Sunday’s Wisdom #205: Cherish Family Now

“Take good care of Dani, Max; you’ll never know how precious she is, until you lose her.”
– Thackery Binx, Hocus Pocus

Four years.

As of yesterday, I have been blogging for four years.

In that time, I’ve had some ups and downs, a number of changes in my life, some bigger, some smaller. There have been better times, and worse times. You know who was always there for me either way? My family, most especially my mother and my sister.

I have been very blessed to have good family, regardless of our own disagreements. I like to think I’ve been good to them in return, but I know there’s always room for improvement. 😉

So, as I was turning over the insides of my brain for a proper quote from some Halloween-themed story, I suddenly recalled this classic from my childhood, and I was like, it struck a chord in me.

Binx is a character very familiar with loss. He was a young man when his little sister, Emily, was murdered right in front of him by a trio of witches. He tried to save her, but failed, and three centuries is a long time to live with sorrow like that. So, when he tells his new friend Max to take care of his own little sister, Dani, it carries the weight of heavy, mournful experience behind it.

Max is a typical teenage boy with a typical little sister. Which is to say, they annoy and aggravate each other tremendously, but they love each other. Max has thus far put up with Dani, taken her trick-or-treating (albeit with some parental coercion), shielded her from the local bullies, cheered her up and made her laugh, and protected her from witches. Then, when the situation turns truly dire at the climax of the film, Max doesn’t hesitate for a moment to offer up is own life in place of Dani’s.

Clearly he heard what Binx was saying, and clearly he’s a good brother in both big and little ways.

That is a good brother.

It strikes me that, as someone wise once said, we never know what we have until we lose it. It’s a tremendous shame that such applies to the most valuable thing of all, namely the bonds of love we share with our family. It is a crying shame when we take if for granted, especially considering all the people who don’t have that, but even more considering those who have lost their loved ones.

How many stories are there? Where two people who love each other had some disagreement, and that was the last time they ever saw each other? They had forever to work things out… and then they didn’t have any time at all.

Better to cherish each other now, I think.

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This Week on TV, Oct. 20, 2018

Spoiler Alert!

So, still haven’t worked out how to follow the rest of my weekly lineup. As such, it’s just The Gifted for now. Not that they need much help, of course. They delivered one of the most intense episodes yet, and they’ve barely scratched the surface of the impending conflict.

The Gifted

2.03 “outMatched”

The heaviest blows fall between family members.

A Reeva said, anyone can stand against an enemy. It is much harder to stand against a friend, and even harder to stand against family. Brother against brother is the worst of wars.

Though things haven’t really come to a straight-up confrontation between the Underground and the Inner Circle yet, it has now come to family members standing on opposite sides, refusing to yield to each other, and first blood has been drawn.

Moving to the outskirts of the conflict for a moment, Turner is living in a motel, trying to reach out to his wife, Paula. He’s thinking about marriage counseling as well, but for now, it’s too little, too late. Paula can’t be part of what he’s doing, and she’s not going to wait around for him to come back to her. It’s heart-breaking, albeit the least part of what we see in this episode, but Turner is simply too driven. He can’t turn back or turn aside, he has to keep going forward, so much that he’s going in circles, and he’s long since left what matters most behind. So, Paula leaves him.

And Turner goes even deeper into the swirling vortex of the abyss.

I forget the man’s name, but the cop at the desk who greeted Turner gives him a call. They meet, and get straight to the point. The man is a Purifier. You know, the guys who’ve been giving honest, innocent folks a hard time because they happen to be mutants. We have very little knowledge of their numbers or their resources, but they hate mutants, labeling them a threat to the human species, and they clearly have some weight of numbers on their side. So, they’re not entirely unlike the Inner Circle and Hellfire. Of course, the Underground turned those groups down, outside a few of their members, and Turner does the same, at first. He may supposedly see the mutant threat for what it really is (actually, no, he doesn’t), but that doesn’t mean he’s eager to sign up with a hate group.

That is, not until he sees the fallout of events elsewhere, which brings us back to center stage.

The Underground is investigating the Inner Circle, looking to get their loved ones back and/or stop whatever catastrophic plan they’re setting in motion. They don’t have much in the way of intel, but they’ve gotten a few nuggets of information. Evidently, when they tapped into the grid underground, they were looking for something at a mental asylum called Lynwood. Evidently, they specialize in containing and “treating” mutants.

