Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Newspaper Headlines For the Ages

Check out the newspaper headline here (in today's page of my sister's comic, The Law of Purple).

In case you have a bit of trouble reading that for some reason: "Sasquatch Army Moves On France-France Mildly Astonished."

Sis is no doubt making a loose allusion to this website. It is also possible it was slightly inspired by Dateline: Silver Age, which showcases panels from comic books with newspaper headlines contained within; it's all her own sense of humor, though.

-Signing off.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Random Stupid Meme Video Attack

Uh... Um...

No, I don't know.

-Signing off.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Golden Age Moment of the Day (2)

Question: What does a scorpion look like?

Answer: Not like these things.

(Image from Fox Features' "Fantastic Comics" feature "The Golden Knight," which for reference also featured Stardust the Super Wizard.) What.

-Signing off.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Stardust, the Strangest Hero of the Golden Age

And that's sayin' something, let me tell you.

As I have attempted to demonstrate, the Golden Age was a very strange time for comics. Output and popularity were both tremendous (as this was before the spread of television, it was the most popular medium in America), and demand for stories was probably pretty high.

Which might explain why some were just so danged strange.

See, in the Golden Age, there were basically four kinds of "hero" characters. (I will use male pronouns only for the convenience of simplicity; do remember that most comic heroes were men anyway, those that weren't usually intended to be eye candy for a somewhat older audience.)

The "normal" hero was just a "regular joe" who through luck, toughness, and resourcefulness (all of which the "normal" hero had in spades, making this character less of a regular joe than you'd think), would bludgeon or reason his way through scraps to the end of the story.

The "gadget" hero had some kind of gimmicky ability or abilities given by one or more special devices that he or a (usually deceased) relative or friend had created.

The "powered" hero explicitly had one or more vaguely-to-well-defined abilities that put him above normal people, such as explicitly superhuman strength.

The last variety of hero is the "god" hero, or as I'm going to call the group, "super wizards." Why "super wizards?"

Because Stardust, the subject of this post, was called "Stardust the Super Wizard," and he was most definitely one of this archetype, perhaps the most extreme example. It's very evocative, and it makes clear the characteristic possessed by most of this type of hero-they used magic in really spectacular and over-the-top ways, and their foes didn't stand a chance. (Ironically, Stardust's powers came from the sorcery of super science instead of "actual" magic.)

Here's an example, in the form of a few panels from the very first Stardust story:

(FYI, Fletcher Hanks, the creator of Stardust, wasn't much of an artist. His "style," if one can call it that, is unmistakable-utterly bizarre faces and anatomy accompanied by rather Seussian architecture and incredible flatness. Not to insult the man-I just think he wasn't a very practiced artist. Does some weird stuff in his work, though.)

I kinda like the guy's reaction-I almost wonder if it was intended to be funny, because the rest of it seems to be taking itself way too seriously...

No duh.

The really strange thing about Stardust, though? Unlike most of the super wizard heroes, Stardust does not treat his foes with kid gloves.

It's kind of like what would happen if Superman and the Punisher had their minds swapped or something.

You know how some people complain "Why doesn't *insert insanely powerful character's name here* just kill 'em all?" Stardust might be these people's ideal hero.

I mean, this is about as gentle as he gets:

Suspending people in the air and making them stare at skeletons. (That's some weird secret ray there.)

Rip-the-Blood (yes, that's some guy's name) has a more typical fate. He plots...

...launches an attack...

...and fails. And then...

...Stardust throws him off a cliff for good measure.

Of course, then there's one of the most spectacular villain killings I've ever seen: Thrown to a giant tsunami, and then disintegrated.

I mean, wow. Talk about style.

And take what happens to "Wolf-Eye." Wolf-Eye has his own built-in super science powers...

(Gotta love the transition between the second and third panels there.) ...but is utterly helpless before Stardust.

Now, Stardust, that's really just insulting.

In all seriousness? I don't know why I'm investing this much energy in Stardust, but he's got some kind of really weird appeal.

He's just ugly, though. Man.

-Signing off.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Teen Rangers With Robots

Chances are, if you lived through the '90s in the English-speaking world, you have some small notion of what the term "Power Rangers" refers to. Originating with a '70s era Japanese live action series which spawned a series of sequels that are now produced on a yearly basis, Power Rangers involves pretty much the same thing, recycling Japanese footage and blending it (sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much) with footage from an American (or Australian, or New Zealander) studio. A team of usually young individuals ("teenagers with attitude," in the infamous parlance of the first episode) works to defeat evil with flashy costumes and weapons, martial arts, and obscenely big robots.

