Wednesday, May 17, 2017

18482--Being Fierce and Influencing People

No!  No!  No!  There goes another another villain who, while crazy as a bag of cats, somehow seems to have their shit together enough to make our valiant heroes look like a bunch of circus clowns.  It's frustrating to read and aggravating to watch when put to a screen.  How has this social defective managed to leave our champions with their pants around their ankles and spanked like a frat pledge?  Sure, we're talking about a criminal mastermind, and one who's prepared for pantsing protagonists as part of the evil plan, but also who's been artfully crafted to be a challenge.  Mental aberrations aside, I think this may be why some people develop a love for certain villains.

Villains driven by emotional anguish (often some perceived tragedy they've overreacted to or, worse, caused) tend toward focus and intensity.  This makes them more on their game than the average person and that dark intensity draws an audience emotionally.  You know who else benefits from this?  Batman.  Yeah, a big shock, I know.  What a lot of people forget is that Superman used to enjoy that same sort of mojo.

Superman's spent a lot of years as a symbol of law and order, but he started out as a crusading rebel for truth and justice.  Before his powers grew to levels that allowed him to perform large scale rescues, he spent a lot of his time battling social injustice and corruption.  Without the restraint he would develop after a few years on the job (which would also bring on a full origin; his first radio show, in fact, had him arriving on Earth as an adult), Superman fought criminals and championed the common man against systemic oppression with less concern for law than for justice and truth.  It was the patriotic rallying cry of war that shoved him into the role of boy scout.  He was polished into a partner of the establishment, given to a softer touch.  On the cover of Action Comics #1, he's smashing criminal's getaway car (a move actually depicted in the story).  Almost seventy years later, when Superman Returns pays homage to that iconic moment, that scene is sort of replicated, but with a runaway car that's rescued and goes from being hoisted overhead to being gently set on the ground.

Technically, the same thing happened to Batman and Wonder Woman, but it was necessary to help them all survive the post-WWII era that saw psychiatry and Congress try to turn the people against them.  Since bringing Robin in to sidekick for Batman had backfired by triggering claims of homoerotica rather than paternalism, many efforts were made to normalize the heroes.  The less-than-edgy dark knight was even given a platinum badge to show how great an establishment supercop he'd become.  The influential 60s TV show added the character of Dick Grayson's aunt, Harriet Cooper, to Wayne Manor's residency to break up the sausage party with a wholesome, family friendly image.

Still, Batman being who and what he is was the easiest to drag back across the line, out of the light and into the dark from whence he came just as they had spawned The Shadow before him.  In the 70s, Denny O'Neill re-established him as a grim, nightstalking detective in a dangerous, dark Gotham.  After Crisis on Infinite Earths, Frank Miller was tapped to turn the caped crusader into a rebel again.  He still had Jim Gordon as a friend in law enforcement, but that was about it.  Relegated to the shadowy fringes of society once again, he gave the imperfect world around him the help it needed whether it was wanted or not.  And it was decided, of course, that he and Superman should no longer be buddies.

It's a hard thing to make Superman feared while he's publicly saving lives, abating disasters, and then racing off to save the world again.  Powerhouse that he has become, he also has to be instilled with copious levels of restraint so he's not portrayed as a bully who does whatever he wants whenever he pleases.  Being superhumanly good is simply a better fit with the narratives of Wonder Woman and Superman.

Still, I was thinking that if the loss of Krypton were to keep the Man of Steel more focused on saving Earth and its people, even from themselves, it would be easier to paint the picture of a Superman intensely determined to save the world.  Superman jumping in to help whether it was wanted or not, concerned more about truth and justice and Freedom yet little about law or the desires of government, would force discussion of issues touched upon in half-assed fashion in Dawn of Justice.  Indeed, how would the world cope with a man of Superman's capacities after he's shifted alignments from Lawful Good to Chaotic Good with a passionate drive to save us from our own self-destructiveness?

Monday, May 1, 2017

18467--Dinosaurs Are Not the Problem

P: Now...

J: Uh-oh.

P: ...if you're Dr. Ian Malcolm...

J: From...?  Oh, Jurassic Park.

P: ...then the last place you want to be is...

J: Jurassic Park.

P: Anyplace with freakin' dinosaurs!

J: Well, duh.

P: Yet, somehow, they've managed to sign Jeff Goldblum for Jurassic World 2.

J: This I knew.  They're making a fifth movie.

P: His third.  Somehow, they're going to have to come up with a plausible way to get him back among the dinosaurs.

J: Like the other guy, the doctor from the first and the third ones.

P: Sam Neill.

J: Get me off this damned island.

P: Oh, it's OK, this is a different island.  Of course, there are still dinosaurs on it, so...

J: Damn it!

P: We have to have an expert scientist to ignore who also wasn't dumb enough to make the dinosaurs trying to kill everyone.

J: So all Malcolm has to offer is telling everyone not to go be part of the damn buffet?

