© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Three episodes are in on The Orville, the other starship show dropping this fall. And I’ve already run the full gamut of Love It, Hate It and all the stops in between. When it comes to shows with starships that either go “boldly where no one has gone before” or shows with starships where the crew “aims to misbehave,” I’m a big SUCKER (needs more than All Caps for emphasis, don’t you think? Flashing neon letters? Right, moving on). The Love It response is likely all about “Dude, starship” and a few other discussion items. The Hate It response…well that’s the point of reviews isn’t it? 

My exposure to series lead/creator Seth McFarlane has been limited to the occasional channel surf across Family Guy episodes and him reprising Peter Griffin’s voice as the eponymous Ted. And I’m not fully in on Mr. McFarlane as an on-camera force in the center chair. I’m willing to give Ed Mercer the whole season to settle in because…SUCKER (we’ve established this…).

Mostly, the Hate It part of how I view this show and Mr. McFarlane’s portrayal of Captain Ed Mercer are all inseparably linked in the amorphous spaces where how the staff writes the show influences how an actor takes those words off the page at the table read, then later on set and vice versa. Is it because the show can’t decide to let Seth McFarlane loose giving the the show the full Family Guy treatment? Or should the show just give us the straight up Star Trek: The Next Generation vibe that the three extant episodes clearly show us the creators intend to land on?

All I know is that Mr. McFarlane seems as caught between Tim Allen in Galaxy Quest and a pleasant, enjoyable Picard-lite character as is the writing arc for the show. And I’m pretty sure I need I need a few more episodes to decide if I think Mr. McFarlane even belongs in the center chair doing a live action role where he might take a lot of social media heat should he bring either Peter or Stewie Griffin’s voices to this clambake. No fake Boston accents as crutches in Orville-land, please.

So while we’re chewing on whether we like Mr. McFarlane as Ed Mercer, a hapless captain still recovering from a messy divorce who is given a ship he’s otherwise earned, let’s nail the writing on the head. Inconsistent tone becomes the word of the day over these three episodes: “Old Wounds,” “Command Performance” and “About a Girl.”

Wounds establishes the world and the dreaded Krill (naming your Big Bad aliens after whale food? Okay…suspension of disbelief) with an assault on a research station with a time travel McGuffin. The captain bickers with his ex-wife, Commander Kelly Grayson (Adrianne Palicki), who is now the XO. The good guys win when they give the McGuffin to the Krill with a sequoia seed glued on. The device creates a field where time moves forward allowing plants to grow quickly. Two thousand internal years later the giant tree expands too far to be contained by the Krill battleship hull. Establishes the odd and off-kilter vibe.

Command Performance proved to be the most infuriating episode to date. Largely because in the style of Next Gen Trek doesn’t mean rehash an old original episode as an excuse for Ed Mercer and Commander Grayson to bicker dredging up the implosion of the marriage as exhibits in an alien zoo. It’s not like I don’t know how to click through to “The Cage” or the recut version “The Menagerie” on Netflix.

However, somebody on this shows understands the value of the B-plot in an episode. Mercer and Grayson are plucked away from the ship when decoyed by holographic representations of the captain’s parents leaving the security officer, LT. Alara Kitan (Halston Sage) in command due to the Second Officer LCMDR Bortus (Peter Macon) needing time to incubate the egg he just laid. The young Xeylayan female, a high gravity super-strong species, has the expected crisis that Sulu, Chekhov and every other youngster has that seems union-mandated the first time in the center chair – “do I belong here in the chair?”

It all works out when she grows a set to defy orders, fly to the restricted alien planet with super advanced technology and trade for the captain and XO giving these asshole zookeeping aliens access to the video footage to every crap-wagon reality show currently in the Fox Network’s archives. The aliens simply put up TV screens to let guests watch the Kardashians and various Real Housewife iterations, which give the same bitchy human interactions as watching Ed Mercer and Kelly Grayson refight their divorce. Certain other “exhibits” are freed. Oh, and Commander Bortus hatches a girl…

Which leads us to About a Girl. The Moclans (Bortus’ race) are single gendered and, if the Second Officer is any indication, have dour personalities that fall in the amorphous spaces between Drax the Destroyer and LT. Worf. The funny version of this show that hasn’t fully appeared yet needs a straight man. The straight up morality play version of the show that has also yet to fully appear needs an honorable character to ask direct questions and still be a different kind of straight man. And his offspring is a girl…

Custom among the Moclans says to spare the rare females born among them the shame, bullying, derision, scorn and slight regard of being female in a nearly exclusively male society. They give out sex changes at birth. Ethical conflict and a courtroom hearing ensue.

Most of the humans and other species on the USS Orville fall into the No Procedure Camp. Bortus begins in the Pro Camp, but falls into the No Camp after watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (does Fox own that classic?). This causes conflict with Bortus’ mate, Klyden (Chad Coleman) who remains Pro throughout. Klyden reveals that he was female and given the procedure at birth.

I both hated and liked About a Girl. Yes, there isn’t a writer watching from the peanut gallery that wouldn’t see the trope of toss in a second gender into a single gender society as both catnip and a metaphorical red flag to a bull. No one resists this low hanging fruit and some of my favorite Next Generation episodes were courtroom stories. So I liked it, right? Maybe, if the show hired someone good to act as story editor.

About a Girl is the third episode. The two previous episodes didn’t really let us into Bortus and Klyden’s reality or even hint at Moclan culture hoping that a trial episode will give us this knowledge in a slam-fist manner. The best parallel to Trek is the OG episode “Amok Time” that told us about the violence lurking underneath Vulcan logic culture, a story told long after Trekkies had adopted Spock as a good guy a.k.a. not until the middle of the second season. A better story editor on The Orville writing staff pushes this episode at least until Episode Fourteen.

But, even then I would really like to see a better courtroom sequence in this hypothetical episode that drops later in the season. Commander Grayson advocates for the No Procedure side and her defense relies on putting the Helmsman, LT. Gordon Malloy (Scott Grimes), on the stand to show that a man can be comically stupid outside his area of expertise. Then she puts Alara Kitan on the stand to demonstrate that women could be powerful.