Far be it from me to try to summarize it here, or even at my other blog, which is dedicated to the subject (and which I need to update more often... sigh). Google it for yourself if you want information. (I'll point out that Joe Rovang has a really nice fansite. Not for neophytes, but, y'know...)

Anyway, the matter of Golden Age comic books, and coincidences.

We join Jackie Law and the Boy Rangers. (How do you get a name like Jackie Law? I had a professor at college named J. Justice, but seriously...)

Jackie Law and his Boy Rangers are a gang of kids who beat up criminals, in the same tradition as lots of child-endangerment schemes. Er... Never mind. The point is, they fight gangsters and even Nazi spies, and they're better at it than adults. What.

Other than those things, you might wonder what they have in common with Power Rangers. Observe.

These kids investigate some gunshots and stuff, and end up catching the dying breaths of some inventor guy, who was shot by Nazi spies.

They come back again later after the police have left, wondering what kind of invention the guy was talking about. And so do the Nazi spies, including Luger, whose head luckily provides them with the information they need.

How fortunate, eh?

So what's the invention?


If you saw it coming, it's because I telegraph like a Morse code master.

Anyway, they destroy some Nazi tanks that somehow get smuggled into the country...

Of course, anybody could do that with a proper giant robot. Let's see 'em give the robot to the military so some trained professionals can-

Never mind. Do you think that's foreshadowing there?

If you don't, well, no offense but you're slow.

So they're hunting a crime boss named Khron for no apparent reason. And when they meet him, he's got a lever.

Tip: Don't stand still when a crook is holding a lever. Because this might happen.

Of course, it begs the question "Why don't you just stand up, you morons?!"

But they don't, and they get out of the robot and become captives, while Khron takes the robot and steals hard workers' salaries.

Tip: If you've got a giant tank-smashing robot, don't think small...

Also, watch out for construction vehicles.


So, what next?

They never use Loco again, that's what.


-Signing off.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More "Whattaheck" Moments In Comics

Apparently, this is Golden Age Insane and Inane Comic Book week, or something...

Let's start off slowly.

Of course, "slowly" in the Golden Age means something rather different than what it means today...

So what we have here is either a giant Nazi Tyrannosaurus Rex that talks to itself, or a giant Nazi robot disguised as a giant T. Rex. (FYI, in case you're wondering, yes it is a robot, and it's actually piloted by one of the rare recurring villains of the public domain Golden Age, the Crane.)

So, whose efforts to frustrate Hitler do we have to thank-er, blame-for this monstrosity? Boy King (and his giant).

It's fairly unlikely you've heard of them, so here's a quick summary: Boy King is the king of a little country called "Swisslakia" (i.e. in the bizarre fictional universe it usurped Switzerland, which FYI was common practice in the Golden Age, as nobody cared about Switzerland, it not being in the war and all-no offense intended to the Swiss) which has just been rolled over by the Nazis despite its neutrality and its relatively useless strategic position. But Swisslakia's kings have a secret-thousands of years ago, Nostradamus (who lived hundreds of years ago) built a giant and put it under Swisslakia, for a future king to awaken when a tyrant threatened Swisslakia. Long story short-the royal family was killed except for Boy King, Boy King wakes up giant and sticks the survivors of the invasion in boats ("We've always been a tiny country," he says), and then goes to America.

He wants to use the giant as a weapon against the Nazis, which sounds like a pretty good idea, as the giant owned a Nazi fleet so thoroughly that most of its ships were captured intact. But when he makes the offer to the military, they claim that Nazi howitzers will find the giant an easy, vulnerable target. I tend to think that any military man would have a better idea of military power than that-a battleship's guns dwarf the vast majority of land-based artillery emplacements, and the giant took such ships with ease. But I digress.

So what does this ill-advised tactician suggest as an alternative?

Lumberjacking and mining.

I don't really see the sense in it myself, especially as it's boring in a comic, but fortunately, the approach of the Nazisaurus Rex gets things moving.

Are they eager for the giant's help now?

Yup. So eager they can't even talk like human beings.

C'mon, guys, it's time for the fight, isn't it?

Oh. Yes it is.

They fight in the ocean, like giant... things fighting in the ocean... for maximum drama.

This being the Golden Age, where half a dozen brief stories were generally crammed into each issue of a "comic magazine," this is probably going to be a short...

