Change of Life

Just so you know: It seems I have a job.

Talk about things falling into your lap – turns out our family dentist needed an office manager. So, for the first time in, what? – twelve years? I find myself working a 9 to 5. Actually, 8 to 6.

This is going to take some adjustment.

Oooh, Anticlimactic

Yes, I’m still standing, so is my house, so is my neighborhood. I got a little wind, some rain. Did not lose power, which was a considerable surprise and relief. The worst effect was no sleep, as the wife did not feel safe sleeping upstairs, and I attempted to get some rest in my amazingly comfortable recliner – but it ain’t no bed, and the animals were severely freaked.

In all – we dodged a large bullet.

To get everyone’s mind off the approaching hurricane, I rectified a terrible error – my son was only familiar with the prequels, so we watched Star Wars (none of this “Episode IV” nonsense in this household). Despite his moans of “I don’t need to watch this, I’ve played the video game,” (damnfool kids!) he enjoyed himself very much.

Most of the sleepless night was spent watching a movie on my notebook, employing my noise-cancelling headphones (when I wan’t using my wireless network to keep up on the storm, that is). No, I didn’t break out The Bela Lugosi Collection as promised – though I need to – instead, I went for full-bore escapism and watched Troy instead. I found it surprisingly entertaining, even if these scions of Gladiator feel their progenitor’s need to rewrite history. Very well cast. I definitely recommend it if you’re waiting to get hammered by a hurricane – not a drop of rain anywhere in its dusty climes.

Thanks to the modern miracle that is bitTorrent, I didn’t miss last night’s episode of Threshold after all. I think the series is developing nicely, and will hopefully get to watch it next week in its native environs.

Now I have some crimefighting to catch up on. I’m sure all my non-Houston based City of Heroes compatriots have become gods in my absence.

The Cliche Before the Storm

Damn but that’s a big storm.

The preparations are all but finished – the last-minute stuff like taking a shower to cleanse off the rancidity of the last couple of days and filling the bathtubs thereafter still remain. The ache in every one of my injured joints is palpable now, seemingly radiating out from my body in pulses. Good thing I buy ibuprofen(tm) in bulk, since I haven’t seen an open store in two days.

I’ve mentioned before this isn’t my first hurricane. It is, however, the first time I’ve witnessed the ghost town effect.

There are still people stuck on the highways. I think back to yesterday when I was hearing , over and over again, that the evacuation was a success. Successful in that the low lying zones near the coast have emptied out, I suppose, but look for a lot of argument in the weeks to come about what a dog’s breakfast the situation on the evacuation routes has become.

I’m a nasty, vile little cynic, so there are two thoughts uppermost in my mind: in case of an actual terrorist attack, we are so screwed, and I truly believe the sound I keep hearing in the background is coming from the heads of many oil company executives, and that sound is ka-ching ka-ching ka-ching. I filled up Wednesday morning, and that paltry 10 gallons may have to last us a very long time. And when we are able to get more gas, it will likely be over $4.00 a gallon.

But these are things I will only say in this space, as my family deserves my brightest, bravest face. I called my parents, about 100 miles inland, on Tuesday night, just to talk to someone who wasn’t looking to me for guidance. My misgivings were much stronger earlier in the week, because if life has taught me anything, it’s that I have the amazing capacity to be wrong. Unfolding events have proven me right so far, but like everyone else in the region – damn, will I be glad when this is behind us.

Everything done, my wife and our neighbor are downstairs, watching Because of Winn-Dixie in this lull. I’ve put dinner in the slow cooker, enough for a couple of days if need be. I’ll probably be watching my new Bela Lugosi Collection this evening for a little escapism (looks like I won’t be watching the next episode of Threshold – all local stations are too busy saying the same damn thing over and over again, ie., “DOOOOOOOOOOOOOM stay tuned DOOOOOOOOOOM!“).

