Archive for March, 2013

Rip Hunter: Time Master- A Look At the “Showcase” Issues

Friday, March 8th, 2013
Watching time pass by...

Time marches on. Can it truly have a master?

For a long time, the types of books I most often collected and read were black-and-white reprints of old comic books.  Marvel Comics’ Essential series introduced me to some of the most original and enduring characters and properties in American comic book history including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, the Avengers, the X-Men, and a host of others.  Later on, I learned that DC Comics had started its own series of two-tone reprint books to counter Marvel’s Essential line, and I ended up buying a few.  The Showcase Presents volumes were a lot cheaper in price than the Essentials volumes, but they had just as much content, and after reading years of Marvel material, I found DC’s offerings to be refreshingly different and full of fun ideas.  Since then, I have purchased and read through many different series and encountered many different characters through the Showcase Presents line, some I found very interesting and some not so much.  Recently, I bought a Showcase Presents volume focusing on Rip Hunter, a time traveling character who I had read about online and whose adventures sounded very interesting to me.  I have read through the first four issues in the volume, but I can tell just from reading these few that Rip Hunter: Time Master is definitely not the kind of comic book I thought it was going to be.  To me, that is both a good thing and a bad thing.

The four adventures of Rip Hunter I have read thus far were originally published as part of a series called Showcase (which in turn inspired the name of the Showcase Presents line).  This series was a “tryout” title in which DC comics presented new characters from different teams of writers and artists every month.  If readers responded well to a particular character, DC would give him or her a new series to call their very own.  Some characters were featured in Showcase for two or more issues; Rip Hunter made four appearances, first in Showcase #20-21 in the summer of 1959 and then in #25-26 in the spring of 1960.  That’s a pretty big trial run for any character, but did Rip deserve so many appearances?  Of course, Rip did later receive his own series in 1961, so I guess readers must have liked him.  I’ve only read his Showcase stories, though, and based on those appearances alone, I find it very hard to believe he could sustain a series for very long without a drastic makeover.

The basic premise of Rip Hunter: Time Master is that Rip has managed to build the world’s first ever working time machine, a giant bubble-shaped capsule “creatively” named the Time Sphere.  Every issue, Rip takes his best friend and right-hand man Jeff Smith, his girlfriend Bonny Baxter, and her supremely annoying brother Corky Baxter on a time trip through the Time Sphere to different places in the past and future.  Something usually happens to the Sphere which prevents our heroes from leaving the time period until they have solved whatever troubles are negatively affecting the local populace that day.  Once any and all lingering issues have been resolved, the gang hops back into the Sphere and returns to the present to await the time they do it all again next issue.  It’s the same type of plot that a typical Doctor Who story employs, only, I feel,  in this case the whole experience is much less interesting to see in action, and even worse, the characters do not have any of the Doctor’s eccentricities or any real interesting locales to venture to.

The main problem with these Showcase issues for me is that even though writer Jack Miller and the artists he worked alongside (in this case, Ruben Moreira for #20, Mike Sekowsky and Joe Giella for #21, and the legendary Joe Kubert for #25-26) had some interesting ideas I would have liked to have seen a bit more fleshed out, the execution of those ideas is slightly flawed.  The characters look and sound incredibly generic with Rip Hunter being a big, strong, T-shirt and jeans-wearing boy scout whose main purpose in life is to provide historical information and almost instantly solve what would otherwise be insurmountable obstacles.  Jeff was pretty much the same as Rip only with even less personality (he’s not even in the third story at all, but I didn’t exactly miss him).   Bonny is a somewhat willing group member who helps out a little bit but otherwise stays on the sidelines delivering comments about what the others are doing, and Corky is an obnoxious little twerp who points out the most obvious details about each new location the gang visits.  Traveling with this bunch was fine in short bursts, but I wouldn’t want to hang out with them for long periods of time because their shtick gets old fast.  They made me long for other DC Comics heroes and teams who did the exact same stuff with more panache, particularly the Challengers of the Unknown who also have bland personalities but at least have mild bickering contests from time to time as well as the drawings of Jack “King” Kirby to liven things up.

The time travel theme is most prominent in the first story, “Prisoners of 100 Million B.C.,” as the gang travels to prehistoric times where they dodge some dinosaurs and stop some greedy crooks from leaving everybody stranded.  It’s not too original or clever and the characters’ personalities as I described above were a bit tiresome, but the dinosaurs are nicely rendered and it does tell a fairly competent, compact story of survival which shows the promise of what could have been an interesting gimmick had the creators stuck with it.  I highly recommend it for some simple fun.

