Festival of Fiendishness Day 3: AGENT SMITH

I’m kinda diggin this “post when I wanna, when I get around to it” approach I got to blogging. Though I miss the regularity the A to Z Challenge provided, the inconsistency is freeing. But left to my own devices, I get a little sometime-y, depriving you of a regular installment into the mind of pop culture’s best menaces. My intentions are good; my execution is dicey.

What I don’t do is fly in the face of my orders, unplug myself from the world around me, and become a virus so caustic both my enemies and my friends collaborate to get rid of me. That’s not me; that’s Agent Smith, the Matrix’s favorite man in black, and today’s villain du jour.

When we first met Agent Smith, the black-suited, white-shirted menace of the Matrix played by the incomparable Hugo Weaving, is warning local police of the danger of lil ol Trinity. Stepping in, trying to intervene, save lives of his uniformed comrades. Because, up in the room, Trinity is beating the cowboy shit outta the cops. Noble guy, right? Until he tries to hit her with a garbage truck. A garbage truck?

But Smith is kinda raw. Who wasn’t freaked out with the whole “Mr. Anderson…who are you going to call if you are unable to speak” soliloquy that ended with Keanu Reeves losing his mouth and the agents putting a robot crawdaddy in his belly? I wasn’t alone, was I? From here, Smith loses all decorum: he unplugs himself from the Matrix and his electronic overlords, captures Laurence Fishburne and tells him he stinks. He then violates all his orders, takes over homeless people and throws Neo into a train.

This is plenty, right?

Not one to go gentle into that good night, Smith comes back, footloose and fancy-free. Completely disconnected, this cat learns how to take over ANYTHING and ANYONE in the Matrix..and how to take over real people in the real world. Talk about free agent. He gets all multiplicity on us until the humans and the robots have to forge a peace based on the eradication of Agent Smith. All they needed was a Coke and a bunch of hippies to gather on the beach and sing.

The point here about Agent Smith is he took villainy to an entirely different level. It is ballsy enough to wage war on a story’s messianic character: Lex Luthor does, Voldemort does, Lucifer does it. It is something else to become such a problem that people on both sides of a conflict—in this case, the robots who are trying to commit genocide of the humans—decide that they have to forego their differences and focus on you. This is the epitome of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Most villains begin an end an arc of singular focus. Hell, I’ve even talked about it in my this very blog. They usually start what they finish, focus on the hero or their galactic domination or whatever, but they generally don’t deviate from the original plan. But Smith is different: he gains both power and insight and grows with them, modifies his approach, changes his goal and his method of achieving it. He grows. Just as Neo grows, Smith grows. He has his own independent arc in the story and is treated as the main character he is. The Matrix not only challenges perceptions of reality, it reshapes the idea of what the villain is and could be.

And that is what makes Agent Smith such a compelling villain and an excellent submission in the pantheon of fantastic villains.

Up next, it’s the man who screwed up young Peter Parker’s life: Mr. Osbourne AKA The Green Goblin!

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Festival of Fiendishness – Day 2: THE GREMLINS

I’m marginally ashamed to admit that I have had my share of laughter at the expense of the handicapped. That’s a great way to start, huh? But those of you who know me—really know me—know it’s true. Laughing at the wrong things at the wrong times has always been my jene sais quoi—the handi-capable floor hockey game (which I tried to videotape), the midget Michael Jackson impersonator on Sabado Gigante who proceeded to hump the stage Bobby Brown-style (which I also unsuccessfully tried to tape—fucking VHS), the kid who tried to tell me he had a bad stuttering problem WHILE STUTTERING. Anything on Discovery Health. I don’t care how inappropriate, if it’s funny, I’m going to laugh. Right then. I can’t help it. I know it’s wrong. I know I’m going to Hell for it—at this point I’m trying to get air conditioning.

So you can imagine my utter delight when I saw Mrs. Deagle’s old ass go flying up the stairs at warp speed in that motorized chair and fly out the window. That was funny enough. But then I heard a bunch of little voices laughing their asses off at the whole thing. That ramped up the hilarity to an entirely different level. To this day, I can’t visit my childhood church without picturing one of our deaconesses zipping up the stairs. And I bet while you were reading this, you were muttering to yourself, “Deagle! Deagle Deagle Deagle!”

