Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Manhole

It’s hard to define a game like The Manhole. Superficially it’s a lot like a point and click adventure game, as you explore a bizarre world by using your mouse to move around and interact with your surroundings. That’s about where any possible similarity with a game you’ve played before ends.

After the haunting theme song is over you find yourself in front of, amazingly enough, a manhole. Once opened a giant beanstalk quickly grows out of sight, giving you the option of climbing up or down to go exploring, or maybe you’d rather check out that fire hydrant in the distance. You could find yourself sharing tea with a rabbit before walking inside one of his books, or dive underwater and meet a French-speaking turtle. Or you could face down the cartoon world’s most fearsome inhabitant, a mildly grumpy penguin.

But how do you win the game, you say, what’s the point of all this? Hate to break it to you, but the goal is just to explore this weird place and have fun interacting with the things and creatures in it. There’s a dragon, but he isn’t burninating the countryside; he’s friendly and lets you use his wicked sound system.

Uh oh, this doesn't look good...
Uh, thanks hep cat?
 There’s no end, there’s no winning condition, and there is nothing at all resembling conflict in this game. For the person and a half still reading, the point of The Manhole is simply to capture a childhood sense of wonder and exploration as you go around clicking on anything that stands out to see what might happen. You might find yourself making a phone call to the developer, or music might start to play. A pool might empty to reveal a hidden exit, or you may hear a cartoon animal deliver a line in primitive, scratchy full-voice audio.

It doesn’t seem like much of a feature now, but when this game had characters that actually talked, not just in text boxes but in audible words, and came out years before everyone was using CD-ROMs, it was mind-blowing stuff.

He said "Hello, friend. You have a big nose and smell like a whale's armpit"

The game hasn’t aged well due to every game these days having talking characters, and because the only difficulty comes in looking for other places to click to see if anything happens. A thorough player can probably discover all of The Manhole’s secrets in an afternoon. However, if one remembers to approach it with the mindset of “the child in your home or the child in your heart,” there is a wondrous experience to be found here. So while it doesn’t earn a high rating because of how it doesn’t stand up especially well to repeated playthroughs, The Manhole is simply my favorite videogame of all time for the way it reaches out to the wide-eyed youngster within the cynical adult covering.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Twilight Chapter 4: Invitations

1. The chapter opens on Bella having a symbolic dream of Edward walking away and her never being able to catch up to him. What the dream doesn’t do is give anything to indicate why she’d want to be within fifty feet of him in the first place.

Bella’s picked up another unwanted admirer as Tyler, the guy who almost splatted her with his van, is still going all-out trying to make it up to her. Things between the two of them actually become some kind of extremely awkward running gag. Mike and Eric are even more hostile to him than they are to each other, and Bella worries over picking up another “unwelcome fan.” I have to wonder whether “unwelcome” refers to Mike and Eric not wanting him around, or Bella not wanting any of them around.

Despite Bella saying over and over that Edward saved her, nobody even seemed to notice him at the accident. With “chagrin” Bella realizes the reason for that: she’s completely obsessed with him. “No one else watched him the way I did. How pitiful.” That could be an interesting observation if it actually went somewhere, instead of being a momentary observation before plowing on exactly as she had before, occupying every minute of her day with thoughts of Edward.

As if things couldn’t get any worse, the Cullens never look her way at lunch anymore. Because most people are perfectly willing to reveal their deepest darkest secrets to teenagers they have no idea they can trust. And the Cullens’ secrets are deeper and darker than most, which Bella already suspects.

2. To clarify the last point, Bella’s upset Edward won’t trust her with the truth about himself, but what exactly did she do to earn a measure of trust? She can’t even stay mad at him, “the heat of my anger faded into awed gratitude.” Let us know when you grow a backbone, Bells.

3. Our heroine’s depression at the pretty boy not letting her in was starting to show in the emails to mom, who “called a few times, worried.” Moving in with Charlie so mom could enjoy the new marriage is working out great, huh?

4. Mike at least is enjoying the distance between Bella and Edward, especially with the “girls’ choice spring dance” coming up. Wouldn’t that be the Sadie Hawkins dance? Whatever.

Mike, Eric and Tyler are so crazy about Bella they all flat-out ask her if she’s going to ask them to the dance, not really getting the point of it at all. She turns them down by prodding Mike to accept Jessica’s invitation and arranging a spontaneous trip to Seattle that weekend to duck the other boys. She spends a lot of energy “trying to push the guilt and sympathy out of my head.” It’s a full-time job being a Mary Sue, isn’t it? Why is anybody interested in Bella? Meyer talks about how her work was inspired by all these classical love stories, you’d think she would’ve found a couple satisfactory answers for that question she could use.

Edward lets her taste the bitter pill of denial for herself when he tells her it’s better if they aren’t friends, making Bella acidly retort he regrets saving her life. He even twists the knife by blocking her way out of the parking lot, giving Tyler his chance to stop Bella and ask her about the dance. Edward even laughs as Bella awkwardly turns him down. Really, we’re supposed to like these characters and want them to get together, you say?

Like I said Meyer has compared her love story to others like Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, The Princess and Bride and all that, but I think I’ll refer to an example the people who read review sites are more likely to be familiar with: Han Solo and Leia Skywalker.

They both initially despise each other and eventually romance blossoms, but we’re given reasons to like them. Han might be cynical, but he does have the urge to do the right thing. Hence why he joins the Rebellion even after he’s been paid for the job he was hired to do in the first place. Leia seems hard-headed and argumentative, but that’s because she’s a tough woman who’s in charge of her own life and has dedicated it to toppling a tyrannical government. We’re given reasons to care about them so we hope they’ll get together once the seeds of attraction show up.

Now, let me stress the participants in a fictional coupling don’t have to be laser-toting space commandos for me to give a rat’s patoot, but they do have to be characters who are likable and in some way compatible. Bella’s a whiny little puke who follows Edward around like a puppy because he’s pretty, and he’s an arrogant jerk who enjoys seeing her powerless. When they bicker, I sure don’t feel like there’s any underlying sexual tension. And if you're expecting them to change and become more likable as the story plays out, well, in Edward's own words, I hope you enjoy disappointment.

