Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Eclipse Chapter 15 - Wager

1. Don’t know how Steph though last chapter ended on something shocking or unpredictable, because the way Bella responds to Jacob’s declaration sure isn’t. She doesn’t want to stop seeing him, but it’s not for the same reason he wants to keep seeing her. She loves him but she’s not in love with him, blah blah blah.

He agrees to stick around, but he’s not changing the way he is if she only wants to be friends (implicitly if that’s how things are, he’s not changing to be more agreeable to Edward). In one of the few semi-redeeming moments of the series, Bella admits she is indeed being unreasonable for wanting Jacob as a friend when it pains him to be just friends friend. If only I didn’t know Breaking Dawn was going to flush it straight down the toilet.

Not that she’s budging on Edward. “I love him, Jacob. He’s my whole life.” And personality. And interests. And goals. And self-image.

Jacob reminds her that Edward was her life once, but then he left and she tried to get on without him. And now she’s stuck with “the consequence of that choice -- me.”

He tries to tell she’s got options, she doesn’t want options, the author should start writing these books like it’s someone besides her reading it. Someone who might not just see how they’re the most perfect couple in the history of couple perfection.

2. Then, that happens. Jacob decides if he can’t convince Bella of the depth of his devotion with words, he’ll do it with his lips. He forces a kiss on her, despite her pitiful resistance. “I grabbed at his face, trying to push it away, failing again.” Story of her life, then. Eventually he stops, giving her the chance to punch him in the face and break something. Of hers.

She starts screaming he broke her hand, but Jacob points out that she broke her hand by punching something with supernatural toughness (ProTip: Your hands aren’t designed to punch things. And Bella’s the last fictional character in the world who would know how to make a fist correctly. To say nothing of the self-control to remember how in a tense situation). How is this not okay, but Edward breaking into her house and going through her shit for her keys is? Is it different because he broke in but never touched her?

“He wasn’t even rubbing his jaw like they did in the movies. How pathetic.” Hasn’t she learned how inaccurate movies usually are by now? And fighting tends to be where they’re at their most laughable.

3. He tries to get her to admit she enjoyed that. After all, “That had to be better than kissing a rock.” She denies it, but she’s never had a problem lying even in situations where it wasn’t to save somebody’s life, and even when it was somebody she professes to care about. And perhaps because we actually get to see so many of Bella’s interactions with him, with so many ending in a similar vein, Jacob might be the most questionable person on that very short list.

Oh, and when Bella insists she can’t be happy without Edward, he retorts she never tried. “When he left, you spent all your energy holding onto him.” Guess he does know why she went cliff diving.

And he makes a point. She doesn’t try. Either Bella or Smeyer. Edward and Bella are the perfect couple. Why? Because they are. Some of you may have noticed the link to Reasoning With Vampires in the right sidebar.

After some interviews I’ve read about Stephenie Meyer talking about readers finding the book that’s perfect for them, I get this image of her actually going there, reading some of the scathing observations on her prose, and writing in to Dana, “It sounds like my books weren’t the right ones for you. I hope you find one that is.” Just who is Meyer saying her books are for? People who don’t question what they read? Is that really kind of the crowd you want to cater to? If you’re the kind of author who’s afraid of being told they fucked something up, I suppose.

4. Jacob says Edward left her once, he could do it again. She retorts he left her once too, “thinking of the weeks he’d hidden from me, the words he’d said to me in the woods behind his home…” Excuse me, but Edward left because of Edward. Jacob left because of Bella. She left to save Edward from killing himself over a hideously moronic understanding, and if she’s anywhere near as smart as people in the books say she’d have to know he’d probably take that as being considered second best.

Besides, like I just said, it sounds like Jacob might know the real reason for the cycling and cliff diving. Is he supposed to appreciate that?

5. Bella’s inexplicable attraction prevails, because he offers to drive her to the hospital to get her hand looked at. But, “I don’t want to go to the hospital. It’s embarrassing and unnecessary.” Just a reminder, she said that about wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle and when she was almost smashed flat by a van, too.

She announces her plan to have Edward drive her to his place to have Carlisle fix her hand. Because it’s not like he has anyone else’s injuries or illnesses to worry about, I guess. Because it’s not like he’s the only Cullen to have a day job. I’m sorry, yeah, he’s a doctor and that’s what doctors do. But it sounds like he can drop everything to wait on Bella.

6. Jacob drops her off at her house and that scene everybody thinks ruins Charlie’s character happens. He greets them with a “Nice to see you Jake,” and he laughs when Jacob explains how Bella got hurt, and congratulates Jacob for kissing his daughter.

I certainly don’t condone sexual assault, and Bella had every right to resist what Jacob did to her, but this also doesn’t make me hate her any less. I'm not wild about the way Charlie's acting in this chapter, what with how he's about the only character I find to have any redeeming qualities at all, but mostly I'm just confused. First he's congratulating Jake for assaulting his daughter, then according to the narration we're meant to think things are uncomfortable between Charlie and Jake, then Charlie's congratulating Bella for punching Jacob. Hooo-wah???