I was 11 when Gremlins came out. That means it was everything I was looking for: an excuse to break every rule I was given. It even came with very simple rules: don’t expose them to bright light, don’t get them wet, and never, ever feed them after midnight. Simple rules, huh? Nobody follows the rules. This is the best follow-the-rules movie ever—should have been an Afterschool Special. The dad brings home the Mogwai as a gift for his grown-but-unwilling-to-move-out son, Billy. Right after getting the rules, Billy blinds Gizmo with the bathroom light, repeatedly. Drunk ass Corey Feldman (you know he was drunk as a kid too) spills water on Gizmo and made them mean-ass puff balls. Next thing you know, the dog is strapped to the door, Gizmo is spat on and tossed down the laundry chute and the new Mogwai convince Billy to feed them chicken. After midnight.

Then it gets fun.

Mogwai turn to Gremlins, a lot of Gremlins thanks to Stripe (who really deserves his own slot in the pantheon), and they have a ball in the quiet little hamlet of Whateveritscalled. And I mean they have a BALL! They try to eat Billy’s mom—and we get to see Gremlins get microwaved, which is impressive since 17 people had microwaves in 1984. They kill the Colonel from A Different World (over an apple), take over a bar and get REALLY drunk, ruin some guy’s snowplow, pay Mrs. Deagle a visit, and go see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And then get blown up.

And laugh all the way through it.

This is what makes the Gremlins so fantastic, so exceptional: through it all—the bloodshed, the wanton terror, singing Hi Ho with the dwarves—they are having an amazing time! They are enjoying every single moment of their mischief, regardless of the consequences, even when the consequences happen to each other. It is all fun and games to them and, by watching them, you can’t help but have a good time too. And they have one hell of a theme song!

Now that’s an incredible villain—the one that makes you hope their villainy didn’t end and wish you were along for the ride.

And tomorrow—Mr. Anderson, that is the sound of inevitability. Agent Smith jumps out of the Matrix into my blog!

My Wife Drugged Me Last Night or How I Missed My Post Yesterday

So I’m doing a new series on the villains we all know and love, right? I was all set to write this treatise, this masterpiece on the Gremlins—it was going to change the world FOREVER. But my wife drugged me. It’s a funny little story actually.

A couple weeks ago, I moved around the corner from where I live. In the course of moving, we all expect a few bangs and bruises here and there—you’re moving all your shit, right? The heavy stuff, the bulky stuff, the Why Are We Keeping This Shit? stuff. Things happen. There are always casualties in any move: something gets bent or broken or lost and it’s usually something marginally insignificant like a plate or that ugly wedding gift or a small child. Something you wouldn’t necessarily miss. This time it was me.

Let me set the stage: it was a dark and stormy night and the wind was howling through the streets like forlorn wolves—ok fine, it was a clear a relatively balmy evening here in the great Northwest. I had my trusty U-Haul and a not-so trusty neighbor and we were moving some items ahead of the Big Move. In this case, we were moving half a sectional. Now U-Hauls come with a handy-dandy ramp thing that makes moving heavy objects from the back of the truck to the ground exponentially easier. I’ve found they are especially helpful when you step ON them. I found that out the hard way.

I missed.

Well, half of me did. Sectional in hand, I stepped forward with my left foot. Everything’s gravy. Go to step with the right and…nothing. Nothing. Dead air. I even held up the Wile E Coyote “YIPE” sign before I came down. Hard. Didn’t fall; just stepped down like 4 feet by accident. Knee wasn’t happy but everything seemed ok. Just a twinge. I kept moving literally.

Later that night, the wife of said Not-So-Trusty neighbor comes over talking about “I heard you got hurt.” Well, I’m still in my Wrangler cowboy, “I’m alright” mode. I shrug it off. Now this couple is kinda New Age-y. They have some interesting beliefs, do some interesting things—whatever. To each his own, right? Well, your girl does this quantum medical time-travel thing where (and I’m not joking) she acts like a human tricorder, waves her hands in front of my knee, makes some interesting beeping sounds and “resets my parameters” to a couple of hours before I got hurt. She’s essentially telling my body to act like it did before I stepped off the truck. That look you have on your face right now—yeah, I had it too. But this chick is serious.

And, surprise, surprise, ineffective.