5. Bella finally decides she’s had it with Edward and is going to ignore him, do well in school and earn a scholarship to someplace warm. You go, girl. Of course, the fact that there’s four of these bullet-stoppingly thick books opens up the possibility she MIGHT go back to secretly admitting she likes the sound of “Mrs. Edward Cullen.”

6. Getting her mind off Edward, Bella continues to settle into her role as Susie Homemaker. “It was fun to watch as he slowly began trusting me in the kitchen.” I guess I wouldn’t mind if she had any other interests, anything else she wanted to do with herself. Something like writing poetry in her spare time would be, well, something. Meyer's aware of how a regular person surrounded by werewolves and vampires can't really do anything to participate in their escapades, but it's like she revels in how powerless she can make her supposed heroine.

She tries to mention her trip to Seattle as gently as possible to Charlie. “I didn’t want to ask permission — it set a bad precedent.” Yeah that’s the thinking of a typical teenager, but Bella seems to be consciously taking every chance to lose sympathy she can find.

7. Charlie brings up the dance, and she thinks he ought to know better since she didn’t get her balance issues from her mom. And this guy’s a cop? In fact he’s the head of all the cops in the area? Yeah Forks is a tiny town where nothing happens, but if he’s anything like his daughter how did Charlie ever end up with a job like that?

8. Edward meets Bella the next day, insults her a little (for one thing admitting the thing with letting Tyler ask her out was completely deliberate), then despite all the “we shouldn’t be friends” gunk from before asks if she’d like to make her trip to Seattle with him. “He enunciated every syllable, as if he were talking to someone mentally handicapped.”

About “we shouldn’t be friends” he explains “I said it would be better if we weren’t friends, not that I didn’t want to be.” I love how he’s the one that calls Bella “utterly absurd” when he’s the one who’s giving up on trying to stay away from her yet refuses to open up. He’s been around for a hundred years, he doesn’t really think she’ll just forget her questions and be satisfied with his company, does he? Maybe the Cullens don’t interact much with normals, but they still live among them.

When she asks what business it is of his, he retorts her truck’s a real gas-guzzler and “The wasting of finite resources is everyone’s business.” He can’t even extend an offer to hang out without sounding superior. Boy I wish I was friends with Edward Cullen.

He ends the conversation by asking again if she’ll go with him to which she nods numbly, then repeats she really should stay away from. Grrrr! Look, I read the rest of the book, I know why he supposedly acts like this. But it’s annoying for a character we’re supposed to like, even fantasize about, to contradict himself in practically the same breath. Especially when the reason he says they shouldn’t be friends is he might lose control of himself and eat her.

Twilight Chapter 3: Phenomenon

1. Our perky heroine “groaned in horror” on waking up to find it snowed a little during the night. Sweetie, you knew what this place was like. You're only going to get harder to like if you keep complaining.

On the upside Charlie’s gone to work already, and she finds herself “reveling in the aloneness instead of being lonely.” Considering she had few friends and no niche back home, and even thinks of her father more as that guy she lives with, you’d think she’d have learned to cope, yeah. In fact when she thinks about how the boys at school fawn over her, “I wasn’t sure if I didn’t prefer being ignored.”

2. All the same, she’s in a hurry to get to school because it means seeing Edward again. “And that was very, very stupid.”

Normally I’m willing to give a story a little less grief when it admits something is stupid, because at least the writer knows there’s a problem (although obviously I prefer it when they’re aware of a problem and fix it). Not when the problem’s with the driving force of the story, and in the Twilight series that’s Bella and Edward’s relationship.

She acknowledges her fixation on him is stupid. That’s fine, because it is. I’ve seen plenty of romance plots where two characters are attracted against their better judgment and devote a lot of energy to denying anything’s there at all. Generally those work because the writer has them you know, get to know each other and realize that once they get past the rough edges they’re more compatible than they thought. Not here. Bella’s just fixated on Edward, period, even though she knows practically nothing about him as a person aside from how he can be a huge jerk. The only things she really learns about him over the course of the book are the ways “real” vampires differ from the popular conception. Granted we do learn one sort of redeeming thing about him regarding his feeding habits, but that’s more than undone by the oppressive way he acts to the woman with whom he’s supposedly deeply in love in later books. On the other hand, he never gets any less pretty.

3. Once Bella gets to school she’s almost hit by a runaway van. Rather than everything slowing down, she’s processing everything a lot faster, like the fact that Edward was able to get over to where she is and get her out of harm’s way faster than any normal person. And he dented the van with one hand. And even though her mind shifted into high gear, the thought of getting the heck out of the way apparently never entered it.

Making Edward even more likable, he “sounded like he was suppressing laughter” when Bella realizes she hit her head. He even chuckles under his breath when he tells her to stay where she is and she complains about the cold.

And despite almost being crushed and taking a hit to the skull, still the only thing on Bella’s mind is Edward. Maybe Meyer thought it’d hurt Bella’s image as this intrepid heroine determined to unravel a mystery if she were to do something like go into shock after very nearly being reduced to a smear on the asphalt. Bella’s even nonchalant about it when they’re in the hospital and the guy who almost hit her, Tyler, is falling all over himself trying to apologize. Because that’s how people react after a brush with death, just one more thing that happened to them that day.

4. At least Bella acts a little like a real teenager when EMTs put her in a neck brace, and she’s thinking more about looking stupid than being hurt. On the other hand this is the real start of Bella having no survival instincts.

5. Bella’s fine, and I'm perfectly okay without who knows how many chapters devoted to her being resentful of people wishing her well while she recovers. Edward comes to get her out, thanks to his dad’s influence. But while Dr. Cullen’s asking how she feels Edward chuckles and shoots her a patronizing smile. Bella’s not actually distracted by Edward’s pretty into forgetting to be mad at him. Thing is, this is the routine for their relationship for most of the book; Edward being condescending toward her and Bella getting annoyed at him. Other than the pretty, she's got no reason to associate with him but keeps doing it anyway. Forgive me for thinking this might not really the truest love the world’s ever seen.

