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I’m really serious about this one already killing Dracula…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Deceased martial arts legend Bruce Lee was recently rudely invited to two separate Geek Rumbles, one of many similar nerdy discussions undertaken online or in a favorite spot, my comic book store. The prototypical Geek Rumble follows this format – “X fights Y, who wins?” There are, of course, other questions and discussion topics that qualify as Geek Rumble, as fans of the form will discuss/argue about all kinds of things. And it seems to me this recent kerfuffle about Bruce Lee presents a good moment to talk about the Geek Rumble as a writing tool.

But first, the Geek Rumbles to which Bruce Lee got his rude invite. An ugly one (click here) and a one that is less ugly, if the reader/writer/fan waits to take their dive a few weeks later when the smoke clears. Luckily, very little about the ugly Bruce Lee Geek Rumble does anything for this blog that helps writers to the exclusion of most other considerations. The second one, ooh, this is too good…Bruce Lee V. Dracula.

Earlier drafts of this post spent a lot of time trying to present to you actual rules for the various Geek Rumbles some of which may serve to backhandedly comment on this recent Bruce Lee Affair without actually commenting. I love double-talk and Lawyer Speak when they serve my interests.

Anyway, the rules, well…conventions. Pretty much all of the “if you can’t be respectful in this matter, we’ll move to pull your metaphorical license to appear in public” techniques learned in Debate Class apply here. I’ll use up a lot of words to tell you to be nice. Uses up too much of the word budget for this post.

The rest of the rules and conventions in play here will vary from store to store. Pretty much the Font of Wisdom at the register will control the conversation (or not so much if they’re new). Said FOW will boot you out and that will be it until next week (or never if you’re a real problem). And they will move to cut off conversations that for a variety of reasons might blow up. Other than that each store will have an unique style and character to it as the venue lurches around in reaction to recent events.

For instance, the title Geek Rumble of Bruce Lee V. Dracula might be a tough sell in the near term. Comic book stores are especially sensitive to all things Bruce Lee, Geek Rumble and Comic Book. Quentin Tarantino has been a valued ambassador for all of that.

It could be a real trick getting this particular Geek Rumble onto the floor, because Bruce Lee V. Dracula came up in regards to that other Geek Rumble as presented in the movie. Think of it as some poor fella mistaking the salt shaker for the coffee sugar…

The store you wander into might decide to enforce a “both parties should be fictional” rule to avoid any lingering nastiness from moments like the Bruce Lee Affair. If the FOW digs in, the discussion’s over.

Comic book stores, the better managed online geek forums and the like are usually susceptible to logic and what the Great Online calls fact. And the race of who gets to Wikipedia and the rest of the Internet first also matters. If I thought there was an opening, I would argue for the inclusion of Bruce Lee V. Dracula because as a thing it predates the current mess, AKA it’s already on YouTube.

Doing my three seconds of research, I found four videos depicting someone’s interpretation of Bruce Lee fighting all kinds of things and people. I found a video (click here) from a UFC branded video game where the game owner told the game to put Bruce Lee in the octagon with Y, Count Dracula in this case, and have the computer create a randomized fight result. And the same YouTube source posted similar videos for literally everybody doing the UFC brand of mixed martial arts…plus a few movie monsters tossed in for giggles.

Skimming through the 25-minute video, Bruce Lee won with a monster kick to the Count’s head at the last moment. But, I had to ask questions like…

“So, is the game automatically biased towards Bruce Lee given the legendary rep throughout the intersecting gaming, martial arts and comic book industries?”

“Did the game writers understand proper narrative given their seeming preference for the last minute Rocky Victory that just screams a WRITER was here?”

“What is the F%#*ing point of selling the video as Bruce Lee V. Dracula, when the Count depicted on screen is just a tall Romanian gent wearing UFC fight gear and who doesn’t do vampire things?”

And the other videos (click here), (click here) and (click here) I found are much worse on the creativity or truth in advertising scales. There are undoubtedly other videos where Bruce Lee levels whole cities of movie monsters, I just didn’t have the time or oxygen to dive that deep.

The original point is that the existence of videos like this allows you to argue at the comic book store that Bruce Lee V. Dracula exists independently of and prior to that other more tragic Geek Rumble. Therefore, Bruce Lee, at least the legend also known as a minor Deity of Meme, is very nearly a fictional construct and is thus fair game. At least as far as the people who didn’t know him go.

Another way to put it is the Bruce Lee Affair is almost a perfect example of one of my favorite movie quotes concerning myth making – “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend (thank you, Mr. Peckinpah).” Bruce Lee the legend fights everything and because most of us just loved Enter the Dragon, we’ll find a way to lawyer the results in his favor. Though the Second Act of that epic struggle will put Legend Bruce in far more danger than the stupid game video, just sayin’. Hopefully, the real Bruce Lee is smiling from wherever he is amused that we think he’s that ripped to take down other mythological characters barehanded.

Anyway this a good moment to temporarily get off this particular Geek Rumble to talk about the art form in general. I use these discussions as a sounding board. If I need to figure out some pseudoscience or get a handle on a character that I haven’t read recently, but for whom I certainly have seen the movies (Batman comes to mind), I go to my store and ask the right questions.

I might be spoiled that my particular FOW really knows his shit. At various times, he’s let me know that my solution to a science fiction problem where you can’t take food through hyperspace neared plausibility. I highlighted the idea and…

“Greg, here’s your flaw, people are chemically identical to the food they eat, so people couldn’t go through hyperspace either…”

I take about a week to think it out. I come back.

“I’ve got it!” I say. “I’m sure it’s six different kinds of pseudoscience, but you have to spray freshly harvested mitochondrial juice on your food to keep it fresh. And for the rest I’m going to just play the Because Plot card.”

“Yeah, it is pseudoscience, but it’s plausible pseudoscience.”

Success.

The other FOW in the store also has her nuggets; telling me that the reason ninjas wear black is that there is a famous kabuki or noh play where a stagehand wearing black kills a character on stage. After a moment that might’ve been interpreted as a challenge, I agreed with her and went onto to add that based on the war documentaries I sometimes watch, black even under ideal circumstances can be ridiculous nighttime camouflage. Too black being the usual complaint. On its best days the Geek Rumble is a conversation.

I then looked up ninjas on Wikipedia. They didn’t have the exact story, but something close about Japanese puppet shows where they wear black as stagecraft to simulate certain kinds of invisibility. So close counting in hand grenades, horseshoes and bocce ball, I’ll go with her version because it’s a better story that I will save for my own writing.

With conversations like this I’ve kept up on my Batman knowledge, dropped in my usual Imperial Stormtrooper barbs and so on. Naturally, I think something similar should work for you. No matter what kind of writing you do, hook up with someone you trust and talk things out.