Which, that at least calms one fear I had about what the Inner Circle was doing. Apparently, they’re not doing something even worse than war… at least, not at the moment. They want someone who happens to be held in Lynwood, so they were getting info to plan that operation. They’re still arming up, it seems, bringing more dangerous mutants into their fold.

And they’re recruiting from an asylum. Not a good sign.

Admittedly, there’s a whole racket with condemning mutants to asylums instead of prisons. Lorna was on the receiving end of that as a teenager. But, still, not a good sign. Especially considering some terrible things Lorna has done since her time in one, and they are getting someone out after they’ve been in there for some time.

Desperate for information, John, Marcos, and Clarice head to try Wire again, hoping his mutant hacking abilities will shed some light on things. They arrive to find Wire’s brother, Griff (I think), ready to shoot them for getting his brother killed. It turns out, Wire’s intrusion and sniffing around after them did not go unnoticed after all, so the Inner Circle sent the Frosts to make him “commit suicide.” As such, Griff is not keen on stepping on their toes in like manner. But they did kill his brother, and Cait proves very “persuasive.” This being a polite euphemism for first tormenting Griff with withdrawal and then bribing him by getting him high again.

That is a very dark corner she’s gone into. It’s to get her son back, certainly. Never ever underestimate what a mother will do for her children. There are all sorts of things that people normally of honor will do for their children that they would never considering doing for themselves. That’s what this is. But it’s a slippery slope, too, all too easily taking the protective parent straight into the abyss as well and turning them into a monster.

Reed has exactly the right of it when he questions how far they should go for this. If they’re willing to do anything, then what’s really the difference between them and the Inner Circle, or any of the other monsters in the world? There must be a point where it stops, a line that they do not cross, no matter the nobility of their cause. Heck, Lorna’s vision, when she birthed her child, was of something magnificent and powerful and safe for her daughter, and look where that’s taken her. And now Cait is so driven that she didn’t even notice when Griff’s heart stopped and he collapsed. They save him, but… the words “He’ll be ok,” ring just a little hollow now.

It’s almost an impossible task, but it’s essential: one must decide how far is too far. Preferably before going there.

Fortunately, and that is something of a light usage of the word, it works. They manage to catch on to what the Inner Circle is doing: they are invading Lynwood at that very moment. Sage the computer girl is watching the field team’s back online, providing Griff some fierce competition, while they’ve disabled the alarms and are rounding people up. Between two Frosts, Lorna, and Andy, I doubt they had much trouble getting people to cooperate.

The Underground is moving and just barely gets there before things finish up. John and Clarice go inside while Marcos and Lauren, set on saving/stopping Andy, guard the only drivable way out.

It’s a creepy, silent, occasionally bloody mess inside. Clarice has been the one trying to slow things down, questioning what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and now that it’s coming to a confrontation, she’s afraid they can’t do what they’ll need to. She’s afraid they have to kill their friends, but can they? They manage to come up on Lorna and Andy’s tail as they’re escorting their prize out of the building, and John calls out. He and Lorna go way back, to the start of the Underground, so he just wants to talk with her. Just talk. That’s all he asks.

She responds with silence, and unleashing the inmates around them, forcing John and Clarice to focus on saving lives instead of stopping them.

Outside, Lauren barely talks Marcos into letting her try and talk Andy down, as Marcos is ready to fight. He may have been right about that. Lauren stops the vehicle they’re in, and Andy steps out. Lauren appeals to him, including mentioning their dream, but he refuses to budge. He just tells her to get out of the way. Lauren refuses, making her stand.

Brother vs sister.

Andy does not hold back, breaking her barrier and sending her and Marcos flying. She hits her head hard when she lands.

That moment, I think, is a defining one for Andy and his family. He actually seems a little horrified, I think, when he sees her hit the ground and not get back up. She’s his big sister, a strong, unassailable force in his life, who protected him, taught him, and everything else. He’s fighting in part for her… but he just hit her. How does that fit? How did he reach this point? Who is that boy staring back at him from his reflection?

Who has he become?

He gets back in the van and they drive away. Two Frosts, one Polaris, one half of Fenris… and one small passenger in the back.

Just one person.

I’m not sure what I would have preferred, the one person or if they’d recruited a number of asylum inmates, but the Inner Circle just poured a lot of resources into this, they covered it up with a mass jailbreak and a coerced confession from the staff hitting the media, and they had Lorna and Andy run roughshod over their own family… all for one mutant.

Just who is it, and what can they do?