6. Bella finds out “most of the school seems to be in the waiting room” because gosh darn it if anything happens to Bella everyone in school wants up-to-the-minute progress reports. Since she’s such a modest soul and not a Mary Sue at all, Bella’s upset that everyone’s there worrying over her. It’s not quite as unlikely as the other attempts to make Bella modest but also an attention magnet–what teenager (in this case the well-wishers) needs an excuse to skip class–but Bella isn’t seeming any less like an author’s pet character.

7. When Bella remarks she’s lucky Edward was there to save her, Dr. Cullen quickly dismisses the subject and goes over to examine Tyler. From this it clicks in her mind that he’s in on it. Wow, she is on the ball! Or with how bad their cover act is, maybe it’s just that Dr. Cullen isn’t. He doesn’t really think he fooled her with such a forced effort to drop the matter, does he?

In any case he didn’t, as Bella tries to force an explanation out of Edward, to which he replies HE saved HER life, and he doesn’t owe her anything. He deals another blow to his family’s secrecy by feeding her a line that sounds rehearsed. To Bella, that is. And he stalks out leaving her so mad “it took me a few minutes until I could move.”

8. At this point I really have to stop and ask what Bella’s interest is in Edward. I have no clue what she hopes to accomplish by continuing to cultivate her interest in him, even with him being the key to “all the bizarre things I still could hardly believe I’d witnessed.” Yeah he saved her life, but he’s jerky and standoffish. And if she’s right that he really is superhuman, who knows what he might do to her if he found out she was onto him? Her, the weak-willed klutz. And since he’s the one telling her to leave him alone (even as he invites her to hang out), it’d be her own fault if anything bad happened.

And since she hates being the center of attention, it’s hard to see her revealing anything of what she found. At least in a town as small as Forks, where it probably wouldn’t be too hard to track her down as the source. Which goes back to what a guy who can dent metal with his bare hands might do to her if he finds out she knows his dark secret.

The best I can come up with is Edward’s the only interesting thing she’s seen since moving to Forks, hence her mindless fixation. And as there’s nothing to indicate she has any survival instincts, the possible consequences of learning more about him probably don’t even enter Bella’s mind.

9. The final insult comes when Bella meets up with her dad, who tells her to call mom and let her know she’s all right. Our heroine is horribly indignant that he would have the nerve to tell mom her daughter was almost hit by a van. I thought Bella didn’t want special treatment on account of being the police chief’s daughter. It wouldn’t matter whose kid it was, he would’ve called their parents if they were almost in a car accident. He’s a cop, stuff like that’s his job.

Plus it gets on her nerves that he looks at her anxiously as he drives her home. How dare you care about my welfare, dad?!

I know she doesn’t think of him as “dad.” That doesn’t change the fact that he is.

Twilight Chapter 2: Open Book


Better, because the school’s a little more familiar and Bella decides the attention of a boy named Mike is now (sorta) welcome and flattering. Worse, because she couldn’t sleep due to the sound of rain. Worse, because gym’s not an elective at Forks High and Bella becomes a danger to everyone around her when asked to do anything physical. Worse, because the guy who almost made her cry with some unfriendly body language wasn’t in school. Which is the first serious indicator that Bella’s kind of screwed up.

2. Bella almost immediately changes gears on the “Mike being nice to me is flattering” item because he “was taking on the qualities of a golden retriever.” This results in her thinking, “It looked like I was going to have to do something about Mike, and it wasn’t going to be easy.” Bear in mind, she only calls him “overly friendly” at this point. Based on who she hooks up with, maybe that’s the problem. That is, Mike doesn’t think acting like a superior douche is a good way to impress her.

What kind of people does Bella want to associate with, anyway? Out of her circle of “friends,” she’s annoyed by Mike and Eric being nice to her, she’s not interested in listening to Jessica, and there’s a girl named Angela who Bella hardly even bothers to describe. The only person she’s eager to see almost made her cry and disliked sitting next to her so much he tried to get switched into another class. Are these other people just a shield against scrutiny, so she won’t stand out sitting at a lunch table all by herself?

Oh, and somewhere around here Mike mentions a beach trip out to La Push, the local Indian reservation. Bella accepts the invitation, “more out of politeness than desire.” This will come up again later, but it’s given such short shrift you might well forget until the trip actually happens.

3. Right after school Bella notices the other Cullens leaving, and in particular notices the fancy clothes they wear and the brand new cars they drive. Most of the other kids drive older/used cars, which is part of why Bella doesn’t mind her old truck. Nobody asks how a small-town doctor who's the only breadwinner for a family of seven affords all this? Again, the Cullens are doing a lot to draw attention to themselves when we find out the reason they live in Forks is it’s the best place in the world for a bunch of vampires to hide out.

Seriously, they look like they should be on 90210 and they're supposed to be lying low?
 4. Since her dad can’t make anything besides fried eggs and bacon, Bella appoints herself head chef of the Swan estate. What a good girl. After school she goes shopping at a supermarket so big she’s spared the sound of rain falling on the roof (Bella hates the weather, thanks Meyer), then puts the food away “wherever I could find an open space.” Why would that be hard? There was “no food in the house,” so the refrigerator and cabinets should be empty. Is the kitchen a huge mess or something? Because Bella only described the color scheme in the last chapter.

And she sends her mom an e-mail saying dad bought her a truck. “It’s old, but really sturdy, which is good, you know, for me.” Suddenly not feeling so deluded, eh?

5. Dad watches TV while Bella makes dinner because “we were both more comfortable that way.” Afterward he goes back to the TV while she does the dishes. “I could feel a tradition in the making,” our heroine remarks. She’s right, in more ways than one.