Crime writer? Once you’ve learned the boring book stuff about poisons, find a friend that does similar types of books and git talkin’. You’ll get into a one-upmanship thing that will squeeze a few more decades out of arsenic as a murder weapon.

Back to Bruce Lee V. Dracula; I told you its too good a thing (at least when the smoke clears) to let go. When we left the discussion, the topic was just getting cleared by the FOW after successfully arguing that Bruce Lee is just legendary enough to proceed. And then it’s on…

My opening salvo is almost always, “is Dracula even still alive in the Kung Fu-Verse? Meme Chuck Norris supposedly kills all kinds of bad things just looking at them funny. And the real Chuck Norris actually said he thought the memes were funny.”

The FOW and other participants might nod. It’s a good question. And perfectly acceptable to include a third semi-fictional character who might’ve already taken down Dracula. And then the FOW makes up a rule to get things arbitrarily back to how Bruce Lee wipes out Vlad Tepes. Tangents are only briefly tolerated.

I probably double down with, “okay, but since every version of Dracula seems like he’s a skirt chaser, shouldn’t we send a woman like The Bride? You know, acknowledge we should send the right decoy with teeth?”

Again everybody nods or adds a rebuttal. At which point, the FOW steers things back to Bruce Lee killing Dracula. After which the mostly Socratic method of asking the right questions and thinking on your feet drills it down to Bruce Lee pounding Dracula with nunchucks, say maybe over in 20 minutes with open gashes bloodying up Bruce Lee’s yellow track suit?

A hypothetical Geek Rumble. One of many…

As live entertainments go, the Geek Rumble isn’t for the rookie. Whether you get your similar nerd on through the book club, online forum, writing group or the high order professionalism at the comic book store, listen to a few before leaping in. My FOW might help a rookie keep up, others might not as stereotypes like the Comic Book Store Guy on The Simpsons just don’t appear out of thin air. And you read the part about looking things up, right?

And you also really should avoid some topics like say, the Crimson Tide fight. Two sailors throwing down over the best version of the Silver Surfer, Jack Kirby or Moebius.

The verdict, at least in my store – “It’s a real thing. I break it up at least twice a year and besides the sailor taking the Jack Kirby position has it right. At this point, it’s a boring repetitive thing. Ugh!”

There you have it, a few observations about the Geek Rumble or Nerd Fight. A little about basic etiquette. Why they happen. And why I think they’re a valuable tool for refining thought. And you’d think I’d end this post…

With each passing day, the Bruce Lee Affair becomes more annoying to me. Especially since Quentin Tarantino’s work sort of defines this post.

I mentioned The Bride as being a worthy stand in for Bruce Lee fighting Dracula. We saw her wearing the yellow track suit in Kill Bill. I also mentioned the Crimson Tide fight, a scene written by Mr. Tarantino during his script doctor days.

My opinions about the larger Bruce Lee Affair are still unformed and all over the map as I haven’t yet seen the movie. I have an automatic Support the Artist response tempered by the fact that I really don’t know what Bruce Lee was like beyond his Wikipedia page. But, you know what tiny thing pisses me off most in this story?

Quentin Tarantino used the pleasant, amusing and preposterous Geek Rumble Bruce Lee V. Dracula, that he didn’t invent, to deflect from the angry making (to others) Geek Rumble of Bruce Lee V. Stuntman Cliff. Even if I later see the movie and decide the scene works in context of a good or possibly great movie, I’m always going to equate the moment in part with a nasty rhetorical trick – Whataboutism. Not cool. Ever.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

“Any sufficiently advanced technology would to the less advanced be indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clark.

“At various times on your world your scholars have spoken of Magic and later on Technology as if they were two separate things, but on my world they’re one and the same.” – Movie Thor (Chris Hemsworth).

So how do GMs, Administrators and DMs handle the interface of Magic and Technology? Not well. The ones I played with almost universally banned anything more technological than a bag of lit oil.

During the Great Campaign in college, our wizard player was fairly well versed in things like the recipes for at least three different explosives typically cookable at home. I’d forgotten to ask if he’d read The Anarchist’s Cookbook, paid extra close attention to the pipe bombs in The Terminator, or like all of us closely watched the Star Trek episode ‘Arena,’ all possibilities in the 1980s.

Short version of the story, he proposed pipe bombs to solve the eternal problem of dungeons. Each door is a serious obstacle and no one has ever really figured out how to role play the probable truth that the noise from fighting the ogre in the previous encounter means that the dragon in the next room is awake, so don’t even make the First Edition sleep roll. Despite the tactical wisdom from the war games this player was more used to that speed in the dungeon is life, our DM ruled – “the black powder charge fizzles and you get a huge migraine headache out of nowhere as if the gods really hate anything remotely technological.”

In a related incident, this same player suggested lots of lye when the DM had us fight Alien Xenomorphs, acid blood and all. There was some kind of ruling here too. But, our solutions that fully exploited the rules rendered these babies almost like orcs, deadly in theory pushovers in practice…a post for another day.

We could’ve used lit oil by itself, as I remember the fizzle we used a flask of oil as the igniter. But, the player was also well versed in the difference between ignition and detonation. Oil, whether the pseudo-napalm we thought we tossed around or the equally dangerous whale oil or kerosene the rules envisioned, burns. To make something that burns (gunpowder, oil) mimic an explosive, you have to contain the hot gases with a bit of engineering. As I remember it, these contraptions failed too.

Yes, the DM determines the basic physics of the game. In every version of the rules, it’s black letter law that the DM has this authority. Think of it as the Holy Writ inscribed on the inside of the top half of the Monopoly box, though one or two common rules, like the Free Parking payout, aren’t actually on the box lid, just sayin’. And the basic social conventions of playing any game involved agreeing to rules – “right, no clipping, cross checking, rabbit punching or tripping…”

I suppose DMs have a point that we’ve agreed to play in a magic kingdom and not worry about how destabilizing a Sig P226 can be. Possibly because game systems have a way of overstating what guns do or understating their effect. Recent extra rules for D&D set most bullets at about the same damage as solid sword thrusts (D6 or D8), when the spy RPG player or war gamer is shouting that it’s more.

Even regular writers sometimes have this problem. I didn’t get more than a couple episodes into the most recent TV version of The Wizard of Oz. Long enough to remember seeing a character that was either the analogue to The Wicked Witch of the East or another completely original witch (my memory gets hazy for some shows) not in the original books examine Officer Dorothy Gale’s dropped Sig.

Yep, they tried Dorothy as a cop and her patrol unit takes the place of the farmhouse in the twister. The gun/magic problem comes to a head when this witch looks down the gaping barrel the way we hope five-year-olds in our reality are instructed not to do. Said witch took her own head off. Dorothy is later bawled out for the unintentional introduction of such completely destabilizing “magic.” Imagine if she’d brought a nuke or Sarin? Anyway, I don’t remember if this was why I stopped watching the show.