Trek-style courtroom epsiodes usually require the surprise witness to drop somewhere after the third commercial break. In this case, Captain Mercer finds a Moclan female, a woman who wasn’t sex changed and lives in seclusion up on a hill and who is the planet’s most revered writer. Her testimony proves useless and the force of the Way Things Have Always Been leads to a ruling in favor of a sex change procedure.

What I didn’t get was a whole lot of back and forth between the various advocates arguing the case. The sequence fell flat as if no one actually went back to the old courtroom episodes to see how they were constructed. Thus, I didn’t really care that the hearing ruled against the new Moclan boy.

So what is to like about The Orville, enough to justify that I will give the show enough time to find itself? Mostly right now, I’m just grooving on characters that Gene Roddenberry would never have let past the gate during The Next Generation era because they’re weird to the point of just being barely acceptable on a professionally run starship. And they can be douches to each other under the surface. Most writers ascribe to the theory that if you have the characters you’ll eventually have the show.

True, I did mention above that Mr. McFarlane as Captain Mercer is the roughest fit for me in my liking of this show. Part of that is as much about the show being in a weird in-between state between Star Trek homage played for laughs and said homage played straight for the cool Science Fiction vibe and exploration of the Human Condition as we find it in 2017. I’m giving Ed Mercer a lot of rope to win me over because…SUCKER for starship shows.

Luckily, the other half of the ongoing couple’s argument happening daily on the USS Orville’s bridge has stepped up to take up much of the slack. So what if Commander Grayson cheated with a blue alien? When Adrianne Palicki says her bit about feeling abandoned just before the affair, I’ll listen. Good actress.

So far the minor characters are just chewing up the scenery. Watch the dudes at the front of the bridge, LT. Gordon Malloy and the Navigator, LT. John LaMarr (J. Lee). You’ve seen their repartee before and it works every time. They’re jerks bonding over being jerks and they drop in comments when the senior officers aren’t on the bridge. A dog licking its balls in the background of a viewscreen call? Yeah, they saw that first thing. Who do they remind me of? They only need felt, a balcony and a little less supervison from officers to really light it up as Staetler and Waldorf from The Muppets.

I also want to highlight what Penny Johnson Jerald is doing with the ship’s doctor, Dr. Claire Finn. The form needs a believable person as the doctor, whether she stands on her principles refusing to perform a sex change on an infant before she can choose or adroitly sidestepping the advances of Yaphit (Norm McDonald), a gelatinous crewmember with a horny and hypochondriac streak. I just enjoy the morality and gravitas she brings to the role. Hey, we’ve got the doctor character ready for the first Disease of the Season episode, we’re stylin’.

Lastly, we have Issac, a sentient robot from Kaylon-1, voiced by Mark Jackson. Other than telling us that his people view all biological lifeforms as inferiorand he wants to study humanoid lifeforms, he hasn’t been on screen long enough in any of these episodes for us to get a handle on him. We’ll see, though the minute you say sentient robot anywhere near me and I’m already warming up the oujia board to get a story consult from the late Fred Saberhagen about Berserkers…just sayin’, don’t be surprised.

Seth McFarlane has created an imperfect thing that needs to find what it does well over this first season with a certain other starship show is lurking in the wings ready to eat the plucky USS Orville for lunch. There are good actors, solid characters and design (the ships of the Union have a hand-whisk/eggbeater look to them) and someone just needs to figure out how to build on these elements by both writing to what these characters do well and making sure the episodes happen in the right order.

Leading with episode three, a slightly lackluster courtroom drama after rehashing TOS “The Cage” as an excuse for Captain Mercer and Commander Grayson to bicker is funny, sort of. Probably, I’m just the sort of writer to lead with a fistfight with the dastardly Krill (still breaking into giggles naming the local Klingon-equivalent species after whale food) in the early episodes and go for the stories about law, ethics and the interpersonal relationships of the crew a little later in the season. As I’ve said, a good story editor will right this ship. I hope they find someone.     

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Ouch…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

It’s a slow news day, hot and already swimming in caffeine lightly plucking at my nerves as intended. Make another RPG monster; we just seem to love having beasts to slay. I play around with my photo apps as I have done in the past. A photo of a real cockroach shoots a laser at a spider dropped in from an EFX app. Wash it through a toon filter app. Presto! Insta-monster! ICK (See photo)! 

Again, I’m not going to confuse the reader by going all stats heavy on the Cyclo-roach (Look, I’ve pretty much used up my originality quotient for the day just coming up with the beast. Besides, every now and again Marvel decides Scott Summers is a dickhead likely to behave no better than a laser firing cockroach). I can’t really give stats because I myself haven’t decided on the scale differential between the two arthropod combatants.

I went out walking at night to get my miles in without also having to slick up initially foul-smelling and astringent sunscreen. Cockroaches really love the dark and don’t seem phased by the big human creating a proportional earthquake in their spaces in the hardy pseudo-greenery next to the sidewalk. They come right up to my shoe daring me to squish them. Some are at least two inches long, big, fat nasty brown little bastards to whom I extend a similar détente as I have towards bees. Bees get their pass because…pollination. Roaches crossing the pavement get their pass because…far from the Shire (home) and therefore legendary.

I see one near my feet. Suddenly, I’m on photo safari trying to get the business end of my cell phone lens and flash on the little horror. Success – CLICK! I get an image that needs a lot of framing in mobile Photoshop with a judicious amount of color correction (Pulitzer prize winning news photography this ain’t). I continue the walk. I see more nocturnal insects out and about. I contemplate how to incorporate the picture into my ongoing need for having things to write about on this blog. Cockroach equals Monster…that’s been an easy SAT comparison since forever. Ewwwwww!

But, what kind of monster? Slightly bigger than regular cockroaches worth only about one and a half hit die per? Basketball sized, which puts the Cyclo-roach on par with what Dungeons & Dragons thinks is a giant spider? Or do we go full Tolkien horror sized where both the spiders and roaches scale up to the size of fifth-wheel style RVs? You, Dear Gamemaster, will decide for yourself.