6. Over dinner Bella tries to pump her dad for info on the Cullens. This makes him launch into a ridiculously longwinded speech that sounds like he prepared it in advance in case he heard anyone badmouthing the family. Blah blah the Cullens get along perfectly like a family should and go camping all the time, the patriarch Carlisle is a surgeon who could be making ten times what he does in Forks, he’s as pretty as his adopted kids, people have to talk just because they’re from out of town blah blah blah. Sheesh, thanks, Chief Infodump. Maybe people talk because the Cullens are pale even for Forks and buy food just to throw it away.

7. The next morning Bella’s in a bad mood because there’s been a small snowfall, but things turn around suddenly when, out of the blue, Edward shows up next to her in biology again. Immediately the gushing observations of every aspect of his presentation start flying. His musical voice, his dazzling face, how he looks like he just stepped out of a hair gel commercial…Edward’s pretty. We get it. Even his handwriting is so pretty, it’d be blasphemy for some mere mortal to write on the same worksheet.

And remember what I said last time about the way vampire eyes look after they’ve fed? They’re “a strange ocher, darker than butterscotch, but with the same golden tone.” Bella wonders if Edward got contacts. Is she really supposed to be special for being the only person who notices this?

Edward actually talks to her this time, and we find out Bella’s pretty special too. She was in an advanced placement program back home, and while Edward’s pretty good at reading people, Bella’s a mystery to him. I’m honestly trying not to be overly mean (for right now, anyway), but maybe Bill, Kevin and Mike are right that the reason Edward can’t read her is the pages are blank. Deep, our heroine is not.

He asks why she came to Forks if she loved Phoenix so much, hears her story and says it doesn’t sound fair. Bella fires back with “life isn’t fair.” No, it’s not, but the only thing forcing Bella to move was Bella. Seriously, all the wangsting about the weather and the people when she knew she’d hate it has pretty well eaten away any reader goodwill she earned from giving her mom space.

Edward gets under Bella’s skin by being able to see how much she’s torturing herself by living in Forks. That’s pretty good with her being the one person he can’t read. And as we’ll find out he’s gotten used to doing so with means available only to him, so the inclination would be to think his ability to just read people the same way everyone else does would have suffered. Especially with how little contact the Cullens have with non-Cullens.

8. Like the first, this chapter ends with Edward getting on Bella’s bad side. Since they actually interacted this time, Meyer has to up the ante. While pulling out of the parking lot Bella’s almost in a collision, and Edward laughs as she drives away. Actually, it’s even worse than that because the exact line is “I would swear I saw him laughing.” She thinks she saw him laughing at her near-miss, she couldn’t confirm it, and continues to think about him incessantly. Less as the raging jerk, and more as the pasty demigod who’s left her hopelessly entranced. Bella’s making herself the victim, and it’s poking all kinds of holes in my desire to see them get together.

Twilight Chapter 1: First Sight

It all started with a challenge. Partly from myself, as the worst things I’ve reviewed on this blog are a few episodes of a brainless cartoon where teenagers turn into dinosaurs, which was making me think I’m being too soft as a reviewer. Then a friend suggested that, as a writer, I should see what I could find wrong with the current worst book ever. Since that would neatly solve my problem, I was stupid enough to say yes.

And so I find myself holding Twilight, a book where things happen around a teenage Mary Sue version of the author. The main such thing is our heroine enthralling every guy she meets by acknowledging their existence, but being stalked and controlled by one sparkly vampire in particular. It’s meant to be a story about a love that defies all boundaries, but too often those boundaries are reader sympathy and any semblance of logic or restraint.

This is going to be kind of special. There won’t be Madness Levels, since after all the only thing I’m doing is telling you exactly how this book sucks or reaffirming exactly why you already think it’s the greatest love story ever written. For the people itching to throw me under a bus for what I’ll be saying, try to be bear in mind even the actor who plays the vampire hunk in the movies says he loathes his character and thinks Stephenie Meyer is “mad,” by which I’m pretty sure he meant “crazy.” Let’s not even get into how Meyer’s said she’d leave her family for either of the two main guys competing for her heroine in a heartbeat.

Besides, the fact that Stephenie Meyer's a terrible writer (sorry but yes, it's a fact) doesn't make people stupid for liking what she produces. It just makes them people I disagree with, and that's the great thing about being a person here in the real world: we can all have our own opinion. In Meyer's world, I'm not so sure about that.

Before we begin, I have to talk about everything saying Meyer’s deaf to criticism, like how supposedly her brother Seth runs her homepage and turns aside any derogatory correspondence. Now, as a fiction writer myself, I can appreciate how gratifying it is to have someone tell you they really liked something you wrote. What I appreciate even more, though, is when someone gets in touch with me to share thoughts on specific things, questions, and yes, even criticisms. I like to think I’m a decent writer, and I know you can’t please everyone, but I also know I’m not the best person to judge my work. And I won’t get better at the things I do if I don’t know when I make a mistake or miss an opportunity. Which I will. I’m only human.

But hey, Stephenie Meyer’s the published author because she felt she needed to share her fantasies with the world. What do I know?

Twilight Chapter 1: First Sight

1. I can’t even open the book without thinking about how goofy these are. Except for Breaking Dawn I can’t look at the cover art of anything in the series without hearing a seductive whisper of, “Twilight, the new fragrance from Calvin Klein.”

2. Things begin with a one-page preface where our heroine is caught in a horrible mess from which she can’t escape, which is the usual the result of trying to act on her own, and saying she never really thought about how she’d die. Most people that do have some serious issues. Not to say she doesn’t.

There isn’t much to talk about in this preface, but I have to respond to one line. Which is, “When life offers you a dream so far beyond any of your expectations, it’s not reasonable to grieve when it comes to an end.” Let’s consider the plot of the sequel: her blood-sucking boyfriend dumps her for the sake of her continued survival. She’s so lost without him she goes completely frigid and starts toying with death because doing so makes her hear his voice again. Which tells her not to do these stupid things.

She also talks about how noble it is she’s dying in place of a loved one (which she isn’t, and which she knows), because gosh darn it our heroine sure is a selfless person.