This is not to say that writers and fantasy DMs don’t or can’t make the leap to integrating Magic and Technology. It’s just that either the DM just doesn’t want to or all the ones I played with had a curious failure of imagination. I’ll bet on the former.

So you can pretty much expect that unless you’re playing a non-fantasy RPG, that cooking up charcoal, saltpeter and sulphur on the fly to blow open those stout wooden dungeon doors will always fizzle. A really cranky DM will also rule that the complicated bronze hutch to contain the hot gases from burning oil will also fizzle.

I suppose the supposed Law of Averages says eventually a DM will figure it out the way Tolkien kind of did that in true fashion of the quotes above that gunpowder is the magic. Gandalf just loved his fireworks sweetened by whatever else he did. And Saruman somehow talked a Uruk-Hai (orc) into doing the suicide bomber thing with a black powder cask in the drainage culvert at Helm’s Deep. Where there is a pen there’s a way.

Either way these are my observations about the curious intersections of various possibly oil and water game and story mechanics. You will in the fullness of time decree your own solutions…

From Rope, everything after is known…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

The King will return. Azor Ahai will appear to lead Westeros against the Others. A prediction uttered by a crazy professor of Augury leads to an ill-fated black bag job at the Ministry of Magic. Writers, especially fantasy writers just love using a prophecy as a narrative tool, but handled correctly I suppose any writer has this particular iron in their golf bag.

Prophecy comes to us from a similar Greek word that originally meant “the gift of interpreting the will of God.” Spell it with a C, it’s a noun. Spell it with an S and it’s the verb. Stories of gods, monsters and magic all trade on someone more divinely powerful than the protagonist imparting hints, riddles and sometimes outright directions to guide the results.

Sometimes this is to get through maybe three chapters ahead in the story. Other times, yep, the writer gave away cryptic hints about the ending because what happens is less important than how we get there. Prophecy as a tool should be thought of as a part of the larger field of providing foreshadowing to guide the reader/listener’s interest in the story.

Foreshadowing in its many forms services the toe dance all writers play with their audience. We want to know what’s coming next but not really. We try to predict the course of the story, but still want surprises.

The best theories on storytelling assume that we told the same stories around the same campfires. The same fella sitting under the cave bear painting heckled the story in the same way to gain more of an endorphin hit from hearing this new version of the tale. The writer/teller gets over his exasperation and feeds more excitement by giving them what they want.

One element so added to narrative was foreshadowing. Give clues to what happens next. Engage those ears for a few minutes longer. The practice takes many forms.

Anton Chekhov famously asserted – “a gun on the wall in the First Act will come down off the wall and be fired in the Third Act.” This kind of subtle foreshadowing trades on set dressing and a basic knowledge of human behavior. We’re douchebags; we shoot and stab each other at dinner.

One feature of drama is that editing happens to turn real life into digestible bits of narrative where something always happens. So gun on the wall must be fired means that because you’re seeing the play/movie or God forbid reading the actual book, the writer has edited out all the times Grandpa’s Winchester 70 just sat on the wall. It waits for the passions of the family to reach that fevered pitch dredging up every fight over Barbies or Matchbox cars. It waits for the truth about Uncle Steve or worse. It waits for this family to get robbed.

The writer assumes that the consumer fully understands the powerful symbol the gun on the wall represents and will insist on seeing it on the wall in the First Act as foreshadowing. Not seeing the weapon might leave the consumer confused – “What? They build up to this big old yelling match about Uncle Steve and, okay, the scumbag got shot, but where the hell did the gun that killed him come from?”

Of course, Gun on the Wall could mean anything established in the background. Grandpa’s ashes on the mantle and the almost union-mandated Use the Urn to Bash Somebody Over the Head scene (I’ll have to check, but I really hope Roger Ebert covered this in his list of clichés). You get the idea that for this type of foreshadowing everything relevant to the end of the story must be established in the space of the story at the beginning.

Alfred Hitchcock found another usage of foreshadowing in nearly all of his movies. Because he was after suspense instead of shock, he always wanted the audience to be well ahead of the characters. The two killers in Rope start by killing someone and then hiding the body in a box on the verge of a dinner party discussing what they did, why and that they’ll dispose of the body after the party. The audience knows from jump what’s what and each time Jimmy Stewart playing a detective clearly inspired by Crime and Punishment gets too close to the body or something the killers want hidden, we cringe.

Horror movies trade on both shock and suspense in the same fashion. We see Michael Myers in the house. We shout – “No, don’t go in there!” Is he in the kitchen? No. Is he in the master closet watching the dead teens walking have sex? Maybe. Is he waiting in the closet under the stairs for the teens to think it’s all over and put on their clothes? Eventually – BOO! The build up is suspense. The payoff is shock. Both are driven by the basic foreshadowing of letting us see Michael enter the house…or not.

Shakespeare driven largely by the needs of his medium typically just had the main character tell the audience in a soliloquy – “Now is the winter of our discontent…” – what would happen next. Iago told the back row about taking down Othello. A form of foreshadowing because everything pays off and we still went for the ride.

Another bit of foreshadowing that I really like…the equipping scene between James Bond and Q. In every movie, Major Boothroyd gives Bond exactly what he needs to survive the movie. A briefcase loaded with throwing knife, 50 gold sovereigns, 50 .25 caliber bullets (the chambering for the AR-7 survival rifle packed in the case) and a teargas canister, what happens? Everything needed to kill off a Bulgarian killer and, more importantly, Donald Grant.

How does Q know what Bond needs? Okay, the equipping scene usually takes place after the Bond Gets his Orders scene with M. We do have such things as intercoms and inter-office email where M has Moneypenny call down and tell Q where Bond might be going. So sending Bond to go meet an oil heiress in the Baku/Azerbaijan/Caspian Sea/Black Sea region, we can say that Q looked at the map and saw mountains with snow in them within driving distance. So the avalanche jacket could make a little sense.

Later in the series, they stopped using this scene to do anything with the watch. Bond just pulls out his timepiece and it has exactly what’s needed to get out. A wad of C-4 for the grating in the Moonraker launch base. A laser for the floor of the armored train in Goldeneye. A magnet and rope cutter in Live and Let Die. Presumably, the Q-Branch takes after action surveys as part of the job to refine what operatives need next.

Speaking from the writing/meta view of this scene, much of the trope of getting exactly what the story requires has much to do with that, again, writers edit out all gadgets that aren’t relevant. So he’s going to the mountains and needs the avalanche jacket, but what about the space in his luggage for the parachute jacket? Bond did get mugged on an airplane once. So even with the semi-plausible in-narrative reasons for Bond having exactly the gear he needs, it still feels like Q is a laser focused prophet.