Just so you know, the laser firing compound eye things was a late addition to the mix. I was going to drop in the spider effect in such a way as to evoke Cyclo-roach’s terrifying older cousin, the Nosfer-roach (again, we live in the age of the narrative blender). But, it took less than ten seconds looking at my roach image that I didn’t really get the framing right to have Cyclo-roach wipe out Shelob with a bite to the neck. I could’ve tweaked the image more using some of my slightly better apps, but I’m rushing where the manipulation just needs to be: add spider, add laser, add burn mark and just the right blood spray and then export it to the toon filter to cover up any sins that might distract the viewer from grooving on what is now Cyclo-roach. Nosfer-roach may still surface once I get a different roach image.

Back to what does Cyclo-roach do? Blast things with its laser eyes, or course. However, I’ve left the creeping horror open to interpretation because I didn’t put any scale markers in my image to give any clues as to scale. The small size is maybe the most un-fun version. At probably a single four sided dice hit points and a similar puny blast with the laser. At this size, the GM is probably better off just unleashing Swarm of Insects.

Next we move up to the basketball-sized beast to keep up with the standard giant insect size arms race. Spiders become basketballs of venomous death; their deadly blood rivals seek to expand their evolution to keep up. Figure 2D6 for hit dice while keeping up a similar blast damage rating on the laser and still getting the mass gaggle swarm tactics of regular nesting bugs. Not fully cooking with scary slimy gas yet, but we’re getting there.

Then the size arms race goes to the Shelob size of bugs that J.R.R. Tolkien just couldn’t get enough of. Big spiders result in big cockroaches cooking enemies with a laser to even out the evolutionary advantage from the web-building trait. And the need to feed all that mass means you’d have an evolvement where the humanoids making up the adventuring party seem as tasty as we would to the spider. Maybe the two fight over access to food (us), leading to all sorts of legendary three-way rumbles between people, Cyclo-roach and Shelob’s babies…probably in a sewer near you. I figure about 8D8 on hit dice and 6D6 on the laser? Your mayhem will vary.

And then I remembered a fourth weight class in which the Cyclo-roach could operate: kaiju size. A laser-firing cockroach could very well grow large enough to contend with Godzilla for the heart of Downtown Tokyo requiring the more convenient of the Japanese Self-Defense Air Force, Godzilla, Mech-Godzilla, Mothra or Guidera to flatten the city in an effort to save it from the dreaded and disgusting Cyclo-roach – 10D10 and 10D8 laser, though I’m absolutely certain Godzilla gets a +8 modifier leading with his rusty gate scream, but that’s just me.

As tempting as it would be to see a roach the size of the Chrysler Building walking down the boulevard daring that screaming thunder-lizard to bring it, I’m starting to think the Shelob size would be the most fun. Large enough to hide behind insect carapace that becomes proportionally more useful as armor the more unlikely the average urban hiker could squish the average cockroach just minding its own business.

So now that we’ve picked a Cyclo-roach size for my, as yet mythological, gaming sessions, what births Cyclo-roach into existence?

Something about laser eyes just says mutants and that’s before we admit to liberally giving Scott Summer (X-men Cyclops) the Kafka treatment (at some point like the rest of us I will actually have to read that book). It says mad wizard pissed off at somebody to want to experiment with an insect that we associate with rendering cellulose into food (roaches and termites are cousins). It says mad scientist (functionally the same thing). But, what I don’t get is how you pull off the laser from a strictly genetic point of view.

Glowworms and lightning bugs produce bioluminescent light, but how do you create the genes that result in the lensing that gives you a laser? Borrow from various birds of prey with excellent daytime color vision that can see rats for miles? I hear squid can see well in some ways better than human vision, which has built in flaws. How do you build to an actual laser from these building blocks? If I knew I’d be doing it and scaring universities into pulling my research grants like a proper supervillain origin story.

But, at the end of the day, it’s an RPG/horror movie monster. We do get to make it up as we go along using a judicious amount of magically induced radiation. Mix it with whatever spell/evil DNA research sounds most plausible and now we’re cooking with gas. Just as long as we get to the pretty reporter that started out as a beauty pageant winner doing her job…

“Chuck, I’m down here in the five hundred block of Canaervon Boulevard. The giant cockroaches marching down the street are creating massive vibrations with each step…Phil get it on camera…yeah, HOLY SHIT! As if we didn’t have enough trouble the beasts just melted an armored car with laser eyes…”

As always your mayhem will vary. Enjoy!

Easy to photograph…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

When speaking in favor of fan fiction (see post), I must’ve been writing in the abstract. Several months later, my Wattpad account still only has the three Star Trek stories left over from a brief explosion of ideas from about seven years ago surrounding the last regular publication of the Strange New Worlds anthology that walked in the door when I opened the account. What happened? Brain freeze most profound. 

Okay, Captain Archer bet the ship on a game of chess with a Klingon over a dilithium rich planet. And then we get a weird one where Mirror Picard goes through the portal to jack up (four lights, Asshole) Kirk Prime over access to the Guardian of Forever. Which then leads to the ultimate Star Trek Mary Sue (slang for a talented outsider showing up the crew) story, where the Guardian of Forever (really must like that glowing talking time travel donut) tosses a SEAL and his brother, a Naval Aviator, across the Fiction Divide to save the day. Since then…nothing.

So far no one has paid attention other than my dad and the five other family members following my online presence, but I did try Batman or, rather, Wonder Woman thrust into the Gotham cesspool – Widow Wayne. And then I yanked the story from Wattpad after four sections in a fit of it’s not good enough. I haven’t put it back up despite recently considering using such fan fiction as loss leader verbiage. I weighed using these words a small few hundred at a time to anchor things like TinyLetter email newsletters or to replace unproductive political comments on Facebook.