Oh no you din't! You cliffhangered me? (Also, you mispelled, and worse yet misused, the word Mastodon!)

Fortunately, it's sixty-odd years since this thing was published, I can download the next one and read it (public domain and all that) within five minutes of finishing it.

So how does the giant keep the Nazisaurus Rex from clamping on?


He kinda doesn't, because the cliffhanger had no bearing on the next story.

The only thing worse than a cliffhanger is a cliffhanger that has no direct bearing on what comes next, eh?

Almost makes me lose faith in the quality of Golden Age comics... Wait.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about another of "Clue Comics" features, which involves one of the craziest coincidences (in my humble opinion) of the Twentieth Century.

-Signing off.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Comic Book Story of WWII

In Air Fighters Comics #4 (information to be found here), the Skywolf feature pits the heroes against a foe far deadlier than Hitler...

...Hitler's boss, a literal witch.

And she's decided she's sick of his bumbling and fumbling, so she's going to get a replacement.

Before very long, though, she kind of forgets about her Hitler clone, and decides she'd rather replace Hitler with a real warrior:

Genghis Khan. No joke.

And as she sends off Khan on some truly frivolous mission on a super-fast magic horse, she shows Hitler she's honest.

No political commentary intended, I'm sure.

Here's where things get really nuts, though. Genghis Khan goes to his ancient, suspiciously factory-like fortress to rejoin his army...

...a bunch of midget "dogboys" that ride on giant buzzards.


So what kind of spectacular ending to this "epic" series of events could you expect, were you to do what I did and find and download this public domain comic off the Internet for free?

They blow up Genghis Khan in the very last panel.

Hm. A little anticlimactic.

-Signing off.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Golden Age Comic Moment of the Day (1)

Shinto Samurai...

...can't pronounce the name of his own profession-and by extension, his own name.

-Signing off.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Worldbuilding Tip #1

(Don't read too much into the title of this thing. I'm just calling it that in case I get more "specific" world building ideas that are very general. I might never revisit this idea, or I might add an entry once a week for three years.)

One obvious technique for quickly and easily building cast members who may or may not play major roles is creating parallels to characters from other sources. For instance, it's fairly common for superhero universes made by smaller groups parallel the Justice League in broad or even very specific strokes. (Their opposite number in the other big company, the Avengers, are slightly less iconic for the most part, although they've had their share of riffs.)

Another option, if one is writing fantasy or something like it, is to export parallel roles of mythological characters. Indeed, even the old mythologies exported and imported pretty freely with each other; Roman mythology as we know it is almost a straight ripoff of Greek mythology.

The real trick, of course, is doing this kind of thing in ways one doesn't expect. For instance, if one was building a Great Old One "pantheon," one can actually build it in parallel fashion to the old Greek, Norse, and whatever groups. And the keystone, of course, is Cthulhu as the mighty greybeard "king" (like these guys) of the group.

His tentacles even look a bit like a beard. Bonus!

-Signing off.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Golden Age Comics Are Insane...

...often even in a good way.

Take Air Fighters Comics.
One of Air Fighters' regular features was Airboy, a story about a young orphan boy who takes a plane designed and built by a monk (inspired by a vision) and uses it to fight a one-boy battle against meanies of all sorts.

Air Fighters also has the first and most notable comic character called the Heap. Yes, this was his first appearance ever. Forget that loser from the Spawn comics, this guy is a terror.

The Heap is an unholy vampiric terror spawned from the remains of a WWI German fighter ace and the vegetation of a swamp. He also..., loves hearing spoken German. (And before you ask, yes these two screenshots are from the very same story.)

Did I forget to mention that the Heap actually first showed up in somebody else's feature?

But who really cares? I mean, they're just some guys in special split planes who fight Nazis. Nothing exciting about that, is there? Though one of them is a big Polish mute guy who taps Morse code on his own head to communicate...

Then there's the Iron Ace, who oozes awesomeness. How awesome is he?

He defeats a bomber with a tractor. And he wears a suit of medieval armor while flying a fighter plane.

And that plane is pretty awesome itself. In fact, like a great bullet..., never mind. What you don't get from looking at these panels? The plane normally resembles a normal one, but was modified by a crazy French scientist to have magic indestructible extending/retracting armor.

There's also Keen Detective Funnies.

The main thing that got my attention about Keen Detective Funnies? The Eye.

Who is the Eye, you may ask? Is he just some regular guy detective? Heck no.

He's a great fiery eye that flies in the sky.

Here's the thing about the Eye. He's omniscient and can be anywhere, which means that you'll never know when he's watching you...