I’m going to just toss out the possibility of it being the Scarlet Witch or something like that. Probably not really, but it would be cool, it would explain everything, and it would even fit some iterations of the character’s history. 😉

So, as the latest mutant-related crisis steals the spotlight, Turner calls the Purifiers, suddenly more interested in joining them, the Underground licks its wounds and takes as many wounded patients with them as possible, the Strucker family is dealt a debilitating blow, having to reconcile the idea of Andy with the idea of an enemy who struck their daughter, which brings them to tears even while Reed, unable to control his powers, can’t even hold and comfort his grieving wife, who just did a Devil’s own deed for nothing… and all of this while the Inner Circle drives off, triumphant.

I would ask if things could really get worse, but I already know the answer is always “yes.”

About the only thing left is how Reed is responding to his powers. He’s going through the usual stages of wanting them gone or dealt with or whatever, trying to reject them on some level, while John, very experienced in this, knows the only way out is through the problem. Reed needs to train with his powers, not self-medicate his emotional state. His powers are part of him, albeit a part that has long been suppressed artificially. He needs to accept this and learn to control his powers, instead of trying to be rid of them.

All things considered, this was a pretty bad day.

And another excellent episode! 🙂

Hm, small wonder storytellers need to be sadists in order to entertain us. 😛

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Sunday’s Wisdom #204: Friends and Enemies

“My worst enemy becomes best friend when beasts attack us. Men put aside our differences to defeat monster evil.”
– Ivan Krasnov, Monster Hunter Siege
Monster Hunters
series, by Larry Correia

The cast of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunters is wide, varied, and colorful, but, I must confess, I did not foresee the introduction of a Russian mobster type of hunter. Ivan Krasnov and his company have a very bad, and very well-earned, reputation among the monster hunting companies of Europe, including his own nation. They don’t exactly play by the same rules as everyone else in regards to fairness, cooperation, and respect. There are even intimations that competition for contracts in Russia tend towards lethality. To stand atop a game like that, Krasnov is absolutely one of the more unsavory people the main characters ever work with. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding his many flaws.

However, even Krasnov has some honor to him. Indeed, while he may go about it in unusual and unsettling ways which make even his allies justifiably cautious, he demonstrates a surprising comprehension of things such as loyalty and comradeship. He once was a most capable warrior in his own right, until he let himself go the way of gluttony, and he understands the bonds which are forged between men in battle. He also claims that he felt called to leave his military career behind and hunt monsters when he learned that his ancestors did so, and he even uses a blade his forefathers used in such. So, while he may be severely lacking in integrity and selflessness, he is not entirely without honor and purpose.

This quote here is a guiding principle in his life, or so he says. He bonds with the main character, Owen Pitt, over a monster hunt, cutting through the back-and-forth of politics and dancing around the truth, piercing even his own deception. There is one great truth in his life: he hates monsters. As he sees it, he may play the game and gain any advantage over his competition by any means, but when it comes to the fight against monsters, the fight for humanity? We’re all in that together.

His worst enemy becomes his best friend in the face of genuine monsters that need killing. Whatever differences are among them, whatever disputes lie between them, and whatever grudges lie behind them, those are all rendered into perfect irrelevance compared to the single truth: the monster intends to kill them all. It only makes sense, does it not? When it is time to fight the monster, it is not the time to fight each other. Men unite against their common enemy, because they must.

That holds true in life as well, for less literal monsters. People are almost always fighting over almost anything you can name, but there are times we simply have to stop and face something much more dire. There are terrifying epidemics and natural disasters, for instance, where people simply have to stop their petty conflicts at least long enough to survive together, or help those who are suffering. Men who are long rivals and enemies can swiftly support each other when death comes knocking on the door. Smaller disputes are placed on hold in the face of larger threats like invaders or terrorists. Enemies become brothers and sisters with the simple expedient of something bigger, something monstrous, coming and hurting all of them.

What we really need to learn is that there is always something bigger that we need to deal with. There is always a “monster evil.”

We are very flawed at this, but we need to practice setting our differences aside and forgiving each other.

We aren’t worst enemies and then best friends, we are brothers and sisters who are sometimes disguised as enemies.

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This Week on TV, Oct. 13, 2018

Spoiler Alert!

Doctor Who and Black Lightning both made their returns, alongside a number of other shows, as the new season properly kicks off. Small detail: my old methods of following these shows seems to have gone defunct over the course of the summer. It seems those logistical concerns I had are playing out a bit more thoroughly than I expected.

So, begging pardons and patience, I obviously need to figure that out before I can add them back to my weekly commentary.