A good segue back to the prophecy section of this treatise on the various forms of foreshadowing. The reader wants to know a few hints as to how it all going to come out, but not to have the full blueprints. Isildur’s heir has been promised to come back one day. Gondor will be alright…eventually.

I suspect that in addition to the usual reasons for prophecy as foreshadowing that in a literary sense the promise from the gods of this story (the writer in the meta sense) has a way of keeping the reader in the game. The black moments in some of these stories are really black and we might put the book down.

“Close the book, Da, I don’t want to read any more…” – so says Sam to Frodo during the single most suspenseful part of the story, two hobbits dressed as orcs marching around Mordor trying not to look like hobbits asking directions to Mt. Doom. It all looks lost. We don’t believe the Dress Like the Enemy to Infiltrate the Base trope whether delivered in the spy novel or The Lord of the Rings.

But, Tolkien is as tricksy-tricksy as Gollum. Throughout the preceding narrative he peppers in poetic references to the Sword Reforged coming from ancient sources that might have a phone line to the in-narrative higher powers of Middle Earth. The folks that sent the Wizards to do the dirty work of cleaning up Sauron, just the latest Great Evil to afflict the world of men. So if the reader puts down the book, he/she never gets to see how the foreshadowing pays off.

Because prophecy has the specific purpose of interpreting the will of God all prophecies, whether literary or theological, must payoff. We can think of Gun on the Wall as something that nearly always pays off because of a combination of writerly concision – “if we don’t need it, we don’t establish it” – and giving the reader the hooks to play our guessing games with the story. Prophecy is something that either comes true because gods/universe are never wrong or gets relegated to the realm of instructive metaphor.

Tolkien and his contemporary, C.S. Lewis, instinctively drew from many sources for prophecy. Most were stories once deemed theological in nature. The big one, the Christian Bible, still is. And the Greeks couldn’t tell a story without some form of divine prophecy.

Cassandra had the gift, no one believed her because the gods hated her. Instant tragedy. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter for fair winds to Troy, a different part of the same instant tragedy. Odysseus travels all the way to Hades to ask blind Tiresias for the checklist needed to make nice with Poseidon (you can’t live on an island and have the Sea God as an enemy) and make it home. And if I had a dollar for every time Athena borrowed various Olympians’ toys to help a hero get through the movie (maybe she should have a job in Q-Branch?)…well we always want more money.

And now inevitably…the Bible. Depending on how atheist or pagan you feel, either God or the many writers of the book had 1,300 years to work out the story. The whole point is Jesus and the crappiness of how we treat each other that is why God made Flesh has to come back. We need Hope…the one thing Pandora held onto.

The Bible uses short term prophecy in the form of a prophet walking into a throne room and promising dire consequences unless certain demands are met. After the first deal between Moses and Ramses about setting the Hebrews free, this was mostly about God getting pissed at how far the Hebrews and later Jews strayed from the covenant and sending in his latest version of Gandalf. Typically, God makes everything promised happen within two weeks. Gods are never wrong.

The Bible also uses a much deeper highly integrated form of prophecy. Everything leads to Jesus coming the first time to set our redemption in motion. And then he comes back at the end to reward the righteous. Hope on a half shell.

Various books in the Old Testament promise a messiah. Books the Jews of the historical Jesus’ time knew all of this predictive Scripture. Jesus as written in the book certainly acted and spoke in such a way to make it clear that – “here I am.” Then as now, either you accept that God knows how to tell a story and keeps his promises or you go looking for the wires that made things happen. It’s not the purpose of this post to pick a side; I’m neither your pastor nor your secular logic counselor.

This is the tradition of prophecy in our literature that Tolkien, Lewis and everyone coming after, including G.R.R. Martin, tap into. Middle Earth, Narnia and Westeros exist as seemingly whole reflections of our own world. These imaginary places have the kind of history that includes cranks, lunatics and dreamers spouting off about all the things God said. When they finally come true the story ends…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

The Hoop, a habitat ring more or less near modern Manhattan apparently placed between the high and low tide marks in New York Harbor. An enclosed society, much like a space station, struggling to provide basic services. Riots and other types of sturm und drang are daily occurrences likely to make shopping for groceries an adventure. Into this maelstrom we hurl 18-year-old Halo Jones depicted going to the store with friends depicting her last 36 hours in the Hoop.

A lot of bold emphatics…

Writer Alan Moore and artist Ian Gibson thus propel the reader into a dystopian far future adventure driven by an everywoman, just getting by luck to still have skin on her fingers. Created in the middle-80s with The Watchmen and V For Vendetta still ahead for Mr. Moore, we see in this day-in-the-life story the beginnings of why the average comic book fan gets a weird look when the nerd fight at the register turns to Alan Moore. Though I do try to keep my scorn, derision and slight regard at how the lack of an independent editor allowed the even more recent Promethea to go so completely off the rails out of the discussion.

The management of this blog apologizes for this unwarranted attack upon the review of The Ballad of Halo Jones Volume One – SPLAT! – by the currently imaginary review of Promethea. Steps were taken behind my back and retroactively approved.

Moore and Gibson cleverly use Halo’s last day and a half in the Hoop, divided between catching a friend’s concert and an epic shopping expedition, to give us a tour of dystopia rendered on the half shell. Riots are common. High tides that force closure of ring sections to prevent flex damage happen twice a day. And don’t get Halo started on the spotty and inconsistent public transport. All of the above must be taken into account just going to the store, an expedition that might have given Leif Erickson cause to hand over the horned Viking helmet.

In the hands of any other creative team the narrative in this volume would be truncated into five minutes of backstory highlights while telling us the story of the next volume. Quickly show us the tragic murder of Brinna, Halo’s nebulously defined maternal figure. Quickly show us Halo parting at the ramp to the antique space liner, Clara Pansy, promising to meet her friend, Rodice, on the nearest off-world port before boarding with Toby, the Robo-Dog. Can you say Casablanca?

Moore and Gibson bend considerable skill towards turning backstory into story. Simply by making shopping seem like the reader’s choice of setting sail for the New World or sacking Lindesflarne, the first time. And making sure that Rodice, born and bred in the Hoop, is as agoraphobic as they come.

It’s Halo’s nature as the everywoman who spends more time getting beat up in riots between panels and running away from all other trouble that makes this story. A Class Five astronavigatrix like Barbarella pretty much vaporizes whole swaths of Hoop society and then gets laid. Ooh! The crossover fan fiction, oh never mind…these ladies don’t belong in the same quadrant let alone a shared story.

Initially created for British publisher 2000AD’s model of weekly anthologies that only needed five pages at a time from each story presented, the story builds like a TV season or newspaper strip. As part of the build it takes a few installments for Halo to come out from Rodice’s fairly large shadow as the protagonist with her name on the marquee. It’s purely a matter of taste to argue if this process happens soon enough for the reader, I thought “move it up a couple sections.” But, this is just a feeling based on theory that doesn’t really affect the read.

