What Lies Out There in the Infinite “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey?”

There is excitement in the air, and for good reason!  An event that has been in the works for some time is finally coming to fruition.  Fans of previous iterations are flocking to this newest incarnation in droves, but it remains to be seen if this year’s edition can live up to the hype.  All the pieces are in place for it to be successful, but then again, it has barely begun, and everything could change on a dime.  But enough about WrestleMania 30 (even though the new Scooby-Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery movie does look very entertaining, I must say).  What I really want to discuss today is the new incarnation of one of television’s most revered science series, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.  The original version hosted by Carl Sagan in 1980 and its companion book published the same year opened millions of eyes (mine included, years later) to the wonder of the universe and everything within it.  Can the 2014 version with Neil Degrasse Tyson do the same, or is it as devoid of life as the vast expanse between galaxies?

I tuned in to the first episode of the new Cosmos with my family the night it premiered, and I really liked what I saw.  I had seen a handful of episodes and clips from the original series and was impressed with just how many big scientific concepts and ideas Carl Sagan was able to explain in the most eloquent, memorable ways, and how he was able to effectively convey how they all fit together.  One such feature which made a big impression on me, and an icon of the series as a whole, was the Ship of the Imagination, a sleek, futuristic vessel in which Sagan and the audience could head anywhere in the universe and anytime in history.  On the ship, we could travel to a giant black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy, back in time to witness Sir Isaac Newton getting clunked on the head by a falling apple and discovering gravity, or shrinking down to the size of an atom and flitting about the protons, neutrons, and electrons.  The new series has some big shoes to fill in this regard, and with even less time to do it in (the original show’s PBS airings had 60 minutes per episode, but this one has just 44 with commercials).

One thing the new Cosmos has going for it are some very nice visuals which take full advantage of modern technology to bring science to life.   The new Ship of the Imagination swoops, dives, and curves through space and time, flying past incredibly detailed planets, asteroids, comets, stars, and other space phenomena all the while reflecting everything in space off its shiny outer hull.

Neil Tyson gives a tour of an updated version of the Cosmic Calendar, a device from the original series which condenses the whole of the universe’s billions-of-years old history into a single calendar year.  This time, however, the months and days literally come alive with computer animations of each cosmic event mentioned.  Thus, we get some amazing versions of the Big Bang, the formation of galaxies, stars, planets, and moons, and even a very cute take on animals climbing out of the water to kickstart evolution.  Cosmos certainly offers a feast for the eyes and a constant reminder that the universe is full of amazing things for us to discover.

This journey of scientific awesomeness is guaranteed  to lead us to some surprising places.  I think the first episode has some very note-worthy destinations .  To start us out, Neil Tyson opens the upper and lower windows on the Ship of the Imagination to offer overhead glimpses of Earth from space as it appeared roughly 100 million years in the past and how it might appear approximately 250 million years in the future.  The differences between both Earths from our own present planet were simply staggering to me.  Prehistoric Earth’s continents were lumped together as a single giant landmass, Pangaea, with endless oceans surrounding it and little to no signs of civilization as we know it.   In fact, instead it had a lot of green stuff; grass, trees, and thick forests.  Future Earth appears to have the same continents we currently have, but cities have grown noticably larger and use a heck of a lot more electricity. On this Earth, North America looks like a blinding-light advertisement for Thomas Edison’s most famous creation.  Not to mention there’s a lot of muddy brown on the continents:  where did all the green go?

These views of Earth in different times raised a few questions in my mind.  How accurate will the placement of the continents in the Cosmos version of future Earth really be in 250 million years?  Continental drift has created radically different Earths in the past 100 million years; who’s to say if it’ll still look like it is now well into the future?  How much electricity is being used by those cities, and if they’re using alternative energy sources to get all their power, which ones and how effective are they in providing the energy modern society needs to survive on a day-to-day basis?  Did the cities/humanity play a role in the sudden disappearance of green from the world map?  I’m also pretty sure the oceans looked a lot less blue in the show’s future model; a very alarming sign to me that trouble is surely on the way if we don’t watch out.

Cosmos also uses portions of each episode to present intriguing philosophical questions which relate to the scientific content, a feature I greatly appreciate as a seeker of knowledge.  For example, the first episode relays the story of Giordano Bruno, a Dominican monk with a vision of an infinite universe.  A vision he was ultimately condemned to die for.  I did a little research on Bruno after hearing his story.  As well as being a monk, he was an avid astrologist, and I feel that his story brings up a good point about scientific investigation which is worth some due consideration.  Bruno had little to no way of proving the existence of an infinite expanse of space (aside from Greek writings from 1500 years prior to his time and Biblical accounts which support exactly that conclusion, but apparently no one else besides him bothered to look up those references; it pays to read, kids!), but his vision was later proved to be accurate by scores of scientific studies and other observations.  That’s the beauty of science: an idea deemed ludicrous at one time can later be proven as truth through research and observation, or vice versa, and what remains in the end is factual information.  Science supports the same notion Bruno perceived:   that the universe is endlessly vast, is wonderfully complex, it opens up anew, and offers continual surprises to humanity.   We just have to search for them.

All in all, I’d have to say I really like the new Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey.  It’s a fascinating journey through the width and breadth of outer space and challenges our understanding of our place in the universe and how we choose to view it.  I think it paints an awe-inspiring picture of the world (worlds?) we call home and all the neat stuff we’ve discovered and hope to find out more about.  Definitely must-see TV to me!

What do you think of this new Cosmos?  If you’ve watched it, what did you like/dislike about it?  If you’re a fan of the original series, how do you think it compares to the new version?  Is there anything you’d change about this new show, and if so, why?  Are there any other scientific figures you’d like to see represented here?  Expand your view of the universe, and mine as well, by leaving your thoughts in the comments.

Random Top Five: Attempts at Explaining What Is Funny Through the Cartoon “What Is Funny?”

Of course, another way to word this question could be, "Funny, what is?"

I’ve been turning this question over in my head…

Back in the late 1990s, Nickelodeon had a neat cartoon show called Oh Yeah! Cartoons that I loved to watch.  It was an ambitious project in which a large group of animation directors and other personalities, young and old, worked on a series of almost one hundred shorts featuring a wide variety of new characters (fifty-four characters all told; for some strange reason, I want to see all of these guys in a group shot on a T-shirt).  These shorts acted as what is known in the television industry as “backdoor pilots,” meaning that any shorts that got a particularly great reaction from Nick’s executives or the viewing audience (maybe even both if the short was really good) could be turned into a new cartoon series for Nick.  This was how we got such shows as The Fairly OddparentsChalkZone, and My Life As a Teenage Robot (the original short was called My Neighbor Was a Teenage Robot; not much of a difference, I’d say).

All of these cartoons are quite memorable to me, but there is one particular short that stuck in my mind long after I first viewed it.  The short What Is Funny?, directed by Will Burnett and Vincent Waller, features a dog named Slap T. Pooch (Anyone wanna bet the T stands for “The?”) who is always asking the question posed in the short’s title while being caught in increasingly bizarre and presumably funny circumstances.  There’s all kinds of humor demonstrated in this cartoon, and in a neat way, it has made me think deeply about what I find funny and why certain things make me laugh.  I’ve wanted to talk about this kind of thing for a long time, and I feel that now is a good opportunity to do so.  The following are five observations I have made regarding What is Funny (Mind if I not use the question mark for the rest of this blog post?  Thanks, it saves me a lot of headache!), what I find funny about it, and why.

1. Funny is simple yet full of detail.

The premise of What is Funny is pretty bare-bones (pun unintended, all apologies to Slap the dog).  Slap wants to find out what funny is and is willing to go to any absurd length to get a good answer (and in just under seven minutes, no less!).  This premise probably sounds very mundane on paper, but that’s the beauty of it in my view.  A lot of cartoons have amazingly simplistic plots: Elmer Fudd, a hunter wants to blast Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck to smithereens (I wefuse to type that as “smitherweeens,” bwast it!).  Wile E. Coyote wants to catch the Road Runner.  SpongeBob Squarepants just wants to work at his dream job and enjoy life in his off time. 