In the second issue, “The Secret of the Lost Continent,” Rip and company warp to Greece to match wits against the ancient sorceress Circe, then travel to Atlantis to watch the entire population flee in spaceships as their home sinks into the sea.  The historical setting of Alexandria, Greece is prominently featured early on as our heroes help Alexander the Great to defeat an invading army, a sequence I had expected after reading the first issue.  Unfortunately, the rest of the plot deals more with magic and aliens than historical shenanigans.  These elements aren’t necessarily bad, but they do seem a bit jarring to me after having had a steady diet of semi-factual adventure for one-and-a-half issues.  Sorcery and spacecrafts are dime-a-dozen gimmicks which were pretty common in DC’s adventure comics of the time, to the point where if it wasn’t a highly elaborate mechanical trap set up by the issue’s villain, it was probably caused by magic or alien technology.  The idea of Atlantis being populated by aliens from another world is interesting to think about, but the designs of the city and its citizens aren’t too compelling.  Again, this comic works on a basic level for entertainment value, but the disparate elements sneaking in will cause the time travel idea to become almost an afterthought in the last two issues.

The third issue, “Captives of the Medieval Sorcerer,” is the only one of the Showcase stories which does not take place in a real location, at least not one you could find on a map.  Rip and his friends go to a kingdom called Ritannia to rescue someone who claims to be a friend of one of Rip’s scientist buddies, but they find out the man is really attempting to stage a double-cross between the king of Ritannia and the sorcerer Cholorus in order to take the royal throne and gain absolute power over the kingdom and its people.  I didn’t mind the story itself because I was interested in seeing how the villain in the story played all of the other characters against each other while he worked behind the scenes to get what he wanted.  The middle part where Rip’s group has to go through a huge valley full of unusual and deadly creatures was also fun because of the different monster designs and the ways that Rip exploited their features to escape the valley.  However, the medieval setting and character designs look very much like the nondescript medieval kingdoms and characters of other DC stories I’ve read, and I was disappointed to see that the story did not take place in a specific historical setting, a radical departure from what had come before.

The fourth and final Showcase story featuring Rip Hunter, “The Aliens from 2000 B.C.,” gets back to a historical setting, this time to Egypt where our gang discovers some extraterrestrials are being worshipped as gods by the locals.  This somehow escalates into a civil war where Rip teams up with an alien defector to protect the people from the malevolent otherworldly forces.  It was pretty cool to see the story’s take on ancient Egypt and Rip’s daring struggle with an Egyptian army using spears and mummy cases.  Unfortunately, that Egyptian setting is only evident in the first half of the story.  The second half with the alien civil war feels to me like it could have been in a completely different comic book, maybe DC’s Strange Adventures which specialized in alien invasion stories.  All of the different weapons firing off in the middle of the desert greatly strained my suspension of disbelief even more than it had been when I first learned the story would have “aliens in Egypt” as a theme.  The scene was wonderfully chaotic, but it just grated at my nerves to see yet another great deviation from what had been already established.

After looking back at the whole run of Showcase issues that Rip Hunter starred in, I do have to admit that I like the core concept of time travel and the different ideas they tried to make work.  The plots and settings were a bit hackneyed but worked well in a “forgettable Saturday morning cartoon” kind of way; they were not exactly Shakespearean, but they would definitely be worth the ten cent price they originally sold for.  The only part I couldn’t really stand were the characters who never really showed much personality.  They were like a group of Barbie and Ken dolls tasked with carrying out time travel missions.  Sure, they got the job done, but not with any particular pizazz.  And like I said before, I cannot stand Corky!  I’d take any other teenage sidekick in a heartbeat, whether it was Jimmy “Super Duper” Olson, Dick “Holy raging tempers, Batman!” Grayson, or even Snapper “I’ve got the same annoying personality, but I appear less often!” Carr from the Justice League of America comic which started around the same time.  Corky, pack up your things and go home in the Time Sphere… and never come back!

While Rip Hunter: Time Master disappointed me in a few ways, there’s enough good parts to it that I’d give the regular series a shot.  I’m glad I had a chance to look at these Showcase issues because it gave me a glimpse of what an ongoing series might be like.  There’s also a Showcase Presents: Showcase volume which came out recently which I’d like to get.  I think I could use it to create a new feature for this blog.  I could review each new character’s appearances in the Showcase comic and give my opinion on whether or not I’d want to see more of their adventures in an ongoing series.  Of course, as history has proven, a lot of characters did just that, but did they deserve their own titles?  I would like to answer that question myself.  What do you guys think?  Let me know in the comments.

Pop Culture Questions (and My Answers!) 3: Stopping Crazy Things

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013
How did that other question mark turn upside-down anyway?

Some questions turn you upside-down and inside-out.

For those of you who were looking forward to another edition of Pop Culture Questions on Tuesday, I apologize.  Due to circumstances beyond my control (and also because I hadn’t really thought of any good questions yet, and also I was kinda tired), I decided to do a shorter post, the first ever Random Top Five list.  I’m feeling a bit more at the top of my game, now, though, so let’s get back to exploring the nooks and crannies of pop culture for new queries to consider.

