MY FAVORITE MST3K EPISODES

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I’m a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I was a bit of a latecomer to the series — I started watching it during the Sci-Fi Channel years — but I’ve seen practically every episode now, some dozens of times. Here, for no particular reason other than I’m bored, are my ten favorites. (There’s a strong bias here towards Mike episodes, simply because I prefer his style to Joel’s.)

1) Prince of Space. A horribly-dubbed Japanese space adventure from the 1950’s. Prince of Space is a silly, unintimidating hero with a ridiculous costume, and his nemesis, Phantom of Krankor, is the funniest character to ever appear in anything, ever. The best MST3K movies are the ones that are funny even without the riffing, and this one is absolutely hilarious.

2) Puma Man. This was the first episode I actually sat down and watched, back in the day. It’s an awful Italian-produced superhero movie starring a dorky-looking professor-dude who becomes the Puma Man: a flying goofball with a stupidly bland costume and a sad, tired archenemy played by Donald Pleasance. Everything about this movie is funny, from the lousy acting to the atrocious special effects and the dumb story, but it was the music that really sold me on this one. I loved the riffing on the theme song: “When you want the flavor of bacon in a dip.”

3) Space Mutiny. One of the most incompetent movies ever made. They simply didn’t have the budget, or the talent, or the creativity, to bring the premise to life; unable to build a futuristic spaceship set, they simply shot the whole thing in a run-down factory, and wound up reusing a bunch of shots from Battlestar Galactica for the space-fighting scenes. Add to that the scenery-chewing Kalgan, Reb Brown’s typically awful acting (“Let’s get out there and kick some ass!”), the goofy floor-polishing carts, the obvious continuity errors, and man, this is a great episode.

4) The Giant Spider Invasion. A sleazy giant spider movie. The most terrifying thing in the movie isn’t the spiders, but Robert Easton’s character, a surly jackass who wears a dirty back brace.

5) Deathstalker and the Warriors From Hell. A fantasy film — this is actually the third Deathstalker movie — produced by Roger Corman. It’s got a generic fantasy plot, a really low budget, a smarmy lead, lots of weird little moments (“Potatoes are what we eat!”), and a great villain in Thom Christopher, who yells and screams and overacts like crazy. The riffing in this one is really terrific.

6) Werewolf. Bizarre little werewolf movie, starring a cast who all speak with different accents; only a few characters in the film are actually able to pronounce the word “werewolf” correctly (instead we get war-whilf, wir-wilf, etc.) This is another one with fantastic riffing: “Think of my family in Latvia!”

7) Skydivers. The doughty Coleman Francis directed three movies: Skydivers, The Beast of Yucca Flats, and Red Zone Cuba. MST3K tackled all three of these, but Skydivers is easily my favorite. It’s a strange, dreary movie (actually, all of Coleman Francis’s movies are dreary), with a bare-bones plot, odd acting, and confusing editing. Admittedly, it took a while for this one to grow on me; it can be pretty hard to get past the incredible drabness of the movie and enjoy the riffing.

8) The Creeping Terror. A very, very unusual alien-invasion movie, featuring a giant slug-like creature that very slowly creeps up on people and eats them (the people help him out by crawling into his mouth). The movie is strange in that it doesn’t really have a soundtrack; practically the entire film is narrated.

9) Santa Claus. A holiday favorite (I watch it every Christmas), this is a Mexican fantasy film about a Santa Claus who lives in space, employs an army of children to make his toys, works with Merlin the wizard, and does battle (of a sort) with one of the devil’s minions, a greasy-faced goober called Pitch. Lots of horrible dubbing, and full of strange little touches.

10) Samson vs. the Vampire Women/Devil Doll. Okay, I cheated a little on this one, but these two are basically tied for ten. Samson is actually an El Santo movie; in this one Santo faces a bunch of sexy vampire women and their “cheap thug” wrestling minions. Devil Doll is a British production about a creepy ventriloquist. It’s a rather boring movie, actually, but the scenes with Hugo, the ventriloquist dummy, are a blast (“I can eat like you can! You are not the only one who likes to eat!”)