3. In the first real chapter, the sky cloudless and her shirt sleeveless white lace, Isabella “Bella” Swan exiles herself from her beloved Phoenix, Arizona. Her destination: Forks, Washington, rain capital of the world, to live with Charlie “Dad” Swan. Her mom’s just remarried to a baseballer and Bella, because she’s such a selfless person, would rather live somewhere she absolutely hates than distract her mom (who repeatedly insisted Bella didn’t have to do this) from being super-happy with the new marriage.

There’s nothing wrong with staying someplace you love if the option’s open, and Bella herself admits her mom is hysterical and overprotective. She’d probably be doing mom a bigger favor trying to get along with her new stepdad than living someplace where mom thinks she’ll probably get all depressed and withdrawn, and end up jumping off the roof.

4. After an uneventful flight Bella arrives in forks where her father, the Police Chief, greets her with an “awkward, one-armed hug.” Why? Doesn’t he love his daughter enough to use both? The only people in the book who don’t like her are jealous of her.

Oh, he was getting her suitcase. Why didn't ya say so, Meyer?
As they drive to his place, Charlie tells her he bought her a sturdy old truck because she refuses to be chauffeured around in his police cruiser. She ends up liking it and imagining it emerging unscathed from a head-on collision. However we get our first glimpses that despite her motivations for moving to Forks, she’s a whiny little snot. For instance, Bella tries "not to dwell" on the fact that now she has to share a bathroom. That's not what Meyer was talking about when she warded off accusations that Bella was a self-insert by saying Bella had it rougher growing up, is it?

She also hangs on the facts that “the thing” would be a good nickname for her new vehicle, and how Charlie says “good car for you” instead of just “good car,” as if there’s anything wrong with the way she drives. Even though Bella herself constantly admits she’s a hopeless klutz and the book regularly shows she does, in fact, need every bit of protection she can get. Especially protection from herself.

5. The wangsting kicks into high gear over the next few pages where she thanks her dad for the truck, even though “my being happy in Forks is an impossibility” but she’s such a considerate person she doesn’t need to drag him down with her. She’s only doing that to the reader. Seeing her truck makes her day “just that much less dreadful.” Once she’s moved in and alone she cries a little at living in, ick, Forks, but seriously makes plans to have a real crying fit once she’s in bed. It doesn’t any help that the realization sets in she’ll be “a curiosity, a freak” for being from out of town. If nothing else, if this place is so rainy shouldn’t “ivory-skinned” Bella blend right in? She’s starting to look stupid, not noble, for willingly moving to a place that makes her this rampantly miserable.

Especially since I'm a ghost...
6. Speaking of Bella’s florid description of her skin, in the course of one page alone she also uses the words “harming,” “sallower,” “translucent,” and “pallid.” She doesn’t sound like a teenager, she sounds like a pretentious English major. To be fair, she has the reading habits of a pretentious English major.

This is even funnier in light of a series of companion workbooks (Defining Twilight, Defining New Moon, etc.) that take all the fancy words the books use, define them and tell you the pages where they’re found. You too can sound just like the whiny emo girl from Twilight with our handy study guides!

And no, the Defining books didn’t miss “misogynistic” (ch. 7, p. 144 in the regular book).

7. In the morning Bella drives to her first day of school with no problems despite having no idea how to find it. Bella tries to avoid standing out, which she chalks up to not relating well to other people, but it’s all for naught and she’s soon engulfed in a group of other students who want to hang out/go out with her. Meyer’s falling into the standard Mary Sue trap of wanting everyone to think her character is as awesome and special as the author does, but trying to mask it by Bella not wanting all the attention. Nice try, Steph. At least Bella realizes her pasty complexion makes her look like a local after all.

8. Classes begin, and in English Bella realizes she’s already familiar with the works of everyone on the reading list (Bronte, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner), and spends class thinking of arguments to make mom send Bella her old essays so she can just breeze through this class. So she’s an intelligent person who knows what classical love is. On the other hand, she hates trigonometry. So she’s not some kind of geek teenage girls wouldn't want to relate to.

9. While in the lunchroom with a bunch of would-be friends Bella barely acknowledges, including an “overly-helpful” nerdy guy named Eric and a girl named Jessica who “prattles” on endlessly, we’re introduced to the Cullens.

They’re a “coven” of vampires who pass themselves off as a family of adopted siblings. They also do the worst job of being inconspicuous in vampire history.

For one thing, it’s known on the high school gossip circuit that aside from our hero Edward, all the kids in the pale recluse family are in couples and live together as one big unit. How did this get out? Either they admit that to the nice people of Forks, which is unlikely since they don’t seem to interact with anyone outside the family, or somehow somebody found out, which speaks poorly of the ability of super-awesome vampires to keep their secrets.

On top of that, the Cullens spend the lunch period sitting there staring into space, not even looking at each other. And being vampires, they throw away the human food on their trays without ever touching it. No, Bella isn’t remarkably observant for noticing this. If their act is this flimsy why don’t they go off-campus for lunch? Maybe students at Forks High aren’t supposed to do that, but at least for Edward, going to school seems, at best, a suggestion.

Speaking of Edward, Bella notices his eyes are coal black. Are the Cullens counting on people to avoid making eye contact with them? Especially seeing as this means he’ll need to drink blood soon, and their eyes look even weirder when they’re not hungry.

This last one ends up being more annoying than suspicious, but Bella immediately notices the Cullens are, for their all pale countenances, inhumanly beautiful and graceful. The girls look like they belong in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. There’s an evolutionary reason for them to be so appealing, and this is supposed to be a romance–supposed to be–but Meyer never, ever lets up on how pretty they are. Especially not Edward. I’m not exaggerating. Every time Edward does anything in our heroine’s presence it has to be punctuated with something abut his perfect face, his dazzling smile, his musical laugh at what a helpless bimbo she is…I’m not exaggerating about that last part either.

10. Wouldn’t you know it, the only empty seat in Bella’s biology class is next to the uncoupled pale boy who so captivated her at lunch. She’s just blown out of her little seat by how mean he is by glaring at her and heading out the door as soon as the bell rings.