How come no one trips on the moving sidewalks on The Jetsons?

The future world presented on The Jetsons is one of my favorite TV environments.  I love seeing all of those high-rise buildings and flying cars and imagining what it would be like to live there.  One part of the show I think I would absolutely hate, though, would be the “moving sidewalks,” those conveyor belts on the floor that the characters are always stepping onto to save time from walking everywhere.  George Jetson, his family, Mr. Spacely, and just about everyone else in the universe seems to manage just fine in handling these sidewalks, a phenomenon which I took for granted when I was younger but which greatly bugs me now. 

No one trips on the sidewalks and ends up having their feet crushed under a doorway or wall or wherever those sidewalks start or end.  The sidewalk never moves too fast and sends someone hurtling through a glass window and falling hundreds of feet to the planet below (if there even is a planet down there).  Every other machine seems to go haywire at least once an episode, but those moving sidewalks always work the way they’re supposed to.  Even during the closing credits when George gets caught on the treadmill (“Jane, stop this crazy thing!”), he just keeps going around and around, the forward momentum always carrying him but never throwing him off.  I would be terrified out of my mind if moving sidewalks became a common mode of transportation in real life; I have seen a few in action in various places, but I still feel uncomfortable about getting on one myself.  I feel a bit more comfortable with escalators and elevators, but not by much.

How come there are so many turtles and walking mushrooms in Super Mario Bros.?

My favorite enemies in the Mario series are none other than the first ones I ever saw, the turtles (Koopa Troopas) and walking mushrooms (Goombas).  I’m still curious, though, as to how their numbers became so big.  They seem to multiply like rabbits with each new game that comes out.  It’s come to the point that I’ve seen them start long Broadway-style chorus lines in my dreams.  What has caused this surge in their populations?  Sure, they are pretty cute, and I guess they’d have to be popular if they keep showing up.  Real turtles do produce a lot of baby turtles and you can find mushrooms just about everywhere.  But still, these guys show up everywhere in Mario’s universe, whether they’re in grasslands, underwater, in frigid snowscapes, and even in outer space.  To me, it can seem a bit like overkill at times.  I’d like to imagine that King Bowser has a section of his castle estate designed to be a huge breeding ground and training center just for Koopas and Goombas.  They are probably subjected to all sorts of rigorous tests to make sure they can survive in any type of environment, and luckily for Bowser, most of them do pass with flying colors.  It’s too bad Darth Vader never turned these guys into his stormtroopers; who, besides Italian plumbers, could possibly fight back against turtle shells flying right at their heads?                  

How come the song’s called “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”

I think love is one of the greatest things a person can experience in this world.  No wonder so many songs have been written about it!  Through these timeless tunes, we’ve learned that love “is a many-splendored thing,” “takes time,” is “hard to find,” “knows no season” or “clime”, and, in short, “does exactly what it wants to do.”  Obviously, love is very demanding, so maybe there’s a good point to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers’ age-old musical question, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”  Still, I feel there’s a negative tone to the question that Lymon and the Sour Bunch raised, because I’m sure most people don’t feel like fools when they fall in love with someone.  They probably think all is right with the world and that nothing could possibly go wrong.  Even though I do think that is a foolhardy way of thinking, that doesn’t make lovers fools.  Some pretty smart guys have fallen in love, too.  Just look at Peter Parker (you know, the Spider-Man guy) who has fallen in love with Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Felicia Hardy, and a bunch of other girls over the years.  Of course, some of the girls he has gone out with later turned out to be bad eggs, but that doesn’t make him a fool.  I haven’t even fallen in love with anyone yet, but does that make me a fool?  Let’s just agree to disagree here, Frankie Lymon and the Funky Bunch: everyone, including fools, smart guys, and everyone in between, can fall in love.

So, did you love this question-and-answer session?  Did it help you to come out of your shell?  Did it move you like the sidewalks on The Jetsons would move you?  I wait with bated breath for your comments.

Random Top Five: The Greatest Pac-Man Dots

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

 

I'll take Wakka Wakka Wakka for $100, Alex.

The maze of life: a box with dots and ghosts.

From time to time on this site, there will be short top five lists based on random topics.  For this particular list, I have decided to count down the top five greatest dots or groups of dots that appear in the original maze in Pac-Man. Please note that for the purposes of this list, only the 236 regular dots which Pac-Man must consume as part of his daily travels throughout the maze are in the running.  The four power pellets, the large ones in the four corners of the maze which give Pac-Man the ability to chomp up his ghostly pursuers, are disqualified because of their unique nature (in addition to the performance-enhancing drugs scandal they were part of some years back).

5. The paths of dots in the two S-curves at the maze’s bottom. 

These dots are in areas that are radically different from the straight lines found everywhere else in the maze, so you get a nice bit of variety in terms of scenery.  The eight dots that each curve offers make for a good snack to keep your energy up for the next straightaway. They also highlight a good bit of strategy: if you plan your route right, ducking down these winding corridors can throw the ghosts off your tail a bit as they’re forced to compensate for the slight change in architecture.