(True fact: This involved a grave robbing story, in which somebody noticed a stolen grave-robbed ring. I do not lie. Not about crazy old comics, anyway.)

So you never know when the ol' Eye will just gracelessly barge in on your criminal activities without warning.

I am probably going to shout "This is your day of reckoning, Pickles!" and variants on said statement at people randomly for the rest of my life.

And the Eye apparently does this for no reason other than satisfaction in a job well done...

...or something like that, I guess...

All comics are public domain stuff. More information can be found at Public Domain Super Heroes, and free CBR files can be found at Golden Age Comics Downloads. (CBR information and downloads can be found here.)

-Signing off.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Rare (and Insane) Gem

One of my favorite of the ancient Superman cartoons is "The Electric Earthquake." Why?

It's so ahead of its time. I mean, look at this:

A Native American mad scientist. In 1942.

That's incredible.

-Signing off.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Friendly Advice

If you're having a remotely serious argument with someone, never say "What're you smokin'?"

Implying that the other person's logic is derived from drug use is a sure way to make the other person really mad and induce personal attacks on yourself.

I only bring it up because two people said this to my sister out of the blue inside a twenty four hour period the other day. Not cool, guys, not cool.

-Signing off.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Other Invertebrate Intelligence

I won't beat around the bush in getting to what I think the second-likeliest candidate (as mentioned and discussed on Friday) for developing something resembling what we call "intelligence" is. It's spiders, hands down.

Yes, spiders, darnit.

More specifically, a large, diverse, and above all clever group called jumping spiders. Even more particularly, a genus called Portia.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

Assuming that cephalopods are incapable of prolonged life on land, and that life on land is necessary to develop civilization (those are some major assumptions), we must turn to the rest of the invertebrate families.

The other molluscs? No, they're far too soft-bodied to ever achieve the kind of size they'd need for a decent brain, and far too slow-moving (mostly) to ever have the kind of lifestyle that would lead to the necessary type of brain. (The kinds that have proven able to live on land, anyway, and we're a little more concerned with them, aren't we? Nudibranchs are always surprisingly active and clever, though, compared to any mollusc but a cephalopod.) The various worms, echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins, etc.), and jellies all are rather unlikely to prove able to reach large sizes on land or to develop even a brain at all, much less a big effective one.

That leaves arthropods, who sadly have all the brains of kiwi fruit. Or do they?

The first mark in the arthropod's favor is that it's a highly mobile and active creature, as anyone who's ever had to deal with any will know. Certainly, plenty have lower-energy lifestyles, but they can easily adapt to all walks of life. And this speaks favorably for arthropods possibly developing that ephemeral trait we call intelligence.

Speaking even better for them are those most industrious and active little beasts, ants. Ants do a lot of the things we do-delegate tasks, specialize parts of their workforce (indeed, their methods of doing so are lightyears ahead of ours in terms of efficiency-they're born for their jobs), build huge mass dwellings, and more. Everything that's true of ants is also true to a lesser degree of termites (except dwellings, which they are a match for ants in the building of), and most of these are true of bees and some wasps.

But it's not really intelligence. Even if you came up with a really clever method of trying to, you could never find an ant, or even an ant colony, that could communicate with you. On an individual basis, ants are among the dumbest brained critters on Earth, and their capacity for organization is entirely on an instinctual level. (This doesn't mean that ants couldn't eventually, even following their current course, develop something frighteningly comparable to civilization that would compete with civilization of other species. I could see that happening.)

Since ants are the "smartest" insects, that doesn't leave many options. In the ocean, there's the mantis shrimp, which strikes me as being more like a housecat or a dog than possibly any other aquatic animal, if for no other reason than the ones you see in videos like the ones I've linked seem to indicate that they have a capacity for boredom, hence the sheer savagery they can exhibit in attacking their aquarium-mates. But mantis shrimps are still marine animals, and show no particular inclination towards changing that. So they're out.

But what about other crustaceans? Many live on land in various moist places. Unfortunately, they've never developed quite the same capacity for dry living as insects, so they'd always have limited ranges.

There's still the group I posited as my candidates, of course: spiders.

Why spiders?

Well, spiders (with some extrapolation from their closest relatives, scorpions) have proven to be a long-lived and versatile group. There are wandering spiders and the ever clever and tricky web builders. Web builders have poor eyesight and their lifestyles are not terribly mobile or active, mostly consisting of repeated instinctual behaviors, so despite their apparent cleverness, they do not seem to be top candidates. Wandering spiders have roving, active lifestyles, which puts them higher.