Runners-Up: Jack Frost, Angels Revenge, Horror of Party Beach, Eegah!, Mitchell, Boggy Creek II, Track of the Moon Beast, Blood Waters of Dr. Z, Outlaw, and The Sinister Urge.

YOU KNOW YOU’RE GETTING OLD…

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…when you start feeling like the tech scene is passing you by.

1) I prefer single-player, story-driven video games. Uncharted, Fallout, stuff like that. There’s still plenty of these coming out, but most of the AAA releases these days seem to be always-online multiplayer games, and even the ones that aren’t are usually loaded up with microtransactions and paid DLC and junk like that. I’ve bought DLC before, but I draw the line at microtransactions and lootboxes especially, and more and more games seem to be including these features as integral parts of the game (see the recent controversy surrounding Star Wars: Battlefront 2, for example).

2) I don’t want my TV to connect to the internet, or spy on me, or show me ads. I want a TV that displays what I tell it to display — nothing more, nothing less. And because my whole retro game setup is based on outputting a signal to a 1080p TV (through a Framemeister), and because there isn’t a lot of 4K content out there anyway, I’m not interested in a 4K TV. Trouble is, the big, trustworthy manufacturers aren’t selling dumb 1080p TV’s anymore. You can’t get the damn things anywhere.

3) I don’t want anything to do with Windows 10. I don’t like the aesthetic, I don’t like all the spyware, and I didn’t like Microsoft secretly downloading the damn thing onto my computer. I’m perfectly happy with Windows 7, which has, and does, everything I need. Unfortunately support for Windows 7 is ending in just two years, so I’m either going to have to bite the bullet on Windows 10 or migrate to Linux in the near future. (I already have Linux installed on one of my PC’s, so it’s not exactly uncharted territory for me, but it’d be a leap to start using Linux as my main OS.)

It’s all very irritating.

THE SIGNALVERSE VERSUS…

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I was thumbing through the DC vs. Marvel trade paperback yesterday, and because I’m a huge nerd, it got me to thinking about how the Signalverse would fare if its heroes had to square off against the heroes of the DC or Marvel universes. Honestly, I don’t think they’d do too well.

Against DC, the Signalverse’s heroes would be destroyed. Altair or Dead Ed might’ve been a match for Superman at one point, but as of 2017 there aren’t any characters in the Signalverse that come close to Superman’s power levels. Miracle Girl, Ataxal, Farmboy, Smash Hit, maybe Hollywood Gold…these are the Signalverse’s toughest heroes, in terms of sheer strength, and I can’t see any of them going toe-to-toe with Superman (I’ve always imagined Miracle Girl as being a weaker version of Supergirl; she’s gonna have trouble lifting anything more than about ten tons). I guess the Quantum Man might be able to do something to Superman — he’s got some oddball powers — but he’s not super-strong, or super-fast, and he’s not really much of a fighter. He’d have to get the drop on him or something.

As for the speedsters, well, the Flash can run at the speed of light; the Signalverse’s fastest runner, Overclocked, tops out at about twelve miles per second. Considerably slower.

So Superman and the Flash, just by themselves, are going to represent a pretty serious problem; throw in Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Captain Marvel, and the Kon-El Superboy, and you’re looking at a blowout. Even Batman would be trouble for the Signalverse’s heroes; the closest equivalent to Batman in the Signalverse is probably the Shadower, and he’s really more of a detective than a fighter. Quarterstaff or Nightdragon might give him a pretty good fight, I guess.

Against Marvel…again, there really isn’t anyone in the Signalverse who could plausibly stand up to the Hulk, or even Thor. That said, there are plenty of Signalversers who might offer Spider-Man, Wolverine, Captain America, or Iron Man a run for their money: Shieldmaiden, the Ancient Greek, Ol’ Hickory, Vermillion, and Flechette would probably be decent competition.

THE SIGNAL CITY VISITOR’S GUIDE: BIGGER AND BETTER

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Finally! The new Signal City Visitor’s Guide is now available on MagCloud.

