grade: Anything featuring Diddy Kong receives an automatic F. Also, why are DK and his little cousin so pleased with themselves? The Koopa got away with the ‘nanas.

The Dark Cannon Aims for the Kongs:
DK and Stupid rejoice over their banana booty, then Bowser shows up and gets all threatening-like. Stupid Diddy Kong makes menacing martial arts poses at the Koopa King, who pulls out a massive gun. DK, realizing his idiot relation is about to be killed, punches the brat into the safety of thin air and takes the hit. Stupid Diddy covers his eyes in horror as he sails away. DK falls to the ground, a lifeless trophy.
Grade: I know I promised to give anything involving Diddy Kong an F, but this was a concise action sequence, and I think the creators intend the viewer to think that Diddy is a foolish little nuisance. But this scene sets up a sequence wherein the player has to play as Diddy Kong, so I’m still going to give it an F.

The Ancient Minister Escapes Mario and Pit:
The Ancient Minister glides down the court! He has the ball! Mario leaps and misses! Pit makes a heroic lunge, and misses the ball! The Ancient Minister heads down the court unimpeded, and he’s going to score!
Grade: B- It was cute when Pit stepped on Mario’s head and caused the plumber to face-plant. Pit’s also cute when he’s annoyed. But really-- can Kid fly, or not? Is this an Idiot Plot device of some kind? Points deducted for making me even have to wonder about this.

Fox Confronts Rayquaza:
Diddy swings blithely through the trees until he reaches the shore of a lake. A smoking Arwing is visible in the background. Diddy is headed for the wreckage when a cartoonish green dragon comes out of the water and roars. Not placated by Diddy’s stupid cuteness, the dragon belches a green orb of death at the downed Arwing, which bursts into flames. The dragon then snatches up Diddy with the presumed intention of eating him.
Not all is lost! A heroic figure leaps from the flaming Arwing wreckage and frees Diddy from the monster’s three-clawed grasp using lightning-quick martial arts. Dramatic slo-mo shows the viewer that Our Hero has a bushy tail. Yes, our hero is none other than Fox McCloud, aka Star Fox, aka just plain ol’ Fox. Fox uses a hexagonal shield to reflect the energy ball right back at the dragon, which falls into the lake, defeated. Fox, cool as a furred cucumber, gestures to Diddy that monkey-boy should come along with him.
Grade: I can’t give Fox an F. Even though I don’t like his Brawl character design, I don’t want him hanging with Diddy, and I don’t precisely know why he had to fight a giant Pokemon, I have to give McCloud at least a B+. At least this “hero” actually, y’know, did something.

Diddy Kong Appeals to Fox:
Another boss defeated. Fox and Diddy stand on the shores of Lake Rayquaza. Fox gives the thumbs-up and Diddy does his asinine victory dance. Fox, his job done, walks away with heroic bearing and purpose. Diddy grabs Fox and tries to explain... something... using squeaks and sign language. Fox doesn’t care about the banana cartel and walks off a second time. Diddy drags a disgruntled Fox away by the collar.
Grade: I guess it was kind of cute. And short. B?

The Dissolving of the False King Bowser:
Fox and Diddy do their victory poses over a Bowser trophy. Diddy pokes and then rams the trophy, which dissolves into purple pollen spores. Uh-oh. Fox narrows his eyes in suspicion, and then a black arrow shoots out of the trees. Yes, Bowser is back, and he has his trophy-gun at the ready. Bowser fires twice on the pair, getting only clouds of smoke and flames for his trouble. Diddy beats his little chest and charges Bowser, but Fox grabs the monkey brat and whisks him off to the comparative safety of the jungle with a cinematic plunge off a cliff. Bowser, gun in hand, gloats over their retreat.
Grade: B Plot twist, I guess.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Blogging the Subspace Emissary, Part the First

So, originally I was going to blog The Iliad. I was inspired by David Plotz’s Blogging the Bible on Slate magazine, and wanted to do justice to my favorite epic poem. But, in spite of picking up multiple translations of Homer and writing a few drafts, I never managed to post anything.