Anyway, I keep it moving. Get up the next day for the Big Move and, with the help of a More Trusty neighbor, got all my stuff around the corner and in its rightful place. My knee aches but I chalk it up to moving the heaviest shit on earth up 3 flights of stairs so The Boy doesn’t sleep on the floor. I take a bath, some Aleve, and call it.

But the pain doesn’t stop. I go out of town, present at a conference where I’m on my feet for 2 days and I’m noticing that taking stairs is becoming increasingly more painful. Maybe I did do something. Shit. Go to the doctor, get some x-rays, a beautiful knee brace and a referral to see an orthopedic specialist. Oh yeah, and some painkillers. Wonderful. Go see the ortho who, during his exam, jams his thumb right where my stuff is hurting! He almost got slapped. His words, “You gotta get an MRI so we can make sure you didn’t tear up anything else. When you hyperextended your knee, you probably fractured the [INSERT MEDICAL TERM HERE] floor. Meniscus tear too.” I don’t even know what it means but it sounds like I’m going to be spending the night on WebMD.

Goddammit.

He asks me about pain. I still have some cowboy left: “I’m ok—I mean it hurts but only when I do stuff. Is the painkillers supposed to take the pain away? I still feel the pain; I just get all cloudy in my head.”

“Take two,” the man says.

Two.

Which brings me to last night. My wife won’t let me move unless I have to pee, she scrounged up crutches (I thought we got rid of those?) and, as I am typing last night’s post, gives me two. I have no idea what happened after that. I found these pictures on Facebook this morning:

Gremlins are coming (I promise!)…provided I can remember what I was going to say…

Festival of Fiendishness – DAY 1: ERIC CARTMAN

In 1997 I kept hearing about this cartoon that had these “foul-mouthed third-graders.” Reviewers would talk about how one of the kids would die every episode, only to be brought back again like nothing happened. Critics lambasted the content, the irreverence of the characters, the low budget quality of the animation. I couldn’t get my mind around it.

Until I saw it.

The first time I saw South Park was probably the hardest I have laughed. Ever. In those 30 minutes I met Stan, Kyle, Kenny (who is my favorite), Chef (played by Isaac Hayes), their closet gay teacher, Mr. Garrison (who later had a sex change but was still bald), and the most warped child on TV, Eric Cartman. The boy was yelling at his cat about a potpie, farting fire, then farted and set the cat on fire. Yes, I am aware of how juvenile that sounds. Yes, I realize I am damn near 40 years old. Yes, it truly was that freaking funny.

I think I peed myself that day.

Now everybody may not agree with my sense of humor and be slightly unfamiliar with South Park in general and Eric Cartman specifically. Fine. For you squares, here’s the rundown: Eric Cartman is the overweight (I’m not fat, I’m big-boned) “friend” of Stan Marsh and Kenny McCormick—he hates Kyle—and is decidedly South Park’s most consistent villain. And this is a show that gave us Man-Bear-Pig, Scuzzlebutt (who has Patrick Duffy as a leg), the succubus, a piece of poop as a Christmas character, and Barbara Streisand as Mecha-Godzilla. Cartman is a racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-semitic, xenophobic, spoiled, little fat child and one of the funniest characters to ever grace my TV. He’s Archie Bunker—if Archie didn’t have to worry about the FCC, the laws of physics, child welfare, and was in elementary school.

Cartman’s antics are prolific, horrible and hilarious—here are some highlights:

  • He intentionally gave Kyle AIDS after contracting it through a blood transfusion.
  • He locked Butters in a bomb shelter and made his parents think Butters was missing just so he could go Casa Bonita.
  • In a 2-part episode, Cartman turned himself into a Batman-style superhero and summoned the demon Chthulu as his sidekick.
  • He made a show tune out of calling Kyle’s mom a bitch (at least he was accurate).
  • He led an anti-Ginger movement to kill all red-headed kids (because they have no souls)—until he turned into one and then led a Hitler-style Ginger Rebellion.
  • One of my favorites is when he faked having Tourette’s syndrome just so he could curse in public. Cartman singing “I’ve got a golden ticket!” will forever be in my head.

But these are the antics of a misguided youth—when a 9th grader named Scott Tenorman tricked Cartman into buying his pubes so he could reach puberty, Cartman exacted his revenge: he had Scott’s parents killed, ground into chili and tricked Scott into eating them. And then licked his “tears of unfathomable sadness.”