See ya on the other side,
– Freeman

DOOOOOOOOOM! Part 2

When I got up this morning, Rita was pointed at Galveston. Now, at nearly noon, it’s pointed at Beaumont. Well, both of those were actually pretty good news for me, since they both put my forty acres and a mule on the “clean” side of the storm, and if it continues its current drift, impact will be minimal around here. Sadly, this is, of course, at the expense of others. Equally, of course, these damned things are unpredictable, and it could conceivably hit the coast, yell “PSYCHE!” and turn toward me. Specifically, me. Cuz that’s the way my luck seems to run.

Nonetheless, seeing endless video footage of cars inching (if moving at all) on local highways just seems to support my decision to stay put. My neighbor across the street, who’s lived there for thirty years, cut out this morning, and told us his son left at 9PM last night to travel a couple of hundred miles inland. Twelve hours later, he still had not arrived.

I may be without power this weekend (if a sparrow farts in my neighborhood, power goes out) – and during my last encounter with a hurricane hit, Alicia, power was out for over a week – but I can imagine the sinking feeling of those people stuck in that gridlock – the sure, helpless feeling that they are going to be riding out a hurricane in their car. The horror of that gas tank slowly being drained.

It’s like the opening twenty minutes of The Day After out there.

Speaking of TV sci-fi, let’s go over this quickly:

Lost continues to be the show that surprises me over and over again. one of the few times each week I can say “Well… I didn’t see that coming.”

Threshold premiered last Friday on CBS, and holds the most promise for me, with some solid concepts (three-dimensional distortions of four-dimensional objects is one of my favorites) and more than a little mystery about exactly what is going on. If there is a flaw, it’s that our cast of main characters seems a little too willfully eccentric. But I will be tuning in again.

Surface had the standard hour debut instead of the doubled-up two-hour slot Threshold enjoyed, so it hasn’t laid all its cards on the table. Its main problem, as pointed out by the Time magazine critic, is the fact that it’s strip-mining Spielberg movies for its characters and set-ups. Kid hiding an extraterrestial in his home? Check. Working class guy who has extraordinary experience but no one will believe him? Check. Annoying moppet? Check. Something scary in the water? Check. Disturbingly, our government-sponsored bad guys are either expressly foreign or just look foreign, so a lot of bet-hedging is going on here. I’ll watch another episode just to see where they’re going with this, but they’re on probation.

Invasion had a tougher row to hoe for me, since it opens in a bloody hurricane and frankly, right now, I’m hurricaned out. But I knew that going in (and they even announced it before running the first episode), still… Damn it, I want to like this show, I’ve liked Shaun Cassidy’s other shows, and this one is equally well-done…

But I’ve seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I’ve seen it done three separate ways. I don’t need to see it again. I likely won’t be following this one.

It’s the cost-effective “the aliens are us” approach that has likely ensured these shows’ production and will equally likely kill them for me (Surface’s preview seemed to indicate it might be headed that way). Threshold is handling it a little more expansively than Invasion, but so far none of them is compelling me to tune in again and again every week for the foreseeable future.

Now, back to preparations. Stay safe, everyone.

DOOOOOOOOOOM!

You know, I would love to continue talking about some stuff I read over the summer, or share my thoughts on the current crop of science fiction shows on the fall TV lineup (or as I like to refer to them, the Children of Lost), but right now I’m making hurricane preparations.

This means things like trimming back the trees that might threaten the house and securing things in the yard that could turn into projectiles. Taking that carefully nurtured pile of gallon jugs and filling them with water. Finding out where my son has hidden all the flashlights. Those are the things you expect. What’s taking up a lot of my time is answering the phone and explaining to well-meaning friends that no, I am likely not running away.

In the aftermath of Katrina, a lot of people are a whole lot more scared of hurricanes than they were before, and that’s likely a good thing. However. Every local newscast I turn on might as well have a background graphic behind the immaculately coiffed newscaster reading WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE…stay tuned.