7. Bella calls Edward, and in the meantime “It had gone quiet in the front room, and I wondered when Jacob would bolt. I smiled a grim smile, imagining his discomfort.” At what? He just earned her father’s approval, and Charlie prefers him to Edward to begin with.

When Edward gets there, Bella evidently didn’t explain she broke her hand punching Jacob. “ ‘Good,’ Edward said bleakly. ‘Though I’m sorry you’re hurt.’ I laughed once, because he sounded as pleased as Charlie had.” He sounded bleakly pleased?

She claims she didn’t do any damage at all (was she honestly expecting to? Her?), and Edward adds “I can fix that.” That might have flown if the competition started earlier in the series, but at this point I don’t prefer Edward just because of what Jacob did.

Charlie comes out and praises Bella for really giving that punch her all (just where does he stand on this, huh??). Edward says he isn’t going to kill Jacob now because it would upset Bella, but if she ever comes back “damaged” again, all bets are off. An instance like this here and there doesn’t make up for the characters being lame and unlikable the rest of the time. Particularly not when all this shit’s over Bella.

8. Remember the title of the chapter? It turns out Jasper and Emmett like making bets, and they’ve made one about how many times Bella will “slip up” in her first year as a vampire. They’re betting on how many innocent people the girl they’re welcoming into their family will kill out of predatory instinct. You see what I’m talking about? And am I wrong or is this the same habit Meyer gave the werewolves to make them seem more like a group?

9. Carlisle does check Bella out an and it’s “just a tiny fissure in one knuckle. I didn’t want a cast, and Carlisle said I’d be fine in a brace if I promised to keep it on.” She also didn’t want a helmet, and the story calls so much attention to her being a “danger magnet.” On top of that, ooooh, one little fracture. And she’ll have to wear a brace for a while. And it won’t matter anyway because she isn’t asked to do anything physical again for the rest of the book.

Reminds me of this other book I’m reading, Small Favor, and how early in Harry gets a broken nose and two black eyes. And gets made fun of for it. By his friends and family. And still has to save the world anyway. Oh, it’s so tough to be Bella.

10. The real reason for the bet is as Carlisle get her fixed up, Bella starts to think, seemingly for the first time, about what becoming a vampire will really mean. “[C]ould I possibly be me? And if all I wanted was to kill people, what would happen to the things I wanted now?” Well, before I answer that, who exactly is she supposed to be now? And what exactly are the things she wants now, besides Edward and being eternally young and pretty? Meyer left Bella vague to make it easier for readers to step into her shoes, but it made questions like this hard to answer in ways that don’t make her sound shallow, too. It doesn’t help that she follows up with “As long as I got to be with Edward, what else could I ask for?”

“Was there a human experience that I was not willing to give up?” Would you please illustrate some kind of difference? Besides the immortality and the sparkles? Don’t make a fuss about something that’s not there, Meyer.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Eclipse Chapter 14 - Declaration

1. “You can’t be serious!” Bella exclaims as we open. What can’t who be serious about? Alice has no plans to call off her big graduation party, because her entire “personality” seems to consist of super-girly things like throwing parties, or exasperating Bella by doing super-girly things like throwing parties.

“There’s no reason not to go through with it,” sayeth Alice. I guess not. Certainly it’s not as if someone’s raising a newborn vampire army nearby, one they think is probably intended to attack them, and against which they have no allies, no plan of action and quite possibly no forewarning. Let’s remember there’s another vampire or two in the area, one out to get Bella, and one who seems to be aware of Alice’s visions and how to get around them. Even if they aren’t avoiding Alice, it sounded like she’s watching for so much stuff, things are starting to slip past her anyway. Yeah, no big deal.

Alice is unmoved. Thinking that “a party is so appropriate it’s almost passe.” Why does Alice want to do it, then? I get the feeling Meyer thinks “passe” means something else. I always thought it was a fancy-pants way of saying “so five minutes ago,” and all my checking bears that out.

Another part of Alice not changing her plans is this is the only time Bella will get to graduate from high school for the first time. And as a human. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime shot.” It would matter if you enjoyed high school and passing from it meant something to you, or you had something after it you were looking forward to. Bella is looking forward to Edward, and hardly seemed to notice anything else about her academic career at Forks High. Speaking personally, I hated high school, and the only reason I cared when I got my diploma was it meant I was freed from that awful place and the awful people I knew there. I’m not planning on attending any reunions. I refuse to believe Bella doesn’t have similar thoughts.

You can’t force somebody to enjoy something. It sounds like Alice is throwing this party because she wants to, and using a line of bull to try to make it sound like she’s trying to do a friend a favor to justify not changing her mind. Boy I’m believing in this thing between the two of them.

And all this “human experience” crap might add up to anything if it wasn’t snatched away as soon as Bella started thinking there might be something to it, by her having to become a vampire in order to be not-dead. For all this talk, you’d hope Meyer could at least have done something with it.

2. Edward comes in and mentions other attempts to gather reinforcements, but I’m not going to dignify this book by acting as if the names he mentions belong to anyone. Although it is worth mentioning that most of the other vampires the Cullens are friends with don’t share their dietary habits.