Well, not if I don’t figure out the brain freeze that leads to a near-total lack of Give a Damn for licensed fan fiction, across several licenses. Let’s see false starts for Star Trek. And equally entertaining nose plants for Star Wars. And I have so far discovered that gravity is a thoroughgoing bitch as I perfect the Tomato Splat Dance with my more numerous DC Universe abortions. Something about the concept either blows up in a spectacular fail leading to the fatal question – Why? – or simply hides in the closet.

For some reason since completing Toys of Forever (the Mary Sue story), my best Star Trek idea has been to punish Kirk for all the dead redshirts by having him do a Henry the Fifth Disguises Himself Among the Troops to Hear Their Opinions story. But, does Captain Kirk really need more of a beating about dead redshirts?

The Internet and most Star Trek themed joke-memes have already beat Kirk’s halting delivery of – “You. Killed. My. Man. Dirty. Klingon. Bastard!” – to hell and back. What do I add? I’ll let you know if Calliope stops hiding behind the winter coats in the back of the wardrobe. Besides, I don’t hate Kirk enough for this story.

Another Trek idea that could still possibly fly for Wattpad or my other unused loss leader venues is an unnamed small patrol ship series. The idea is to jettison the majority of the planetary landing episodes in favor of flying along already charted space lanes acting like the Coast Guard, rescuing people and making safety inspections. Someone has to do the routine work of Starfleet that allows the Enterprise to roll up to the newfound planet, kill redshirts and kiss the green alien girl by the last reel.

So I need a captain of this small ship. Not wanting to completely to reinvent the wheel as Peter David got to with Mackenzie Calhoun, I go casting about for a previously unknown relative for someone we already know. Someone who can cameo for their cousin the way Al Michaels the sportscaster did for his fictional brother, Arliss on the eponymous HBO show from way back. In Star Trek land (my version of it anyway) we quickly land on Lieutenant Commander Henry Picard (Americanized spelling is highly intentional) of the Napa Picards.

I had quite a bit of fun positing a third cousin (their grandfathers were brothers) raised by the Napa wing of the great winemaking family. There was a lot of blovius/exposition about cousins shut out of the chateau and then marrying into California land grants from the Spanish king, a trademark fight between Chateau Picard (France) and Maison Picard (Napa) in the 1880s leading to Henry creating a minor scandal getting caught for demerits at Star Fleet Academy with a beer-making kit. And then, I had my typical fan fiction brain freeze of then what?

No solidified ship name (USS Resolution? USS Bright Nova?). No plot in the sense of Henry either rescuing someone that causes trouble or searching a ship to find improper behavior that then launches into the adventure. Does depicting routine Starfleet operations with neither a big war nor fascinating planet to explore remove the reasons we watch Star Trek instead of Babylon5? I don’t even know how the Klingons will show up.

Or we could talk about Star Trek: Everyone Comes to Lucky’s. Worf’s son Alexander opens up a restaurant near the border between the Klingon Empire and the Federation. He serves fresh targ for his Klingon guests and replicator meat for everyone else. Other than Alexander, named Lucky by his shipmates in the Dominion War, wearing a tux and fussing over a visit from his father and Chancellor Martok…nothing. Crickets.

It’s not like there aren’t adventures to be had doing the Trek version of Casablanca where the man in the tux doesn’t need to look for adventure, it walks in the door in the form of a dame who once upon a time – “the Germans wore gray. You wore blue.” I just haven’t found any yet. Not a single mysterious female, nor shifty-eyed drifter has taken up his seat at the far end of the bar since I first doodled out Lucky serving his father and adopted uncle a targ alfredo. Gee! Wouldn’t it be nice if… Believe me, I’d bomb the establishment if I thought it would do any good. No villains. No why to the piece.

I quickly walked away from a Star Wars project intended to show Rey building her own lightsaber going prospecting in the Yavin Four debris field for kyber crystals. With the First Order, General Hux and Kylo Ren running around, I’ve got all the villains with clear motivations I’ll ever need. But, The Last Jedi is going to cover the majority of my story. I should watch the movie and see what’s left. Don’t reinvent the wheel (unless you really hated the script for Return of the Jedi, a story for another time).

Bringing it around to the DC Universe, this process of coming up with brilliant half-ideas that fizzle in the harsh light of day continues. I still can’t develop a Batman villain that Diana Prince-Wayne could fight as she acclimates to the social warfare of being the Widow Wayne. I have cool moments, like during the transfer of the Wayne Trust a discussion and pointed barb about Clark Kent’s glasses (Diana agrees to dye her hair red to create more divergence between Diana and Wonder Woman). Yeah, I’m not immune to throwing in the Selina Kyle Catwoman as the jealous ex. Or Poison Ivy. Or the current Gotham It Girl, Harley Quinn.

So far, I have an episode of the old Tick sitcom that deals with all the minor conflicts that happen in between the big hero fights. Diana drops a loaded eyebrow on the bitchy society ladies of Gotham silently judging her because she didn’t wear Hermès? Check…complete with bitch slap. Diana comes to terms with Selina Kyle as the equally grieving ex? Check. But, perhaps the main difference between Diana Prince and someone like Alexis Carrington is that she throws hard elbows at…(Joker? Riddler? Two-Face?).

 A friend once tried to assuage my ongoing freak out about not having any good ideas for my favorite superheroes saying – “invent a crime and give it a slightly offbeat and superhuman twist that it could only be pulled off by whichever villain you pick from Batman’s list. It’s not rocket science.” It’s almost cliché to bust out Joker as the Batman go to villain. I’m sure there are scholarly papers about Joker being Batsie’s dark alter ego doing the Jungian duality thing posted somewhere. Unfortunately, this can lead to the cliché and occasionally creatively bankrupt solution of send in the clown.

The question I face with The Widow Wayne is why? With the Clown so intertwined with Batman, why would Joker even show up to make trouble for Wonder Woman? Does he quit? Does he bust out every racist, sexist, violent trope sure to buy the writer of this dark fable lots of heat from the social media peanut gallery? Does he hold back because he’s playing against a girl representing, to his mind, a lesser opponent, buying the writer even more heat from the same social media peanut gallery that humorously gets you both ways because yelling on social media has become a national spectator sport?