4. The dots on either end of the warp tunnel at the maze’s right and left walls.

These dots may not seem like much on their own, but the tunnel openings they sit in front of make them all the more appetizing.  After you swallow either one of them, make a hard left or right into the warp tunnel.  Through some kind of magical space-time warp which has still yet to be explained, Pac-Man will appear on the other side of the maze, promptly chomping up the dot waiting at the other end of the tunnel and continuing his mission of eating everything in sight.  If you have a bunch of ghosts ganging up on you, taking this escape route can be a godsend.  Watching the ghosts scramble around like the Keystone Kops while I relax far away from them has provided me with a bit of hilarity many times.

3. The two dots to your right and left when you start a new game.  

 Do you remember the first thing you saw when you were born?  I can bet that Pac-Man vividly remembers seeing two small dots floating beside him in the inky blackness of the maze soon after he came into the world.  I’m sure he was curious about what these new things were for and if they were exciting.  He would have quickly moved toward one of them, putting his gigantic mouth over it and swallowing it whole.  He then would have seen another one in front of him, so he would have eaten that one, too.  Then another and another and another, and pretty soon, he was addicted to the darn things.  He couldn’t complete a maze without swallowing all of them; they became his life’s calling.  But he’ll always remember that first dot.  That first stinking dot.  It’s all that dot’s fault that his life’s all out of sorts!  Oh sure, the maze gives him fruit to eat and ghosts to torment (and be tormented by), but the rest of the time it’s just regular, plain vanilla-flavored dots.  It’s enough to make anyone want to become a carpenter and dodge barrels thrown by a giant ape…  But like I said, all great stories have to start somewhere, and those two dots are it.

2. The first dot you eat after swallowing a power pellet.

This dot (any one of eight regular dots depending on in which direction you approach the pellet) knows its place in line.  It does not matter what happens to me, it thinks to itself.  I am no more important then those in front or behind me.  The yellow god has become death incarnate, and woe betide all who stand in his wake.  That little dot is right, you know.  What’s a mere ten points compared to the 1600 that Pac-Man can get after eating a power pellet then pulling off the spectacular feat of eating four ghosts in rapid succession?  This dot could never hope to equal that greatness, so it resigns itself to its fate and prepares itself for the day its world ends.  Goodbye, world, it thinks as it enters the yellow god’s mouth and blinks out of existence.  The points will go on, but alas, my days are done. 

1. The last dot you eat before swallowing a power pellet.

Those same eight dots that I mentioned above can sometimes play another role.  In this state, they are not the nervous citizens of a new deadly world recognizing that their time has passed.  They are instead young, free, excited to become part of something bigger than themselves.  These power pellet parties have apparently become seen as the best places to be in the maze.  The young dot stands in line along with the other dots, watching the thumping lights of the big round  club and waiting for its chance to walk through those doors, let loose, and enjoy itself  for the first time in its life.  Maybe it’ll meet a nice girl dot and they can swap numbers, maybe even go out for a movie later.  Yes, these dots are young, but they’re also hopelessly naive.  How could they know the pain that will come after the yellow god harvests their bodies and uses their power to turn ghosts into so much liverwurst?  How could they ever know?  All the difference in the world is thus made depending on what side of the pellet you’re on.  Better to be number one than number two.

I hope you didn’t find this list too hard to swallow.  Did it suit your appetite?  Are you craving more?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Weekend Thoughts: March 2-3, 2013

Monday, March 4th, 2013
My days truly are numbered.

Time to check what we learned today.

This blog entry is very special for all of us here at Kellogg Thoughts.  This is the tenth official entry I’ve written for this site:  we’re into double digits now!  Even better, this is the second entry dedicated to my Weekend Thoughts, reflections on things I noticed or learned during the two days I normally do not write or upload material to this blog.  However, as you may have noticed if you checked this site during the weekend, I actually did do some work on the blog for reasons which I feel obligated to explain to all of you below.  So, without further ado, my most prominent thought during the weekend was…

 

Sometimes, I will have to work on this blog during the weekend, but that’s not a bad thing.

The second Real Advice for Fictional Characters entry was originally supposed to appear on Friday, but I had a little trouble with making the entries come out the way I wanted, so I thought a bit about it overnight and finished it up on Saturday.  My main objective with these “advice” entries is to make sure that all of the jokes are genuinely funny and the references to characters and the works they appear in aren’t too obscure.  Working on this particular entry proved more difficult than usual; at the beginning, I kept thinking about how advice columns usually look and I guess I forgot to put in funny jokes.  I had to go back several times and edit, rewrite, and replace the “mail”  until I had something I could genuinely call funny.  I now believe the old saying is definitely true: Laughing is easy, but comedy is hard.  I think writing comedy might be the hardest of all!  But, I like seeing the results of my efforts. 