Of these, some achieve considerable sizes, such as everyone's favorite, the tarantula. While the tarantula itself does not exhibit exceptional intelligence for an arthropod, its size (and that of a scorpion from the distant past who could reach a whopping three feet in length) suggest that the size necessary for intelligence is perhaps not hopelessly distant.

Ironically, the group who shows the greatest potential in my mind are one that is invariably small-the jumping spiders. Jumpers (for whom the green jumping spider of Australia is a large variety at a whopping 12 mm) are highly mobile, have very good eyesight (only an order of magnitude less sophisticated than that of vertebrates, and better than that of dragonflies, who have the best vision of any insects), and, as their name suggests, the ability to jump.

They're the cats of the insect world. (Here, I use "insect world" in a sense that it's the world of fast, highly mobile arthropods primarily but not exclusively made up of insects. Spiders in general, by the way, are a little like the Carnivora of the insect world in my mind, although such a comparison demeans the diversity and ancient history of the spider families.) And as the insect world has no monkeys, ravens, elephants, or other similar creatures, I rate cats high.

And highest of the jumping spiders would seem to be the Portia spider. These spiders, despite brains that fit in animals that could live in houses the size of a stegosaur's infamously inadequate thought-box, show a capacity for actual learning. And not simple stimulus/response learning, either.

Portias strategize.

While many clever behaviors exhibited by these spiders are instinctual-they don't attack the spitting spider (one of the top natural enemies of jumping spiders in general) head on, for instance-many of their behaviors are devised or adapted. They are "relatively slow" learners, but map out their tactics through trial and error.

They pluck at the webs of other spiders in various ways in order to attract the spiders' attention-they may draw the spider towards what seems to be a struggling, helpless fly, only to attack the other viciously when it incautiously draws near. Or they might, in some instances, tailor their lures very narrowly: A species of Nephila spider, for instance, has a prey-sized male member. The male lives in the female's web for protection, because the female is sometimes big enough to eat small birds, and obviously is out of the prey range for even the wiliest, most vicious Portia spider that ever lived. So the Portia imitates a very small prey creature that the lady Nephila wouldn't be interested in, and the male comes running. Alone.

Somewhere, I have a National Geographic with tons of pictures and examples, but sadly all my favorite issues mysteriously disappear. Hmm...

I'll also note that the need of group behavior is no barrier to spiders either-some species build huge communal webs and swarms, and can cooperatively kill their prey and rear young.

Basically, the only relative shortcoming of spiders as potential candidates, once you get past the fact that the smartest ones are the smallest (and the general weakness of arthropods being possibly too small for good brains), is that they don't have real hands, but since they have so many other clever tools, maybe they can make up for that.

Who knows?

-Signing off.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Epic Conclusion to Ocean Week

You may or may not have noticed, there was a decided nautical theme to this week. There's a reason for that.

See, the last few times I deliberately did theme weeks, they kinda fell short at the end, or I otherwise had to scrape bits together and had difficulties. So I figured, hey, this time I just won't announce it, and maybe it'll turn out I can figure out something else to finish the week if I can't quite follow through.

It worked, I guess; after all, my first theme week, "unofficial robot week," didn't have any pressure on it until the last two or three days of it, and I had no trouble with it.

But now I can't think of a thing! Oh, no!

Leave me alone!


Wait a minute. There we go, something to blog about.

If ever some disaster strikes, and wipes out that mass of ugly thin-haired monkeys we affectionately call "us," well, things wouldn't be looking too good for the future of intelligent life on planet Earth.

See, a lot of the things that might possibly give rise, given time and improvement in intelligence, to what we like to call "civilization," are animals in deep trouble. All the other monkeys? Not likely to last as long as us, much less outlive us. Some kind of whale or dolphin? Well, they're not doing much better. Elephants? While many people have sorely underrated their intelligence, they're not likely to survive without our help, so they're out.

More likely as I see it would be ravens, probably followed by raccoons. Both are smart scavengers who can adapt to a huge range of environments (the raven's mobility is what gives it an edge of sorts over the raccoon).

Somewhere behind them are a number of far less clever animals, such as cats, dogs, and possibly bears. By no means stupid animals, these strike me as rather likely candidates for, way down the line, succeeding an extinct humanity, and they're likelier to live through the cataclysm that would kill us because of their diversity, range, and sheer numbers. And of course, the line continues down in this wise all the way to the fishes, if you split enough times.