If I go with Joker holding back, does it create a sense of a ranked chess player infuriatingly pulling knights off the board to a keep a child in the game? And does that sense of keep the hero in the game wander off into another villain’s wheelhouse (I’m looking at you, Riddler)? My brain freeze is complete across all my fandoms…

I’m reasonably certain that the inability to answer the all-important questions – who is the frakking villain and what does he want? – has its roots in the sheer love my fandoms cause in me. I really want to get Trek right the first time without resorting to slash fiction or busting out hentai that…no, not going there. It’s like I’m violating my own aphorism about take a Shakespearean drama off the pedestal, perform the fucker with actors and shut the hell up about it being “the standard by which all English literature is judged.”

It’s just Batman, Star Trek and Star Wars. But, somehow I’m more likely to do the mild personal deconstruction of Shakespeare and Shakespeare-adjacent projects (Coriolanus in Space, Chinatown in Iambic Pentameter) that keeps these ancient plays relevant than to remember that the same goes for modern franchises. But, the “I’m not worthy” factor that once upon a time kept me from chatting up both Leonard Nimoy and Ray Bradbury also seems to kick my ass trying to find a good plan for scum and villainy. Without the evil plan that the hero responds to, you just don’t have a superhero story. I do okay the minute I remove the pressure of getting Batman or the Joker “right” and ruthlessly steal tropes into an original context (ask me about Funnyman).

So for the moment, I don’t do fan fiction. Ask me again sometime later, if I got my shit together.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

I write. I write all kinds of ways. I revert back to typing on a word processor on a regular basis. Sometimes I get whiny about writing with a pen trashing my elbow. Certainly tapping out my next chapter crashed out on my couch with my iPhone (pictures absolutely not forthcoming!) takes twice as long. Editing and retyping typewriter product has seemed a little intimidating nearly all the time, but I do it. And I haven’t wanted to risk the voice transcription error rate for Siri/Dragon. So more often than not I type on my traveling computer, which really streamlines editing to the most painless it’s ever going to be. There, that covers the why of a post bloviating/updating you about my process…whatever pleases me at the moment. 

It’s really weird temporarily joining certain writer subgroups when you bust out certain writing methods for the day; usually this is the pen and paper crowd. I flop into a chair open up the spiral and draw one of my five named fancy pens (I come not in disparagement of pens, but for which to…really? Let me a take a moment to kick the shit out of Shakespeare’s ghost. BAM! CHOP-POW! Where were we?). And I start making words.

I look slightly younger than I am where my few gray hairs have made honorable compact to forego spreading across my head. Maybe my fellow writers from the Gen X/Boomer class are surprised when I bust out a pen, because I don’t always look like them (look close and listen, yeah, I was there in the Stone Age when we all rode saber-tooth tigers, soon to go extinct). They must think I care to hear their anti-youth whines about not learning cursive and a few other pen related topics that just seem like an excuse to bitch that “in my day…” Our day was the metaphorical Neolithic Age and how things are now are way better; you can take my computer when you pry it from my cold dead hands!

Without getting into the advanced class topics of reading cursive or the value of teaching useful archaic skills just in case the power goes out, I’ll keep my frustration to the most basic and common assertion – “Well, I hear that writing with a pen makes stronger connections in the brain and that it is better than writing with a computer.” This assertion also surfaces every now and again in my social media feed. The fake movie lawyer I never really wanted to be is already shouting – “Objection, Your Honor, facts not in evidence!”

No, this is not me pulling an anti-science position (not without scorn, derision and slight regard…excuse me, Zombie-Shakespeare is proving hard to keep dead. POW-POW-BAP-THWAP!). This is just me admitting that I just haven’t made the time to look up (the speakers/posters haven’t cited any articles in my hearing, so they’re not helping), read and digest such information. And why not? The assertion runs contrary to my personal experience.

Giving a child in school a pen and wide-ruled three-hole filler paper may in fact be good educational policy using a Training Wheels Work up to the Computer methodology. I don’t know these things getting them secondhand from teacher friends. And people who do make the effort to wade through such journal articles will develop proper educational policy without old timers waxing nostalgic/craptological.

Once you sell out to your muse (Calliope in my case) as an adult writer, I don’t think the supposed benefits of writing by hand matter. Either you pick a method and make words, or you accept that you were distracted by a mostly boring football game the day before (your distractions will vary). So after years and years of living in my skin as a writer, I just can’t tell the difference between the ears when I slash with a pen or scalpel (horrible made up verb there) with a keyboard. I have been given a sampling of mental health/life coaching counseling over the years, trust me, my state when I write is exactly like my state when I type.

My infrequent bouts of writer’s block (last one in 2009 for 18 months, I was extremely angry) likely wouldn’t have changed at all. Neither does the method seem to change the quality of my words or underlying ideas. I recently invented the draco-bear, a worthy beast to obstruct the way of many a stalwart hero on the road to Mordor or North of the Wall. I used a pen. I typed. The results are the same, a beast likely to burn off the seat of your pants unless you bribe it with salmon.

And yet some of my fellow writers, just love to assert that X way is best. We’re already the weirdest people in the room just admitting with a straight face that we write, that we sit around trying to think shit up in a society where three to six million readers determine what the rest of us will see as movies four years later. If writing with a pen had such a great effect all through my early years in school, the similar effects of cutting to the chase and typing have caught up to handwriting that we either write words or watch football.

I typically nod when I hear this assertion and say nothing. It doesn’t pay to get into the silliness of debating pens, keys or Siri. I’ll do me fighting through at least 1,000 words per day. You do you. And let’s keep writing…the rest is silence (Shakespeare for the win! ARRRRRRRGH!).

I really stepped on this bitch!