As for The Gifted… honestly, I love how I can come to this show expecting something great, something emotional and personal and thrilling, and be so consistently rewarded. 🙂

The Gifted

2.03 “coMplications”

First and foremost, because babies are important, we have little Dawn suffering from I-have-no-idea-what-it-is. It’s apparently something that can be cured only with exposure to the right light, or the baby dies, and the doctor is unable to produce it. So, with much objection and trepidation, the Inner Circle reaches out to Marcos.

Dawn needs her daddy. 🙂

ADD Moment: I had not realized that “Dawn” in Spanish is “Aurora,” so, it seems Lorna did keep that name for her daughter, after fashion.

While the Frosts are out collecting Marcos, and bringing him back with a hood over his head, Andy and Lorna have to acknowledge the awkward position they’re about to be in.

I mean, Marcos is the man Lorna loves, the father of her daughter. They didn’t part on very good terms, and now they’re on opposing sides, but they still love each other, and this was bound to be a painful experience, not only because of their feelings for each other, but… well, Marcos is a father. He naturally feels so strongly that he cries just from holding his daughter for the first time, and making him let go of Dawn and leave is made even harder by his own issues with his father.

We saw that in a flash back, where his father abandoned him for being a mutant and hated him for his subsequent involvement with the cartels, while Marcos was angry with his father for turning him out, for his judgmental attitude, and for what he sees as his father’s treatment of his mutant mother driving her into an early grave, and yet still wanting to help when his father is sick and dying. Marcos may be filled with unforgiving anger, but he is a deeply selfless soul, all the more for wanting to not be like his father.

So, leaving his daughter? Especially in the hands of the Inner Circle? No. No, that is not going to fly with him. It’s simply not.

The tender moment of a father holding his baby daughter for the first time, of using his power to heal her, of wanting so much to keep her and stay with her, and her mother, that for a moment he considers doing anything to stay with them, it all too quickly becomes pain and heartbreak. He can hardly breathe, he tries to convince them, he only hands over his daughter and begins to leave under duress of the Frosts’ mental influence. It’s painful for Lorna and the audience to see… but I had a moment of cheering wildly (or perhaps savagely?) when Marcos’ love for Lorna and Dawn was so strong that he overcame the three Frosts, even at their maximum together, and fought for his family like a man!

He screamed for Lorna, that they were lying to her and in her head – I am highly suspicious that this might be true, and it would certainly make Esme’s dissension all the more potent if she breaks ranks and releases Lorna and Andy from any mental compulsion they might be under – and he outright overcomes their ability to command him, hitting them and burning one on the arm.

Unfortunately, his fight ended the instant Reeva got him with that scream of hers. There was a bit of property damage, and he can warn the other about her, but, still, he was firmly ejected from the place.

As for Andy, he was going to avoid Marcos altogether, because they were friends in the Underground, but Reeva talked him into standing by her side. A more friendly appearance, perhaps, but also because she wants people who can stand up to their friends as much as their enemies. I can see the reasoning there, but it’s a tremendous thing, to oppose a friend. One ought to be certain of the cause one is doing it for, in that case. On the bright side, Andy hesitated when Marcos ran amok. He stood behind Reeva instead of charging into the fight. Somehow, he wasn’t ready for that. Not yet.

Back in the Underground, the Struckers are trying to keep things going as per usual, but family drama interrupts, while John and Clarice look for subterranean help together.

In the case of the latter, Clarice is noticing John’s increasing drive, including how he manages to bruise his hands hitting hard stuff, but John is unaware of just how hard his anger and his guilt are driving him. They head down into the sewers to find that what’s already a maze has been enhanced to disorient and redirect unfamiliar parties. They manage to make their way through, partially because of Clarice’s abilities with portals, to find themselves surrounded by armed mutant vagrants. And thus, the Morlocks are introduced.

Clarice, and only Clarice, is allowed to speak with their leader, Urg. He shows her the community they have down there, people who are somehow visibly deformed or physically maimed. Urg sells it as people living together according to their own rules, instead of the rules dictated by the humans who hunt them. It doesn’t seem to be a particularly comfortable way to live, but I can see the appeal, being able to hide away from a hostile world, safe with people like you. That’s not an entirely bad thing.

But the part where they all have to look different from normal humans, with those who look normal being branded with Ms on their faces, in order to be part of this community, that speaks of something less appealing to me. It’s what draws Urg to Clarice, actually: her eyes and her elfin ears. She’s a visible mutant, unlike the handsome John or a number of others we’ve seen, so he builds a rapport with her. He offers the information they’re looking for, but in return he wants her to spy for him.