What makes these premises funny is that the way they are achieved is so gosh-darned strange.  Elmer has to deal with a Brookwyn-accented wabbit and a screwball duck who compwains of “pronoun trouble.”  (See what I did there?  I’ll stop now for sanity’s sake.)  The coyote, instead of using his own natural reflexes, relies almost entirely on mail-order products to get his fast-moving dinner (not that he ever gets it, mind you).  SpongeBob works as a fry cook, but he flips his patties in a colorful underwater cartoon fun-land, and the rest of his adventures are certainly not boring by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s the same with What is Funny.  Slap’s exploration of humor is bizarre and takes a lot of unexpected turns.  The question may be simple, but the details encountered in answering that question give this cartoon a strange life of its own that I find fun to explore.

2. Funny could be gross (especially if you’re on Nick in the ’90s.)

One of the first things in What is Funny that had me chuckling was Slap contorting his face into various unexpected shapes, some of which looked really strange (the bit where he had his lips wrapped around his whole head with just his teeth showing and he was singing “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy” was a laugh riot for me).  This kind of sophmoric “gross-out” humor was quite common in Nickelodeon cartoons during the ’90s, so I wasn’t too surprised when I found it here as well.  Not to mention that Vincent Waller, the director and one of the co-creators of this short, was also a prominent member of the creative team behind Ren and Stimpy, the unofficial king of gross during Nick’s early days; go figure.  To viewers who prefer more sophisticated humor, such visual (and visceral!) material is likely excruciating to take in (or block out). 

Personally, I like this sort of stuff.  I grew up watching it a lot on Nick and Cartoon Network, of course,  but characters squirming and stretching around in bizarre bits of anatomical madness is something that just appeals to me on a base level.  It seems to me that it has always been a part of cartoon culture, too; Daffy Duck was moving his body in all sorts of weird ways from the first moment he “Woo-hoo”ed onto the silver screen, and his signature squirms in The Great Piggy Bank Robbery remain among some of my favorite cartoon visuals.  That traditon is alive and well in What is Funny, and you can still see it in plenty of cartoons today.  Good enough in my book!

3. Funny can be hazardous to one’s health (namely the cartoon star’s health), but it doesn’t seem to leave any lingering effects.

Daffy Duck gets his bill blown off numerous times during Rabbit Fire, but he just puts it back on and continues arguing with Bugs.  The dog in Tex Avery’s Bad Luck Blackie suffers all sorts of physical calamities after the black cat crosses his path, but he recovers by the time the screen fades out then back in for the next gag.  In What is Funny, Slap is grabbed by an eagle and dropped into a wooden tub full of “deadly” stockbrokers (they do work with bulls and bears after all) and suckerfish, which apparently change into thumbtacks and squirrels on Slap’s command (only in a cartoon, I guess).  Even though Slap clearly has a pained expression on his face and says he doesn’t find these objects particularly humorous, the results did elicit laughter from me.

Of course, pain is no laughing matter in real life, so why does it draw guffaws in cartoon form?  I think it’s because the pain in cartoons is usually of the exaggerated kind.  Rarely does one suffer real pain in such obviously outlandish ways.  Besides, it doesn’t seem to affect cartoon characters very much; all that happens is the camera fades away and then comes back to find the characters have fully recovered with no apparent scarring.  There’s also a handful of instances where characters have literally shrugged off the results of their pain and stripped away all the bandages and boo-boos, returning to their usual healthy selves faster than one can say “fountain of youth.”  It seems to me that pain has no real consequences in the cartoon universe other than drawing laughter out of the huge vacuum between fictional injuries and real life.

4. Funny likes terrible puns.  ‘Nuff said.

Come on, what else could I possibly say about a bunch of talking gingerbread men calling themselves “tough cookies?”  That’s just clever right there.  Not since Mr. Peabody has there been such a perfect use of lousy wordplay to great humorous effect.  That’s not just funny, that’s funtastic.

5. Funny never has to explain itself.

Okay, I know this last point probably doesn’t make much sense given the title of this blog post, but there is an element of What is Funny that works in just this way.  Throughout the short, a farmer, a chicken, and a pig keep popping into frame and singing “What is funny?” over and over.  Why they are doing this is never really explained.  It’s just a strange funny thing that is endlessly repeated to the weirdest cartoon music I have ever heard (though it is sort of awesome to me that it sounds almost like the X-Files theme).  There is one thing about it that kind of makes sense in retrospect (the TV Tropes website refers to this type of retroactive realization as “Fridge Logic“; the more you know).  At some point between the second-to-last and final appearances of this strange “Greek chorus,” the pig is turned into bacon and package-wrapped, yet still has a recognizable face and is still singing.  It’s pretty senseless, but I still think it’s neat.

What do you think is funny?  If you watched the What is Funny cartoon yourself, what did you find funny about it and why?  Do you think Slap T. Pooch could have been successful in his own series?  Let me know in the comments, and keep on laughing!  (Oh yeah, one more thing…  Oh Yeah! Cartoons had one of the best theme songs I’ve ever heard.  I thought it was a bit strange that it was always played over the closing credits rather than at the show’s beginning, but it was still one of the most memorable parts of the show for me.  Give it a listen (as well as this longer version) and tell me if it made you go “Oh Yeah” or “Oh No.”)

Random Top Five: Shows That I Think Need to Be On the WWE Network

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaStarting on February 24 at 11:05 P.M., WWE (a.k.a. “The Artist Formerly Known As World Wrestling Entertainment”) will begin broadcasting a new Internet-based television network.  The WWE Network looks promising to me, with a wealth of shows that I am genuinely excited about watching.  From the blow-by-blow account of the epic battles between WWE and WCW that constitute The Monday Night War  to the novelty of a group of wrestling legends living together in a luxurious home on Legends House and even the untold possibilities offered by the prospect of live Super Bowl-esque pre- and post-shows for Monday Night Raw and Friday Night SmackDown, the WWE Network will have a lot of great stuff to offer 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The WWE Network will also have a Netflix-like archive with over 100,000 hours of content, just in case there’s nothing on the main channel that looks good at the moment.  I like the idea of being able to go into wrestling’s past and digging up old shows and pay-per-views to pass the time with, and there are already some shows that I have made a mental note to definitely check out.  Still, there are some shows that I would really like to see that haven’t yet been announced.  My personal vision of what the Network could be has about as good a chance of coming to fruition as Gorgeous George’s ghost has of winning this year’s Royal Rumble.  I can still dream, though, so here’s my wish list of shows which I hope the Network might show one day, whether on the main channel or stored in the archive (but preferably the archive; I don’t have as much time these days to veg out on the couch, so the archive part of the Network is the one I’d probably count on the most for my entertainment).

5. Global Wrestling Federation

WWE recently put out a DVD in which they discussed the content they have in their tape library (which will be heavily drawn from in order to program the Network).  They then showed a graphic of the logos for all of the different wrestling companies and other sources of material in the archive.  At the bottom of that pile of logos were three peculiar initials: GWF.  I had heard of those initials before, but I couldn’t remember what they stood for, so I looked them up on Wikipedia and found they belonged to a short-lived company called the Global Wrestling Federation.  As I read through the description, I couldn’t believe how awesomely weird  the GWF’s product sounded on paper.  Some of the storylines they presented sound incredible to me.  What would you say about a ”bungee” match in which the loser is attached to a bungee cord and “launched” all the way to the moon?  How about one of the show’s announcers getting amnesia and believing he’s Elvis Presley (I guess Jerry Lawler’s not the only “King” in wrestling!)?  They even had a storyline in which a psychiatrist evaluated the wrestlers’ mental health (not the kind of “wrestling psychology” I’m used to, but I’ll take it for what it’s worth)!  I sincerely hope some GWF content is included in the WWE Network’s archive so I can watch it at a time that’s convenient to me and see how well these strange storylines hold up today.  Those 2 A.M. ESPN Classic reruns just simply aren’t an option!