Certainly, Halo cements her status when she makes use of Rodice’s dropping a zenade (zen grenade) trying to avoid going outside. After that it’s the Halo show. Will she survive long enough to sign aboard the Clara Pandy?

Moore and Gibson working together created this world. Complete with a slang and speech patterns that feel like the best possible guess as to what English may sound like in the far future of about five thousand years. Taken with a caveat, this dialogue feels natural to the character and story.

The caveat leads me to the single most glaring peeve reading this volume, the lettering. As in I joked to the friend that suggested the Halo Jones series to me, that I wanted to borrow his real cardboard tube (a mighty weapon of renown) and his imaginary time machine (a long-standing in-joke) to go back to make my displeasure felt through the decades.

Possibly, it’s the pad size in the reprinted collection I read. Perhaps the size of the lettering relative to the image size was always a trick by the publisher to weed out reviewers with middle aged eyes in desperate need of a magnifying lens. Luckily my similar complaints about Barbarella, started before and completed after, have already caused me to bite the bullet and buy a lens. NYAH-NYAH!

Anyway, there are three classes of text all of which annoyed me to one degree or another. The regular non-bold prose lettering came in slightly small but still readable to my naked eye. There are a few passages of Halo starting a journal while trapped in the Hoop’s subway on the way home, rendered in a really tiny font in pink caption boxes. Less eye friendly, but still barely acceptable. And lastly, we have the profusion of bold emphatic words…ironically the real reason to use a lens.

I mentioned liking the slang and dialogue in this book…with a caveat. Most of the new words in this story are rendered as a bold emphatic (italics in Roman and similar fonts, underlined in typewritten fonts like Courier and bold in hand lettered comic books). But, the letterer earns most of my condemnation for how bold words were handled: blobby, mushy and next to impossible to read without a lens (see representative picture above).

I do get to land much of my hating the lettering back in Mr. Moore’s lap as the writer. Bold text in a comic book functions like the many other ways in other media to represent emphasis for irony, sarcasm, and any strong emotion where an All Caps shout isn’t appropriate. Fortunately comics books have other ways to depict thought and telepathy. Emphatics have a way of tricking the reader into applying mental stress sounds to the words on the page, so with this many bolds on the page I’m sure I’m imagining Halo’s speech patterns all wrong.

What is on the page in the average speech balloon, tricked me into reading these words with way too much emphasis and a crap not well thought out singsong that doesn’t even sound to me like English, even future English. I likened the read to experiencing an alley rumble between iambic pentameter and trochaic tetrameter without the benefit of a skilled fight coordinator to make things blend well. Speaking of alley rumbles, cue the angry tomcats.

And I get to level this criticism at Mr. Moore over this because, I can tell you that every italic or underline in any of my own scripts and manuscripts I did as an intentional act. This means that while the letterer might have been horrible, he/she/they went from Mr. Moore’s script. So my caveat for enjoying Halo’s slang and other dialogue is the reader might want to do the internal mental gymnastics to remove the bold letters and let her say the words with a normal tone of voice.

Moving on, Mr. Gibson as the artist and co-creator really helps the story. It’s a true art form to tell stories in sequential art and wow! I may have bought my magnifying lens for that other space heroine’s comic book and used it here. The difference between the reads is that here I didn’t need the lens for anything related to the art and Barbarella has both tiny lettering and small harder to see panels.

At no time with Mr. Gibson’s work did I ever lose track of Halo, Toby or Rodice. At no time did I go back to look at a previous panel to make sure I grokked. I remained fully within the dark clammy and terrifying world of the Hoop, where Halo seems the seconds away from the next mugging. And I suppose I lack the vocabulary to keep going on.

As awesome as I think Mr. Gibson’s pencils and inks were in the original black and white comics, we must acknowledge the coloring done long after the fact by Barbara Nosenzo. And now we’re cooking with gas. She imbues the already dark world of the Hoop with variations of dark greens, blues, murky grays highlighted by highly intentional uses of brighter colors in better lighting. Yeah, I’ll be checking out her other work.

To recap about The Ballad of Halo Jones Volume One, I see why people like and/or love the book. A great character to act as counterpoint to Barbarella at one end and Sarah Connor at the other. A well-plotted narrative that raises shopping to the level of a Viking raid on Sussex or even Newfoundland. I love the art and the later coloring. Ah, if we just could’ve fit an anti-bark shock collar to Alan Moore during the writing and hired anyone else to letter, the differences between a merely great comic book and the kind of book that…

A suspiciously symmetrical face…

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Also known as things quickly extirpated once in film development and in some cases earlier…at the hands of the cover artist.

A ruined face replaced by a Hero Scar…

From this distance of more than twenty years, may I assume we’ve all seen Robert Altman’s The Player by now?

Richard E. Grant played a British film director bound and determined to storm America and Hollywood with a pet project, essentially rubbing our noses in his smug opposition to capital punishment. A DA decides he’s sick of convicting minorities and goes hell for leather to convict a white woman, just for the principle of equal treatment under the law.

The proposed plot. The DA gets his conviction. Tragically falls in love with the convict. Discovers late in the third act she was framed and rushes at the eleventh hour to stop the execution…

This fictional Brit starts the process piously asserting, “no stars, no happy ending because that’s reality!” We all saw the representative clip at the end of The Player. Bruce Willis uses a shotgun to rescue Julia Roberts while smugging for camera – “traffic was a bitch!” A character gets fired in the screening room for blasting the sellout Brit for “caving.”

But, did Mr. Grant’s character actually cave that much in the context of storytelling as we know it? A question to include the context of writing specifically for North America (Hollywood’s home break despite the rise of China and the rest of the world) and the larger context of the artsy-fartsy Hero’s Journey model long asserted as universal? Did he cave? Or just acknowledge the inevitable that shouldn’t have taken the venal suits at the studio to tell him?

Obviously, the first “cave” was stars. The venal bastard suits controlling the purse strings simply refused to write checks based on the line of credit proffered by the studio’s institutional lenders until Bruce Willis and Julia Roberts, or their hypothetical equivalents signed their agreements. Depending on how we use the word “star,” perhaps now we should note that the concept exists throughout the arts, sports and most of life. Has always existed. And serves several related purposes.

When Sir Lawrence Olivier went balls out playing the title part in The Scottish Play people in the crowd remembered this performance eagerly awaiting when Sir Larry would pull off The Scottish Movie. A star in this case represents doing something so well that we remember to use the work as either something to copy or something to do the exact opposite…sometimes both. Rewarding preternatural skill.