Rather than do something moronic like explain who these people are and why the Cullens respect them in spite of their decision to feed as they always have, Alice just says “They’re friends,” and that’s apparently that.

Bella gets worried about losing any of the Cullens to their nameless enemy. “I couldn’t stand this -- the idea that someone might not come back.” She’s such a wimp she can’t even say “die” in her head. I know that’s the point, but it’s yet another sign Bella hasn’t grown one bit this far in the story. “What if it was Emmett, so brave and thoughtless that he was never the last bit cautious? Or Esme, so sweet and motherly that I couldn’t even imagine her in a fight?” Don’t say that like I’ve gotten to know them and have any good reason to care about the possibility of losing them (which there isn’t. A possibility of losing them). Are these sound bites supposed to count as characterization?

“It’s going to be fine, Bella. Trust me,” Edward tries to reassure her. “Sure, I thought to myself. Trust him.” Feel the love! “He wasn’t the one who was going to have to sit behind and wonder whether or not the core of his existence was going to come home.” You’re right, he’s the one who’s actually going to do something, being out there fighting tooth and nail against enemies stronger and more numerous than his group for the sake of his whiny true love. Who’s useless at literally anything and is just soooooooo tempting to vampires, and as such will have no chance if any bad guys get anywhere near her. Plus there’s no assurance that help is coming or that they’ll have any advance warning when or from where the attack comes. He’s got no fucking idea what real worry is.

3. Bella tries to take advantage of the occasion to get vamped, only to be given the obvious reminder that there isn’t enough time to teach her to helpful and not just another problem. You’d think she’d be so used to losing arguments she wouldn’t even bother anymore.

4. But who cares about vampires fighting, you must be saying, how many people are coming to Alice’s party? 65. “My eyes bulged. I didn’t have that many friends” I bet you don’t, smiley. Turns out one of them isn’t her mom, though. “She was going to surprise you for graduation, but something went wrong. You’ll have a message when you get home.” Bella’s relieved because if mom paid a visit, “I didn’t want to think about it. My head would explode.” I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, but I don’t care about the fate of someone we’ve seen two whole times up to now, once of which was in a fucking flashback.

“The message light was flashing when I got home.” Thanks for having the faith in me to not remember something you said a paragraph ago.

Mom’s baller husband broke something and she just can’t get away with him in that condition. Bella calls to talk to her mom about the incident, or rather, to listen to mom talk about the incident and not say much herself, because you can tell she’s really mature and stuff because she doesn’t have to hog the conversation. Or that her life is so damn empty she wouldn’t have anything to talk about if she ever wanted to.

Except for how pretty Edward is, of course. “He was so beautiful that it made it hard sometimes to think about anything else, hard to concentrate oh Phil’s troubles or Renee’s apologies or hostile vampire armies. I was only human.” For being so not entrapped by teenage hormones, Bella only seems to notice Edward’s outside.

They kiss, which Edward breaks after a while. “I know you think that I have some kind of perfect, unyielding self-control, but that’s not actually the case.” You can say it as much as you want, that won’t make it untrue. You can show it just a few times, and that will.

5. Edward announces they’re going to be going out hunting, because having fed recently makes them a little stronger. Human blood even more so, but even though that would help, “It doesn’t matter. We aren’t going to change who we are.” Pretty good statement on the series’s attitude toward character growth, really.

Which is sad because right then Bella has an appalling thought that could’ve actually been milked for some interesting situations if it hadn’t been immediately dropped; Bella realizes she’d be okay with Edward killing somebody to make him strong enough to survive the upcoming fight. On the other hand, if she can’t deny she’d be willing to trade the life of a stranger for better odds on Edward’s survival, I’m not really sure why the books ask me to hope a bunch of characters I hardly know as anything more than a set of recurring names don’t die. Here and elsewhere. (Actually, I kind of do, but that’s for later).

That’s something to do with why newborns are stronger; because they haven’t learned to rein in their instincts and drink so much blood. I’m not going to try to follow Meyer’s explanation. The crap about what makes vampire skin refract and doesn’t is bad enough. Bella asks how strong she’ll be as a vampire, though, and Edward asks her to challenge Emmett to arm-wrestling if and when she ever gets her own sparkles.

6. Edward helps our lovable protagonist cram for finals “since he knew absolutely everything.” I get there’s a sensible explanation for this, what with the Cullens going to school multiple times for some reason, but this perfection isn’t helping me doubt their chances in the upcoming fight.

Later Bella calls Jacob to hang out, and he agrees. “I was pleased to have an option besides being babysat.” And she’s eager to spend eternity with those people?

When Bella and Edward talk after tests and she’s unsure about how well she did on some, he laughingly talks about bribing the teachers into giving her A’s. We already know he’s bribing college officials to overlook late applications for her, how unbelievable is it that he would? And what, exactly, is the point of going to school over and over if you’re not going to socialize or join activities, and you pay people to give you good grades?