So, here is something even more epic than The Iliad-- an account of the Subspace Emissary from Super Smash Brothers Brawl, cut scene by cut scene, with my commentary. That’s a good substitute, right? No? Too bad, as I’m doing it anyway.

NB: In some cases, I have broken down the commentary by discrete “stages” that must be cleared by the player. Clearing a stage unlocks the cut scenes for repeated viewing. In other cases, I lumped stages that seemed thematically related together in one chunk. Also, there are battles and gameplay and stuff in between the cut scenes, in case you’re wondering.

The Weird World of Trophies

Le Opening Montage
It’s the Subspace Emissary! Starring Mario! Link! Kirby! Pit! And a motley collection of bounty hunters, mercenaries, Pokemon, small children, cross-dressers, exiled royalty, vermin, and spacemen! These categories not considered mutually exclusive! Le montage is set to the stirring strains of some Fire Emblem song, whose lyrics (translated from Latin) can be found here. All the “primary” characters of SSBB get a scene in the montage, and so do a handful of secret unlockable characters. Ness from Earthbound gets a close-up intro, and so do the big-ticket unlockables Sonic and Solid Snake. Marth from Fire Emblem is glimpsed twice but doesn’t rate a close-up, and the likes of Luigi, Falco Lombardi, and Toon Link don’t get jack that I saw.

The World of Trophies
A great stadium, filled to capacity, floats in mid-air. The logo of SSBB is featured prominently; Princesses Zelda and Peach are among the distinguished spectators. Our gladiators, in trophy form, enter the ring and come alive. Mario versus Kirby. This is killer stuff, folks.
Grade: B One cut scene in and my mind is already reeling from the meta weirdness of it all.

Mario Beats Kirby
Trophy!Kirby, having lost the match, falls to the stadium floor and bounces. Mario, a grim look on his face, brings Kirby back to life. Kirby bounces cutely in appreciation. He looks puzzled, then smiles at Mario.
Grade: B I still don’t know what precisely is going on here, but it’s weird.

Pit Watches From Above:
Setting: a grand hall of a palace or temple. Content... you know those lame depictions of Heaven in movies, where valley-girl angels talk on celestial phones and watch celestial soaps and eat bon-bons all day? And other non-spiritual, non-edifying, variations upon the theme? Well, here in Nintendoland, angels in heaven sit around watching the equivalent of professional wrestling. Pit here (dude from Kid Icarus) has an actual day job, too-- Captain of the Guard for the Goddess Palutena, I believe. I dunno who Pit’s rooting for, but I get the impression it’s Kirby.
Grade: B Pit’s cuter than he deserves to be, given his primitive NES origins. He’s received the full bishounen makeover-- tumbling chestnut curls, huge blue eyes, a fair and pretty face. He’s adorable. He looks about ten years old. And he has shorty-shorts under his tunic. Fanservice bait, pure and simple. I’m not objecting, but let’s be honest about it.

Attack On The Stadium:
Winner Mario and loser Kirby shake hands and receive the accolades of the crowd together. But all is not well-- red-hued clouds pile on the horizon and a ginormous menacing airship cruises overhead and drops a shower of purple glowing spores on the stadium. Said spores coalesce into little cuddly robot creatures. The Princesses, shocked at this turn of events, charge down to where Mario and Kirby stand. The four stand shoulder-to-shoulder, ready for a fight. Well, Zelda is ready for a fight. Peach floats in like it’s going to be a tea party down there.
Grade: B+ Something’s happening here, what it is is not exactly clear.