 

Even the shortest of journies can be epic.

I downloaded a free iPad game over the weekend called MicroVentures which quickly became one of my favorite new diversions.  You play as one of three different heroes: a knight, a rogue (basically a medieval ninja with very strong attack power), or a wizard, all with their own styles of gameplay and storylines, and take them through randomly-generated worlds full of monsters and treasures.  Each gameplay session lasts about five minutes as you explore the world, make your character stronger through weapon upgrades and helpful items, then tackle the gigantic boss monster waiting at the end to either, depending on the story driving your current quest, collect the most valuable treasure or rescue an important character.  This formula did get a bit stale once I figured out how a lot of things in the game worked, particularly with the storylines which read a lot like Mad Libs stories filled out during a few games of Dungeons and Dragons.   But even then, there is a bit of variety to the environments you can go through, the monsters you fight, and the items you collect which kept me coming back for multiple play sessions.

I’ve played through about twenty-five adventures in this game already, and I feel like I have mastered two of the game’s three characters.  The basic strategy for the knight is to collect anvil power-ups to increase his strength so he can take care of most monsters in one or two hits, and the rogue’s strategy calls for collecting potions to keep her strength up while her aptitude for critical hits keeps you mowing down enemies through to the end.  The wizard is still a mystery to me because the spells he casts don’t seem all that effective to me and it takes a while for him to build up good offensive capabilities.  I’ll keep playing to see if I can figure him out, too, and to see if I can clear the new two-part quests I apparently unlocked during my last few gameplay sessions.  This game still surprises me with each new world it creates, and exploring them is still very fun.

 

I’m still not sure what to think of History’s The Bible.

The big highlight of my weekend was watching the premiere of the History Channel’s ten-part miniseries, The Bible, with my mom.  I had heard about it a few months ago and was looking forward to it to see just what kind of adaptation it would be.  There were some parts I liked about the show and how it faithfully depicted Biblical events, but I was disappointed by other aspects of the production which I felt could have been done better or should have been included.  While this topic could pretty much take up an entire blog entry on its own, I’ll just make three small observations here.  They are all related to the show, not the work it adapts; please don’t interpret anything I write here as a comment on the Bible itself.  I love it with all my heart, and I just feel that the show could have done a lot better in terms of faithfully adapting it for television.

1. The stories of Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark were not covered in any particular depth.  They were pretty much relegated to a five-minute introductory sequence before moving right into Abraham’s story.  I was highly disappointed with this detail because the previews had made me believe that these stories would be a bigger part of the show than they turned out to be.  I was looking forward to how the show would interpret them, too, so to see them treated as mere window dressing felt to me like I had been ripped off a bit.  I think these two stories are some of the most famous and important parts of the entire Bible, so it feels strange to me that a major TV show whose main purpose is to faithfully present the Bible would basically skip them.

The show also skipped over the forty-year period between the Exodus and Joshua’s invasion of Jericho when the Israelites were wandering in the desert.  I can understand how this might be hard to adapt into a television show, but I was surprised when it did not even provide so much as a brief explanation of this jump in time or any mention of the wandering period at all.  That’s three whole books of the Bible they jumped over (Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

2. There are no “talking heads” on this show.  The Bible presents all of its material as straight adaptations of Bible stories accompanied by an off-screen narrator.  I think this kind of show could easily have been done on HBO, Showtime, AMC, or any other network, but I was expecting something a little more special from the History Channel.  I kept looking for signs that the show was going to bring in Biblical scholars, people of faith, skeptics, any and all manner of experts to talk about and make sense of the stories being presented.  I love shows with that kind of informative discussion, and I feel that the Bible would lend itself to a very interesting conversation.  I was disappointed to see that it shied away from this approach, as it has done for a lot of the other shows on the network.  I feel like this show lost out on a big opportunity to present an honest discussion that you do not see very often on regular television, one I would eagerly look forward to.  Perhaps the show’s producers are expecting viewers to have that sort of discussion among themselves, but I would have liked to have seen informed professionals take a crack at it. 

3. I was very impressed with the show’s depiction of Moses and the Isrealites and the story of the Exodus.  The segment with Abraham was a bit hard for me to take because of the massive death counts and hard decisions of faith which seemed to come every few minutes or so.  The first portion of the Exodus story was like that, too (I never thought too much of what Pharaoh and the Egyptians went through during the ten plagues until now), but at the end where the Isrealites had successfully escaped across the Red Sea, I felt like celebrating along with them.  After watching a lot more death and misery than I had expected, I thought about how the Israelites must have felt  after they had left behind hundreds of years’ worth of suffering.  It must have been exhilarating. 

 

That was my weekend in a nutshell.  If you have any thoughts about what I experienced that you would like to share, please leave them in the comments.