7. Edward drives Bella out to La Push and gets upset (oh, there’s a change-up) over some of the things Jacob’s thinking. “That’s impolite,” he can’t resist saying out loud. So’s kidnapping your girlfriend and taking away her say in any decisions. If Bella actually were the character she’s supposed to be, it’d look even worse on Edward.

As she gets into Jacob’s car she looks back at Edward, “and, from that distance, it looked like he was truly upset about the honking thing…or whatever Jacob was thinking about. But my eyes were weak and made mistakes all the time.”

Despite thinking she was just imagining things, Bella goes back on her kick of wanting the two to be able to make friends and see each other as Jacob and Edward instead of the werewolf and the vampire. Maybe that would work if that wasn’t exactly what they were. Edward’s the (basically) civil monster, and Jacob’s the crass, barely-contained monster. Those are exactly the stereotypes I think of when I think “vampire” and “werewolf.” Even in this stupid series that does its best to venture from the regular depictions of those creatures, that’s still what I see. And that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but when you’re trying to argue that they should see beyond that when there’s nothing beyond that to see…

8. “Jacob’s house was vacant, and that felt strange. I realized that I thought of Billy as a nearly permanent fixture over there.” Why? Because he’s nothing but Jacob’s dad? Because he doesn’t get out and do anything because he’s in a wheelchair? No, Billy Black isn’t a deep character, nobody in the Twilight series is, but Bella’s not helping with the way she seems to think of him as an object. Just because she has no life outside of the two boys in her life, that doesn’t mean nobody else has nothing going on.

Turns out he’s “Over at the Clearwaters’. He’s been hanging out there a lot since Harry died. Sue gets lonely.” Poor Sue. Who’s she, again? See what I mean? No, “That’s nice. Poor Sue,” and, “Sure, it’s got to be hard on Seth and Leah, losing their dad….,” don’t make me care any more. Maybe if we actually met these characters and saw how it's hard on them...naaaaaah.

9. Bella notices that Jacob’s acting really tired (and before anyone says anything, no, that’s not really something it would take a genius to notice). “Sam’s being difficult. He doesn’t trust your bloodsuckers.” And when the guy representing the group is Edward, why would he? Consequently, Jacob’s running double patrols for Bella’s sake and hasn’t had much of a chance to sleep.

She asks why he’d run himself ragged to look out for her. He reminds her of his joking promise of eternal servitude, but she replies she doesn’t want a slave. He, rather understandably, asks what she does want from him, and she replies she wants her best friend Jacob. Because she’s so worth all of her crap, he agrees.

He asks about current events and she mentions the graduation party, and Jacob’s a little upset that he wasn’t invited. Bella then invites him because it’s her party, and she figures she should have some say as to who’s on the guest list. Oh, now she cares. “ ‘Thanks,’ he said sarcastically, his eyes slipping closed once more.” I’m curious as to why he’s being sarcastic; is it because he doesn’t think the family of vampires would really let him attend? That he’s supposed to enjoy a party thrown by Alice? That he finds the idea of Bella standing up for herself against them laughable and doomed to failure?

Or maybe it’s this bit: “ ‘I wish you would come,’ I said without any hope. ‘It would be more fun. For me, I mean.’ ” Oh, so the only reason she wants him around is so it would be more bearable for her? Is the guy she’s planning to spend eternity with no good for that? That, among the many, many deficiencies of her relationship with Edward, is the one that probably galls me the most. She can lean on Jacob to make trying times more bearable, but the guy she plans to forsake her species to be with, let alone marries and has a child with, seems to be no good for that.

Then again if he were, then at least one of the men in Bella’s life would be totally pointless. It’s kind of unsettling that, as things are, it’s the one we’re meant to hope our heroine gets together with. That’s all I’m saying.

10. Even when she’s hanging out with Jacob, Bella can’t keep her mind off Edward. Specifically, her wanting him to be the one to vamp her. She thinks things like “And I didn’t want to be practical,” and “It wasn’t a rational desire,” and “It was childish, but I liked the idea this his lips would be the last good thing I would feel,” and “It was hard to define, even to myself, why it mattered.” Well, it’s hard to define to me, who can’t understand what the hell the attraction is to either of them. Especially since like I just said, her twu wuv doesn’t seem like someone she can go to for emotional support. If she really does intend to spend forever with this guy because of she luuuuuuuuuuuuurves him so much, well, isn’t that the explanation for why she wants him to be the one to seal the deal?

Although this line has me scratching my head: “It would make me belong to him in a tangible, quantifiable way.” Okay, ignoring how she wants to “belong” to Edward, if she wants their relationship to exist in measurable terms than it kinda sorta hurts the defense for their “love” that love isn’t rational, love isn’t something that can be quantified, and that excuses the lapses in good sense on our protagonists’ parts.

11. Jacob falls asleep while Bella halfheartedly watches TV while really having the above mind trip. He wakes up when she’s thinking it’s time to go, but he has a major announcement to make. One he’d hoped to save for a properly dramatic occasion, but doesn’t feel it can wait.

What could it be? “I’m in love with you, Bella. Bella, I love you. And I want you to pick me instead of him. I know you don’t feel that way, but I need to get the truth out there so that you know your options. I wouldn’t want a miscommunication to stand in our way.”