So I’m spending a lot of time explaining no, I am nowhere near an evacuation zone, no, the area I live in is not low-lying, no, I do not understand that merely being in the path of a hurricane is surely a death sentence. DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

And yes, I am sick and tired of being told how terrified I am supposed to be every waking second of my life. It is not my first hurricane. I have been through this before.

On the other hand, if you don’t hear from me again, please feel to smugly think, I told ya so.

Summer Vacation I

The Fantastic Four and I go back a long way. If you go back to the first comic book I ever owned… well, it would be Tales of the Texas Rangers, but somewhere in there, in and among a literal (and ironic) ton of Herbie would be issue #1 of Fantastic Four, likely because it had a monnnnnnnnster on the cover.

So I grew up with the FF, almost literally. They’ve been friends for a long, long time. I even bought the recent box set of the 90’s animated series, even though I hated it (and find I still do, grrrr), mainly in hopes that its success would lead to the release of the Iron Man and Silver Surfer series, for which I must sdmit there is the proverbial Fat Chance. And if you think you see where this is heading, no, I didn’t bother with the movie this last summer. The reason can be summed up in two words: Doctor. Doom.

Victor von Doom is my favorite comic character of all time, bar none. grandiloquent and egotistical, he was also a bad guy who was capable of remarkable nobility. Extremely misguided nobility, to be sure, but… I can’t quite see Lex Luthor executing his right hand man, saving the life of his worst enemy and declaring the day a draw simply to save the great art treasures of Europe.

This was the magic of Doom: He would never, ever be turned to the light side of the force, but he could do astounding things. He was the guy for which the phrase “If only he could use his talents for good, instead of evil” was invented.

So for me, Doom has been an integral part of the Fantastic Four, the fifth member, as it were. No Doom, no FF for me. I was seduced into buying periodical comics for a brief time around Fantastic Four #500 to check the revamped Doom, and I hated it. So it was the changes to my beloved dictator that killed the movie for me.

Now, I can take the name change from von Doom to van Damme. That’s okay, if a little grating. Placing him so he would be in the accident that gave the FF their powers was compressing things a little too far, and then changing him so he was an electricity-wielding bad guy just got to be too much. I wanted my scarred, bitter supergenius in gray armor and green tunic, dammit.

Which is why I am astounded that I love the Ultimate Fantastic Four so much.

I’ve largely steered clear of Marvel’s Ultimate line, still smarting from that revisionist-but-not-really “Heroes Reborn” nonsense. The line’s version of Avengers, The Ultimates was highly recommended to me, however, and I found that very satisfying. As a long time Iron Man fan, I especially loved this new version of the character, with a hundred man support staff needed to maintain the armor and a Tony Stark suffering from an inoperable brain tumor. The Ultimate line seems to be benefiting from a lack of 40 years worth of recursive historical baggage, while at the same time paying homage to that history.

Ultimate FF‘s changes seem logical: the Baxter Building now houses a think tank of young geniuses under the charge of Dr. Storm, the father of Sue and Johnny. Reed Richards is now of high school age, which I think pitches the age demographic a bit too young, but what do I know. The fact that they’ve given Reed that haircut with the close-cropped sides to echo his earlier white sidewalls is amusing to me, at least.

Richards was trying to perfect a mode of teleportation using an entropic, collapsing parallel universe called “The N-Zone” (instantly recognizable as the Negative Zone), and one of his experiments goes horribly wrong, causing the cosmic accident that changes the four into their more familiar personas. The accident is caused by one of Richards’ peers, an egotistical young genius named Victor van Damme, who recodes the computers running the experiment, because to his mind, there is no way that dolt Richards could have gotten the coding right. Van Damme is also changed by the accident, and hurtled back to Europe, to boot.

This, dammit, is DOOM!Now, this is everything about the movie I hated: van Damme changed by more than his hatred, and given super powers, too. The difference here is the execution, and I place that firmly at the feet of a writer who I come to worship more and more: Warren Ellis.