But what if all the vertebrates were gone? All the vertebrates of consequence, anyway. Then, the likeliest candidates, as a broad family, to grope their way out of the primitive impulses of Wild and become a Kind of thinking being are certainly the cephalopods.

The cephalopods are probably far closer to monkeys than any other creature living in the ocean, even whales. Whales are something like giant birds by the standards of the marine ecosystem, while the lifestyle of many cephalopods parallels that of monkeys on land-they're tricky, thieving little devils who sneak around getting into other people's nests and the like, while avoiding bigger, stronger creatures with their wits and maneuverability. Cuttlefish, squid, and octopodes especially all show signs of considerable smarts (cuttlefish and octopodes moreso than squids).

The fearsome and unsettling hypnotic abilities of one cuttlefish (sadly, the name of the species isn't coming to me and the results of Google searches have been supremely unhelpful-it was on NOVA, though) that it uses to apparently paralyze its prey are incredible. Possibly more incredible are the abilities of the Indonesian Mimic Octopus, well-summarized in this video:

It's kind of remarkable to think that this particular species may be the progenitor of something far more incredible, some distant way down the road.

Of course, octopodes have only limited mobility on land, and will continue to be so unless and until they can develop sturdy internal supports. Some have suggested that, in order to build civilization, one must live on land.

So what would be an alternative invertebrate intelligence to cephalopods if they never made it all the way out of the water?

Come back Monday evening (or Tuesday morning, or if you live in a different time zone your entirely different time period), and I'll have my answer for you. (No accounting for the answers of "experts," after all.) It might surprise you just a smidgen. (Here's a hint: They're little.)

-Signing off.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Sea's Little Killers

Of course, all my joking yesterday aside, the ocean is a terrifying place. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the lovely little creatures of the sea that kill for their suppers (which is the vast majority of them).

Take the mantis shrimp, which I mentioned some time ago (there's a tag, which I have added to this post, that will let you look if you're curious-though YouTube removed a bunch of the videos I embedded since then). These little creatures are popular in home aquariums for their energy and... well...

...let's be frank-their sheer viciousness and apparent glee at killing other things you put in the tank. Even (especially?) cute things, such as clown fish (the video above to the contrary).

The person who took this video no longer visits the pet shop it occurred at.

Of course, keeping a mantis shrimp as a pet is a tricky proposition. You see...

...they have claws that strike with the force of a small-caliber bullet (fishermen call them by the wonderfully evocative term thumbsplitter), meaning that they can shatter the glass of many aquariums.

Then there's the flamboyant cuttlefish, one of the oddest creatures in the entirety of Earth's oceans, if for no other reason than it likes to walk rather than swim. It's also a poisonous little son of a gun, and can catch the itty-bitty shrimp of its environment faster than the eye can see.

It's merely lucky coincidence I found this video, since I was looking particularly for mantis shrimp.

Then there's this little devil, the pistol shrimp.

(Gotta love all those cinematic gun sound effects they added.)

It's no wonder our little tetrapod ancestors wanted the heck out of a neighborhood like that, huh?

-Signing off.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Perils of Beachcombing

You know, one place I'd never want to visit is a beach in Victorian/Edwardian England in a fiction story. Weird, giant, and most importantly deadly sea animals are apparently always showing up there.

For instance, in the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Lion's Mane, the lion's mane jellyfish, the biggest darned jellyfish in the world, just washes into a tidal pool and randomly kills somebody. (Sherlock Holmes takes care of it [with a rock], thankfully, but still...)

Worse than that is the case of The Sea-Raiders. In this H. G. Wells short story, a bunch of huge (well, huge by some standards) squid (of a fictional species) attack a bunch of people vacationing. It was stated they were deep-sea creatures, but Haploteuthis ferox (this fictional species name could be taken to mean "single ferocious squid" or "simple ferocious squid") was not only able to survive the shallows, but was highly mobile on land. It also hunted in packs, and it seemed they could somehow signal each other.

Yikes. Remind me never to go to any Victorian/Edwardian English beaches anytime soon.

-Signing off.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cartoon Profiles: Sushi Pack

Hm... A cartoon that is still on the air... (Until this Saturday, at least.)

(There's a better intro for this show, but YouTube doesn't have it.)

Unlike a number of the cartoons I've profiled here, this is definitely a kids' show through and through, and most adults wouldn't find anything to enjoy about it at all. Unless, of course, you're me. (Or one of a few other probably select individuals, by which I mean *ahem* unusual people.)

