Monday, February 23, 2009

How Toyetic Can You Get?

I was born in 1980, which put me at that golden age of children's TV marketing. I grew up with the Transformers, G.I. Joe, the Silverhawks and the Thundercats, but most of of all I grew up with M.A.S.K.

This show defined "awesome" for me as a kid. The good guys are led by Matt Tracker, gazillionaire philanthropist with his own monorail that runs from his palatial estate to a disused gas station in that favorite terrain of kids' cartoons: the featureless desert. And he's got a cadre of compadres, each of them armed with a special (and presumably highly radioactive) helmet that grants them special powers. They're all from disparate walks of life and every week would ditch their jobs as teachers, rock stars, pizza delivery guys, race car drivers and toy manufacturers to go do battle with the evil forces of VENOM. I don't know how or why any of them bothered to hold a job. I'm trying to imagine what my own boss would say when I told him that I had to ditch work to put on a radioactive hat and fight a bunch of guys whose motorcyles turn in to helicopters.

Heroes always seem to have secret identities. The Joker never goes home to his job as a gas station attendant, Doctor Phosphorous isn't a practicing surgeon anymore. In proud superhero tradition, VENOM is essentially MASK's opposite number. Presumably they also have a mountain hideout for their radioactive hats and they get to spend all day planning capers. I can see holding down a job as a good guy. Good guys don't get paid shit. But neither do bad guys, because every time they try to steal the crown jewels or burrow a hole to the center of the Earth, the good guys stop them.

This being a show primarily geared toward selling toys to boys, each team had only one girl. The good guys had Gloria. The bad guys had Vanessa.

Oh, Vanessa. Root of my infatuation with icy, red-haired dominatrices. (Her mask was called "whip," people.)

Also: cultural sensitivity? Not quite the program's strong suit. (Could you tell?) When I said that MASK's agents came from "all walks of life" I mean "they were a bunch of hackneyed stereotypes." Bruce, the Japanese guy, gets at least one bizarre proverb an episode which only series lead Tracker can decipher. Besides ol' Bruce there's an uptight Brit, a hooo-wheee Southerner, it's a wonder they didn't have a German who shouted all the time or a graduate student that never got paid. I couldn't find a Bruce-ism, so you get this:

As a kid I didn't think anything of it. Of course, as a kid I didn't think anything of owning a red Camaro whose gull-wing doors were actual wings or at the amount of infrastructure needed just to move their little conference table from the sub-basement to the regular basement where they kept the radioactive hats. As a kid I chalked up Bruce's inscrutability to his being Bruce and not being some broadly drawn Japanese archetype. They went to England, to Japan, Peru, Iceland, India & Unidentifiable African Countries, and everywhere was populated with crude accents and broad brush strokes. As a kid I didn't think anything of it. Mostly I wanted my parents to buy the toys. And they did. Loads of them. I'd like to think these were just narrative loopholes conjured by underpaid children's TV writers. I think I probably turned out okay.

I dare you to get that fucking song out of your head.

You're welcome.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Arboreal Zodiac, part five

2/5: The Day of People Who Passive-Aggressively Use "We" To Mean "You."
2/6: The Day of Foam-Sword Cosplayers Out on the Uni Lawn
2/7: The Day You Realized You Missed the Memo Wherein "Cosplay" Was Meant to Stand In for "Dress-up."
2/8: The Day of the Short Fiction Writer
2/9: The Day of the Tall Fiction Writer
2/10: The Day of Vintage Postcards from Around the World
2/11: The Day of Ypsi
2/12: The Day of the Instant Coffee-Shop
2/13: The Day of the False Syllogism
2/14: The Day of Lurve
2/15: The Day of Men Who Own Hats
2/16: The Day of Sense-of-Entitlement Benefits
2/17: The Day of the Oblivious Motorist
2/18: The Day of the Oblivious Pedestrian

Monday, February 9, 2009

Concerned Citizens

Kim had time to think, as the iron-winged seraphs of Archangelina Jolie rained fire and destruction down on the city of New York like capricious and vengeful children, that this was all Toby Park’s fault.