Yes, I admit, it was that name that convinced me to buy the trades of Ultimate FF, and what a sound investment that proved. Not only has he done Doom right, his revisionist take on the character even provides a logical substitute for Latveria and an army of robots. The fact that the followup story arc sends the four into the N-Zone in a retrofitted space shuttle to face off with a new and frightening Annihilus is another layer of a very rich cake.

The revamping of the villains is exceptional, and it’s refreshing that Ellis hasn’t changed much about the family dynamics of the FF, except to make Richards an uber-nerd; Ellis’ dialogue is, as ever, crisp and entertaining. He’s a crackerjack science-fiction writer, and the fact that he’s actually attempting to make sense of the FF’s powers in realistic terms is proving at least as fascinating as the incorporation of Marvel standards into this new universe.

Ellis is also handling Ultimate Galactus, which I’m watching with interest; the first trade provides a new, horrifying origin for the Vision, but I felt a little shortchanged, as by and large this part of the story arc repeats the setup for my favorite story in Ellis’ much-missed Global Frequency series. But if we start kvetching about writers stealing from themselves, we’re gonna be here all day, and I have laundry to do.

So. Ultimate Fantastic Four. Enthusiastic thumbs up. Fantastic Four movie? Waiting for the DVD. And then, I’ll probably rent it.

Holding Patterns

The Blocked Project seems to be in semi-permanent hiatus, awaiting the convocation of experts who will hold forth on what will surely be the Magic Formula for the script’s success. That hasn’t alleviated the overall depression and deep funk the failure has engendered. I’ve been burying myself in non-writing activities, trying to spark something somewhere; reading, performing, helping out at the church, playing City of Heroes.

After such a gap in enterprises like this blog, I generally log back on with a jocular “lot of water under the bridge, huh?”, but given the events of the last couple of weeks, that would be in spectacularly bad taste. I would feel guilty even referring to the influx of evacuees into Houston from New Orleans as being a “flood”, you know? Seeing the devastation of the Big Easy referred to in the Chronicle as being of “biblical proportions” also seems suspect to me, for reasons I cannot quite comprehend.

And comprehension is a problem, no matter how many distressing images one sees on TV or how many angry messages one reads on the Net. We are told on the one hand this is happening, then told no, this is not happening… but one thing that is becoming clear: generalities often become that because they contain truth, and the generality that such events bring out the best and the worst in people is so obvious that I am ashamed to bring it up.

Mere miles from me is the now-overcrowded Astrodome, where health scares have apparently prompted FEMA to step in, rumor has it. Go a few more miles and you’re at the relatively new Convention Center, slightly less crowded and apparently more accomodating (they had a little more time to prepare). As more than one newscaster has put it, Texans have opened their hearts (as one Chronicle blogger has groused, “Houstonians opened their hearts! Houstonians!” – and I’m concerned about being petty!) – and this good.

But I am in a funk, so the Cynic is ascendent in my worldview, and he is quite vocal in his musings about how long the charitable outpouring will last. History tells us that once the initial rush is over, charity will taper off, and though I read today that residents of Jefferson Parish are being allowed back in for “brief inspections” of what used to be their homes, this crisis is going to be months in the clearing. Months. At least. How long before the bonhommie sours into resentment? Though there’s another voice inside my head that hopes for the best, that voice is becoming increasingly desperate, and the Cynic’s voice is the one that seems to ring truest.

Of course, the cynic is being egged on by the fact that yours truly is once again looking for employment, and tens of thousands of jobless people just arrived in this town. There is another voice, different from the cynic and the optimist, which approaches that observation with a resounding, My God, but you’re an asshole for thinking like that.

Unfortunately, that voice also rings very true.

Next time, let’s talk about something more pleasant. I have been reading some good stuff. Let’s talk about that, hm?

Stay healthy,
Freeman