He killed this boy’s parents, made him eat them and then licked up his tears. I don’t know what else to say. I wrote a book about Lucifer; at no point did I conceive of something that messed up. Truth is, this cat is NUTS! And that’s why he’s a fantastic villain. Cartman is out his fucking mind, knows it, and doesn’t care. This is a psychopath without a doubt, a ten-year-old construction paper psychopath.

And he’s hilarious!

Tomorrow, the Festival continues! They don’t like bright light; sunlight will kill them. Don’t get them wet; don’t even give them water. And what ever you do, no matter how much they beg, never, ever feed them after midnight. Tomorrow, the Gremlins are tearing up my blog!

TOMORROW: The Festival of Fiendishness

I know what you’re thinking: all my shows are ending! What am I gonna do? The doctors from Grey Anatomy are all dead and stuff (seriously how much shit can happen to one freaking hospital?); the Gleeks graduated (no more Brittany? Say it ain’t so!); and Chuck Bass is…well, Chuck Bass. And unless you love comics, there’s nothing for you in the movies—it’s just the Avengers, Spidey, and Batman. Oh yeah, there’s Will Smith. And battleships. And aliens.

But rest assured, true believers, here I come to save you from those entertainment doldrums! Can’t stand to watch another rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond? Really don’t care about the Real Housewives of Billings, Montana? Have you had it up to here with Ryan Seacrest on EVERY MEDIA OUTLET ON EARTH? I have the answer! What’s that you say? Can it be? Is it really? Yes, friends and neighbors, boys and girls, I bring you the Celebration of Wickedness VOLUME TWO! It’s the Festival of Fiendishness and it kicks off tomorrow.

Despite the fact that it sounds like another shrimp special from Red Lobster, the Festival is two scoops of villainy goodness. I know I said ‘summer’ but the truth is, we had 42 minutes of sun here in Seattle over the last 2 weeks—that’s about as summer as it’s gonna get. And I really can’t wait! This time around, we branch out from comics and movies—I ‘m gonna get medieval on that ass with a villain straight from Shakespeare; we have a couple of literary bad guys (I can read—Hooked On Phonics worked for me!), even soap operas (I’ve seen a couple…I’m man enough to admit it), along with our usual spate of comic book baddies and motion picture mischief-makers.

But tomorrow—TOMORROW—we make it official with one of the most compelling, complex, nuanced, multi-chinned villains ever: South Park’s ERIC CARTMAN. Na na na na nana. Heh heh heh heh hehheh

Assemble Your Avengers

Guess what?! I’m BAAAAACCKKK! Did you miss me? Don’t be coy; you know you did. I know I said I was gonna take a day off: well, after being laid out by a pretty nasty sinus infection and then moving my house AROUND THE CORNER, here I am 6 days later. Good as new. Well…kinda. Let’s just say I’m 10% better than last week.

And I get to talk about the Avengers.

You knew this was coming, right? For all my discussion about villains, I’ve spent plenty of words and pages on comic books and comic book heroes. Talking about the Avengers was inevitable.

Now if you’ve missed the Avengers’ $200M US opening this past weekend (which is the largest opening in history) or the total $641M the film has taken in over the last 2 weeks or the commercials and trailers that dominate every television program on the planet, the Avengers is the explosive, rip-roaring production featuring 6 Marvel superheroes—Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Black Widow and Hawkeye—battling for the salvation of Earth against, Loki, the Asgardian God of Mischief (and Thor’s brother) and his otherworldly army. I should have written copy, huh?

This post is less a review about the movie (which is SPECTACULAR! Seriously, just drop your shit and go see it!) than it is a review of the idea. Nick Fury, played by the masterfully angry Samuel L. Jackson, says “There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could. It’s called the Avengers Initiative.” This could be said for Marvel’s approach the entire Avengers franchise, starting back in 2008 with Iron Man (and later Iron Man 2), then a new and improved Incredible Hulk, Thor and finally Captain America. 5 films. 6 heroes. More than $2B (that’s B for Billion) in ticket sales worldwide—half of what Disney paid for Marvel.

But, in the beginning, there was an idea.

Call it a gamble, call it hubris, call it balls—Marvel waged 4 years and nearly $800M on an idea of introduce the principal characters in individual movies, cast them masterfully (seriously, who else could have played Tony Stark?) tie them together with 2 minute long snippets after the credits, and culminate with a tremendous production that would be thrilling entertainment for everyone. An idea. An idea no more or less powerful than making us care about a kid from the desert pulled into a galactic war to save a princess. No more or less powerful than having us emotionally invest in an orphaned child with unimaginable power and even greater enemies. No more or less powerful than the most forbidden of love stories—a bloodsucking killer and a virginal high school student.