The situation’s so dumb I have to skip ahead and couple it with Bella’s reaction from the next chapter: “I stared at him for a long minute, speechless. I could not think of one thing to say to him.”

Because we all thought Jacob’s interest in Bella was purely platonic, right? In a romance, when he only became a major character after Bella was left an incomplete person because her inamorato had run out on her. When pretty much every uncoupled guy in her age range expressed an interest in her at some point. Hell, remember the first chapter? “Friendship doesn’t always seem to be enough for Jake.” Anyone?

I don’t want to sound like some kind of literary rules Nazi who thinks there’s only one right way to tell a story, but guidelines are there to help us. Not straightjacket creativity. In general, a well-told story will surprise us by having us find things out at the same pace as the characters. If it’s a surprise for them, it’s also a surprise for us. Thing is, if we’re halfway through the next book and the revelation that Jacob making a play for Bella too is supposed to come as a shock, well, the question “how fucking stupid does the author think we are?” comes to mind.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bad Medicine/News for Dr. Drugs

***Normally I’d say only potential GMs should be reading this review, but in this case the most effective way to get the players into the adventure may be for them to see how goofy it is for themselves***

If there’s one thing I like out of an RPG, it’s an adventure that’s both fun and thoughtful.

Too bad Bad Medicine For Dr. Drugs is about as subtle and well-written as Avatar. The movie, not the show.

Gee, was this released at the height “Just Say No”? For that matter, you know you’re in good hands when they weren’t even sure what the title was.

And I wish I could say that’s where the competence on display stops being called into question. Despite the cover and front page both making a big deal about the heroes taking on drug dealers to avenge a dead friend, the setup for the adventure tells us that by the time he OD’d, he’d become just another face in the hall. Would seem to dull the effectiveness of his grieving mother grabbing one of the heroes and demanding they do something about the blight upon society that took her son. Which the designers make a point of being something that leaves such a profound impact on the players that they should feel they have no choice but to do as she asks.

Perhaps I’m jumping on the adventure’s faults a little too quickly, though. After all, there are some things about it that--at least conceptually--I like. The main thing is its emphasis on having the players run teenage characters, something I don’t know that had ever been done in the superhero genre of RPG’s back in 1983. Accordingly, the adventure’s meant to involve stopping the drug dealers as much as it is the characters having to deal with being unsure of where they fit in the big scheme of things, an activity which is of course only complicated by having superpowers.

The booklet even contains a team of precreated teenage supers known as the Grenades (it’s an acronym for what each of them brings to the table). They seem like a fairly interesting group bent on truly doing some good, but as a bunch of headstrong teenagers, each does things their own way, and one gets the feeling that the only thing keeping them from splitting up or killing each other is the fact that this group is the only bunch of people who understands them enough to be willing to have their back against the establishment.

Marvel at the efficacy of proofreading in the top right, too...

For that matter, the teens being somewhat awkward with their powers or the choices of their costumes and such show that they haven’t quite figured this all out yet. Which goes hand-in-hand with the booklet trying to give an idea of how to create teenage superheroes not just with tweaked rules, but through providing a list of unwritten laws they’re expected to observe. I like, I mean I really like, characters having to struggle to find their place in the world on top of other, temporary difficulties; can you tell my favorite version of X-Men is Evolution?

Which leads back to the booklet’s problems, though. This seems like it was written by people who had strong feelings on the matter at hand, and thought that equated to strong knowledge on the matter at hand. I’m a little temped to disbelieve the seriousness of the material not just by the kick-you-in-the-face obviousness of the primary villain’s name, but by the name of the local street gang: the Monkey Thugs. Yeah, the Monkey. Thugs. Sounds like a gang that got laughed off the set of The Warriors.

For reference, some of the ones they kept.

Sort of doubt the authenticity of their unwritten rules for teenagers, if that's what they think a self-respecting gang would call itself.

For that matter, the module seems kind of uncertain of its morality. Mainly, Dr. Drugs honestly thinks he’s performing a public service by furnishing the means to get high. He “may even honestly regret the ruined lives and dead kids that are a necessary side effect of the service he is offering.” That’s sort of the problem of trying to have a drug dealer character who isn’t thoroughly evil: drug addiction isn’t pretty and it’s hard to come up with someone who makes it possible, yet honestly believes he’s doing a good deed for his clients. Unless you’re trying to say their connection to the real world has been damaged to the point they don’t realize what they’re doing anymore. Yet, that doesn’t seem to be how they intended Dr. Drugs, whose profile has him come across as a savvy if shady business operator with a healthy respect for worthy opponents. He’s even with it enough not to judge his semi-unstable gangster father, what with the man’s grim background.

Dr. Drugs comes off as kind of an idiot, then, when he tries to psych the heroes out by attacking their moral superiority in trying to save people from their own choices. Seemingly totally ignorant of how a lot of people get into drugs because of reasons like peer pressure or overestimating their ability to ween themselves off it. And how easily mind-altering substances can destroy lives, and how it usually is something that takes outside help to cope with. Sorry, having trouble seeing how easily this guy could be to like if only he’d stop selling mind-altering substances.