Urg, I think, is clever and scheming. Perhaps he has to be in order to keep his people safe, but he’s still dangerous, and this danger could easily threaten what little is left of the Underground, no to mention Clarice’s relationship with John. The first thing we see of him, he leads people who are willing to do harm, whose followers seem entirely indoctrinated by his way of thinking, which doctrine is partially based on the merits of one’s appearance, including scarring their own people, and he immediately wants to turn Clarice to his own ends. And if living under his rule is so great, why didn’t I hear any laughter among his people?

Still, they get information. It turns out there’s a mutant who produces some sick sort of slime that he can see out of, like security cameras. Something he saw included the Inner Circle in the tunnels beneath the health department.

…and that, right there, with the words “health department,” make me shudder in horror, thinking that maybe my initial guess that Reeva just wants to take over the country might have been optimistic. What, exactly, is she planning with that? And how many people does she intend to kill?

Between that great unknown and Marcos returning hurt, exhausted, and quite rightfully furious, it’s safe to say the Inner Circle will have to get past the Underground in order to do whatever it is they’re intending to do. That will not be a pretty fight.

Finally, back in the center of the Strucker arena, now that Lauren has confided her feelings about the dead bodies they’ve left behind to her father, things between them are somehow even more tense. Reed goes on a run for supplies, and Cait, wanting to make things a bit better after she said such horrible things to Reed the previous day, encourages him to take Lauren along. It’s on the way back that things start going wrong. They’re talking, they get a call from Cait asking about the file cabinet Reed accidentally destroyed, he gets stressed, his powers act up, dissolving the steering wheel in his grip, and they crash.

Yes, Lauren, your dad is a very late-bloomed mutant, and he didn’t tell you.

Amidst the stress of having to grab their stuff and run for it, Lauren is furious at her father for keeping secrets again. Secrets are how so much of their lives went wrong, right down to when Lauren was too scared to tell him when her powers manifested. It’s a heart-rending moment, really, but one that was much-needed. It’s only when Reed gets back and tells Cait the truth that this invisible barrier that’s been rising between the two of them vanishes, and they embrace, husband and wife. Lauren, who has had very little joy in her life of late, is able to smile when she sees her parents like that.

Unfortunately, they didn’t even notice an old enemy on their tail.

Turner, it turns out, failed to actually move on. He shows up in DC with his box of files, looking for the mutants he blames for ruining his life. He presents a good image, connects with the desk sergeant on duty, offers valuable information. He’s welcomed, and gets to work, but it doesn’t last long. He goes off book a bit when he, an unauthorized party, goes out to a crash site. He’s good, manages to catch up just in time to see the Struckers driving off in a stolen truck, but the captain is not happy with him. Add his presumption to how he was blamed (and burned) for Atlanta, and his loud insistence that the dead mutants he’s hunting are not dead is not so well received. He’s made to leave, disgraced yet again.

So, the Inner Circle is up to something possibly even worse than previously imagined, Lorna’s mind may not be her own, friends and family are being set against each other, the price for Urg’s information is a piece of Clarice’s loyalty, John is pushing a little too hard to get into this fight, Marcos is enraged with a desire to hit the Inner Circle back after they let him hold his daughter only to take her away, Reed’s powers are uncontrolled and dangerous, and Turner is still hunting all of them.

On the bright side, the Frosts’ are not all-powerful with their abilities, taking out Reeva would clearly turn the tide of any conflict, Andy is hesitant, Lorna may have cause to question her loyalties to the Inner Circle now, the Struckers are starting to come back together as a family… and little baby Dawn is alive and healthy again!

So, not all bad, I’d say, and very entertaining either way! 🙂

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Sunday’s Wisdom #203: A Bigger Predator

“The only thing a predator fears is a bigger predator.”
– Ed, Bill the Vampire
Tome of Bill, by Rick Gualtieri

At this exact moment in the story, the protagonist and his friends are discovering, and marveling, that he is no normal vampire. In addition to being impossible to compel, he can also feed on other vampires without getting sick, the way humans would get sick if they drank human blood. As the other vampires are rather accustomed to being the apex predator, the realization that there’s something above them is due cause for them to fear.

The behavior of predators is a recurring theme in this story. Bill himself, as the narrator, comments how predators pick off individuals instead of charging into the center of the herd. They also don’t make a point of stalking their prey in either metaphorical or literal well-lit, middle-class neighborhoods. No, even the most fearsome predator, no matter their attitude, is, on some level, well aware of their mortality, their vulnerability.