4. WWE Saturday Morning Slam

This show actually ended in 2013, but I think there could still be a place for it, or at least a show like it, on the WWE Network.  It was a half-hour show targeted at kids who watched the CW’s Saturday morning cartoon lineup (It shared space on the schedule with the Justice League, Spider-Man, and the Power Rangers; not too shabby!).  Wrestling moves aimed at the neck weren’t allowed to be shown on camera, so the in-ring action tended to skew more toward comedy routines, but that just made the show cooler to watch in my view.  After all, it’s not every day you get to see Santino Marella square off against Heath Slater in an air-guitar contest!  The show ran for only one season on the CW with no indication if it was ever coming back.  I’d like to see a second season with more sensational silliness.  It would definitely bring some of the fun back to wrestling, something I believe it sorely needs these days.

3. WWF(E) LiveWire

During the announcement of the WWE Network, it was stated that it would soon feature a live in-studio broadcast as part of its programming.  I’ve heard rumors that it might be similar to ESPN’s SportsCenter in that they would cover the events of WWE programming and possibly other sports and pop culture topics of the day (which sounds more like ESPN2′s SportsNation, but enough of my kibitzing).  Personally, I think WWE had a show like that already which would be a good example for the new show to follow.  It was called WWF LiveWire.  Back in the days when “the ‘E” still had an F as part of its initials, WWF LiveWire was a live studio show where viewers could make a phone call and talk to their favorite WWF wrestlers.  A show of this nature could be a good way to get viewers more invested in the network, and the myriad methods of communication available to most people today could lead to a wider variety of conversation pieces.  You could still have phone calls, but also e-mails, Twitter posts, Facebook messages, Skype video chats, and all types of other ways to facilitate interaction.  A show like this could be the most well-connected show around.

2. WWF Wrestling Challenge 

A few years back, I was a loyal subscriber to WWE’s old video archive service on-line.  One of my favorite features of this archive was its collection of episodes of WWF Wrestling Challenge.  Each episode was mainly comprised of “squash matches” in which the big boys of the WWF routinely beat various no-name wrestlers as well as a mixture of promotional interviews and recaps of current storylines.  For some strange reason, I found this show incredibly entertaining.  The wrestlers all had colorful personalities which grabbed my attention very quickly, and the witty banter between the show’s commentators, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, was even better than the matches themselves most of the time.  This was popcorn TV at its finest, and I regret to say that there isn’t really a show like this in WWE’s current TV output.  Sure, Main Event and Superstars come close in terms of format, but my overall opinion of these shows is that they are a little underwhelming.  If the WWE looked back on its rich, colorful history, particularly this show, and applied what worked back then to today’s product, I am sure the shows would be much more exciting.  It would certainly make the Network a lot more fun!

1. Tuesday Night Titans

Now here’s a real gem of a show that needs a reboot, stat!  Before Ted Turner founded Turner Network Television in 1988, this original TNT was blowing viewers’ minds in 1984 and ’85.  Vince McMahon made for a surprisingly witty Johnny Carson wannabe as he made light conversation with all of the movers and shakers in the wrestling world.  This show was full of memorable moments such as the Iron Shiek showing off his pet camel, Hulk Hogan getting his famous “24 inch pythons” (his arms folks, not actual snakes) measured by female wrestler Wendi Richter, and Rowdy Roddy Piper starring in a supremely corny rendition of the Christmas Carol story.  Tuesday Night Titans was the place where the WWF’s stars could unwind in between slugfests and have a grand old time.  I wonder if the talk show format could still work in 2014, in an age where the wrestlers’ personal lives are well-known and broadcast on all different forms of social media.  Maybe there’s some sides of them that have never been shown for whatever reason, and a show like TNT could help them to kickstart their careers in a bold new direction.  The WWE has a new network to fill with lots of original programming; I think a revival of TNT could fit in very nicely in the new program lineup.

The WWE Network will be starting up very soon, and I am looking forward to see what the future holds for it.  WWE has a TV lineage dating back almost a century, and in all that time, it has produced a lot of good television, so I have high hopes that the Network will be a great addition to that legacy.  

If you’re a wrestling fan, are you looking forward to the Network and would you consider subscribing to it?  If you’re still hesitant, is there anything WWE could do in terms of programming that might make you change your mind?  Let me know in the comments, and please give this thing a chance.  It could turn out to be something really special if we support it in the right way!

Pop Culture Haikus: Disney Renaiisance Edition

When I was growing up during the 1990s, there were a lot of great entertainment options available to me.  Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Fox Kids, and Kids WB all had great lineups of live-action and cartoon shows that could keep me entertained for hours before and after school.  I subscribed to a host of interesting magazines (Nick Mag and Disney Adventures, you will be missed!) and read through an endlessly-growing collection of books.  One of the most memorable entertainment sources for me during this time, though, was the long string of fantastic animated films released by Disney during this time.  This period has become known as the Disney Renaiisance because the quality of the animation, artistry, music, and other elements of these films were amazingly high; I was a bit too young to appreciate such finer details, but I did really like these movies.  As a small tribute to this period from 1989 to 1999, I present the following Pop Culture Haikus, one seventeen-syllable poem for each film released during this time.

The Little Mermaid

Sea girl meets nice boy./Mean witch steals ocean girl’s voice./Witch becomes fish food.  Nice boy is confused./”Why does the nice girl have fins?”/Just kiss the girl, boy!

The Rescuers Down Under

Aussie boy is kidnapped./Cute U.N. mice rescue him./Boy saved by vermin!  This had an eagle/that the Aussie boy flew on./That’s all I recall.  (Still, that eagle ruled!/Come on, a freaking eagle!/I ride eagle next?)

Beauty and the Beast

Girl meets furry boy./Beast defends her, loves her true./Aw, they got married!  Gaston was a jerk./He didn’t treat Belle nice much./Furry boy much nicer!  Feel bad for Gaston, though./Being thrown off cliff must hurt./Hope landing was soft!

Aladdin

Boy meets nice princess./Boy uses magic to impress./Girl likes real men more.  Jafar wants power./Magic makes him more snake-like./Audience: ”Boo!  Hiss!”  Genie is funny./True, he turns into weird things./Still, he’s pretty nice.

The Lion King

Mufasa has son,/Dies at hands of jerk brother./Can son become king?  Son gets two new friends./They tell him, “Not to worry.”/I think he should care.  Simba faces Scar,/Surrounded by hot lava./Better than Ali fight!  Peace reigns in Pride Lands/Because Simba won the battle./Life’s circle rolls on!

Pocahantas

Princess meets nice boy./It’s reverse of Aladdin!/Disney recycles plots!  John Smith is nice man./He loves native princess much./Doesn’t quite get girl.  Radcliffe big, greedy./Cares nothing for natives, only gold./He’s a blowhard jerk!  Pokey and John meet,/Get along though differences/Keep them both apart.

Hercules

A kid from the gods:/”Greece is chock-full of monsters./Let me save it, please?”  Hades, big bad guy:/”Jerkules wins, I burn up./Get me an aspirin!”  I like the muses much./Best Greek chorus ever filmed!/”That’s the gospel truth!”  Pegasus was neat./Large white winged horse impressed all./Rainbow Dash still coolest!

Mulan

Legendary girl/Saved China from the Hun hordes,/Also found husband.  Mushu is cute help./He’s rivals with small cricket./They’ll soon get along fine.  Shang is big captain/In fledgling Chinese army./First big test is Huns.  Mulan can help out./She’ll go as a boy soldier./She’s tougher than most!