Granted, she didn’t have much time to think, what with having to dodge the occasional checker cab tossed her way and negotiate through the panicked stampede away from Times Square, but in the manner that one’s life is meant to flash before one’s eyes, Kim laid all the blame squarely on the shoulders of Toby Park, the Unstoppable Alloy-Man.

Toby Park, who started it all. Toby Park, the billionaire wunderkind who built a seven-foot tall indestructible flying suit of armor, then took that armor over to Waziristan and pummeled to death the entire al-Qaeda leadership. It was because of Park, however indirectly, that the apocalypse had come to midtown.

Screw charity fundraisers. Screw adopting underprivileged Third-World babies. Alloy-Man changed everything. At his press conference, Park referred to himself simply as a “concerned citizen.”

Well, didn’t that just get everybody started.

Bill Gates and his twin-holstered freeze-ray guns. Oprah Winfrey’s Justice Wagon. Paris and Nicole’s Simple Life: Hooded Vigilantes. Diddyman. Not to mention all the innumerable sons and daughters of Rockefellers and Waltons and Vanderbilts, all come out to play. Overnight, punching someone in the face became the new AIDS ribbon.

Kim ducked in through a mutilated storefront window. The place used to sell shoes, before the seraphs bombed it. What to do? What exactly was the protocol when the mechanized flying army of Hollywood’s top actress got hotwired and repurposed as an unstoppable killing force? And where the Hell was Toby Park?

It was her way in. Kim was a hanger-on. She had money, she’d been to the parties, but really she wasn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar. It was either accidentally end up on the wrong side of a celebrity sex-tape or become a superhero.

Of course, it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. There was the whole thing in LA where Alloy-Man shot a black teenager because he was sure the kid had stolen a car. Then there was Mecha-Hannity. With the justice system in freefall (or liberated, depending on how you looked at it) Fox News managed to get their hands on a decommissioned Soviet nuclear assault suit and sent Sean Hannity to the Mexican border to report on/atomize illegal immigrants.

Things started to get out of control. Lawyers were called, and as Kim was being photographed foiling her very first jewelry heist, the Justice Lobby of America was called before Congress. In order to prevent these sorts of misunderstandings, the burgeoning superhero class invested in a class of supervillains to keep themselves in the papers and out of the news. Hannity left the Mexican frontier to do battle against Alan Colmes, the latter’s battlesuit an off-market diesel killing machine made in Poland.

Which is how the world got Professor Zodiac. The Professor represented no special interest group, he always hit big-ticket public works projects, and made sure the caper in question was over in time to make a last-minute appearance on Leno. He was the prefect bad guy, the kind you could scoff at as he vlogged his list of demands but could secretly cheer on as he fought Ben Affleck over the skeletal remains of the Ghost Fleet of Zanzibar. Plus, he killed on Leno, speaking of late night.

Only now it seemed to have gone a bit wrong. Kim could imagine Zodiac atop the Empire State building (his customary threaten-the-world post) trying frantically to reboot the Oscillator and stop the seraphs from providing the kind of redecorating service usually reserved for places with names like Dresden and Hiroshima.

She had to get to him. The thought popped in to her mind in the absence of something sensible like run screaming for the hills. She was going to have to fight her way to the Empire State through panicked New Yorkers and bloodthirsty angels and shut down the Radiomagnetic Oscillator herself or…

Or die trying.

Kim stood up. She brushed the ground glass from her knees. She took one step through the shattered storefront window into the street beyond, her fists clenched, ready to do righteous battle.

“Excuse me?” A voice, meek and small from inside the store. “Can I have your autograph?”

Kim turned back. That was when the seraph got her.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Saturday Doctor Who

The Cybermen phone home. Publicity still from the mostly-lost 1966 serial "The Moonbase."

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Arboreal Zodiac, part four

1/29: The Day of Those Weird Stacks of Rocks.
1/30: The Day of Briefly Forgetting Where You Live.
1/31: The Day of Free Wi-Fi.
2/1: The Day of Owning Enough Bumper-Stickers to Encompass Your Many Beliefs.
2/2: The Day of The Groundhog. Everywhere. Can't avoid it. Sorry.
2/3: The Day of The Collected Works of Akira Kurosawa.
2/4: The Day of Shooting Yourself in the Foot.