Antagonistic first meeting? Check.
It’s even worse when she finds him in the office trying to get switched to another class that period. So she’s disinterested, even annoyed when people try to interact with her but horribly upset when they’re antisocial. How does she want to be treated? Or is Edward a special case because he’s so pretty? The chapter closes as our strong, independent heroine goes home “fighting tears the whole way” because someone she doesn’t even know doesn’t want to sit next to her in science class. Despite plenty of other people welcoming her to Forks with open arms.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Zorro Generation Z - A New Generation, Part Deux

When last we left our so-called "hero," Zorro managed to deal with the crooked mayor’s thugs but still found himself trapped in City Hall before a sassy redhead with laser whips of her own showed up. With me? Good.

Like the priority-deficient teenagers they are, Zorro and the whip-toting lady immediately start bickering about how they don’t need each other’s help, completely forgetting that Martinez has Zorro’s dad in a headlock. Alejandro says he wishes he was still in jail and Martinez ponders joining him. Dang, even the people in the show are starting to think like me.

The show isn’t done making Martinez look like a chowderhead, though. When he calls for more guards our fiery-haired heroine, who to save some bother is called the Scarlet Whip (like Zorro’s Black Whip but changed at the last minute), points out that when he put zappy bars on the doors to keep Zorro from getting away he also made it so the rest of his guys couldn’t get in. She knows the mayor has a secret exit, which she cuts open with her laser whips.

Zorro ushers Scarlet Whip into the secret passage after Alejandro, meaning he’s putting this unknown quantity between himself and not only the man he came here to rescue but his father, before carving another Z into the floor and zipping down the stairs with a promise to be watching Martinez. And the zappy bars? Turns out Garcia had a remote to turn them off the whole time. These are our villains, you say?

At the Fox Den, Bernardo is surprised when the de la Vega’s TV-Irish maid, Mrs. McAllister, comes in and asks if those young “hooligans” who she’s “raised since you were knee-high to a grasshopper” thought she wouldn’t find her way in. Since the first button on that keypad opens the door, no, it’s not much of a surprise. With one last Irishism she tells Bernardo to get over his surprise and man the computer like a good sidekick.

While they descend the staircase Zorro tries to find out how Scarlet Whip knows so much about the mayor but Alejandro angrily tells them to “save it for later. Get better acquainted, date, get married! Do whatever you costumed freaks do, but first get me out of here!” Are we supposed to like the cynical but good-hearted parent more than the characters who get the most screentime? Hmmm, a show where Alejandro’s the main character. That’d be a new spin on the superhero parody.

They get to the bottom only to find the exit surrounded by police.

There’s some more fighting, some more bickering, some more Z-into-butt slashing. They escape when Bernardo remote controls the super-bike into jumping the roadblock (in dramatic slo-mo, of course, even Garcia saying “Holy frijoles!”) and shooting a bunch of flares. Although you wouldn’t think that’s all they were from how Zorro graciously warns his enemies to take cover right before they go off. Rather than follow, Scarlet Whip disappears back up the secret passage. Alejandro’s image takes a hit when he gets home and berates Diego for not trying to find him. What??

For Pete's sake, according to the writer’s bible the reason Diego was away racing motorcycles at the beginning of the show was Alejandro hoped getting him out of the city for a while would protect him from Martinez. Now it’s all you’re a failure as my son for not taking on someone who not only has the police at his beck and call but organized crime, too.

While we’re on the subject, wouldn’t the go-between for the mayor’s office and the police department be someone higher up than a sergeant?

Just so you know I’m still paying attention, the little matters of the city confiscating the de la Vega’s house and the rumors Martinez was spreading about Alejandro being a crook are never brought up again. This show has a shorter attention span than I do.

Cut to the bedroom of the mayor’s daughter, Maria, where he almost finds out her shocking secret–that she’s the fiery-maned heroine who helped save Alejandro. Look, Maria? If you come home from superheroing and just throw your suit and weapons on the bed, you’ve got a lot to learn about keeping a secret identity. Especially if you freaking live with your archenemy. “I’m definitely gonna have to be more careful,” indeed.

Speaking of learning we find out tomorrow’s the first day of college for our three young leads. And while Diego proves a hot commodity on the airhead market, he finds a confident, independent girl like Maria doesn’t buy his whole smooth operator routine like anyone with two brain cells to rub together and thinks he’s nothing but a slacker who just wants to get girls and have fun. It’s funny because they have the same relationship whether they’re masked or not and don’t even realize it! HA!

A week later, Martinez is cheesed that Itchy hasn’t turned up anything about where Zorro’s hiding. Maybe you’d get better results if you stopped leaving the brainwork to this guy! Changing directions, Martinez calls in Don Skull, a former pro wrestler with a metal-plated head. For no real reason he’s mad at Itchy and throws him across the room. Then again, he’s Itchy.

They plan to set a trap by attacking a homeless shelter, and Don Skull breaks a chair. Wouldn’t you?

Don Skull accosts the guy who runs the shelter (which has had its public funding slashed by the eeeeevil mayor. Thank you, we get it), which indeed prompts Zorro to appear. “Who ya callin’ a freak, ya freak?” he asks before kicking Skull aside. So people with prosthetic parts are freaks?

I ain't good enough for yer little soup kitchen cuz I got a deformity, is that it??
Some of the incompetent goons from before show up to reinforce Skull, and Scarlet Whip shows up as well, but while she and Zorro are having another bicker fest about who’s the better hero one of the bad guys shoots her off the roof she was on. That was pretty funny, even if it was at the expense of these two super-cool masked avengers of the night.

The bad humor persists as the crooks pounce the two and start pummeling them, only for the writers to pull that reprehensible gag where the guys keep up the pounding but the guy they’re supposed to be hitting appears in the background without them noticing.

Hey guys, can we hang out and beat up superheroes too and stuff?
Skull does eventually notice and charges up his head in preparation to crush Zorro like a bug, but is thrown into the air and lands on his metal head. Meanwhile, the bad guys are still beating on nobody. Scarlet Whip finally gives her name on camera. Finally the other bad guys stop beating on nobody and take a shot at our heroes.