Tarzan

Legendary man/Raised by apes, king of jungle/Heard this all before?  Terk’s Tarzan’s best friend./Brooklyn accent in Africa?/Normal for Rosie!  “Trashin’ the Camp” song/Backstreet Boys sing great doo-wop!/Too bad the camp’s trashed…  Clayton hunts big apes/Tarzan says, “That’s not okay!/This hunt is postponed!”  Ape man meets Jane girl/Ape man likes Jane girl heap lots/Maybe they’ll elope?

Do you like Disney?/How about these haikus?  Hmm?/Leave comments below.

Random Top Five: Awesome Awe-Inspiring Experiences I Had at Disney World

I bet it runs on pixie dust.

All aboard for Disney magic!

My family and I recently came back from a week in Florida.  We spent Thanksgiving with my uncle who lives there and had a great time catching up.  While there, we also took in some of the local scenery.  We walked along the beach, window-shopped at various stores (Hulk Hogan’s beach shop was a pleasant surprise to me!), and soaked up the refreshing, warm Floridian sunlight (November days without cold and snow was something I had never experienced before).  The major highlight of my vacation, though, was visiting one of Florida’s most famous locales, the “Most Magical Place on Earth,” Disney World!

There were many amazing rides, attractions, and other delights at Disney World; I felt a bit overwhelmed at times by all there was to see and do, but I was able to have a great deal of fun just the same.  We only had a limited time to visit, but what I was able to see definitely made a big impression on me.  The following list is of five attractions that I thought were the most memorable from my visit.  One small note: I only visited a small portion of the World, so the list will reflect what I was able to take in, which included Tomorrowland and Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom and Future World at Epcot.  My family and I are considering another visit to Disney World in the future to check out some of the other attractions we missed this trip.  I can’t wait!

5. Spaceship Earth

What better way is there to start off this list than with the first ride I took in at Epcot?  This ride is one heck of an introduction to Disney’s educational utopia and a fairly epic experience in itself.  I didn’t expect that Epcot’s signature gigantic golf ball (Actually, it’s a geodesic sphere, but I kept imagining a gigantic Tiger Woods hitting it off a tee; would the Gulf of Mexico be considered a water hazard?) would be home to a ride, but sure enough, my dad and I went inside the ball and came out the other side feeling that we had just witnessed something very uniuqe.  The ride itself is a brief travelogue though Earth’s history, making various stops at mankind’s accomplishments and placing a heavy focus on advancements in communication.  Each point in history is acted out by Audio-Animatronic robots with lifelike movements; my favorite robots included the Egyptian stamping a message onto a papyrus scroll and Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling.  It was a great short ride; not bad for a golf ball!

4. Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor and Turtle Talk with Crush

These two attractions have a lot in common: both are based on Pixar films (Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo respectively), both feature characters talking to and interacting with the audience, and both are very funny!  We visited the “Laugh Floor” in the Magic Kingdom first.  The monsters have learned that laughs generate more power than screams, so they have set up a vaudville-type comedy show in the human world.  A few cameras have been placed throughout the theater where the show is housed and at various points the cameras focus on a few audience members who are shown on the big screen for the monsters to interact with.  This can lead to some very bizarre, cute, and genuinely chuckle-worthy moments.  For instance, one of the featured acts was a rapid-fire retelling of the Monsters Inc. story with various audience members standing in for the characters.  The part near the end where the camera was cutting back and forth between each audience member involved got big laughs; I was amazed that all of those rapid-fire cuts didn’t give me a case of whiplash!

We visited “Turtle Talk with Crush” after going through “The Seas with Nemo and Friends” at Epcot (we also checked out the aquarium - there was an impressive collection of fish, sharks, stingrays, coral, and other denizens of undersea life- an attraction I highly recommend if you ever visit).  The Finding Nemo star who specializes in surfer-speak communicates through a “hydrophone” to the audience (he apparently believes we all live in a “people tank”) and answers questions about turtles and other sea creatures.  Just seeing his interactions with the youngest audience members made me smile because I could tell he is very good with children.  He made both the kids and their parents feel quite happy.

3. Hall of Presidents

In Liberty Square at the Magic Kingdom, there is a show dedicated to the Presidents of the United States.  All forty-four of them, from Washington to Obama, as well as the First Ladies, are featured in a moving tribute to the country’s highest office.  Before the show began, we were able to enjoy replicas of various presidential artifacts (I was especially impressed with George W. Bush’s Inauguration cowboy boots) as well as some of the First Ladies’ outfits in the Hall’s lobby.  The show itself was very interesting:  a twenty-minute film narrated by Morgan Freeman (He can make anything interesting, can’t he?) went over the history of the Presidency and the effect the men who have filled the position have had on America.  Toward the show’s end, a gathering of Audio-Animatronic models of all the Presidents was presented; the Abraham Lincoln model gave the Gettysburg Address, and the Barack Obama model (voiced by the Prez himself!) gave a few closing thoughts.  This show was very patriotic and moving to me; it was certainly one of the highlights of my time in Florida.

2. Universe of Energy- Ellen’s Energy Adventure

Ellen Degeneres is probably best known these days for voicing Dory in Finding Nemo and having a popular (and hilarious, I might add) talk show.  You might even remember her old sitcom Ellen.  When she was still starring in that show, she also appeared alongside Bill Nye (The Science Guy; Science still rules!  Check out this classic energy episode for a “not that bad” jolt of info.)  in one of Epcot’s oldest attractions.  First, there was an introductory video in a movie theater-like lobby.  The gist of the introductory video is this:  Ellen falls asleep in her apartment while watching Jeopardy! and has a nightmare in which she doesn’t know a thing about energy.  Luckily, Bill Nye shows up and promises to take her and the audience on a whirlwind tour through the world of energy, covering the different energy types, where they come from, and what we can do to ensure they and other alternate sources of power are still around for years to come.

After the introductory video, we passed through a set of doors and were invited to sit in several theater-like seats that then divided into several vehicles on tracks.  As they began to separate and move, we were all transported back in time to a prehistoric setting as Bill Nye explained how the dinosaurs turned into fossil fuels - the start of our energy sources.  Jungle foliage dotted the rocky landscape, an erupting volcano boomed in the background, and all manner of dinosaurs sqwuaked and scampered about.  I recognized a Stegosaurus battling a T-rex in a recreation of a scene from Fantasia, a detail I thought was very cool.  One of the dinos even tried taking a bite out of an Audio-Animatronic version of Ellen (she hurled some pretty good one liners at the dino as we went by)!  I was greatly impressed with the level of detail the Disney Imagineers gave to this part of the ride, and it was one of my favorite images from my time at Disney World.  The rest of the ride continued with more information about energy and how to save it; this part played out like a vintage episode of Bill’s old show with a lot of memorable set pieces and interesting presentations of large chunks of facts and figures.  The entire attraction was very well done and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

1. The Holiday character parade (whose name I forget; They change so often anyway that I’m not sure the name even matters!)

Toward the end of our day at the Magic Kingdom, we saw a parade of costumed Disney characters and floats as they made their way through the center of the park.  It was cool seeing so many Disney and Pixar characters I loved all together in one spectacular celebration.  Mickey and Minnie led the parade and were followed by a series of themed floats grouping together seemingly every character in the Disney universe.  I remember seeing: Lilo and Stitch; Ariel and Prince Eric; Woody, Buzz, Jessie, and Bullseye; Donald, Goofy, and Pluto; Pinochio, Jiminy Cricket, J. Worthington Foulfellow (the fox), and Gideon (the cat); and a host of other characters.  To me, it had all of the pomp and pagentry of the Macy’s parade, and it was set to a peppy song about celebration that was fun to listen and dance to.  My mom got a few choice photos of the parade; I can’t wait to see them!

Disney World was incredible and definitely worth the 22-year wait.  There is still so much there that I still want to see and do, but this first trip left a great first impression.  I’m up for an encore!  If you’ve ever been to Disney World (or any other Disney park for that matter), how did your experience compare to mine?  What were your favorite rides/attractions/ characters?  How does Universal compare to Disney?  Let me know in the comments, and may all your dreams come true!