The Ancient Minister and the Subspace Bomb:
Our four heroes encounter a green-draped levitating weirdo with glowing eyes, who carries a round bomb with with a great red X on it. Meet the Ancient Minister. AM drops the bomb right there in the stadium, and two little robot dudes (not the ones who spawned out of the purple pollen) take opposite ends of the bomb and slide it open to reveal a blue glowing core and a red countdown clock. The Ancient Minister nods his approval of the time bomb and flies back to the battleship. Mario runs to defuse the bomb but is thwacked by a handy cannonball and sails out of the stadium. Kirby stands alone, because in the meantime a giant piranha-plant thing has captured both princesses and has them aloft in birdcages. Said plant bangs the cages together and roars at Kirby.
Grade: A- At this point, in spite of the ludicrous nature of the whole exercise, something did click for me. Peach and Zelda in peril! Venus Fly-trap things dangling princess-filled cages! Mario and Kirby against bad evil critters! If I were nine years old again, every cylinder of my imagination would be fired up over this stuff. This is what I watched that awful Zelda afternoon cartoon for.

Zelda Taken:
Petey Piranha is dead. Kirby and Peach leap out of the fiery explosion of Petey’s demise and land safely on the stadium floor. Enter Wario, who is packing a massive weapon that appears to have been made from motorcycle parts. Ever the gentleman, Wario aims at the Princess of Hyrule, who is trapped beneath the ruins of her birdcage prison. Wario charges up the weapon, which glows with pink and scarlet light before firing a black arrow at the Princess. Zelda is transformed into a lifeless and stylishly posed trophy.
Wario slings the dead Zelda over his shoulder and takes off, gloating as usual. Kirby and Peach run after him, just in time for that pesky bomb to finally explode. The detonation obliterates the stadium in an indigo orb of nothingness. Kirby and Peach alone sail out of the holocaust, riding a Warp Star.
Grade: A- Hey, cool. Wario killed Zelda. No, wait, that sucks. I like Zelda. Why didn’t he kill Peach instead? Also, this death-by-trophy thing has some interesting implications. Also, what is Wario going to do with a lifeless Princess Zelda? The mind boggles.

Pit’s Descent:
Pit watches in consternation as his television program is interrupted by the demolition of the Stadium. A warm glow of light and some new music behind him herald the appearance of his employer, the Goddess Palutena. She’s pretty! Pit kneels to his boss, and Palutena gives him a weapon and some magic bracelets. Pit scampers off happily, climbs a stairway to nowhere, and descends into the clouds as the theme from Kid Icarus plays in the background.
Grade: A- Pit is cute, Palutena is pretty, and apparently someone here has some kind of a plan.

The Subspace Army in the Sea of Clouds:

Pit lands on solid ground and spies the evil battleship (The Halberd) emerging from the er, Sea of Clouds. The Halberd drops more purple pollen balls that become those robot-thingys (Primids). Some Primids surround Pit, who brandishes his weapons and is ready for a fight.
Grade: B+ Pit’s cute. The plot advances. Slowly.

Mario and Pit Meet:

Pit finds trophy!Mario embedded in a cloud bank. Pit revives Mario and stares intently into Mario’s eyes. They share a brief flashback to the terror attack on the stadium, and team up without any soul-searching or hesitation. Maybe angels give off vibes of inherent trustworthiness. Pit and Mario go bounding/soaring off together, shorty-shorts and all.
Grade: B+ Just what it says, really. Did I mention Pit’s cute?

The Arwing’s Pursuit:
Pit and Mario stand in the clouds as the Halberd gets away. A smaller craft is tailing it, Gee, that must be an Arwing. Where’d that come from again?
Grade: C Self-explanatory.

Kirby and Peach Flee the Sea of Clouds:
Kirby and Peach flee on the Warp Star, but that battleship is catching up to them. The battleship smacks the Warp Star, and Kirby and Peach get flipped off, just in time for a comical close-up.
Grade: I guess they’re in trouble. I fail to care. See, I’m a newbie to most of these franchises. I dunno that the battleship is the Halberd, pride and joy of Kirby’s own rival, Meta Knight. I barely remember that Arwings come out of Star Fox. And I don’t give a crap about Kirby or Peach. Okay, C-

Arwing Downed, Peach Overboard
The battleship launches sprays of golden fire at the Arwing, which evades the fire with skill. It does not evade a metal arm-thing that shoots out of the ship and smacks the fighter in a manner reminiscent of Wario’s black arrow nuking Zelda. Instead of becoming a trophy, the downed fighter enters a spin and clips the top of the battleship, knocking Peach and Kirby off their standing pose atop the Halberd. Peach and Kirby fall away into the clouds.
Grade: B- So, Mario got taken out temporarily, Zelda is out for the count, Star Fox just got shot down... this is not looking good for our heroes, but I still don’t much care. This is too whacked-out at present. It’s not really “great tastes that go great together” for me. And these are still fairly cartoonish franchises, so you know it’s just going to get weirder from here when Samus Aran and Solid Snake join the party.