Sushi Pack is a hyperkinetic anime-influenced show which is pretty much a typical moral cartoon a la He-Man. It even, if I am not mistaken, hired the same psychological consultant as He-Man. No joke.

And it's the kind of cartoon that broadcast television really could use more of. It's not quite at the level of the classics, but it'll do if you want something new.

The Sushi Pack are a group of superheroes literally made of sushi. Since they're sushi, they're, shall we say, vertically challenged. They live in a donut shop (what), and their mentor is the donut shop's owner. They fight various comical cartoony badguys. And they have fun doing it.

Most of the little guys are vulnerable to heat, as they're uncooked fish who don't want to be cooked. Brilliantly, the tiniest member of the team is Wasabi, who as hot mustard is not vulnerable to even tremendous heat; his weakness is ice for some reason. (Wasabi is one of the best characters in the show. First off, he speaks only in burbles provided by Scott McNeil.* Second, despite his teeny tiny size, he seems to be the strongest member of the team. Third and finally, he does what he wants, such as stretching out his legs to crazy proportions with no explanation and banning littering on penalty of life sentences.)

The others are a little less brilliantly entertaining, but then there's the villains, who include Paradoxter ("It's a good thing I'm taping myself, or I'd just be some crazy man-ox talking to myself!"), the Titanium Chef (whose book of Chum Chop sounds like it's quite a nasty recipe book indeed), Sir Darkly (who is only happy when everyone else around him is sad-literally), and Apex (the awesomest of the lot, I believe another Scott McNeil voice and the craziest and smartest [sorta] of the villains-he's an alien four-armed samurai guy).

I'd write more if I could, but there really isn't a whole lot more to say-it's fun for fun's sake that any kid could watch.

*The others understand Wasabi's burbles-here's an actual quote in response to something he said which involved a broken boat and mortal peril: "Thanks, Wasabi, but I don't think a loaf of pumpernickel bread will help."

-Signing off.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Greatly Belated Book Reviews: Treasure of the Black Falcon

Treasure of the Black Falcon is a novel by John Coleman Burroughs. If that name sounds familiar, it should: John Coleman Burroughs was the son of Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, and others.

Like his father, the author's work (of which this is actually apparently the only example) is highly imaginative and original, if not especially scientific or rich in meaning. In effect: I love it.

Not that it's a masterwork of plotting or anything-TotBF is a pretty basic sort of plot, and I have a notion that if J.C. had ever had the kind of output E.R. did, similar repetitive patterns would have arisen. (Although there was a reasonably clever frame story such as was used by E.R., it seems likely he picked the idea up from his father.)

The story centers initially on the adventures of a deep-sea salvage sub that was invented by its owner, and which has truly remarkable abilities for exploration, such as cannot be found in many vessels even today. Unfortunately for it and its crew, it gets caught in a huge undersea current and sucked into a deep sea cave, where it comes out in a mysteriously low-pressure zone that basically defies all laws of physics. There, the world-building skills of the author come into play.

They find an impossible giant underwater bubble, which is inhabited by very strange creatures-animals who are white, and which, upon examination, have no internal organs. But they look a whole lot like familiar animals, such as fish and pelicans.

It turns out, as the reader eventually discovers, that these are Jogulars, bizarre, improbable lifeforms probably from outer space, who infect and replace other creatures, turning into duplicates of them. (Human-form Jogulars, because of peculiarities of the process, often have the appearance of clothes molded onto themselves.) Jogulars have no bones, no internal organs, and do not need to eat food in the normal fashion-instead, they absorb microorganisms from their environments for nourishment. (Their bonelessness gives them a gait that sounds as if it probably belongs to a cartoon character.) They also retain mental characteristics of the creatures they mimic: Human-form Jogulars think like humans, act like humans, and even need to pretend to eat like humans. Jogulars are further gifted with powerful telepathy. There is a second type of Jogular: A creature that is essentially "trapped" in a sort of "larval" shape that can never change (they look like brains with single pink eyes), which is minimally mobile but has an incredible power to compensate-mind control. All Jogulars also, in addition to being white, lack normal organs such as eyes; they rely on their telepathy and upon the single pink Jogular eye for their use. Jogulars also do not age, and thus are nearly immortal.

The Jogulars, in a word, are insanely awesome. Okay, two words.

Of course, they defy all known laws of biology, but that's okay.