Tiny Death Star iPad Game Review: The Force Is Small With This One

 

Kinda looks to me like the "Globe of Death" from the circus.

The Empire’s ultimate weapon, in handy diagram form. Doubles as a cute hamster ball!

Tiny Death Star , I think, is an amusing game for the iPad that combines the premise and basic game mechanics of Tiny Tower, another hit iPad game, with the vast interstellar possibilities of the Star Wars universe.  Instead of Tiny Tower‘s premise of contstructing a massive skyscraper in which virtual “bitizens” can live and work, the player for Tiny Death Star  instead takes on the role of a teeny-tiny Darth Vader and builds a massive portion of the infamous Death Star space station.  At the start of the game, a miniscule Emperor Palpatine informs Vader that the building of the Empire’s ultimate weapon requires a great deal of funding.  To obtain the necessary galactic credits, he assigns Vader (alias, you the player) to the job of Imperial Landlord, moving various denizens of the Star Wars galaxy into apartments on the Death Star, putting those new residents to work in various restaurants, gift shops, and other stores, and extracting secrets from captured Rebel forces.  Will Vader prove himself capable of managing the galaxy’s most terrifying “ant farm,” or will it all blow up in his dark helmet-covered face?

I’ve played a bit of Tiny Tower before, but I stopped playing it and took it off my iPad.  I am not quite sure why: I think it was either because I found the basic game play a bit bland or I was not fond of its presentation of a combination apartment/office building.  Weirdly enough, Tiny Death Star is the exact same game as Tiny Tower with a Star Wars coat of paint, but I find this version much more compelling.  It is probably just due to the material being used, but let’s face it, watching small Stormtroopers and droids go about their daily routines isn’t something you see every day.  In addition, there is also a steady stream of miniature bounty hunters, aliens, X-Wing pilots, Han Solo lookalikes, and a host of other familiar faces among the itsy-bitsy crowd.  If you play long enough, you’ll even see a few of the really big players in the Star Wars  saga drop by.  Early in the game, I received a visit from Jar Jar Binks who used his long tongue to snag a sandwich from a high shelf in my cafe; unfortunately, he also caused a portion of the ceiling to collapse.  (Don’t worry, this was only in an in-game movie and everything was fine once the movie finished playing.  I’d still like to know why Jabba the Hutt fell through the ceiling, though; just how did he get onto the Death Star, anyway?)  If these special character cameos keep coming, I will be one happy Padawan (junior Jedi Knight; Yeah, it’s not my favorite Star Wars terminology either, but if I was eight years old again and able to swing a lightsaber around with Yoda as my teacher, I’d put up with any terrible name I was given!)

Seeing new characters is great, and keeping the Death Star up and running for them to enjoy is almost as fun to me.  My main duty as Imperial Landlord consists of managing my growing collection of residents and making sure they are in positions where they are able to generate the most credits.  Each of them has a series of numerical ratings attached to them indicating which type of work they perform best (retail, service, manufacturing, etc.).  A worker with a high retail rating placed in a retail job will, of course, generate considerably more income than someone with a low retail number.  Each resident also has a “dream job,” a particular place they would especially like to work.  If they are placed in that location, they generate a bit of a bonus income on top of their regular contributions.  I only have a few stores open on my Death Star at the moment, so my work force is not as productive as they could be.  I’ll need a bit of time to get things up to lightspeed, but once they are perfectly aligned, I will no doubt have one of the best sales groups in the cosmos!

What is really pushing me forward, though, is the potential for the game to tell a compelling story.  The building of a structure as huge as the Death Star is an interesting situation to play with, and Star Wars is fairly famous for game-changing plot twists (Vader being Luke’s father, for instance).  I can only imagine what might happen with an apartment complex smack dab in the middle of a gigantic space battle.  What happens if Rebel X-Wings take a few shots at the Death Star and ruin my new balcony?  What if the Wookiees (Chewbacca and his family and friends) and the Mon Calamari (Admiral “It’s a trap!” Ackbar and the rest of his kind) don’t like each other and want to be kept as far away from each other as possible?  Just when in the Star Wars timeline does this game take place?  I don’t want no stinkin’ trench run ruining my well-intentioned apartment-empire!

The combination of Star Wars and real estate development has made for an exciting combination so far.  I think I will be sticking with this game for far longer than I did Tiny Tower.  I just hope that the experience lasts longer than the real Death Star did in the movies!

What are your feelings on Star Wars?  Would you be willing to play Tiny Death Star, and if you have, what do you think of it so far?  Do you think the Rebels would notice a bunch of apartment towers jutting outward from the surface of the Death Star (just seems like a huge security risk to me, is all)?  Let me know in the comments, and I’ll get back to you faster than it takes Han Solo to make the Kessel run (12 parsecs is a long time, you know!).

Random Top Five: Snoopy Personas

"Contact!" he shouts.

Here’s the World War I Flying Ace, looking proud on his Sopwith Camel featured on an emblem for the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron.

One of my favorite characters in all of popular culture is Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s beagle from the Peanuts franchise.  Ever since I first laid my eyes on him in a videotape recording of A Charlie Brown Christmas, I have grown to love Snoopy immensely and take great pleasure from seeing his antics.  I like the idea of a dog standing up on his hind legs, walking around, and hanging out with a little yellow bird.  The one aspect of Snoopy that I love the most, however, is that he has an overactive imagination.  Not content with being merely a dog, Snoopy has decided to fill the dull moments of his life with fantastic adventures in which he is the hero of epic stories, usually taking on some truly iconic identities in the process.  It is these alternate personas of his that stand out the most in my mind whenever I think of Snoopy.  Here is a small appreciation of five of Snoopy’s most famous personas and why I like them so much.

5. The World-Famous Novelist, a.k.a. The Literary Ace

“It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out!”  If you’re reading a Peanuts strip, chances are you will see these words hovering over Snoopy’s head while he is banging on the keys of a typewriter on top of his doghouse.  You will then have witnessed one of the most harrowing moments in all of literature: here is the World-Famous Novelist making another attempt at writing the Great American Novel.  It’s just unfortunate, though, that he is borrowing his opening line (the “dark and stormy” part, anyway) from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford, an 1830 work whose beginning sentence is apparently considered one of the world’s worst story starters.  Despite the continuous stream of rejection letters that arrive from various editors and publishers, Snoopy still persists in writing, always with that line as his lead-off hitter. 

I was inspired to become a writer partly because of Snoopy’s attempts to be a writer.  I admired how he never gave up on his dream despite everyone else telling him he should stop.  He kept on writing anyway just because he was that dedicated to his craft.  It just so happens that his work has been published at least one time, believe it or not, and I acquired a copy of it myself a couple of years ago.  The year 1971 saw the publication of It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, a book based on several different Novelist storylines and featured a special reprint of Snoopy’s written work.  I highly recommend hunting a copy down for yourself on Amazon, especially because of the beagle’s account of a surprisingly awesome pirate fight.

4. Legal Beagle

Snoopy has a secret second life separate from his regular existence as a dog and even from his other personas.  In this other life, he is one of the USA’s most elite trial lawyers.  Here is the world-famous lawyer, easily recognized by his bowler hat, bow tie, and carrying a briefcase filled with legal papers (and doughnuts and cookies).  This stalwart defender of truth and justice, sometimes seconded by loyal assistants Linus and Rerun Van Pelt, has had an ecclectic list of clients, including most notably Peter Rabbit (It turns out Mr. McGregor can be far more deadly with a lawsuit than he ever was with a shotgun and rabbit traps.) and the Knave of Hearts (who may have stolen some tarts, but the evidence seems to be circumstantial; it may be that Snoopy himself had a nibble of some of the tarts in question). 

I like this persona mostly because of the absurdity of Snoopy being a part of the legal world and all of the unusual situations that would bring about, and also because I have seen it more in the comics than in the TV specials which makes it stick out more in my mind.  I wonder what would happen if Snoopy went up against Phoenix Wright in a real “trial by fire?”