Ideas shape worlds, change cultures, and apparently destroy the city of Cleveland—they, and the stories they live in, are the basic form of human communication. They strike us, emotionally, psychically, physically; make us perceive our environment, and one another, in new and interesting ways; force us to re-examine ourselves. Ideas have power. They can be palpable, tangible, kinetic forces. They can fuel revolutions and quell rebellions. And ideas, in the hands of writers, change people. They can people. Become part of them, part of their lexicon, become a new prism on the lens through which they see the world.

So take your ideas and palm them like the gems they are. Hug them close like nuggets of gold, stroke them like magnificent beasts. Then hold them to the light and give them to the world.

And believe in them.

They might save the world.

30 Days of Madness – The Recap

Well, friends and foes, April has drawn to a close. And with it, we bring down the curtain on Volume 1 of the Celebration of Wickedness, our delightful look at some of my favorite baddies in movies, books, and comic books (cuz they’re different, dammit!).

I learned a few things over the last 30 days and I think you did too. I learned that you guys really like the darker stuff; you learned that I have some issues I should probably talk to someone about. And that I’m not getting enough sleep. And that I’m still bitter about Teddy Ruxpin more than 25 years after the fact (freaky fucking bear!)

But the last 30 days was about more than bad guys; it was about a boy with a dream, a big dream—ok it was about me trying to prove that I could complete a literary triathlon and keep my day job, see my children, hug my wife, and take a shower. The goal was to write a 50,000 word novel, a 100 page script, and 30 days of 500-word blogs. That was the goal. So how did I do?

I, uh, well, um, see what had happened was…I failed. Kinda. I didn’t hit my 50,000 word goal for a novel—I hit 13,041 words and got a great beginning for a new story. I didn’t reach my 100 page goal for the script either—I got about 37 pages and it got waaaaayyy too personal for me to share with you guys right now. I gotta protect the innocent. But it is a story that certainly is going to be told. I did hit my 30 days of blogging, completed the A to Z Blog Challenge (and then some) and got to get into the psyche of some incredible villains along the way.

Did I win my own challenge? Nope. But I got something greater: you. You guys love your bad guys! You came out in droves for the Amityville Horror, argued with me about the Hulk, shared my sentiments about Darth Vader. I had someone say I was jealous of Robin because I could appreciate how the Joker killed him (yeah right—I never wanted to be Robin: I can’t be only one who thought Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were fighting more than crime together, can I?). But you guys LOVE this stuff! Who knew?

And so, I’m gonna give you more.

Coming this summer, Celebration of Wickedness VOLUME TWO! (VOLUME TWO! echo…) I have new slate of dastardly deviants, of monsters and miscreants to explore. We’re gonna talk about Norman Bates, the original psycho; Chucky, the serial killer trapped in a damn doll; Wile E. Coyote, the most ingenious, persistent canine ever (and one of the few black cartoon characters in Looney Tunes. Y’all do know he was black, right? Like Daffy and Tom from Tom and Jerry, right?). For you sci-fi addicts, we got the Borg, the Terminator and HAL 9000 (I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave). We’ll have Bill Lumbergh, Michael Corleone, and Ed Rooney. And from the comics come Green Goblin—the criminal that turned Spiderman into a killer; and Doomsday, the guy who stomped a mudhole in Superman’s ass. Literally. We got his daddy in Volume One; the Antichrist, Damien Thorn, will be part the Celebration in Volume Two. It’s gonna be fun.

And you can weigh in. Shoot me an email, send me a private message, chat me up, shit, send a smoke signal—tell me who you’d like to see in the Celebration. Wanna talk about those bad-ass kids in Village of the Damned? Say so. Did Se7en mess you up like it did me? We can do that. Who do you wanna see?

Finally, I also have to thank each and every one of you who took the time to read my little soliloquys over the last 30 days, or commented on my take on some of our favorite villains, who simply spread the word to your friends. I sincerely appreciate it. And…scene. That’s enough sap for one day.

Thanks again, everybody. Tomorrow, I’m taking the day off. Catch ya in a couple!