Overall, color me confused.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It's not over 'til the Senator sings...

So, the lead singer of one of America's most endearing cult musical groups is on his way to a reunion gig-- their first show together in the better part of a decade. And on the way, he has this little "incident" involving an undercover cop in the men's john at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. It doesn't make the press at the time, and the group goes on to have their not-so-triumphant reunion at a charity benefit the following day. The singer and his compadres are off key, and the group is down one member anyway. If any (deserved) shouts of "Where's Jim?" come from the audience, history does not record the fact.

Anyway, fast forward two months, and the bathroom incident finally makes the papers. Fans are shocked-- they already know that General John is a religious wackadoodle whose forays into songwriting are truly embarrassing, and they've finally realized that Trent is a bigot (but a cuddly bigot! like Archie Bunker!). But the bathroom-stall footsie business is just so sordid. So pathetic. And so, so, wrong for the image of the Singing Senators.

I always liked Yankee Jim best anyway.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

More Thoughts on Popular Fiction

Very popular fiction. Specifically, Harry Potter. Again.

Spoilers below. Deal. It's been a week already.

I liked the books, but I admit part of what drives my interest in the series is still "meta"-- that is, I like to read fan theories, and fan fiction, and all the griping and whingeing and hysteria that fans create. There are so many loose ends, contradictions, red herrings, and other oddities that the stuff people come up with to fill in the gaps makes for great entertainment. Likewise, part of the joy of finishing HPVII was logging on LiveJournal to see the fan reactions. And some of it was touching, and insightful, and increased my own satisfaction with the series.

But some of it made me want to pull my hair. As someone banging away on a WIP, with dreams of being a published writer some day, Readership and the relationship between Author and Reader interests me. And Rowling has some pathological readers. Take the following 100% genuine reactions I've read:

1) It was incredibly selfish of Rowling to publish the epilogue, because that was imposing a "canonical" future for Harry and friends on the readership.

OK. The act of writing is selfish. Any act of publication is an imposition on an audience. Maybe JKR should've just not published book Seven and left everyone hanging so people could create their own ending? The epilogue was wretched, and my opinion of it sinks with every extra nugget of info JRK provides, but I'm not gonna call the author selfish for wrapping up the tale in a way that satisfied her. Yes, the writing style jarred and it could've been redone. Yes, the kids' names were icky. Yes, she could've mentioned somewhere in the epilogue that Harry and Ron were Aurors and that Hermione had a career in Magical Law, or given some hint about what H-R-H did to rebuild their world. But people who are mad about "canon" being closed and shutting down their fanfic possibilities... possibly like fanfic too much? Dude, write AUs. It's good for the soul.

[Aside-- Harry being an Auror bothers me, personally. Yes, that was his dream from Book V, but if he should fall in the line of duty, it means some Dark Wizard is now Master of the Elder Wand. That can't be good. I like a 'fic where he ended up working in Honeydukes making sweets and toys for wizarding kiddies.]

Also, I hate Harry/Ginny with a passion. Book VII made me a confirmed Harry/Luna shipper. But I'm not gonna send Rowling hate mail over it.

2) I identify so much with Severus Snape that the message I got out of Book Seven was that I am subhuman and not even worthy of burial.

He's not real. It's a book. You have serious issues and I'm glad not to be one of your co-workers. I <3 Snape as a character, and thought his ending rocked and was much more satisfying than most fan-guesses. But man, entwining your personal worth with some ambiguous dude with a dark past in a kiddie book is probably not a healthy idea.