Real Advice for Fictional Characters No. 2: Me Need Help

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

question-mark-63979_150For the second installment of the feature in which I give famous (and occasionally infamous) fictional characters some sound advice, we have a mix of characters from film and television.  As with last week’s letters, the writer’s identities have been replaced with nicknames, but those nicknames will be linked to Wikipedia pages about the real McCoys for everyone playing along.

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I’m feeling a bit down in the dumps right now (literally; I live in a dump, you see).  For over thirty years, I’ve been stuck in the same dead-end job.  I was actually very happy with it at first because it paid very well (lots of quarters) and it was easy work.  Now, however, I’m getting tired of the daily grind.  Sometimes I feel like all that I’m good at is punching the clock (and bricks, and walls, and pretty much anything else you put in front of me).  I want to think outside the box and broaden my horizons, to break away from the same old routine.  I’ve been beating myself up about it for a long time, but now it’s time for some action.  Do you have any suggestions?  Don’t say, “Make some friends,” because I tried that already with some people at work, but I don’t think they really appreciated anything I had to offer.  Signed, Nervous Wreck 

Dear Nervous,

I’m not surprised at all that you’ve become tired of your work routine after thirty years; a lot of other people have, and sometimes sooner than you.  I’m going to level with you: I actually was thinking about suggesting a healthy friendship, even if you seem to have already lost a few points in that department; one good friendship is all some people need to improve their lives.  I agree with you that heading out into the world would be a good thing, too, but there is one question I have about your case.  Has all of your time just been spent at your job?  It seems to me like you’ve never even been more than ten feet from your house!  If you are as keen on heading outside as you say you are, then please, for the sake of your co-workers, bring a buddy along who knows the ropes.  Also, try to find a more worthwhile avenue for your aggression.  Too much pent-up anger can be quite unhealthy.  By the way, what does your family think about all this?  I don’t think you’d make your mother very proud with all of the sulking you’re doing right now.  Go grab life by the bullhorns and make something of yourself.  Enjoy the sweet things life has to offer, and don’t be too concerned about rewards or honors because life isn’t always centered around getting medals.  Put family first and find somewhere you belong, and you should do all right after that.  Thanks for writing, and game on!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

I have recently been swept off of my feet and into a new place I never would have dreamed existed.  It’s the most wonderful place, all emerald and yellow, very pretty colors.   I’ve met some great friends along the way, too, but now I want to go home.  We were going to see someone who I think can help me get back to my family (I think he’s going to be simply wizard!), but there’s just one problem.  There is a really mean woman trying to stop us from reaching our goal, and I fear she’s going to do something horrible to us (but especially my dog; she seems to have an unhealthy obsession with him) if she isn’t stopped.  I’m telling you, she’s a real witch!  I wish I could just click my heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home,” and then I’m home, but that only happens in fairy tales, right?  I’m so confused, and I feel like a raging tornado of emotions inside.  Please help me!  Signed, Twisted with Toto

Dear Twisted,

Your letter has given me a lot of questions, but very few answers are coming to me.  Are you sure this “witch” (Such a derogatory term!) is really as bad as you believe she is?  Have you tried talking to her yet?  Maybe she just wants to compliment you on your dog.  It couldn’t hurt to ask.  Even if she turns out to be a jerk, don’t let her get in the way of enjoying your time in this new land.  You’re only feeling homesick.  Making good friends seems to have made you feel a little better, but you can do more.  Go around and see the sights.  Go down the yellow brick roads less traveled, look at the cities glowing like emeralds.  I can’t guarantee you’ll see any flying monkeys or anything like that, but what you do see should be very magical.  Enjoy your stay, and have a heart (and some brains and steady nerves while you’re at it)!  Ben

 

Dear Kellogg Thoughts,

Me writing because me had massive hunger attack this morning shortly after breakfast, but there nothing me want to eat!  Me okay with fruits and veggies most of the time, but right now, me want something sweet, daring, practically forbidden!  Me been considering cake, but that leave frosting all over me fingers, very messy.  Cupcakes and muffins no good, they too small.  Me out of options!  What me do? WHAT ME D…  What that?  On dat table over dere?  Big plate full of chocolate chippy, round, delicious…  YES!  COOKIES!  That what me been looking for all this time!  This gonna hit the spot!  Cowabunga!  Please kindly disregard this letter.  Signed, (there’s a huge hole at the spot where the signature would normally go; all that remains is a big letter C that looks vaguely like a crescent moon-shaped cookie with a huge bite taken out of it)

Dear whoever you are,

Ummm… thanks for solving your own problem, I guess.  I’m craving something myself after reading your letter.  I think I’ll have a plate of little peanut butter and cracker sandwiches to tide me over until dinner.  Thanks for writing in, and remember to write to us again if life ever bites back!  Ben    

Well, that’s it for this week folks!  Did you like the advice I gave?  What would you suggest to these characters?  What other characters would you like to see in this space?  Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling Part 2: New Blood