Seriously, he's charging up his head.
If only I'd known doing a handplant off a girl's head was the key to dating success...
With Don Skull's last attempt foiled the crooks run away, meaning that after all this the masked avengers only caught one bad guy. For some reason Scarlet Whip seems impressed by Zorro. Hell, they didn't even catch Don Skull, because they tell him to crawl back to the mayor and warn him they'll be keeping an eye on him. Good job, idiots. All you accomplished was inconveniencing Don Skull for the couple minutes it'll take him to get out of the handcuffs. There's no reason he can't come back with more guys and attack the shelter again.

They imply they'll REALLY come down on Don Skull if he comes back to this one particular place, but he fights them again in a couple of other episodes. Are they doing that every time they beat him? Can they really spare the attention to protect one shelter? And as I said, it's not like this scares Don Skull into steering clear of these two. Next time he sees Zorro, rather than going "oh crap I better get out of here," Skull tries to shoot him with a missile launcher.

Anyway, Scarlet Whip's car drives itself too. Does she have some kind of super-genius supplying her like Bernardo? Or are laser whips and cars with autopilot normal in 2015?

Just to rub salt in the wound Zorro leaves a big skid mark Z on the street outside city hall. And we go out on one last incomprehensible “Andale, Tornado! We ride!”

I just saved a homeless shelter, I've earned a little vandalism.

Zorro Generation Z - A New Generation

Sure Dino Squad's worthy of all the mockery one has to unload, but the company that owns it does have a catalogue containing some quality children’s entertainment. But then there’s…BKN. They’re a company who’ve been around in one form or another since at least the early 90’s as a third party distributor despite consistently picking up some of the cheapest, lamest cartoons around (at least, they were when this review was first written. A few months later it appeared they finally went under and their homepage disappeared). Gunk like that lame Kong cartoon released to compete with the surprisingly enjoyable cartoon based on the lame Tristar Godzilla, that cartoon that’s mostly Mad Max with a little Highlander mixed in, and Legend of the Dragon, recipient of the most generic title of all time. Their only show I’ve ever liked in an unironic manner was King Arthur and the Knights of Justice, and I’d be hard-pressed to actually tell you why.

One particularly loathsome piece of their output was Zorro Generation Z, a cartoon taking a classic hero and giving him a futuristic coat of paint. Hey, it worked for Batman and the Phantom, didn’t it?

Just so you know that’s not sarcasm. Batman Beyond and Phantom 2040 are both very entertaining shows, even taking the Peter Chung artwork of the latter into account.

If you have to tell us how cool things are, they're not.
For those who might be unfamiliar with the character, Zorro was the secret identity of Don Diego de la Vega, a nobleman in Spanish Colonial California who donned a mask to battle corrupt officials. After upbraiding the forces of injustice he’d always carve a Z into something with his sword before riding off on his trusty steed Tornado. Possibly the most well-known version is the old Guy Williams TV show, with Bernado the comical mute confidant and Sgt. Garcia the comical pudgy right hand man of the real bad guy. If nothing else, that’s the one the guys who made this show seemed to be working from.

And you may have heard that the movie a young Bruce Wayne saw the night his parents were blown away was The Mark of Zorro.

 The pilot opens in a sepia-toned flashback where all seven and a half years of Diego de la Vega is being told a secret by his grandfather when father Alejandro comes in and lightly remonstrates granddad for filling the boy’s head with wild stories.

The secret is…being Zorro's a family tradition.

Jump ahead to 2015, when Diego’s a strapping young man who enjoys a bit of motocross. What he doesn’t enjoy is his dashboard bleeping “EMERGENCY” and forcing him to pull over and find out from his mute bro (as in best friend) Bernardo that his father’s gone missing.

And…theme song! From this we learn some valuable information, like our hero’s “avenging evil’s dare,” “his engines light the sky, prepared to fight or die,” and he catches pink-haired women who fall out of buildings.

Instead of a sword he’s got a “Darth Maul”-type lightsaber (Their words, straight from the writer's bible [I didn't steal this. Anyone who wanted to could download this from BKN's website when it was still up]. It doesn’t appear to be the final version, though) that doubles as some kind of lightsaber whip.

Back to the show, we meet our bad guy, Mayor Martinez. He’s your standard TV politician who’s not just corrupt, he’s a flat-out supervillain. Which is weird because the same guy who does his voice also does the previous Zorros whenever we see one. It’s weird listening to them giving Diego advice in flashbacks or spirit visions when they sound just like the head bad guy.

Vote Martinez '06!
“Tell me, Senor,” he asks of a strung-out-looking guy with a hook for a hand, telling us this is going to be one of those shows that uses Superfriends Spanish. That is, to come off as all ethnic they pepper the dialogue with foreign words, but only the kind everyone regardless of background knows (amigo, andale, burrito, etc.).

Strung-out hook guy is Don Itchy (Don being the title of any criminal who actually does work in this show), who the mayor forces to read a newspaper headline about Alejandro’s disappearance, namely that foul play is suspected, and the suspect is Martinez. The plan was for Itchy (Itchy?) to make it seem like he’d been exposed as a criminal and went on the run. Itchy protests Alejandro’s too popular with the common man, and they’d never listen to him that the guy was a criminal. Itchy’s anything but a reputable criminal (he stabs himself with his own hook a couple times during the conversation. How long has he had that thing?), but he’s smarter than his boss. Who would take his word for anything, and who would expect that anyone would? Martinez threatens him to try harder.

Cut to the basement where Alejandro’s out cold in a broom closet. Guess they needed to establish that the mayor actually was responsible for his disappearance, but given this is a superhero show and there’s no doubt Martinez is the bad guy…not really.

Since the de la Vega estate is crawling with the mayor’s thugs, Diego and Bernardo sneak in through a secret passage that lets out into a manhole cover in the estate’s huge front lawn. The secret of their entrance immediately goes to hell when Bernardo falls down and the goons immediately try to kill them with lasers.

As they run across the yard dodging the henchmen’s fire Bernardo does these gymnastics moves, which is a little strange since Diego had to tackle him out of the way of the opening salvo. Which Bernardo totally saw coming.