3. Beagle Scout

When Woodstock and his identical yellow bird friends want to go camping, hiking, sailing, or engaging in nearly any other outdoor activity they can think of, they know the beagle to call.  Snoopy is the loyal den dog to the Beagle Scouts, a group of young birds working to earn merit badges in a variety of disciplines.  Sometimes their excursions take them out onto the neighborhood golf course, marching through sand traps and around holes, frequently taking some treacherous hiking paths through the nearby woods.  There is plenty of risk of being hit with flying golf balls or being chased off the course by its owners or by Charlie Brown and the gang, but the experience of being outdoors is well worth the effort to Snoopy and his young scouts.  The rest of the time, they hike and set up camp through some beautiful countryside; how much of this is really part of the neighborhood or just part of Snoopy’s imagination, the world may never know.

The Beagle Scout persona is a Snoopy persona I can particularly admire because he and his bird friends get to walk through some exquisite outdoor settings.  Charles M. Schultz drew amazing depictions of lush forests, wide meadows, craggy mountain passes, sheer cliffs, calm rivers and streams, and other outdoor locales for the Beagle Scouts to explore, ones which remind me a lot of nearby parks and woods near my home.  They look well-suited for places to spread out one’s sleeping bag and stare up at the stars.  Snoopy is truly an appreciative outdoorsman (or is that outdoorsdog?).

2. Joe Cool

Snoopy’s salute to the BMOC (Big Man on Campus), Joe Cool is undoubtedly one of the hippest (in his own mind) personas the beagle has.  The sweater-wearing, sunglasses-sporting “student” is not as concerned with making good grades as he is with making a name for himself around Charlie Brown’s school, hanging around the water fountain and flirting with the girls.  Whether this approach makes Snoopy/Joe any more popular is up for debate; if You’re Not Elected, Charlie Brown is any indication, he certainly isn’t popular with teachers and other faculty who do not want a beagle leaving pawprints all over the school. 

Personally, I think Joe Cool lives up to his name, if only in that he knows how to make a sweater with one’s name plastered on it look like the coolest sweater in the world.  This somehow, by extension, makes the wearer himself look cool, so maybe the beagle is on to something here.

1. World War I Flying Ace

Here is what is undoubtedly Snoopy’s most famous persona, immortalized through his show-stealing appearance in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Royal Guardsmen’s top musical hits “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron” and “Snoopy’s Christmas,” and even a couple of video games (a different Snoopy vs. The Red Baron and Snoopy Flying Ace).  The World War I Flying Ace is a living tribute to all of the men and women in the armed forces, a pilot who is still fighting the war even though it officially ended when Germany signed an armistice on November 11, 1918.  The Flying Ace climbs on his Sopwith Camel and flies once more into the wild grey yonder (it would’ve been blue if only all those guns stopped blasting ordnance for a second), searching for the “bloody” Red Baron.  Even though the Baron is credited with a long string of successful wins in dogfights, his winning streak of  ”ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, or more” pales in comparison to his legendary rivalry with that ace of aces, Snoopy.  Thank goodness it’s a relatively bloodless rivalry.  Every time they meet, the Baron just shoots a few holes through the doghouse and forces his opponent to make a rough landing, free to repair his “plane’s” smoking (?) fuselage while shaking his fist (It’s astonishing that dog is even capable of making a fist.  Cartoons, gotta love ’em.) and shouting, “Curse you, Red Baron!”  Snoopy and the Baron even seem to have come to an uneasy truce: every Christmas, they land their planes and share a cup of tea together, wish each other a Merry Christmas, then fly away until their next aerial clash. 

This part of the Flying Ace’s legend is one that I really like to reflect on.  How cool is it that even though they’re such fierce rivals usually intent on “rolling out the score,” Snoopy and the Baron have enough respect for each other to reenact the famous “Christmas truce” from the 1914 portion of the War to End All Wars every single year?  It makes me hope that others will be willing to take up the cause of “…bringing peace to all the world/And goodwill to me-e-e-en.”

I have read many times that Charles Schultz stated that people could interpret his work however they wanted; that all he was trying to do with Peanuts was to make people laugh once a day every day for fifty years.  Well, he certainly made this reader think a lot about life while he was laughing.  In regards to Snoopy, Schultz said that despite the character’s sensational popularity, he himself tried his darndest not to let the beagle completely hijack the strip.  However, I personally believe that Snoopy is the best part of Peanuts.  His boundless imagination and creative flights of fancy are a wonderful respite from the usual storylines of Charlie Brown’s hangups and everyone else’s insecurities.  Snoopy is almost never depressed; he is astoundingly happy all the time and completely engrossed in his fantastic adventures.  Even if the rest of Schultz’s Peanuts work is forgotten over time, I hope Snoopy will remain popular for a long time to come.  I think the world would just be a lot sadder without him.

What do you think of Snoopy and his numerous personas?  Which one is your favorite?  Make sure to fly over to the comments and leave your thoughts, and here’s to hoping you don’t have any “dark and stormy nights” anytime soon!

Random Top Five: My Favorite Halloween Costumes

Pumpkin Witch Husband says hi, too.

Pumpkin Witch Bride wishes you a hauntingly happy Halloween!

The Halloween season is upon us once again, and with it will come a collection of kids in creepy, kooky, altogether ooky costumes to my family’s front door for Halloween candy.  I love seeing the continuous parade of different costumes and designs, taking note of which classic monsters I see and which new characters in pop culture have been transformed into costumes.  Here are some of my favorite Halloween costumes that I watch out for every year; I wonder how many of them will show up on my doorstep tonight?

5. Vampire

A formal ensemble, a toothy grin, a telltale widow’s peak: all of these are the classic signs of a vampire showing up at your door.  I remember going as the close cousin of Grandpa Munster once myself for Halloween, complete with a cape, a widow’s peak, and a set of fake fangs that made it hard for me to talk but certainly helped me to look the part.  It was one of my favorite costumes and I am glad it still seems to be popular among today’s kids.  I am not sure what it is about a formally dressed blood-sucker that appeals to people, but at least it teaches kids the value of a good outfit for a black-tie dinner.

4. Princess

 A majority of the little girls that stop by for candy every year are often dressed as princesses, queens, or other royalty.  It is a credit to their parents, guardians, and friends that their crowns don’t go to their heads and they gain a kingdom-sized ego.  A lot of the princesses I see on Halloween are dressed in a multitude of colors, not just pink.  I’ve seen princess costumes decked out in blue, green, red, purple, aquamarine, neon yellow, mint green, and many other colors.  Truly a rainbow of royalty!  I wonder if I’ll see anyone dressed as princesses from TV and movies tonight.  I always see a few Disney princesses here and there, but will Disney’s newest and youngest, Sofia the First, be represented?  How about a few My Little Pony princesses like Celestia, Luna, Cadence, or even Twilight Sparkle?  Whether two legs or four, there’s going to be princesses for sure!

3. Frankenstein

For the record, I am referring to Frankenstein’s monster, not Dr. Frankenstein himself; I don’t really like the idea of a scientist who decides to “play God” and reanimate the dead.  Regardless of my feelings for the man who created him, I think the monster himself is A-OK.  I love the look the Frankenstein monster was given: the green skin, the rectangular cranium, the neck bolts, the simple brown coat and pants, the plain black overshoes.  It’s a clean, uncluttered design that screams “instant icon.”   I think it looks great as a Halloween costume, a statue, a hood ornament, or even an airbrushed T-shirt drawing.  Boris Karloff made it menacing yet sympathetic, while Herman Munster made it unusual yet ordinary and genial.  Both emotional extremes suit the design just fine in my opinion, and it is definitely one that brings a smile to my face.  Just keep me away from the Bride of Frankenstein, though: I just keep picturing the rats and other vermin that must infest that tall hairdo of hers, so gross!