Marcus Tullis Cicero the Elder has more stardom as a writer being 2,000 years dead. He famously lost out to Marc Anthony, hands cut off and nailed to the Senate door. But, because the words he wrote, letters, speech transcriptions and a couple attempts at pseudo-Stoic philosophy have survived into the Modern Era, he defined European prose for quite a few centuries. He even wrote text we use as placeholders – lorem ipsum.

When we use star in this context that can also include champion as a synonym, you just want to slap Mr. Grant’s character around. Greatness is where we get inspiration. In my own work, I like to say, “I don’t compete with living writers. They don’t do me and I don’t do them. Besides, I’m too busy chasing Shakespeare.” And on the music side, where at the moment my mouth just wrote checks my ear can’t cash, it’s a nice fantasy to imagine my music at Disney Hall led by Gustavo Dudamel.

Is it any wonder that my favorite two episodes of The Twilight Zone are both titled ‘A Game of Pool?’ The deceased star offers a game to the determined up and comer. Winning comes with the responsibilities to take over from the old champion. Losing means being the guy who lost. Both versions served as a vehicle to remind the audience that while it is good to strive, it means nothing if you don’t take time out to live…even just to sneak out to Disneyland or something.

I like to think that Mr. Grant’s character realized that stardom isn’t all bad for a movie and just went with it trying to get the best stars possible for the movie. Yes, there is a tawdry side to stardom that the suits in the movie wouldn’t care about the “right” stars, just any stars large enough to open a capital punishment movie. They had armed themselves with box office numbers and exit polls from other movies.

They knew the movie die would without stars and the happy ending. They also declared that a movie with dudes in prisons would need a hetero sex scene. And they adroitly let this upstart director shoot his ending betting that the test audience in Pacoima would chasten him and he would agree to fix it with reshoots that were always in the budget.

When I saw this moment in the screening room, I imagined dialogue that wasn’t in the movie. Either Michael Tolkin (the writer) or Mr. Altman had these words and cut them because of Too Many Words on the Screenplay Page, or they had a simple failure of imagination. Imagine this, Bonnie (Laurie Metcalf) goes off about the “sellout” and Mr. Grant’s character still drops in the line about the “old ending didn’t test well in Pacoima” with his face generally signaling relief. What if he also says…

“I realized I might not have needed the old ending.”

“What do you mean?” Bonnie asks.

“I’m bashing capital punishment in America, the home of the barbaric practice with the intent of convincing more Americans to shift their values. When faced with the well-stated objections from the people in this room, I asked myself if doing it their way still does that. Do I get the same mileage out of this happy ending that still trades as much on the finality of death and human fallibility as the old ending but lets the audience off the hook emotionally?”

“And?”

“How the fuck should I know? It’s a risk either way. Either I guessed right and just became Preston Sturges with the Common Touch or I won’t be back, except to take the offspring to Disneyland. Ask me when it opens.”

Speaking personally this character’s initial resistance to the Hollywood method makes more sense if he shifts the question from No Stars to “Dear God, can we get the right stars!” He is right to ask for stars better fitted to the movie. Would Robert DeNiro and Julianne Moore have been better for The Player’s movie within a movie?

And we like to believe the question can also be, “can we use this part to create a new star, while bulking up the other roles with established stars?” Often Hollywood’s casting decisions cause the audience to shout at the screen – “Really, you gave that role to Ryan Gosling? He doesn’t do movies like this well!” Well, the audience segment trained by incessant film coverage in the media to think they know these things, at least.

As for the happy ending part of the discussion, Mr. Tolkin, who also wrote the novel, has a point about Hollywood ceding sad endings to…Europe. Sad endings are a part of our collective narrative tradition and yet, if it were up to Hollywood no movie not labeled Shakespeare or Star Wars would have a sad ending. George Lucas got away with the tragic ending to Revenge of the Sith by reminding people that Return of the Jedi that they’ve already seen finishes the story. And having enough power over Star Wars-land to avoid reading studio notes also can help.

I suppose we should play for the middle ground where Hollywood busts out a tragedy once in a while and the rest of the world doesn’t always have to reach for “they all get cholera and die” as is the stereotype. These things seem cyclical; Marvel tossed two popular female characters off the same ledge to get at the Soul Stone. Ask me every six months or so to see how we did.

Scars. This part of the essay is an outgrowth of the stars question. You hire a star to play X part described in the book as severely damaged about the face. How long do you think this lasts? Sometimes this gets wiped out long before movie development by the cover artist.

Two examples (see pictures). The female characters pictured were both described as having survived similar variations of getting jacked up by shitty father figures (I’ll feed that one to a more overtly feminist writer). Nether description made it to any kind of promotional art. One at the hands of the cover artist and the other slaughtered by the whole filmmaking process.

Parrish Plessis (Nylon Angel) leaps off the page described as exceedingly tall, dark haired but with a slightly flattened face and badly set nose to go with her black leather. The last two didn’t make the cover. No filmmakers involved.

Similarly, Hester Shaw in Mortal Engines is described as having a face to frighten children. A destroyed eye. A sliced up ear. Massive facial scars. To be replaced in the movie by a single beauty scar hidden behind the red scarf. Many filmmakers involved reaching the same decision as a single cover artist.

There are reasons. The hero scar is cheaper in both time and money to apply to an actress and future star cloned from the pretty end of the human gene pool. And I’m sure Peter Jackson might’ve heard his version of the Venal Suit – “what is the fucking point of hiring a star if we put so much latex on her that we might not know she’s in the movie?”

Yet, the novelists in question persisted, at least for the book, continuing as planned with messed up female characters. Brave? Dumb? I guess that depends on how loaded I get on any particular day.

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Thieves lurk near parked cars, some of whom I haven’t even dreamed of for my die cast collection…yet. So after tapping Play to get back to the movie after updating my wishlist, I decide they must be thieves because they’re led by Giovanni Ribisi trying to look like car thief while also not looking like said car boost (at least to the folks in the movie). A quick tap on the cloned key fob or light just so touch on the slim-jim and the thief is already on your car seat imagining the wealth to own this ride. From here we have the title to tell us the car will be Gone in 60 Seconds.

How do you remake a classic car chase film, made so by being about 15 minutes of boring but instructive narrative and at least 60 minutes of just one car chase? Hire Nicholas Cage. Pay somebody to craft an actual script, even if it feels underwritten (see below). Hire other good actors to enjoy a few fun blastorama months doing a movie in Los Angeles featuring fast cars that they at least got to sit in. Sometimes this is all you need for all the movies likely to land between Star Wars 46 and Doctor Zhivago 2: The Escape to Lara.

Kip Raines (Giovanni Ribisi) steals a sweet pasta rocket and promptly gets distracted at a stoplight by the tomato in the shotgun seat next car over. Engines rev. The car thief puts the boyfriend at the wheel in his place. But, now the cops are on the hunt who follow Kip back to the hideout.