There are plenty of other things to love about this bizarre undersea world. There are other undersea monsters, although few of them are especially iconic or interesting; the characters have rifles that, in a footnote, are connected to a fictional invasion of Los Angeles or San Diego or someplace by association of the way they operate; and the Jogular human community is being ruled by a guy who thinks he's a Roman emperor. No joke.

All in all, it's a decent piece of pulp fiction, and if you like John Carter of Mars, or some of the other books I have belatedly reviewed, I would suppose you'd like this plenty.

-Signing off.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Public Domain Superheroes

You know who's ugly? This guy. Ugh.

This guy nearly killed that guy once. And he had a ghost plane. (Just a plane with a goofy skull on the front instead of a propeller, but still.)

This guy is supposedly the first costumed superhero to appear in U.S. comic books. (Did it have to be that costume?)

Anyway, there are quite a few superheroes (and supervillains) who are at least sort of in the public domain (it's a complex issue, especially with characters who have the same names as newer guys). And you can read about them here.

Also, this guy? Totally awesome in some kind of weird, backwards way.

And this guy has the most stupid awesome superhero fashion sense imaginable.

(Can you tell I was just clicking around randomly like a ninny?)

-Signing off.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet...

...was once cast as Sherlock Holmes for a TV series pilot.

-Signing off.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Greatly Belated Book Reviews: Dreadnought

And now for something completely different.

Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War is an immense volume cataloging the history that ultimately led to the first World War, from the perspective of the great European powers and with special emphasis on the role played by British naval power.

Considering my penchant for rather, uh, wacky material, you might find it surprising that I would also find a detailed, exhaustive book on history entertaining. Well, go ahead and be surprised, because I am just one complex guy. (Cough.)

Anyway, Dreadnought is all about big things that make other big things go boom, and about crazy people who were in charge of too much stuff. When I put it that way, the connection is more obvious. (Although I really do enjoy it for its historical context. No, really. I mean it. Seriously.)

And I really did learn a lot. For instance, did you know that Kaiser Wilhelm/William II had a stunted left arm because it was dislocated when he was born? It's thought that many of the man's neuroses can be laid at the feet... er, at the hand?... of this injury. Also, Wilhelm had an enormous respect for his grandmother which prevented him from even considering attacking Britain during her lifetime or the decade after her death. Of course, his grandmother was Queen Victoria of Britain...

The one that always gets me is what I read about Otto von Bismarck and Victoria, who were long hostile to each other. When they were going to meet in person for the first time, Bismarck wanted very badly to avoid the woman he regarded as his enemy and a crazy old lady. When they were actually introduced, however, the two of them practically fell down complementing one another, and both reported being immensely charmed by the other. (Queen Victoria actually was "mostly German," in the words of the book, which partly explains their interaction.)

What these anecdotes actually drive home is that war between Britain and Germany had never been inevitable-in fact, the two nations were great friends, constantly swapping royals and all that. It was a combination of incompatible ambitions and lack of tact that led the two royal families into antagonism with each other, and eventually war.

British naval power, of course, was the primary issue. Britain couldn't be a world power if it was not the greatest naval power; any army that bypassed the navy (War of the Worlds, anyone?) would have free reign throughout Britain, and so Britain needed to have at least as much naval power as two or three other countries put together, preferably more.

The H.M.S. Dreadnought, of course, was central to all this, thus the title of the book. It further highlights the fact that the buildup to WWI was one of history's first "modern" arms races.

So, yeah, if you like history at all, this is a good book right here.

-Signing off.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cartoon Profiles: Buzz Lightyear of Star Command

Ah, memories. Buzz Lightyear of Star Command was one of the great cartoon shows of its time, and really, of all time (though I may be biased).

(FYI, the intro shown here was merely one of many. The series had 60+ episodes, and at least three introductions, probably more. This is one of the later ones.)

Now, obviously this is related to Toy Story. According to Wikipedia, early development of the series actually occurred simultaneously with Toy Story (though I'm slightly skeptical-there's a five year gap between the release of the two). It takes the premise of Buzz Lightyear the character as presented in Toy Story, and rather than mocking it, plays it straight.

And it works. Obviously, the series doesn't take itself too seriously, because hey, it's a cartoon. (Even Gargoyles, grim as it could be at times, had its lighthearted moments.) And it's just overflowing with what is essentially modernized space opera charm (funnier, of course, than most space operas tried for). And you guys ought to know by now just how I feel about that.

Rather than try to convey the joy of the series through exhaustive summarizing, I'll try to figure out some other way.

Oh, there we go, that works.

That too.

-Signing off.