2. Mummy

It’s a dead guy wrapped in a whole hospital supply closet’s worth of gauze returned to life and shuffling around, scaring the populace with every step.  For some strange reason, though, I don’t find the sight of this creature as terrifying as I used to.  It probably started with that cute little-girl mummy in that one Scooby-Doo movie, or maybe with the notion that in The Scorpion King, the guy who will eventually become the star of The Mummy Returns is played by Dwayne Johnson, one of humanity’s living definitions of the word “cool.”  It could have been that one attempt I made to dress up as a mummy with a bunch of toilet paper wrapped around myself (it kept falling off because I didn’t want to use tape).  Somehow or other, I’m just not scared of mummies anymore.  A while back, I watched The Mummy’s Curse, the final appearance of Lon Chaney Jr. as the original movie mummy, Kharis.  I expected to be scared out of my wits by the mummy’s shuffle-step, but I instead became endlessly fascinated by the way he gave Mr. Spock a run for his pointy-eared money by successfully applying the Vulcan nerve pinch to all his victims roughly two decades before the heyday of Star Trek.  He could give most professional wrestlers a lesson or two as well in the intimidation department.  I guess I just like mummies a lot more these days than I am scared of them, and what’s wrong with that?

1. Ghost

Whether or not you believe they actually exist (TV says “yes,” my beliefs say “no,” the ghosts themselves would probably say “maybe” if they had mouths and vocal cords), you can’t help but smile at the sight of a kid with a plain white sheet draped over their heads with a couple of big eye holes cut out.  Even though I’ve rarely ever seen anyone at my front door dressed in this exact costume,  it is a design which I still like seeing every year in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.  Mr. Brown’s ghost design is a little different from all the other ghosts in that special.  His ghost costume has more cut-out eyes than a potato and his line, “I had a little trouble with the scissors,” is such an understated and hilarious line that I break out into a huge grin every time I hear it.  It is for that very line that I think of the ghost as my Halloween costume of choice.

What’s your favorite Halloween costume?  What was the best costume you ever wore?  Do you think today’s costumes are better or worse than the costumes of the past?  Let me know in the comments, and have a happy and safe Halloween!

Pop Culture Haikus: Batman Arkham Origins Edition

I could've sworn I saw Superman wearing this one time...

The Batman logo: because even mysterious, shadowy vigilantes need an easily identifiable corporate symbol.

Batman Arkham Origins is the third in a series of highly successful video games starring one of the most famous comic book superheroes.  The game depicts a young Bruce Wayne only two years into his crime-fighting career.  Gotham City is celebrating Christmas Eve, but the Dark Knight will not be able to celebrate a “silent night” for very long.  Gang leader Black Mask has placed a fifty million dollar bounty on Batman’s head and eight of the world’s deadliest assasins have come to Gotham to try to collect.  Even worse, the corrupt Gotham City police, viewing Batman as a vigilante and threat to the common good, will not hesitate to fire upon the Caped Crusader.  I purchased a copy of the game recently and have had a lot of fun exploring the world of Batman’s early days.  So, once again, I feel it is appropriate to pay tribute to some of the game’s characters, settings, and important objects in the form of Japan’s signature “five, seven, five” poem style.  They are probably the closest thing Gotham is going to get to actual Christmas carols this holiday season, so feel free to hum along.

Batman

Gotham’s darkest knight/Young, inexperienced man/Must become fearsome.

Gotham City

The night rules this town./Crime and corruption touch all./Who turned out the lights?

Black Mask

Mob boss hides his face/Owns criminals and police/Yet he’s just human…

Enigma

Mysterious foe/Challenges Bat to find clues/He’ll be Riddler soon.

Penguin

Likes gangs and gambling/Dresses henchmen in parkas/Prefers small sardines.

Batwing

Batmobile as plane/Takes Bruce from point A to B/Without turbulence.

Final Offer

Penguin’s gambling sub/Home to secret “fight club” brawls/”Bird” keeps all the bets.

Batcave

Bats’ hero HQ/Not much to look at just yet/Still, home to cool bats.

Batmobile

Sits in cave corner/Just chassis, still being built/Can I drive it soon?

Blackgate Prison

Houses criminals/Just ordinary bad guys/Arkham holds supers.

Captain Jim Gordon

Commissioner?  No./Fights his own bosses a lot/May work with Bats soon…

Crime Scene Reconstruction

 Bruce scans clues, solves crimes/Digital recreations/Computer sees all.

Alfred

Batman’s only friend/Sidekick way before Robin/Lot funnier, too.

Bruce Wayne

Came back from exile/Has a small, slight social life/Keeps mostly to himself…

Batman Arkham Origins provides a great portrayal of a period in Batman’s history which, while explored almost to exhaustion in the comics, has not really been featured very prominently in other media.  I am looking forward to exploring every inch of this early version of Gotham City and seeing what other surprises await me.  If you’ve played through Arkham Origins, what do you think of the game?  Would you like to see more of this particular part of the Bat-mythos?  Let me know in the comments, and keep tuning in for more Pop Cultures Haikus and other cool stuff, same Bat-time, same Bat-blog!

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling Part 3.5: An Elite Halloween

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaThe fourth installment of Kellogg Thoughts’ premier (and only) fantasy wrestling league finds our heroes and villains gathered for a special Halloween edition of Thursday Night Elite.  The fans are in for a real treat as the wrestlers will likely use every trick they know to try to come away with a victory, but two particular “Halloweenies” will pull a heinous act that might leave most old-school wrestlers rolling in their graves. 

One quick note: I forgot that the previous installment promised a different set of matches for the next edition of “Elite,” so consider this installment a special episode.  We’ll cover all of those other matches (Kendall Catcher vs. Rick Orson, Jeb Colt vs. Fire Sumo, Clarion talking to Warp Galactic about a “business proposal”) in the next installment.  Besides, I thought the idea of having the characters in costume for the Halloween season was too good to pass up!  So, enjoy this special supercard of fantasy costumed wrestling! 

Thursday, October 31- 8:00 P.M.

There is a chill in the air, but that hasn’t stopped fans from rapidly filling the Paragon Fantasy Wrestling arena for a holiday edition of ”Thursday Night Elite.”  Halloween is upon us in Paragon City, Illinois, so Paragon Wrestling officials have allowed fans and wrestlers alike to come in costume.  (The wrestlers are allowed to wear the costumes only during their entrances and must take them off before their matches begin.)  As an added bonus, any and all fans who decide to arrive in costume get a free goody bag with a few candies and neat autographed 8×10 photos of some of Paragon’s top stars.  Some of those stars will be in action on the card tonight, with two notable undercard fights featuring up-and-coming wrestlers and an epic tag team main event.

The first match of the night pits Billy “Bo” Roberts against Kendall Catcher.  Country star wannabe Bo is dressed as a giant red-and-blue electric guitar (with the guitar’s stem adorning the top of his head) while “Mister Capsule Mons” Catcher’s costume makes him look like a giant green cow.  “Goooood evening, everyone,” Kendall says to the crowd over the arena’s sound system.  “What do you think of my new Milkmon costume?”  A collective groan rises from the audience in response to this lame pun, the loudest groans coming from a group of kids in Old McDonald and animal costumes seated at ringside.  Bo replies, “How about you mooooove on over and let a real costume take the spotlight?”  He proceeds to lightly bop Kendall on the head with the stem of his electric guitar and takes in a smattering of cheers.  “Milkmon” mooooves to a corner of the ring and sulks a bit as he takes off his costume.  Bo takes off his guitar costume as well and moves to the center of the ring ready to grapple with Kendall as the bell sounds to start the match.