So the main villains don’t really work as intended, and so it’s hard to get behind the story’s anti-drug agenda. Is there anything about this adventure that’s good besides the pre-gen characters? Well, there’s the fact that it was meant to be compatible with two different superhero RPG’s, presumably to get its message out to a wider audience. One of them was Champions, the other was a game called Superworld with which I’m not too familiar and unlikely to become so. Especially when this is the first thing I see after opening the book.

And there’s how while the various character sheets were redone into Champions statistics, the adventure itself was written with Superworld rules in mind. Things like determining a player’s chances of overhearing something useful, or penalties for breaking The Code. Granted, these aren’t things that would be hard to replicate in Champions rules, but it seems kind of lazy all the same.

In the end, in spite of trying to cover new ground with teenage superheroes, Bad Medicine For Dr. Drugs is pretty much just another relic of its time. Something probably cranked out to generate some good PR from coming out against an issue gripping the nation. It could make for some great cheeseball fun, but I don't see it opening anyone's eyes to the horrors of drub abuse even back when it was brand new (fueling the paranoia is another story). If you really want to see some quality 80’s anti-drug entertainment, there was this show called BraveStarr that had this one episode…

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Dino Squad - Fire and Ice

Open on Veloci flying over disintegrating glaciers in yet another ludicrous dino-faced vehicle, a blimp this time. “I do so love global warming,” he croons. He dusts the area with his mutation juice to see what kinds of reactions it produces with anything that might have been frozen inside. He turns his hands into lizard guy hands to pull the lever that does this, because…he can. Some defrosted plants grow into big spiky mushrooms.

Then cut to Kittery Point High where Max is pretty much playing for his entire team at a basketball game. Even though they win, Caruso, the other players and the coach are annoyed at him for hogging the ball for the whole game. Basketball’s a team sport, blah blah blah I bet you can figure out the moral this episode’s going to push already. The only thing on Max’s mind is that they won.

That's pretty much how I feel, coach.

After getting changed Max gets his official Dino Squad watch, complete with a face that looks like a dinosaur eye and has little dinosaur spikes sticking out too. And these guys are concerned about keeping their identities secret? He even says the “Mothersaurus” thing while he’s standing in the locker room. It signals the kids to meet Moynihan, and she tells them about mutant readings on an island near Greenland. She then tells them to go home and meet back there in the morning to deal with this. She had them come all the way out to the lighthouse to tell them that?

When they do come back to make the trip, Caruso’s wearing a tuxedo because he thinks it’d be cool to take pictures of him in that outfit next to actual penguins. That’s so moronic, even for the characters in this show, it almost doesn’t merit mentioning they tell him there are no penguins where they’re going, just walruses. How would he explain being side-by-side with penguins, anyway?

Moynihan says she’ll meet them at the island once she’s had a chance to pick something up. Why is she coming, what’s she picking up and why does she think they’ll need it? This is an unfortunate coincidence, but I’m noticing that the times she tags along on a mission the mutants they’re facing seem kind of lame. Last time it was puppies who only posed a danger of drowning the kids in slobber, now it’s a bunch of immobile mushrooms.

Once they get there Max divides up the work zones with really vague directions (“Fiona, take the southern end of the island. Caruso, you de-ooze to the east. Rodger, cover the spot closest to shore, and Buzz, you take that rocky cove over there.”) Fiona intuits that this leaves over half the island for Max to handle alone, which he confirms with enthusiasm.

Watch out for the Pirates of Pestulon, you guys.

A melting icicle drips onto Max and we see microorganisms spreading inside him as he complains about it getting hot. Uh oh, this episode’s going for more than one moral. Strap on your helmets, people.

Max then goes around to the others, giving advice on more effective ways to use their guns and telling Buzz to pick up the pace. Soon the island’s clear of mutant mushrooms, but the others are annoyed at Max for getting involved in them doing their part. “Are you sure weren’t operating under some kind of ‘if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself’ mentality?” Fiona asks.

Max retorts by pointing out some flakiness on his friends’ parts, like the time Caruso stopped in the middle of a fight to fix his hair, and Buzz wanted to take some giant spiders home BEFORE they weren’t giant anymore. Buzz protests that “your whole control-freakiness is kind of holding the rest of us back.” Caruso adds “Pass the ball once in a while. In life, not just in basketball.” Getting another “Attack of the Brain-a-Saurus” vibe off this one.

What it looked to me was going on back there was Max was making valid suggestions to improve efficiency within the group, with the show implying that was he was being overbearing but not really demonstrating that. The only thing the show did to bother establishing that everyone was doing fine and he was only stepping on their toes was an annoyed grunt from Buzz. They appear to have cleared the island in a timely fashion even with Max covering over half of it by himself and still taking time to give the rest of them advice.

This isn’t the Girl Scouts, and it certainly isn’t a high school basketball game. Here, the outcome IS the most important thing, and everyone getting a chance to participate shouldn’t even be a consideration. These guys are the only people who’re doing anything about a madman creating murderous giant animals. You do the job quickly, you do it right and you don’t complain about hurt feelings when someone tells you how you can be doing better. Lives are presumably at stake; if you’re gonna complain when your performance is critiqued, go home and get out of the way.