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Paragon Fantasy Wrestling ArenaWe are back with a new installment of Paragon Fantasy Wrestling from Peoria, Illinois.  In our last episode, Ricky Bolero lost his Paragon Elite title match against the reigning champion Clarion, generating a great deal of controversy among fans of the “Urban Cowboy.”  A mysterious individual in a green-and-gold tunic appeared at ringside and distracted Bolero long enough for Clarion to slip brass knuckles on and knock out his challenger with a sneak attack, picking up a cheap victory in the process.  Bolero was taken to a local medical facility where it was determined that he suffered a minor concussion as a result of that attack, effectively taking him out of action this week.  In the meantime, Paragon management, following the old showbiz adage, “The show must go on,” and wanting to insert some “new blood” into the title picture, has decreed that this week’s main event will feature the high-flying Alex Jumper taking on the super heavyweight Fire Sumo for the number one contender spot for the Elite championship.  In addition, the Paragon website has dropped hints in several high-profile articles that the person who ran interference for Clarion last week will have his official debut match as well.

 

Thursday, October 19- 8:00 P.M.

The Paragon TV show opens with a shot of the inside of the Paragon Fantasy Wrestling Arena in downtown Peoria shrouded in darkness.  The fans gathered here talk among themselves.  The commentators at ringside welcome the viewers watching at home to the show and briefly run down tonight’s card, emphasizing the Alex Jumper vs. Fire Sumo match as the start of a new era in the Paragon Elite title picture.  After half a minute of inky blackness, the lights in the arena come up to reveal the green-and-gold wearing mystery wrestler from last week standing in the middle of the ring.  His tunic is very recognizable, but now the fans also take notice of his bald head, the swirling tribal tattoos encircling his green eyes, and the simple brown sandals he is wearing.  Immediately recognizing last week’s culprit, the fans start booing him before he has even had a chance to speak.  Frustrated by their protests, he shouts back at them, “SILENCE!”  The audience only boos louder.

The man shouts again, “I said silence!”  Again, boos erupt from the crowd.  Struggling to maintain his composure, the man quietly recites a mantra to himself then says to the masses, “Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Beacon.  I am an old friend of Clarion, and I answered what I thought was a call for assistance last week.  The champion invited me to the show as repayment for a favor I did for him long ago.  I was watching his title match on a backstage monitor.  I thought I saw Clarion give a certain hand signal indicating he was in serious jeopardy and needed help.  I see now that I was sadly mistaken and that my actions caused an unfair result.”  The fans give even more voice to their discontent.  In their minds Beacon is lying and committed a cardinal wrestling sin. 

Beacon continues, “I sincerely apologize to you all, to Paragon management, and most especially to Clarion and Ricky Bolero.  I should have known my place and allowed the match to proceed.  Please forgive me.”  The crowd shouts, “No!”

Beacon shrugs off their protests and says, “Fine, have it your way!  If you will not accept my apology through words, perhaps you will forgive me through action!  Tonight, I will show you my superiority in the ring by defeating three opponents at once, and you will surely be impressed!  Bring them out now!”

A lone spotlight darts to the entrance, signaling the arrival of the three opponents Beacon will face.  The fans groan as they instantly recognize, walking toward the ring as a group, the familiar forms of Hugh, Douglas, and Lulubelle (whose biography on the Paragon website states that his parents had expected a girl and stuck with the name – poor kid).  This trio of undersized wrestling brothers have been with Paragon since the beginning of the promotion, but have never once won a match.  There couldn’t be a more self-serving or one-sided way for Beacon to make an impression than by singlehandedly putting away three of the worst wrestlers in Peoria, let alone the entire country, the world, and possibly even the universe if one was feeling generous.

As soon as all of the match’s participants have sorted themselves out and the referee gives instructions, the bell rings and the contest begins in earnest. Beacon wears green-and-gold trunks and boots and Hugh sports red trunks and boots, while Douglas and Lulubelle, dressed similarly to Hugh but with blue and green color schemes, respectively, wait on the outside edge of the southeast corner for a tag from their brother.  They don’t have long to wait, either.   Beacon tosses Hugh hard into their corner with a mighty heave, and the red-clad brother, winded from the impact of this blow, quickly tags out to Lulubelle.  The brother repeatedly voted “Most Green” by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers steps gingerly into the ring, only to receive a gigantic kick to the midsection which propels him into the air, only to come down hard after receiving a powerbomb from Beacon.  Lulubelle, having had enough as well, retreats to the corner and tags in Douglas, who by this time is sweating profusely and refuses to get into the ring.  Beacon walks over to the brothers’ corner and pulls Douglas in, then scoops him up, flips him around, and performs a piledriver in the middle of the ring, knocking his opponent unconscious with the meeting of his head and the mat.  Fearing for their lives, Hugh and Lulubelle merely look on as Beacon covers Douglas for the three count and the win.