Roberts locks up with Catcher, both opponents flexing their arms and struggling for the initial bit of leverage.  Catcher loudly “moos” at Roberts in an attempt at intimidation, but Bo maintains his composure and the crowd boos even louder at Catcher.  Roberts gains leverage and pushes Catcher down onto the mat.  Because Catcher’s shoulders touch the mat, the referee is obliged to consider this a pinfall and reaches a count of two before Kendall can break away.  Kendall grips Roberts and attempts to lift him up onto his shoulders, but Bo shifts his weight and slides back down, grabbing Kendall’s arms and puts his right foot into Kendall’s back to pull his arms in a devastating stretch.  Kendall screams in pain and walks quickly toward the ropes.  He grabs the top rope and the referee instructs Roberts to let go of the hold before the count of five.  Bo breaks it up at two.

Catcher goes for a clothesline, but Bo grabs his arm and twists it, causing more pain signals to shoot through the nerves in Kendall’s arm.  Kendall takes this wrenching motion in stride and sticks his leg out, tripping Bo up and causing his body to crash to the mat.  Kendall goes for the pin, but only gets to two before Bo kicks out.  Kendall gestures to Bo for another lock up, but Bo instead spins him around and slams him headfirst into the mat with a running bulldog powerslam.  Kendall tries to get up and turn his head in Bo’s direction, but Bo latches onto Kendall’s head and applies a crippling crossface submission maneuver.  The pressure of the hold incapacitates Catcher leaving him with no choice but to tap out in defeat.

“Here is your winner, Billy ’Bo’ Roberts,” the announcer excitedly tells the crowd in attendance.  Bo takes in the adulation and throws in a few air guitar moves for good measure.  Catcher gets up from the mat and raises Bo’s arm in a show of good sportsmanship, then goes to the remains of his “Milkmon” costume lying on the arena floor.  He pulls out some strange green milk and says to Bo, “Here, winner.  You ought to try some of this stuff, it’s good for you!”  Bo turns down the offer and walks back to the locker room.  Catcher shouts after him, “Wait!  If you try this, the Good Moo Goo Milk Company will give you a big endorsement check!  That’s how I was able to get this costume for tonight!”  It’s too late, though; Bo is already gone.  “Ah well, I think I’ll have a glass for myself then!”  He produces a glass from his costume and fills it with the green milk.  He guzzles it down, leading to more loud groans and gags from the audience.  ”Come on, it’s mint flavored!” Catcher tells the crowd as Elite cuts to a commercial break.

Thursday, October 31- 9:12 P.M.

The Finisher walks to the ring in his traditional gear.  Once he climbs into the ring, he explains why he is not joining in Elite’s Halloween festivities.  “I have chosen to go without a costume this evening because I believe my wrestling abilities should be enough to scare away most spirits.  While the rest of you cowards hide behind masks and cower in your costumes, I, the Finisher, will face these fears head-on and show them why I am the only thing to be feared on this planet.”

“The only thing you’ll be fearing is the long arm of justice!” shouts Rick ”Super Kid” Orson as he lowers himself from the arena ceiling on invisible piano wire, clad in a red singlet and his traditional yellow mask and black-stars-on-cheeks facepaint.  ”I have been waiting for a chance to analyze you up close.  How come your offense of only finishers is so effective?  Are you hiding something from all of us?  You are hiding something, aren’t you?  Give up what you’re hid-”

Before Orson can finish his sentence, the Finisher has already grabbed him by the legs and spun him in a giant arc.  After five or so revolutions, the Finisher lets go and sends “Super Kid” flying into the corner.  The Kid gets up and the bell rings to start the match.  Before Orson can regain his senses, the Finisher is all over him, scooping him up in a standing crossface chickenwing maneuver.  Bob Backlund‘s favorite wrestling hold is enough to make Orson pass out.  With Orson passed out, the bell rings to end the match, but the Finisher keeps the chickenwing locked on for a few more seconds before letting go at the referee’s urging and the crowd’s protests.  The Finisher has once again demonstrated how the power of one wrestling hold applied at the right time in the right way can decide the outcome of a match.  Can anyone finish the Finisher?

Thursday, October 31- 9:56 P.M.

Elite comes back from its final commercial break with the main event match already in progress.  The tag team attraction of Clarion (whose costume is a lime-green toga) and Warp Galactic (an asteroid) vs. Ricky Bolero (a cowboy riding a papier-mache bull) and Fire Sumo (Japanese calligraphy spelling out his name on a cape) has been nothing short of the epic that was promised to fans.  With all of Warp’s gloating about the future, one would think he would not get on well with the ancient Greek stylings of Clarion.  However, much to everyone’s surprise, Clarion and Warp have actually gotten along very well, dominating most of the match while Bolero and Sumo have been trying to figure their opponents out.  The ringside commentators have speculated that the “business proposal” between Warp and Clarion has fueled their desire to win this match, and judging from the way they have been firing on all cylinders this night, that might possibly be the case. 

Warp has just sent Ricky to the canvas with a European uppercut variation that he calls the “Venusian uppercut.”  Ricky crawls over to Fire Sumo while Warp tags in Clarion.  The self-styled “Greek god” hurries over to Ricky and pulls him by the leg back to the bad guys’ corner.  Clarion gets down to the mat and starts putting a figure-four leglock on Ricky.  When he has it fully cinched in, he bends himself upward to tag in Warp.  Warp climbs to the top turnbuckle and jumps off spread eagle style and lands on Ricky’s stomach.  Ricky winces but holds onto Warp’s leg for a brace and gets back up.  He continues to hold onto the leg and pulls it out from under Warp, putting him in an anklelock. 

Now it’s Bolero’s turn to drag Warp over to the good guys’ corner.  Just before Ricky can make the tag to Fire Sumo, Warp breaks free and makes it over to tag Clarion.  Ricky tags in Fire Sumo who quickly moves to intercept Clarion.  The crowd roars with cheers and boos as Sumo and Clarion exchange blows.  Clarion rocks Sumo with cumulative open-fist punches to the chest, but the big man is still maintaining his balance.  Clarion then backs into the ropes and charges at Sumo with a wild clothesline.  Sumo blocks the Paragon Elite Champion and pushes him down onto the mat.  He jumps up and, with feet out, lands seat-first on Clarion knocking the wind out of him.  Sumo drags Clarion over to a neutral corner, climbs onto the top rope, and prepares himself for a high-flying maneuver which would surely finish Clarion off. 

It would have, but Warp moves around the ring apron to where Sumo is perched and pushes him over the side.  While this is happening, Clarion gets up and distracts the referee with an argument about his “terrible officiating.”  Clarion then covers the dazed Sumo for a three-count while Warp knocks Ricky off the apron during the count to prevent him from breaking it up, thus ensuring that the bad guys win.

After the match, Clarion and Warp address the fans saying, “We just wanted to tell you that we have mutually agreed to a business deal.  Next week, you’ll learn all the details.  For now, though, here’s a little hint.”  The lights dim in the arena.  The fans are confused and a bit agitated.  A loud rumbling can be heard coming from the entranceway.  When the lights come back on, an armored SWAT team-like van is parked on the entrance ramp.  Clarion and Warp pick Ricky up from the arena floor and toss him into the open doors of the “paddy wagon.”  Warp climbs back into the ring, picks Sumo up with some difficulty, and tosses him over the ropes to where the wagon is parked.  Clarion gets Sumo into the van and closes the doors.  Clarion and Warp get in and drive up the entrance ramp and out of the arena, the good guys still inside and the fans more confused and alarmed than ever.

The commentators are just as frustrated as the fans are.  “What kind of business proposal necessitates the use of a police van like that?  What could this possibly mean?” one announcer says to his partner.  “Well, looks like we’ll have to wait and hear from Clarion and Warp next week, and hopefully, they’ll have an explanation,” the other replies.  The advertised matchup of Jeb Colt vs. Fire Sumo is obviously up in the air, but Kendall Catcher will be free to take on Rick Orson, and the business deal will be fully addressed on the next Thursday Night Elite!

What do you think of our ongoing storylines and character development?  Would you like to see more “holiday-themed” episodes in the future?  Let me know in the comments, fight fans!