If the point of the show’s existence was to tell an entertaining story and mix its messages in as part of that story instead of the other way around, these clashes of personality would be fine, even encouraged (it’s all about finding a balance between what makes a good story and what’s smart for the characters to do). But in a show as simplistic and preachy and unironic as this, the kids sound like a bunch of whiners who can’t stand it when someone tells them they need to do better at stopping people from dying at the claws of vicious mutants.

I know they were dealing with stationary mushrooms back there, but I’ve watched this show for a while. Yes they do sometimes make moronic decisions in the middle of situations where something’s at risk, like Max described. Remember when Caruso and Max turned stopping an entire GROUP of giant mutants into a contest? Or when Buzz flew off to help an online gaming buddy without checking in or even leaving a note? This kind of shit is not limited to when there’s no factor of time and lives (including their own) aren’t at risk. Max isn’t exempt from that kind of thing either (remember when he turned his back on King Kong to help Buzz up?), but I agree with what he comes across as saying. Get your shit together, Dino Squad.

Between Max going around giving out pointers and the other kids confronting him about it, we saw a fish eat a mushroom they missed and mutating, and then a walrus eating the mutant fish and mutating. Now a giant walrus shows up and attacks them (and Caruso “comically” thinks Buzz is reminding him walruses live around there, somehow failing to notice a fifteen-foot mutant right in front of them). They morph and Max tries to take it on, but suddenly starts feeling sick and shrinks back to normal. The others load him onto Rodger’s back and try to make a break for it, which doesn’t work until Buzz manages to lure the walrus into the water.

Here's your bucket back, just don't kill me!

Then…oh lord, Moynihan surfaces next to them in her private submarine. A private submarine. What happened to their equipment being limited to whatever puny surplus she had from being a high school science teacher? Is she borrowing this from a marine biologist friend? Has she been stockpiling cash for centuries thanks to her never-explained immortality? And she can run that thing all by herself? Don’t submarines usually have big crews? Damn, for a show ostensibly created to teach kids stuff, there’s an awful lot about it they don’t seem to want you to think about.

She advises hustling Max to sick bay (boy, good thing she just happened to think to bring a damn submarine), because she can tell he’s running “a high fever” just from looking at him. He protests he just got a little dizzy, but she down votes him. After all, “Mothersaurus knows best.” I can’t pin down what it is that bugs me about her acting like their mom, even to the point of calling herself “mothersaurus”…but it does.

Using what looks to be a primitive tricorder, she does indeed scan Max and finds out that he’s been infected by a defrosted virus amped up by some of Veloci’s mutant juice. Fortunately she really does have a friend in every field and uploads what she’s learned to get her friend’s help in coming up with an antivirus because it really is that easy. Oh, and in case it matters, everyone’s been infected too, Max is just further along because he got infected first.

Max is suffering from a mutated prehistoric virus. Obviously.

Moynihan has Buzz and Caruso disinfect everything Max has touched, which smacks of shutting the barn door after the horses run out if she knows they’re all infected already. Rodger gets to work tracking the walrus. “Piece of large-tusked blubber cake.” Is that supposed to be a joke?

Meanwhile, Veloci picks up the signal on the walrus and goes after it. In his dirigble, by the way. I noticed that the usual dinosaur eye scene transition was of his eye when it switched to him. Is that supposed to be like the one from Transformers? Where the logo would flip to whichever side they were showing in the new scene?

Cut back to the kids, where we find out “Dr. Pat calculated the vaccine and the dosage for each of us based on age and body weight.” That’s convenient. And quick. Oh, and turns out you can administer a vaccine with an aerosol spray.

Love how Rodger's pulling back his sleeve even though HE DOESN'T HAVE SLEEVES.

They pick up Veloci on their Veloci alert (seriously), and leave in the boat to deal with the walrus before he can capture it. In his blimp. In their boat, which is submersible. As they leave, the other kids realize Max stowed away because he can’t let them do this without him. Then the show just throws up its hands and says the school teacher can have the same level of technology as a supervillain with his private corporation, as the boat goes onto land with pop-out tank treads.

The kids see the walrus and morph to not so much “attack” as run at it, allowing Max to realize how sick he still is, keel over and be hauled up into Veloci’s blimp. Our villain speeds away (in his blimp), gloating at having finally captured a PERfect dinosaur.

Oh, and even though Max is still too weak from the virus to even stand up (the kids found him lying down in the boat, implying he dragged himself there and collapsed), he stays in dino form this time. Because before they needed him to fit into the sub, now they need to make sure he doesn’t reveal his secret identity to the bad guy. Because that would destroy the status quo.

The kids are torn between saving Max and stopping the walrus before it “goes and eats a ship or something.” See? The stakes are serious. Fiona mentions that she mounted underwater versions of the anti-mutant guns on the boat, so maybe they can do both at once. Rodger calls Moynihan on his watch (see? They didn’t have to go all the way to the lighthouse), he asks her to hack into the controls of Veloci’s blimp and send them to his “handheld.” *sigh* Can they beat Veloci without hacking his computers? Just for a change of pace?