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

I step on bees…barefoot. No lie GI, I literally step on bees. And get stung on the same left foot every time. This has happened three times in my life to date. Walk across the grass as a kid while on a family vacation – YEEEEOOOW! Go to the beach with other parts of my family a couple years later (it was black, might be a wasp) – YEEEEOOOW! Go many, many years with nary an incident while making sure every bee in my field of view stays in my field of view, if you see them they’re not the problem. Let them do their pollination thing well away from the more deadly of a farmer using neonicotinoid pesticides or me on a mild bee freak out. 

I was going so well until this week when a bee enters my living room. There’s a small hole in my balcony screen that seems to let occasional bugs in, but few out. I had the door open because shit it’s hot. It buzzes around scary me just enough to reach for the nearly empty bug spray can leftover from moving in. Sometimes it’s the noise. Other times the little fucker dive bombs me trying to figure out why my light fixture that could look like a flowering tree isn’t producing nectar and baking the shit out of her with CFC radiation.

This goes a couple days where I really don’t like my time on my favorite couch with the bee overhead. No, I don’t do full blown phobias, but I am nearly grinding my teeth as I read, write and watch TV. I reached for the can at least twice spraying it like a duck hunter giving off warning shots. I need the bee-specific version of the ballistic missile defense radars from the Sixties because I’m not even coming close to making bee meet bug spray. Little yellow and black bitch will get a Strategic Draw Declare Victory and Go Home result largely because she’s too stupid to reverse course through my screen out the way she came.

So two nights ago, there’s no bee. I’m doing my thing barefoot and then there is the bee. I get the can. I step around between the coffee table and the TV. I put the can down on the coffee table. I wonder if I just close the door and wait her out instead. Sure enough, I put my left foot down on the one of many throw rugs covering my crap carpet and – YEEEEOOOW! – feel a familiar sharp sting running through my left heel.

I don’t see anything but what may or may not be a stinger left in me probably with Captain Ahab’s curse translated into Bee – “From hell’s heart, I stab at thee…” I yank it out with pliers and the venom reds up my foot for the next few days. Judging from the lack of buzzing on the nights in between, I got the bitch…pyrrhic victory. I confirmed the body count walking through the spot I stepped near just before this writing session (see picture).

Now, how do I look less like a douche being the guy who steps on bees, the last one on his own carpet? I know! There’s got to be an RPG monster in here somewhere! Because, if I can’t milk this moment overblowing this moment the way Peter Benchley nearly ass-fucked Great White Sharks with Jaws, I’m not sure why I have my imaginary creative license.

I’m pretty sure Dungeons & Dragons has already covered the giant deadly versions of Apis Mellifera (honeybee). Giant bees and wasps have been a feature of adventure movies since forever. Insects just look like they’re out to get you; probably it’s the compound eyes. So why not scale them up to get the most bang for your scare investment?

Original Battlestar Galactica tossed the survivors of the ragtag fleet onto a planet where their alien hosts welcomed them with open arms promising food and rest. They discovered the honeycombs into which anesthetized humans were shoved into next to an egg (typically a wasp behavior, but who’s counting?) somewhere around the third commercial break. Apollo and Starbuck shot it out trying to save the ones they could and then they discovered the deal with the Cylons. I’m surprised Adama didn’t order the planet blown up Death Star style with one of the Galactica’s three big missiles later used to blast a basestar.

Ringo Starr famously squished a bee sized about like a dinner plate (too large for normal bee and too small for giant bee) onto his friend’s face in Caveman. The point was a green and goopy joke getting all over the guy’s face. I’m pretty sure Ray Harryhausen didn’t include giant bees or wasps in his movies because the great stop motion artist might have been too busy with skeletons, genies, flying horses and scorpions to get around to it. So, of course, there is a listing in the Miscellaneous Beast section of the Monster Manual for Giant Wasp (tomato, tom-ah-to) and Swarm of Insects. Someone’s paying attention to the things that scare the shit out of us in our dreams.

However, the assumption is RPG wasp/bees will act like wasps and bees flying around searching for food or defending nests. Images of adventuring parties swinging swords and trying to get the right bead with the arrows should now flood our imaginations. None of which allows me to flog my dead hobbyhorse of bees that lurk on my carpet just waiting to ambush me, by inflicting the same on countless players to come.

Bees that wait in ambush? I’m thinking of a bee that flies just ahead of the party and burrows into the ground ahead just like a Trapdoor Spider tasting the vibrations in the ground and wait for it…wait for it…pounces just when the big juicy fighter gets too close. Does she go for the fighter with all those muscles smacking her mandibles at all that protein? Does she go for the guy in the funny robe and hat remembering the last time the wizard blew up wrong taking out three of her sisters?

Frankly, I don’t know. You, Dear Reader, are more likely to get into a game before I do and each Dungeon Master will do his or her evil thought energy the way that feels best. Bees that lurk in ambush will spark an interesting backstory tap dance for how bee/wasps with known behaviors suddenly come out of the egg as the unholy love child with a Trapdoor Spider. Each DM deciding to do something a little different will invent the right mix of behavior to get the most out of the bee. Do they have epi-pens in the Forgotten Realms? More importantly, cans of Raid and matches?

Will I use Giant Trapdoor Bees myself as a monster? Ask me when I break the pattern for much of my entire RPG life (game implodes after three sessions on average) and I resume being the sadist behind the DM Screen. Will I have to do penance because bees are good things that pollinate plants and write a positive representation to get out from under hypothetical silly people who can’t take a joke? Probably not, everybody squirms just a little bit around bees and wasps. Take your pollination a little further down the road, Missy!

Inspiration? Perhaps…

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Yeah, yeah, even I’m already tired of bragging up my various RPG characters. But, if you read further there ain’t no braggin’ here. Si-Yun the Fighter…well, he’s playable, but I quickly tired of his motif after one session. Why? The concept that sounded so good between my ears just seemed ridiculous laid out on a gaming surface. What does he do? He throws rocks and baseballs at your head. 