P: Well, there's the running and screaming.  And we have to assume all the chaos is a big draw for him.

J: Why am I on the island of dinosaurs and not wearing a tank to cover all my delicious meat?

P: No, that's not the perfect weapon.  You know what the perfect weapon is.  Same as for zombie hordes.

J: A baseball bat?

P: AC-130.

J: The Hercules thing?  With the 50-cal?

P: 105mm Howitzer!  40mm cannon!  25mm machine gun, front-mounted!  Most importantly, you are not down there with them.

J: Is that going to work?  Something always goes wrong.  It's like they've got somebody on the inside making things go wrong.  In the first movie, it was...the computer guy...

P: Wayne Knight.  Neuman.

J: Yeah, him.

P: He wasn't actually trying to sabotage the place, just shut down security long enough to cover his escape.  Either through bad programming or just mechanical inefficiency, things didn't switch back on like they were supposed to.

J: Either way, time to get the damn shotguns!  And that didn't even help.

P: They were way understaffed.  The place wasn't open yet.

J: Right, running a skeleton crew.

P: At least, they would be after the feeding frenzy.

J: Jurassic World was fully staffed and open for business.  What's the point of putting all those people around apex predators designed to kill us?

P: Well, they're not really, not the natural ones anyway.

J: They're not natural anymore.

P: Certainly not.  And in the last one, well, people really were trying to sabotage the place.  We had our head scientist from the first movie poking his head back up from the lab..."Hi, I've been trying to weaponize the critters for the last few years."  Because humans try to weaponize everything.

J: And working with the government.  They put raptor DNA in it.

P: And chameleon.

J: It tore out its own tracking device and went hunting for fun.  They can't control that.  Your plane might not be able to shoot it either.

P: It has infra-red tracking gear.

J: That might not be enough with that thing.

P: In which case, I'm still in a plane.  OK, so maybe they just let it loose someplace unfriendly and leave it to hunt.  Admittedly, it's about as responsible as planting minefields and leaving them behind to see who they kill.  If it doesn't get a taste for ISIS, set off the brain bomb buried deep, deep in its head.

J: Unless it digs that out, too.

P: It's buried really deep.

J: They've got to have all kinds of good nanotech in that lab.  They should have some way to control them.

P: Sure, control the nervous system, the endocrine system, or even just clog up the bloodstream with graphene clots.

J: Well, that might work.  It has to get hungry some time and actually hunt for food.

P: Better still, go beyond the lysine option and just program in a termination date.  Figure out their maximum travel range and turn them loose.  As long as they don't learn to drive or hop a boat, they're under limited control.

J: Of course, the government's still going to want controllable soldiers.  How long till they're putting together human hybrid dino-soldiers?

P: And how long till the hybrids decide to find a way to increase their numbers and take over?

J: They always turn on you.

P: Of course, intelligent dino-soldier slaves isn't the real problem.  The problem is all the clowns who want to keep making dinosaurs in the first place.

J: Step one, don't make dinosaurs.

P: There you go.  That nanotech bio-lab could probably come up with some nifty superpowers.  Failing that, there's always omelettes.

J: I want cookies.

P: Fine, omelettes and cookies.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

18195--Do We Get Bonus Points for Engineering Our Doom with Style?

Leonardo DaVinci gets credit for starting things rolling, I suppose.  He might be impressed with the developments we've made in robotics since his own, but I can't help but think he'd be asking what's been taking so long in the same sentence.  Some animatronic show pieces are delightful to watch go through the motions of mimicry, but they're still far short of the levels of integrated, functional, practical technological tools we imagine when we conceive of ubiquitous cyborgs and robots.

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There are advances being made, to be sure, but the pace seems to be painfully slow.  Military thought drives a lot of development.  When those particular deep pockets are absent from involvement, though, we're left with whatever innovations can be wrought from curiosity, altruism, or commercial potential.

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Military development has been suspended on the supplemental pack robot "Big Dog" because it has been deemed too noisy for war.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the value of stealth, but it would seem that the level of noise produced by the robot would've been considered long before the many months of work and spending had gone so far in crafting an otherwise nifty support tool for the field.  Is it an awful waste, shelving the proto-terminators and their ilk rather than working out a way to suppress the operational noises?  Probably, but it wouldn't be the first time R&D outlays ended up populating a storage room.  Still, why should that happen here?

Even if the military doesn't want to explore the robo-mule further, there's no reason not to license it out to the private sector.  There are already amazing bird and insect robots that have been made.  If people would stop focusing on flying drones over their neighbors or trying to figure out hoverboarding for a few minutes, they'd probably realize that there are (I'm guessing) probably a lot of people who'd enjoy riding their own robot unicorn around.  Or maybe a robot dire wolf.  Either way, it'd have to be better than a Segway.  Without much alteration, "Big Dog" could carry a passenger or two on a mountain trail warmer and Bluetooth speakers optional.  How many cupholders would you like?

Welcome to the 21st century.  The future is upon us.

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