The kids restore the walrus to normal with shots from the boat’s eye-headlights (those are “underwater” versions of their guns?), and Veloci’s conveniently so eager to dissect a dinosaur he tells his goons to put the blimp on autopilot so he can have them help him get started right away.

Pchew! Pchew! Pchew!

Rodger turns the blimp around (and none of the bad guys notice), and they lower the boat’s roof. I was thinking “if they have dino-ejector seats on that thing, I quit” when Buzz dinos up and flies to the blimp instead. Aboard, Max is trying not to fall asleep and turn back to normal even though he was still conscious when the virus weakened him into changing back before. Also, I’m reminded of that episode of Justice League Unlimited where the Flash and Lex Luthor switch bodies, and Lex takes advantage of the situation to find out the Flash really is, only to realize he has no idea who the face belongs to. Or hell, Mirageman, where in the part where he's getting beat down by the gangsters they pull his mask off, but they never show up at his house to set a trap or kidnap his little brother. Yeah, Veloci's the head of a private corporation with tons of resources, but if he can't even stop a couple of meddling kids from upsetting an entire scheme by hacking into his computers every two out of three episodes...

Buzz flies to the top of the blimp and pecks his way through the metal roof (if the top of the blimp is cargo space, what’s keeping it in the air?), and it isn’t long before the goons come in and report it to Veloci. Along with the fact that the pteranodon they keep running into might have done it. Rodger sends the blimp into a dive then, making all the bad guys slip and fall toward the front. Buzz rips out just the right wire to set Max free, and seeing this, Veloci decides to…oh man, he’s really gonna do it. He turns to his dino form too.

Admittedly, his chances are looking a little better than usual since Max is still too weak to do much, but we did just see Buzz tear through metal with his beak, too. Rodger can apparently see the “fight” with some kind of radar on his handheld control gadget with a ridiculously long name (thankfully, Fiona tells him to stop naming the stupid thing and do something useful with it). He makes the blimp turn at just the right second to slam Veloci against the wall, giving Buzz the chance to rip another opening for him and Max to escape through. They turn back to normal and are picked up by the other kids.

Big trouble on a blimp. Obviously.

Y’know, with how often the Dino Squad upsets Veloci’s plans by hacking his computers, you’d think he’d look into stopping it. Even if his power as a dinosaur is no match for any of theirs, the resources and manpower he has available sure as hell is.

The kids get away in the sub, and Max admits he shouldn’t have snuck out and he shouldn’t have bossed everybody around. One guy can only do so much. Yeah, but that doesn’t mean the group should resist input.

But one moral isn’t enough for this episode. Fiona’s freaked out by the existence of this prehistoric virus. If global warming unleashed that, what could be next? While global warming is a problem, well…I feel like a dingus using TVTropes as the basis of an argument, but this seems awfully close to what they call a “Space Whale Aesop.”

Basically, the example comes from the fourth Star Trek movie, where an alien probe’s going to destroy the world, and only whales speak the same language as this thing. But whales are extinct in the future or something, so they have to go back in time to collect whales and have them tell the thing not to destroy the world. So save the whales, because someday they might be the only thing that can tell some alien gadget not to exterminate us.

Here it’s prevent global warming because some frozen life form might be resurrected and destroy us all. Viruses might indeed work that way, but with all the trademark bullshit Saturday morning science this show relies on already, it comes across as operating under the grossly mistaken idea that if encased in ice, something will be frozen in time and perfectly healthy upon being thawed. There are plenty of valid reasons global warming’s a problem, but I don’t care how many kaiju movies use this as the origin of their creature, ancient defrosted horrors are probably not among them. Let alone mutation juices that make them even more threatening.

I’m fine with shows venturing into the fantastic. Honestly, I kind of prefer it. But if your story’s going to take a real problem and pontificate on why it’s a problem, generally it’s recommended you explain why it’s bad in fairly realistic terms (at the very least if your work's going to be built around dispensing morals, and Dino Squad certainly is). I enjoy movies like Godzilla and Them!, but I also consider them a pretty stupid warning about the dangers of atomic power. Even all these years later, Dino Squad’s taking the exact same tact. “What’s next? Stuff we haven’t even thought of!” Fiona moans. A good point, but it might be a better one if it wasn’t coming from a show where every bit of important science and technology is flown in straight from fantasyland.

Max tries to reassure her that people are trying to find ways to deal with the problem, but doesn’t say thing one about who those people are or how concerned citizens can get involved. To drive its stupid parable home even further (and it looks like I was right about the eye wipe), Veloci collects a sample of the virus and ruminates “Global warming has potentialities even I never dreamed of.” We close on a glacier falling apart.

If the virus is in the water, how come he doesn't get infected?

This episode is etched indelibly on my soul now. Or something.

Would it be unfair of me to point this is the second Dino Squad review in a row to end without resolving a fairly big hanging plot thread? This time, that there was that mushroom the fish ate? Most of which was still left last time we saw it?