So there I am on my periodic Meetup expeditions trying to find a game that doesn’t require that I A) give up my sacrosanct Wednesday night writing session or B) drive long ways in unfamiliar traffic. I find a Culver City game. I sign up. We meet at a gaming store set in the mushy spaces on the map between Culver City and Fox Studios. The DM tells us to use the point allocation system buried on the last page of the character creation section in the current Player’s Handbook where the player starts with average stats and applies a set number of points to get the results he or she wants.


I take a few days thinking up the concept sure to kill every freakin’ monster in the room. I wasn’t even watching any baseball when I had this brainwave to go for a rock thrower. Suddenly, I’m goofing around with baseball players, specifically pitchers. Si-Yun…Cy Young. Yeah, heavy-handed metaphor is one of my fortes when developing certain types of characters.

Once Cy Young becomes Si-Yun, I’m not going to spoil the concept by actually looking up the pitcher for whom the pitching award is named on Wikipedia. I think he’s a right-hander but why spoil a character with too many facts? Doesn’t matter, I’m a righty with a marked sense of wonder for the few southpaws among us as in – “How the hell do you throw stuff without getting all disco-bobbed in your shoelaces?” So I play righties. Always have.

Naturally, choosing a rock thrower with a folk hero background, probably means I’m world famous in Poland (or local equivalent) for being the guy that hit the scary crows with a rock during the bird invasion. It means optimizing my stats for three fifteens (Strength, Constitution and Dexterity) and three elevens including race bonuses for human. And double specializing as a fighter in rock throwing, along with quarterstaff and dagger.

So have a bag of tennis ball sized rocks will travel. Designing a pitcher as itinerant hero still seems a good idea to me. I’m making jokes about being a four-weapon pitcher. I have a rising four-seam fastball signaled from the catcher as Number One. I have a sinking two-seam fastball as Number Two. A big curveball as Number Three. And a hard slider in the Number Four slot. Fancy blovius for “I’m throwing at your head Mr. Ogre.”

It wasn’t until a little later that my dark imaginings about a baseball character motif naturally led to some funny, in the abstract, thoughts. You throw at the ogre (orc? Whatever). You miss close moving him back a few feet from the inside corner. Now, if we really dive deep on the baseball metaphor, does this now mean the ogre must now whistle to his buddies for a bench-clearing brawl in which they curse your parentage as they swing with ejections, suspensions and fines to follow? Oh, right, it’s already a fantasy RPG us or them pub brawl. Who would notice? In all cases, better get him in the ear, Si-Yun.

I must’ve also imagined the real world results of too many bean balls inflicted upon batters or the similar ugly results of the frozen rope shot straight back to the pitcher’s mound. They’ve listed pitchers getting hit in the head as a risk factor for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). I remember players and base coaches on my team, the Dodgers, taking fearsome shots usually just below the ear that messed them up for a long time.

However, real world head trauma isn’t exactly well reflected in the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons. A sharply thrown rock has really always been a mere D4 in damage. True, I throw my fist-sized rocks and replenish by searching the riverbeds or back alleys for new rocks, brick chunks, road pavers and actual baseballs so ammunition is free everywhere. And equally true, there are really good reasons to have at least a few of the steely-eyed missile men in the party throwing stuff that specifically deals out blunt force trauma: skeletons, zombies, or Giger’s alien xenomorphs. I’ve been in parties that have fought all three.

Maybe you want to break bones for double damage (is that still a rule for skeletons?). Or the monster is basically contagious (I’m looking at you Abercrombie the Zombie). Lastly, the beast might’ve been built by a dungeon master on a bad no coffee day to wipe you out in a spoilsport acid bath after the fact. Blunt force missiles do help the party survive.

So after one play session, why did I suddenly walk back Si-Yun from being a great idea to an okay, playable concept? I’m not sure if it’s my natural ADHD fickleness with characters (I have switched out characters in the past to the groans of certain DMs). Or, perhaps, with a folk hero background that likely says I’m an ambassador for baseball in whatever campaign world I find myself with Si-Yun, that I just didn’t want to talk like a baseball player turned adventurer at the gaming table. How many ERA stats can I bloviate about? Quite a lot if I care, which truthfully isn’t much except when it’s November ball and the Dodgers have survived their traditional August slump.

 And let’s not underestimate that at D4 blunt missile damage throwing rocks just doesn’t do damage quickly enough for the average bloodthirsty RPG player. I’ve played with out and out bloodthirsty (Set Phasers for Deep Fat Fry!) characters in the party. More often than not the bloodthirstiness, even among good characters, is simply the basic survival instinct of – “Maybe the idea is to be the guy that always brings a shotgun to a pistol fight.” Peace through superior firepower, indeed.

So there you have it, a small piece of my character generation thought process…for what it’s worth.

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

When we last left my ongoing commentary on my friend, Francis Joe Burns, and his recent creation Danica Shade, I pretty much raved about her prose introduction story This Party’s Sooo Dead (see post). I had a lot of fun watching a purple skinned, pink haired deadly cutie of a dark elf (Drow or D’orch’A in the D&D Monster Manual for those who care) chop-socking her way through a variety of mostly undead people at a Hollywood house party led by a lich needing killing. In the main, now that Danica has jumped into the comic book character she was always intended to be, I’m still enjoying the experience. 

This time around in Nevertheless She Persisted our favorite dark she-elf assassin, counter-terrorism agent, pseudo-millennial gamer girl and all around metaphorical standard bearer for modern decency simply needs a job. A ‘normal’ job that in Danica-verse means a security consulting position. Wearing what is likely to become her signature out fit of a purple and black skirt mated to black metallic armor pieces that give her an odd sexy but still subdued Ren Faire bondage mistress vibe she goes for an interview.

In this short comic book with no interior color, Danica waits in a large office waiting room making mental notes about what it is the Boss might be compensating for. The ladies in the office, all of them beautiful completely out of proportion to the normal distribution of such pulchritude, really don’t like working in this office. The Boss-man assumes every woman walking in the door is a secretary and he grabs asses whenever he can. Danica fumes and leaves about halfway through the interview. She later interrupts a Dungeons and Dragons session to do something about it, break into the office.