They manage to get to the roof but are blown off by a guy with some kind of sniper rifle/laser bazooka and fall through a skylight, surviving their gigantic fall (through glass) unharmed because they landed on a rug.

The goons find them and try to kick them out, saying the mayor’s seized the property. Right after trying to gun them down, and the one attempting the non-lethal solution is the one who tried to shoot them off the roof. Bernado tazes the guy holding him, and it turns out his little stun gun works great as a missile launcher too as he shoots it at the ceiling. This squashes the guy trying to get them off the property without killing them with a chandelier and the rest with random roof debris. Is that any way to thank someone for trying to save your life?

The boys escape by opening a secret passage. This they do by pushing the first button on a panel hidden behind some books. It looks like it should be a code lock, so why isn’t it?

No one will ever penetrate this airtight security system!
Then again why is it so easy to open considering what the boys find on the other side? Which is the Fox Den, Zorro’s Batcave. At least they don’t make us wait for it and Diego decides the city could use a new hero right away.

As the henchmen flee for some reason we find out the bad guys in this show are like the ones in Guyver, because they melt into nothing when they die. Where’s the guy who got hit with the chandelier?

Back at the broom closet Mayor Martinez comes in, revealing both his involvement and his plan to make it seem like Alejandro, who’s running against him, was using campaign money for his own decadent lifestyle. With the trouble Diego gave to his boys at the mansion, Martinez is moving Alejandro a cell in his own office because that, he thinks, will be safer. “Diego has nothing to do with this!” Alejandro protests as he’s dragged away. “I swear if you harm him, you’ll never be rid of me!”

Come oooooon, man! I'm trying to threaten you back here!
At the Fox Den (nobody on the outside wonders what’s on the other side of that big stained glass window in the wall?), Bernardo is putting the finishing touches on some kind of Z-shaped gadget that will probably do something garish and stupid and supposedly cool. He tries to wake up Diego to show it to him, but Diego tells him to go away to show his slackerness despite his heroic aspirations, or something.

Seriously, what's the story?
 Turns out this thing is the lightsaber/whip thing we saw from the theme song. When Diego tries it out he slices a computer in half, sheepishly remarking he needs some practice. And we see a part of the room we didn’t before that has gigantic comic booky computers and a souped-up custom motorcycle (the Tornado-Z).

Alejandro somehow doesn't know all this is in his house?
Based on some kind of intel Bernardo’s come up with, they decide to break into city hall. What intel?

We see Martinez at a press conference in the next scene where some reporters bring up beliefs that Martinez is behind his rival’s disappearance. To which Martinez menacingly answers “people who spread such vicious lies should be very, very careful.” And he thinks having his daughter and police liason vouch that he was in his office all night proves he had no involvement in Alejandro’s disappearance (a belief the writers thankfully don’t share, as the reporter who brought up the accusations points out he could’ve had henchmen do it). No wonder he has to kidnap the other candidates to get reelected.

I am NOT an evil mastermind! How dare you suggest I am!
Also at the conference, the bumbling, slobby Sgt. Garcia who for some reason is Martinez’s right-hand-man tells Martinez’s daughter, Maria, to just sit there and look pretty. And yet the show apparently wants us to think of him as a mostly sympathetic character who has a bad boss. Stalking away from the podium Martinez tells Garcia to call Don Itchy because it’s time to take care of Alejandro “permanently.”

What is this show trying to say? That the Zorro of the future is the latest in a long line of Zorros, and that he also has a Bernardo and a Sgt. Garcia in his supporting cast, just like the old version? That’s kind of a stretch. And before you balk that I’m assuming too much, that’s exactly what the show says. There’s an episode later where the current Zorro goes back in time and meets the original Zorro. And the original Sgt. Garcia.

Or maybe it was just head trauma.

Diego Zorros up for the first time, and with this show’s first intonation of “Andale Tornado! We ride!” he mounts his super-bike blasts into the night to the strains (and to borrow a phrase, that’s exactly the right word) of his theme song. By the way, the “Andale, Tornado! We ride!” thing is another thing borrowed from classic Zorro. Where Tornado was a horse. The bike isn’t alive like KITT, so what gives? Are they counting on kids to have seen the Guy Williams Zorro?

After arriving at city hall Zorro has Bernardo download the blueprints to find the best way into the mayor’s office, but the results are basically “climb straight up the outside.” Which he does by using his laser whip to wrap around handy extending ledges. Then inside of five seconds Bernardo disarms security for the entire building from his desktop.

Swinging in through the window and finding the panel that opens his father’s cell behind a painting, Zorro blasts it open and this opens the door too. Isn’t there something about control panels that act like that on the Evil Overlord List?

You can bet the doors on MY secret prison cells don't open when you shoot the security panel.
Alejandro tells him to get back to the funny farm, seeming to prefer being found dead in a river a few weeks later, but Zorro cuts his cynical dad a way out.

This is the path of his cut...
...and this is the hole it makes?
Martinez and some of his goons arrive, and despite asking for Don Itchy by name the guy’s nowhere to be seen.

They try to blow Zorro and his dad to kingdom come, but their dustbusters are no match for Zorro’s…cape? In one afternoon Bernardo managed to put together the laser whip, the Tornado-Z and invent a laser-proof cape? Dang.

And signature shoes, too.
Zorro handily pounds the henchmen (love how they use the sound of bare hands smacking together when he dusts his off despite wearing gloves) before carving his calling card into the mayor’s butt. Seriously. You can be forgiven for not knowing but it’s usually the mark of a bad show when the villain decay starts in the debut episode.

Martinez covers all the exits with electrified force fields so that while Zorro got in and saved Alejandro, what good will it do him if he can’t get back out?

So the guy walks into a bar, he says "ouch."
Just when all seems lost another masked freak appears, this one a shapely redhead with two laser whips of her own. Nobody else uses laser whips but these two, so where do you get them?

Zorro can’t wait to see what happens next, but lucky for us, we’ll have to.