3) As a Slytherin, I am offended by the characterization of my house in the series, especially in Book VII.

You are not a Slytherin. Hogwarts does not exist, the Sorting Hat has never touched your head, and no online personality tests can change this, nor can your love of green and snakies, nor can your belief that Draco is your woobie. You could say that as, a woman, you have issues with Rowling's treatment of females, or that as a person of colour, you aren't convinced by the colour-blindness of wizarding society. But if you preface opinions with "[a]s a Slytherin," or "[s]peaking as a Ravenclaw," or "[o]n behalf of my fellow Hufflepuffs," you look really silly. Unless it's a joke, and these self-proclaimed Slytherins were not joking. And these are adults. With jobs. Some may have kids. It's frightening.

The way the house unity issue was "resolved" sucked rocks, though. I wanted to see Theo Nott and Blaise Zabini join the ranks against Voldy. Where the hell were they in book VII?

4) The series was offensively heteronormative.



Really, what were these people expecting? And when did celebrations of the nuclear family get to be so offensive to people? This is the weirdest, thorniest, and most complicated issue, because Rowling's treatment of gender roles does push peoples' buttons. It certainly rubs me the wrong way in just about every book. But really-- it's her book, her characters, her ending. If you got upset because no characters were openly gay, or because getting married and having kidlets was presented as a happy and fulfilling destiny for some characters... you were reading the wrong series, methinks.

Besides, HP had some pretty diverse families, IMO. Single father Xeno Lovegood may be a weirdo, but he does love his Luna. Granny Longbottom, raising Neville on behalf of his insane parents, does an alright job in the end. Dean Thomas is a product of a "blended" family and knows very little about his real father. Seamus Finnegan's mum married his dad without mentioning the little detail that she was a witch, and Dad Finnegan seems to have virtually no influence over Seamus compared with Mum. Blaise Zabini's mother is a serial monogamist with at least seven husbands to her credit. And Harry's dream was, at one point, to be a "family" with his godfather Sirius.

Also, Snape's nuclear family doesn't seem to have done much for him. Not to mention the Houses of Black, and Gaunt, and Dumbledore.... Rowling certainly doesn't shrink from portraying nastiness and dysfunction within the nuclear family structure.

I realize that the online, fanfic-writing, theorizing segment of fandom is the minority, and that most of these people are obsessives, or they wouldn't have the blogs and journals and 'fic archives. But these people mostly seem to be intelligent, articulate, and entertaining... and yet also happen to be loons. Vicious, hateful loons, in some cases. Fandom is a scary place sometimes.

BTW, I read the His Dark Materials trilogy this weekend, just to see what all the fuss was about. I can see that they're objectively "better" than Harry Potter I-VII; they're better written, and the alternate worlds are "built" instead of pasted together. For all that people rave about Rowling as a world-builder, it's really just a twisted funhouse reflection of our world, with serious gaps and inconsistencies. HPVII fixed some of my problems with it, but deep analysis of the Potterverse as a world is the kind of thing that drives people mad. HDM, on the other hand, starts off with a fantastically chilling AU, kind of like the one in The Alteration, but with talking polar bears.

Yep. Kingsley Amis with sentient polar bears. How come no one writes fanfic for The Alteration, anyway? The implications of that universe left me giddy and dizzy, though I did read the book while under the weather and that may have been a factor.

Anyway, HDM may be "better" than Harry Potter, but it wasn't nearly as fun. I am going to re-read the Potter books III, IV, VI, and VII repeatedly, for pleasure. I don't feel the urge to sit down and devour HDM again in the immediate future. Part of it is that Rowling has a great sense of humour-- not the silly stuff like vomit-flavoured jelly beans, but the character-based humour that shines through with Ron's interactions with Harry and Hermione, or the Weasley twins' interactions with the rest of the world. Rowling's characters may be more stereotypical than Pullman's, but it's fun to spend time with them. The only characters in HDM who were remotely "fun" were the witch queen and the Texan aeronaut.

And the film for "The Golden Compass" doesn't look that hot. I could be wrong.