With the police bearing down, Kip and his guys skedaddle having chosen a location with easy escape routes. Approximately, twenty high end cars are left behind. One member of the crew splashes the shopping list painted on the wall with more of the blacklight paint. He obscures only part of the list leaving the listing for a particular car visible should another blacklight enter the warehouse. Another crew member smashes the blacklight on the way out, a plot point to keep the cops in the game. Everyone escapes. For now.

Atley Jackson (Will Patton) travels out of the city to find Randall “Memphis” Raines (Nicholas Cage) gainfully employed at his go-kart track somewhere in the warm interior of California. Atley explains to the former leader of the best car boost ring in California just what happened and how much trouble his younger brother, Kip, is in. Raymond Calitri (Christopher Eccleston) fronted $10,000 and didn’t get his cars. Calitri will kill Kip, if something isn’t done. And so, the dramatic proposition that carries over from the original movie unfolds: steal 50 high end cars on an impossible schedule, four days for prep and the thefts taking place in one 12-hour period at the end.

The police in the form of Detective Roland Castlebeck (Delroy Lindo) and Detective Drycoff (Timothy Olyphant) get a vote. As do a rival car theft ring (until easily disposed of at a diner hosting cops on their Code 7). The big bad Calitri gets his vote too, what with his promiscuous use of a car crusher to dispose of enemies and other deadbeats.

In strictest terms, I should be trashing this movie every which way. One, when’s there’s cars on the table, I grade on a generous curve. Two, even with the script concerns listed later the integrated whole is better than you’d think. Three, this movie is also proof that the right cast will elevate an underwritten script into something good enough to play endlessly on basic cable.

On the plus side, this movie trades on the creative team getting lucky in the character meetings well ahead of production. A guy, Sphinx (Vinne Jones), that doesn’t speak? Cool. Sway (Angelina Jolie), the union-mandated girl who exists to romantically frustrate the protagonist? Cool. Otto Halliwell (Robert Duvall), as the old-timey chop shop man who can identify a car from the roar of its engine. Extra cool, a substantially more interesting part.

Equally on the plus side, the great majority of these characters, even the ones not highlighted, get at least one scene that sort of acts as their “Now is the winter of our discontent” monologue that clues the audience into who they are and why they’re here in this movie. We get short snippets about bemoaning the lack of craftsmanship in auto theft while commenting on the death spiral between boosts and manufacturers over building an unstealable car. We get variations in motive, the thrill steal and Robin Hood. And with general uniformity, what this cast does with facial expressions and body language serving the bios fed at the meeting and not from the actual script saves the watchability of their respective characters and the movie.

We also get a decent older brother-younger brother abandonment conflict. Decent, as in some other writer would take five minutes to say more with the scenes between Mr. Cage and Mr. Ribisi. Could it have happened here? Maybe, but we’ll never know now.

Surprisingly, Angelina Jolie milks her turn as Sway for all the cookies. Described as the girl that Memphis wanted to take with him leaving town, but she wasn’t ready. And she went straight anyway because the fun factor boosting left the city with Memphis. Of everybody in this movie, Ms. Jolie and Sway do the most to make what must be functional and boring on paper spring to life on screen.

But, the things that are good about this movie are in different lighting (a blacklight pun, anyone?) the things that suck about this movie. The characters are set up pretty well with a web of longstanding interactions hinted at, but I can think of several of these threads that actually need to be on screen to have a legitimately good movie that doesn’t need my generous curve. Missed opportunities for other movies titled Gone in 60 Seconds.

What happens if the events of this movie put Memphis and Sway, however temporarily, on opposite sides? Don’t know, no one wrote this script. Even with a sex interrupted scene involving a gearshift and voyeurism upon the randy citizen and date who don’t know they’re about to lose the sweet pasta rocket parked out front, the paper version of this relationship needs the goose. On film, who cares? It works as is.

What happens if somebody staring at that horrifically blinking cursor realizes there exists loads of setup for a three-way generational conflict among the car thieves? We have the old guys, Otto and Atley aged out into supervising positions. Then in the middle Memphis comes back to town to put the old gang back together. And then we have Kip’s crew and the possibility of these clashing character styles and this doesn’t really go anywhere.

This also ties in with the fact that most of the characters on Kip’s younger crew really don’t belong in this movie. Tumbler (Scott Caan) gets in his moments. But, except for a certain character assigned to order pizza and collect laser cut keys from a dog given laxatives no one else on Kip’s crew stands out enough to avoid consolidation into two characters instead of four. A road less traveled for some other writers in the future.

All of the above is still covered by my blanket “Grading on a curve, a generous curve” opinion of this movie. The stunt driving and film techniques of the driving sequences are enough to hold most people’s interest. But, now we have the one thing where it’s harder to grade on my curve. The money chase named…Eleanor.

Eleanor, in all incarnations of Gone in 60 Seconds, is a 1967 Shelby 500 GT Mustang fastback. The protagonist steals this car last tripping the big chase either defines the whole movie (the original) or simply provides the climax. We remember the seemingly plotless original movie because Mondrian (original director H.B. Halicki) runs from every cop in Los Angeles and then switches out the broken but still magically drivable Eleanor 1.0 for the pristine Eleanor 2.0 at a car wash receiving line.

Taken as its own thing, this movie’s Eleanor chase is not bad, if also not particularly awe inspiring. It does what it does and sets up the fist and gunfight that buys Kip clear of the villain and Memphis clear of the cops. And I’ll take any kind of Evel Knievel jump on the Vincent Thomas Bridge. It just seems to me that the one place where the remake filmmakers really want to kiss the old fans’ asses is this chase. I suppose the short way to say this is that Eleanor looked too good with only minor damage to mirrors and cracked steaming radiator compared to the legendary damage of the original movie.

So there we have it, an underwritten but joyfully overacted movie on a day where these concepts cancel out (sometimes they don’t). A good reason to explain years of – “Gone in 60 Seconds is on.” – “Cool! Let’s watch!” – even after missing three commercial breaks. And what is my personal writing lesson? “Sorry, Eleanor, you want somebody a little gentler telling your story.”

© 2019 G.N. Jacobs

Dim torchlight flickers across the ancient clay bricks. The nearest manhole is somewhere over there across the open stream of sewage yet to be enclosed in concrete due the city sanitation department promising to get to it soon. The ordinary pungent smell assaults the nose, quite a bit of orange and wet banana peel tonight.

Surprisingly, few things move in this space except for the sewage outflows high on the walls. No rats. No cats. Nor even the alligators legend says must be around her somewhere. Silence and perhaps an air current spreads across the rippling surface of the effluvia.

The residential outflow gates pour more into the broth. And other things…Is that a toaster? Or the guts of an old VCR? The outflows move with the consistency of bacon grease congealed halfway back to solid. Globs of white fibrous objects join the grease floating on the surface. Slowly, the fat and wipes circle towards each other like objects hurled towards the event horizon of a black hole.