You can view/download the entire book FOR FREE on MagCloud (they’ll give you a PDF) or, if you’d like, you can buy the print edition for something like $15 bucks, plus shipping.

So what is this thing? Well, it’s a guide to the Signalverse, the superhero world I created for The Adventures of Jack and Miracle Girl book series. It includes a fourteen-page time line, some information about the setting, all of the artwork Tom Martin has done for the series, and an insane amount of character biographies: it’s got entries for close to three hundred and fifty superheroes/supervillains. The first edition of the Visitor’s Guide, which I released back in 2015, was fifty pages; this one is nearly seventy.

Please note, this thing is absolutely full of MAJOR SPOILERS. If you’re at all interested in this series, please consider reading the novels before you check it out.

WHAT I’M READING

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Here’s some thoughts on some of the books I’ve read this year.

Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920’s, by Frederick Lewis Allen. This is a short history of the 1920’s, written in the early 1930’s. Pretty good stuff. (I read this book, and several other histories of the 1920’s, for research purposes — I was planning on writing the first Sam Fortune novel this year. Unfortunately I never got around to it.)

Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World An Extra Life, by Chris Kohler. A fun little history book.

Call to Adventure! by Aloha Wanderwell Baker. The autobiography of Aloha Wanderwell, who had a pretty strange life. In 1921, when she was sixteen years old, she started travelling around the world in a Model T with a nutty Polish guy and fell into all kinds of crazy adventures. I read this one partly for research purposes, too; one of my characters (from Sam Fortune) is loosely based on her.

The Sweet Science, by A.J. Liebling. Great boxing book. One of the best.

Astro City: Honor Guard and Astro City: Reflections, by Kurt Busiek, et al. Liked ’em both.

Midnight At the Well of Souls, by Jack Chalker. This was a deeply strange book, full of weird transformations, some head-scratching preachiness (I don’t really know what Chalker was trying to say here, although I did like the anti-communist bent), a plot that didn’t really amount to anything, characters I didn’t care about, a revelation near the end that made me roll my eyes, and an oddball genderbending finale that I didn’t really get. Chalker wrote something like six or seven more books in this series, but I don’t think I’m going to be reading any more. (In fact the only reason I picked up this one was because I once read, or at least started reading, a different Chalker novel — a fantasy novel — back in the 7th grade, and for nostalgia’s sake I wanted to get a sense of what this guy’s writing was all about. Well, now I know.)

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. Excellent. I liked it maybe a little bit more than Sense and Sensibility, but not as much as I liked Pride and Prejudice or Emma. It’s a more complex novel, I think, with more complex characters; the object of Fanny’s affections, Edmund, is much more unsteady than either Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley, and Henry Crawford didn’t seem as irredeemable to me as George Wickham (for a while I actually thought he was going to succeed with Fanny). But that extra complexity gave it a strange flavor, and a melancholy feel; the ending, especially, was a little rough. Obviously everything ends happily, but unlike in Pride and Prejudice, where the family is saved (barely) from disgrace, here the disgrace actually takes place, which makes the happy ending feel a little…off.

But whatever; it was a great book, and an absolute masterpiece of lucid and elegant writing. Austen’s prose is just wonderful.

The Sound of Waves, by Yukio Mishima. Lovely, lovely book. Highly recommended.

Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan. A fantastic flintlock fantasy. I’m currently reading the sequel, The Crimson Campaign.

Tom Derringer in the Tunnels of Terror, by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Great stuff. For straight-up adventure, you can’t go wrong with this series.

ABOUT BLAKE HUNTER

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I keep meaning to explain who the guy in the pointy mask is (the one I’m using as my avatar on the left-hand side of this page).

The character is Blake Hunter, and he’s basically my mascot. My friend Ant and I created the character during our freshman year of high school; he began life as a goofy, trigger-happy superhero who owned his own time machine and fought bad guys like BoogerBooger and the Indestructible Turd (we were teenagers, so we thought this stuff was hilarious). We started drawing these crazy superhero comics starring him and his friends (guys like Feelerman, Bubbleman Bob, and the patriotic Freedumb), but after a while we more or less dropped the superhero stuff, and the comics turned into slice-of-life strips where we made fun of our teachers and complained about our day-to-day lives at school. Blake Hunter turned into a stand-in for me.