As someone who must admit that I knew this story was coming because it is my privilege to sit across from Joe most Wednesday nights working on projects, I must say that how he pitched it gave a lot of expectation compared to how this first story came out in black and white comic book form. There is a totally awesome story in here that might not play as well to new readers, but Persisted serves as a good interim story to keep a fun character alive, until Joe either writes a novel or a full size comic book/graphic novel with colorist attached.

With Persisted, I really want to see Danica either make the Acapulco cliff diving splash into full color comics or retreat into prose where Joe’s words do amazing amounts of heaving lifting describing scenes, characters and dramatic situations. I didn’t hate the pencils provided by Ali Toglukdemir that gave Danica a black and white pseudo-anime look with wide expressive eyes. On most pages, I really enjoyed how pencils and inks worked out, but there were a small few where the narrative got mushy because I’d lost a bit of my ability to tell people apart.

Most noticeably, when the ladies in the office were sent to a harassment seminar as a distraction for Danica to enter the evil handsy Boss’s office to fight for the job she should’ve had in the first place. I had trouble telling if the people sitting around the conference table were the women likely to gain strength in numbers or if they might be the old crony dudes in the boardroom that would then have to deal with the newfound uprising among the steno pool.

Part of this is reflective that Joe really pitched the hell out of this story when we sat together like five-year-olds in study hall, but Persisted for me has been a good solid read that put me in a state much like doing lime shots without chasing it with tequila and salt immediately after. Limes are good if a little sour. Tequila is always good. And the salt chaser has its place. The assumption is that we follow the recipe and do these three things together.

Maybe Nevertheless She Persisted is really a 24-page (full size) single-issue story needing the extra twelve pages of chop-socky, snark and all around attitude to develop Danica’s world and what happens to the crappy Boss-man that many women must’ve worked for at one time or another? Especially considering the chosen ending, the twelve pages presented feel too short (a rare thing in storytelling).

These extra pages that were omitted due to Joe having the usual independent creator woes of having to balance keeping Danica in the market in time for key conventions, knowing that artists don’t work for free and the almighty budget. Sadly this is how well pitched should be 24-page one shots become truncated 12-page reads that leave so much on the table.

What do I want to see in these missing extra pages? Mostly, we should see that the Boss is powerful enough to retaliate against Danica forcing her to up her violence game. And a big climactic monster at the end of the video game level: Ogre, Bridge Troll, Werewolf…pick one.

What really gets left on the table even in the truncated version is the feeling of schadenfreude we want to feel towards the handsy Boss as he gets the shit kicked out of him by a woman that just ain’t takin’ it no more. Even with the presented ending that goes for let’s make a deal, Jerk, much like how Cardinal Richelieu makes a deal with D’Artagnan at the end of Three Musketeers, I really would’ve liked this asswipe to twist for a few pages and need to beg Danica to help fix the damage. I have a feeling that Joe really did this story justice in a prose outline draft that got slashed up translating it to comic book form. These things happen.

Most of the rest of my griping comes from Danica just isn’t a black and white character. Even with the pencils and inks as they are (mostly good but with a couple pages the artists want back), I really believe that color will make our favorite femme asskicker pop off the page. Dude, she wears purple and black dress armor with spandex underneath and at least with this art team it didn’t move me all that much in black and white. Hopefully, Joe will take heart and pay for a good colorist next time around.

After reading both extant stories, Party and Persisted, I wondered if I read them in the wrong order. Danica’s normal career path is to be destined to wipe out really big bads like undead necromancers and other things that go bump in the night. Basically, she should invite Buffy, the Charmed Sisters and the entire cast of the all-female Supernatural spin-off for dinner and shared mayhem. Taking a few minutes to chop-socky disposable goons in an office break in seems like a come down leading me to wonder if Joe gets a little more out of both stories by arbitrarily asserting that Persisted happens before Party, a warm up for the Halloween zombie/lich fight.

At the level of script, I felt that Joe had a mixed bag using caption and interior monologue boxes to drive the narrative. Really good for narrating Danica’s reactions and thoughts seeing this impressively sexist workplace needing an ass-whooping, less so for explaining the sharp cuts between scenes (job interview to interrupted RPG session to the break in to gather evidence). A character introduced in This Party’s Sooo Dead, a gnome hacker that acts as Danica’s Tom Arnold (support team on the headset) might have needed a caption box to tell the reader who she is.

But, I really want to highlight some of the earlier caption boxes that give the reader insight into Danica as an investigator and open can of whoop ass. She walks into the cavernous waiting room and makes a point of seeing the many impeccably dressed beautiful human women with slumped shoulders and downcast eyes. She immediately understands she has walked into a lion cage where the tamer hasn’t fed the performers properly. And when her suspicions prove out with the first ass grab, we get to feel her anger, snark and determination to do something. This part of the comic book just really worked so well, there’s no bashing it. Truncated story or not, Joe clearly hears Danica whispering in his ears as she reaches out from her world far beyond our observable stars. We should all be that way with our characters.

Also in the vein of closing out my thoughts on a high note, I can’t say enough about the additional art provided by cover artist Don Walker and the exposition/title page provided by Paola Carbajal Kerr. Don, another friend from the Wednesday scene, imbues his cover (see above) with the depths that we know Danica will find when Joe finds her true stories and a good artist for the character. The cover gives Danica a sensuality missing from the interior art and quite frankly is the real reason for my ‘spring for color or just write a Danica novel, but don’t let her languish in black and white’ comments. The juxtaposition is just that stark.

And Paola, also a friend from our comics scene, busted out one of her funny and charming Chibi style drawings of Danica, as she acts like Basil Exposition explaining all the parts of the universe that just aren’t going to show up in a simple story of Danica taking down a sex harassing douchebag Boss: magic, magical races from RPGs and the racism therein. This deceptively simple art delivered with a smile helps me want to turn pages and keep saying as many nice things about Danica as possible.

So far that’s Great In Prose, Fun but Could Be Better in Black & White and Will Blow Socks Off in Color.