It rises like a kaiju shrugging aside the sludge on the surface attracting all like material to it. It grows with each glob of grease patched together with the nearly ubiquitous wipes. Eyes open revealing a preternatural hatred of all that is not it. Seemingly moving against the poo current, it sidles over to the broken electronics left out on the side of the sewer. ZZZT!

A quick hit from the open 220 volt socket accretes the new mass to the old mass with the reassurance the new will speak to the old. And now it realizes it’s time to find other sources of nourishment gnashing teeth. It slowly sinks under the water trusting the current towards the sewage treatment plant will…

It is the Fatberg.

When I finally care enough about the narrative uses of the globs of congealed bacon grease, wipes and lumps of solid – “holy shit you flushed that instead of putting it in a landfill!” – to write an actual book, the prose will get better (editing). For now, it admirably sets up my posit of a fat and poo monster sure to add to the nightmare of our modern sewage systems, some over a century old.

Where did I get the idea? Pictures surfaced two years ago of a serious fatberg that clogged up an older section of the London sewers. Described as having the mass of at least ten tons (Tons with a T, Ducky), the lump got lodged. The guys in the hard hats said – “we think we can unclog this drain in…oh, say three weeks.”

I promptly forgot all about it until a couple weeks ago, when I needed to feed the beast that is this blog. Do a screenshot of the news photo of the London obstruction, sweeten it with zombie eyes and mouth…pretty much a picture in search of a monster. I apologize for it taking two years to put the Fatberg into our collective nightmare space. Writers are supposed to be a little more ruthless than that.

So how does a sewer problem become an actual monster? You might notice my capitalization of Fatberg to indicate the monster and the lowercase to indicate that the word fatberg is already in use to describe what is simply an annoyance of modern life? A fatberg just sits there and you call a plumber when the sewers back up. A combination of lye, bleach, physical means like a drill and maybe extreme measures like thermite and it’ll clear soon enough.

Crud-balls that just sit there until the plumber comes have got to be the very definition of boring. The fatberg isn’t sentient even at the basic level of needing to hunt more fat (people have enough of that). Nor does it steal from the advanced class syllabus, needing to get revenge on surface dwellers polluting its home.

How do you create enough thought for it to know I’m hungry? And this is where I bust out – “don’t reinvent the wheel” – that lands us back in Frankenstein-land with the old standard, electricity. You’ll notice in the sample text above the existence of old electronics and the open outlet I didn’t tell you about (I told you I rushed this prose in this post where it doesn’t matter), until I needed it. A current, that has universally stood in for almost all other processes associated with Life.

And it wasn’t just me with the failure of imagination to come up with another reason the Fatberg absorbs more mass to itself and then hunts outside of its comfort zone. I spoke with a bunch of my comic book peeps on this recently. None of them had any other ideas, one even reminded me to “it’s always going to be electricity.”

I did mention a book where the electronic trash in the Mississippi River accumulates enough circuits to reach what my fellow SF writers might call the Sentience Singularity. Put too much tech too close together an the theory says sentience becomes inevitable. Conveniently forgetting we already have lots of tech cheek by jowl all over the world, either this singularity level is higher than we can presently imagine or it too needs some extra cause…full circle back to – “shoot some lightning at your fat monster and go get lunch.”

Probably the Fatberg in the above text wouldn’t need to jolt itself on the open outlet every time it added fat and wipes. Unless each piece of monster is intended to be individually capable of breaking off from the whole to go mug those poor folks at the Antarctic research station (The Thing) while the main mass f**ks up New York, the extra mass doesn’t need shocking.

That would be like me doing weird mad scientist stuff to make sure the cheeseburger I had today is sentient before I ate it. I just need the protein and the pretense of a few vegetables, not a meal that potentially talks back. But, the example above is intended to be illustrative for you, Dear Reader, when you write you own books and RPG campaigns.

Now we move onto the advanced class of monster design. How does it move?

The obvious answer here is it lets the currents of the sewers do the motion. At least in low power mode when it might be hibernating a bit to save up energy for the big hit on Fleet Street. But, the best monsters combine the sense of a home range/milieu with the ability to leave the fens near Baskerville. That Swamp Thing draws power from his bog, but can also mug those dumbass picnickers less than a few minutes from the edge.

For water motion, we have the drift technique. We also have the possibility of complex structures forming that work like the water jets last seen on the Red October sub in Hunt for Red October. Say an interior chamber on the Fatberg that makes use of increasingly smaller diameters to force water through pushing the beast forward. Realistically, I likely still need some kind of pseudoscience replacement for the musculature found in most creatures. Some kind of structure similar to a tongue that forces water through.

Aha! I just explained why it hunts people. We are more than fat with proteins that make muscles. It eats people to make these complicated motions possible. Which also leads us to land motion.

If the always hungry Fatberg can make a flapping tongue-like structure to swim against the poo current, it can also make legs and arms with which to climb those slimy, rusted ladder steps up to the manhole cover. Land motion is almost a given simply to solve the problem of a monster too rooted in one place. People tell stories about the sewer monster and then don’t go in the local equivalent of the ocean where there might be sharks (Jaws). Eventually, it has to hunt until it finds resistance of another high order predator.

Now to go extra wild…air motion. Can Fatberg fly? This one will be up to the writer/DM depending on how much mescal they dropped into their beer. The pseudoscience here isn’t for the faint of heart…the sewer is also filled with poo.

So far, we’ve talked about fat, protein and the solid non-flushable wipes (baby wipes are honest on the box about non-flushable, other wipes aren’t). But, if we really need Fatberg to fly, we just imagine a burn chamber that collects poo and lets this rot down to methane. A spark from the many live electronics in this icky story and instant rocket. Also a third method for moving in water.

So here we are. A Fatberg sewer monster going the extra mile to ruin people’s days. A few thoughts how to explain the beast when pissed off readers send emails and players whine. But, monsters have weaknesses…

Pretty much a fat, wipe and poo monster isn’t really going to evolve too far past its origin. Lye breaks up the fat, so less call it +2 to all attacks when the players happen to have sodium hydroxide handy. Fires helps in some circumstances, but usually only when the beast is slightly dry. Throw a match and…FWOOSH! We hope. The DM gets to pick a number between -3 and +3 to fit the exact circumstances in his sewers.

Hit points. Pretty much a Fatberg will spike HUGE. A ten ton beast is what 300-500hp (more?)? This pretty much reflects size and that so far removal of the real fatbergs takes a lot of hard labor.

And here we are, highlighting the beginnings of what could be a great monster in the hands of the right writer or DM. Yes, I just grossed you out, the point of the post. And I do I actually have to bust out the obvious message of do better about what we flush?