Although Blake Hunter was supposed to be the main character of these strips, the real star was Mr. D, a weird pointy-headed robot character based on our friend Manleys. Manleys was/is a very strange guy, who seemed to have no filter between his brain and his mouth; he was always making us laugh by saying these ridiculously crude, outrageous things. Ant made him my archenemy in the comics, probably because the two of us were always taking shots at each other.

We never really did anything with these comics, partly because they were really poorly drawn (Ant’s not bad, but I’m a terrible artist) but mainly because they were so full of inside jokes that we were the only ones capable of understanding them. This was my first attempt at creating a superhero world, though, and some of the silly characters from those strips eventually became Signalverse characters: Dead Ed, Stormchaser (originally Mr. Atmosphere), Nightdragon, and a handful of other heroes were all based on Blake Hunter characters.

A version of Blake Hunter actually exists in the Signalverse as well — he’s a member of the Time League, with Lucy Wright. I haven’t actually mentioned him in the novels yet, but maybe someday I’ll find a story for him.

Here’s some fairly recent three-panel Blake Hunter strips. Warning, some of these are a bit off-color.

THE WHITE RIBBON RUNS THE RED LIGHTS

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I’m getting ready to release the fifth Signalverse novel, The White Ribbon Runs the Red Lights. Here’s the cover, by Tom Martin:

And here’s the back-of-the-book copy:

While investigating a string of very strange robberies in Signal City, teenaged hero Kaden encounters a rookie crime-fighter working the same case: a standoffish girl calling herself the White Ribbon. The two of them don’t get along, but after accidentally discovering one another’s secret identities, the two of them reluctantly decide to join forces to solve the baffling thefts…and soon find themselves in over their heads. Haunted swords, a sinister cult, and a dark figure from Kaden’s past quickly turn their investigation into a deadly free-for-all…and leave the both of them wondering whether they’re really cut out to be heroes.

I’m hoping to release the book around mid-to-late November. The reason for the delay? Well, against my better judgement, I started working on a revised, updated version of the Signal City Visitor’s Guide a few months ago, and I’d like to release both the novel and the guide within a few days of each other. (This new Visitor’s Guide is gonna be insane. It’s got a fourteen-page time line, covering everything from 1926 to 2018, and entries for over three hundred and fifty characters. It’ll also have all of the art Tom’s done for the series and an updated map of Signal City.)

AND BACK TO THE SIGNALVERSE…

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My original plan, after finishing up Disreputable Persons, was to take a step back from the Signalverse and start work on an entirely new series — a trilogy of short pulp adventure stories set in the 1920’s, starring a Tommy gun-toting tough guy named Sam Fortune. Unfortunately I ran into some trouble plotting out the first book, and after tearing my hair out for a couple of weeks I finally decided to put it aside and jump back into the Signalverse again, with a story idea I already had pretty well worked out. I’ve been working on it ever since, and I’m hoping to finish it now by the end of the month.

It still doesn’t have a title (I’ve always been terrible at coming up with titles), but it’s about a couple of teenage superheroes who accidentally learn one another’s secret identities, and who eventually find themselves working together to solve a crazy little mystery. It’s a little darker than the previous Signalverse books — the protagonist, Kaden, is antisocial, and kind of messed up — but I think it’s a little deeper, too. We’ll see.

After I finish this one, I’ll either be giving Sam Fortune another try, or I’ll be starting work on an anthology of Signalverse stories (Signal City Adventures, Volume One). I’d also like to put out a new, updated edition of the Signal City Visitor’s Guide, because the original is a little out of date now, but that’s probably a few years away yet.

Some links: Lawrence Watt-Evans had some nice things to say about my books at his blog, and the superheronovels.com website was kind enough to review Disreputable Persons back in April.