Beacon grabs a microphone from the ringside announcer and asks the fans, “Are you not entertained?  I gave you the action you craved.  Surely you can forgive me now?”  The crowd boos him just as loudly as they did before the match started.  If they were supposed to be impressed, they clearly showed that they were not.  Beacon tries to get some more words in, but the crowd by this point is protesting too loudly for anything to be picked up by the microphone.  The green-and-gold wrestler gives up, dons his tunic once again, and takes his leave via the entrance ramp.  He appears to be visibly disgusted with the whole affair.  Meanwhile, the commentators inform the viewers at home that Ricky Bolero will return to the program next week and he has promised that he has something special for both Beacon and Clarion to hear.

 

Thursday, October 19- 9:50 P.M.

The Paragon TV show returns from its final commercial break with an image of Alex Jumper and Fire Sumo standing on opposite sides of the ring.  Jumper is wearing green pants with a stick figure in mid-jump with one arm in the air stenciled onto the back.  Fire Sumo is dressed in dark blue spandex pants with a yellow mawashi belt stretching around his lower half and a stylized flame graphic on his right pantleg.   If there wasn’t a rotund man in those pants, the fans could easily mistake them for the world’s largest present.  Jumper and Sumo are good friends who have often competed together both as a tag team and against each other in singles competition.  The referee knows these two will fight fair, but regardless, he checks both competitors for illegal objects.  Satisfied they are free of contraband,  he signals for the match to begin.

Jumper lays the pressure on Sumo early, upsetting his balance with repeated high kicks.  Sumo attempts to counter with several clotheslines, punches, and other impactful moves that can cover a large surface area, but Jumper dodges each attempt.  Eventually, Sumo appears to have become immune to the pain of the kicks and no longer winces when hit.  He grabs Jumper’s leg as he goes in for another kick and pushes him away, spinning Jumper around as he does so.  He goes for another clothesline and this time manages to knock Jumper down although his opponent gets right back up.  Two more clotheslines and two more recoveries later, Sumo picks up Jumper in a cradle hold and suddenly lets go, dropping Jumper hard onto his back.  Sumo drags Jumper’s limp body over to a corner post and slowly climbs the ropes to the top and readies himself  to drop his large frame onto his helpless opponent.

Jumper, jerking his head around in time to see Sumo dropping toward him, rolls safely away, leaving his opponent to land flat as a pancake on the ring floor.  Jumper gets up and, hopping over to the prone Sumo, kicks him in the back of the head, sending him off to a temporary slumber.  Jumper than ascends to the top of the corner post and launches off it into a shooting star press, turning a full somersault in midair and landing on top of Sumo, knocking the wind out of him.  He lifts Sumo’s massive leg for the cover and, much to the surprise of the crowd and especially Jumper himself, he manages to get a three count and the win after only six minutes of action.

Jumper celebrates a bit with the fans giving high fives to some of the children at ringside.  When Sumo comes to, Jumper heads back into the ring and shakes hands with him showing that there are no hard feelings between the two.  It’s an emotional scene which culminates with Sumo lifting Jumper up on his shoulders as cheers of joy rain down from the fans.  Jumper asks for a microphone which Sumo fetches for him.

“It’s an honor to perform for all of you guys,” Jumper tells the fans.  “Every match is so much fun.  But right now, we’re on a mission.  There’s a guy named Clarion who thinks he’s all high and mighty just because he’s got the title.  Well, I’m here to tell him and all of you that it takes more than gold to be great.  It takes heart, it takes determination, and most important of all, it takes love for everything you do to be great.  I promise you, I’m going to train my hardest to prepare for Clarion, and if I beat him…  No, when I beat him, I’m going to become the new Paragon Elite champion!”  With this thought, Jumper takes in the adulation of the fans, and the show closes with the fans going ballistic for their new top contender.

A commercial for next week’s show plays, stating that there will be a contract signing for Clarion and Alex Jumper’s Elite title match.  If professional wrestling contract signings of the past are any indication, this one will not be any more civil than the others have been.  In addition, a special edition of the interview segment, “The Cannon Ross Exam,” will be held with special guest Beacon.  Cannon Ross, a former professor of broadcasting at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has been known to ask hard questions to the Paragon stars, so there should be some promising revelations about Beacon, his relationship with Clarion, and what he thinks of Ricky Bolero.  Speaking of which, Bolero has promised to show up next week with a special message for Clarion and Beacon.  Will they like what he has to say, or will they be further enraged?

 

We crowned a new number one contender and introduced some new characters this week.  What did you think of them?  We’ve also got some huge events set up for next week, and even though there weren’t any actual matches mentioned in that commercial at the end, remember that anything can happen in pro wrestling (especially fictional wrestling!), and even the most civil interviews can turn into matches on a dime.  Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for next week’s Paragon Fantasy Wrestling!