It is, with rare exception, very healthy to practice caution.

So, I would say Ed is correct, but with some slight nuance. Predators don’t fear only “bigger predators” in the literal sense. They fear anything that could successfully hurt them. If they didn’t have that fear, they wouldn’t last very long.

A fearless predator is a dead predator.

Which, actually, also comes into play when Bill the vampire manages to get the advantage over other vampires by biting them, which they weren’t expecting, because they’re fearless… and then, quite suddenly, they know fear again.

In a straight-up fight, the other vampires would absolutely murder Bill, but, because they fear him, they leave him be. And because he fears them, he doesn’t push his luck!

In nature, even an entire pride of full-grown lions will flee from an entire herd of buffalo, an enraged elephant, or an angry hippo. Two grown grizzly bears arguing over a kill will back off and let a wolverine, much smaller than either of them, have the kill instead. An egg-eating monitor lizard will flee the return of an alligator to its nest, as the latter’s head is roughly the size of the former’s entire body. Whenever animals find themselves in a confrontation, they will almost always try to look bigger than their opponent.

And anytime one human bullies or threatens or harms another, the surest way to stop them is to make it too dangerous for them to continue. The smart ones pull back after that, and the not-so-smart ones are left in no position to hurt anyone else. 😉

In short: it pays to be the bigger predator.

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This Week on TV, Oct. 6, 2018

Spoiler Alert!

Ah, we are back! The weekly shows and my weekly commentary! Oh, how I’ve missed this! 🙂

Though, it seems I got so accustomed to having nothing to comment on that I was caught unawares and arrived late to the party! Apparently I missed the second season premiere of The Gifted last week? Oh, Merlin, Merlin, Merlin, how unbecoming! 😛

All for the best, maybe. I’m not sure I could’ve handled leaving off at that heart-breaking scene at the end of the first episode.

In other news, Gotham and Agents of Shield will be taking their sweet time showing up again, the former for its concluding season and the latter for… whatever they decide to do with it.

Black Lightning will be gracing us much sooner. And as for Doctor Who, I still haven’t decided if I’ll follow it or keep commenting on it, but logistical concerns may take care of that for me anyway. Figures.

So, with that said, let’s dive in! This should be a most interesting season!

The Gifted

2.01 “eMergence” & 2.02 “unMoored”

Ya don’t get a much stronger opening than a bloody coup.

Reeva Payge (and I looked it up on Wikipedia to make sure I got her name right) is terrifying. Not simply because her ability is evidently very debilitating to be on the receiving end of, but because she is absolutely not at all hesitant to murder anyone.

Apparently, the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club was not at all united, and not at all happy, concerning the events in Atlanta. When they refuse to get on board with Reeva’s “mutant homeland” project, citing how dangerous it is, she summarily executes the entire lot of them with the Frosts’ assistance. These are people she’s known and worked with, shared goals with, probably assisted and been assisted by, and she kills all of them without hesitation. Anyone or anything which might get in her way, she will eliminate with extreme prejudice and without remorse.

I say again: terrifying. That is exactly the sort of person you do not want to follow, because even the tiniest deviation from their agenda gets you instantly dead. Loyalty and compassion mean nothing to her.

About the only good thing there is how mind-numbingly stupid it is to drop bodies willy-nilly. What, does she think no one will notice a pile of corpses? Does she think this engenders loyalty towards her, when everyone knows they can be cast aside at any moment? Does she think that she can make the world be a better place?

Anyway, so, Reeva rules the Hellfire Club now, without question, and her brilliant plan is apparently to take over the country by force and magically turn it into a place where mutants can live in peace. Because that’s always been such a great plan in the past, right?

Meanwhile, over on the human side of this war, SS is keepin’ up the good ol’ work of storming into innocent people’s homes, murdering them in cold blood, terrorizing anyone they happen to not murder, hunting human beings who happen to be mutants as if they were active terrorists, that sort of thing. With the manpower and firepower they bring to the party, the Underground can hardly take them head-on, but they’re still doing what they can, rescuing as many as possible as quickly as possible.

Reed listens in on the radio, dispatches the team, and makes papers for people to help them get clear. Lauren and Clarice are partnered up, going for one group while John and Marcos go for the other. Innocent blood is spilled in the latest SS raid, and honest people are captured, but the Underground saves some, if only a few. The don’t even have a proper way station or HQ anymore, but they make do, partially operating out of a clinic.

So, they’re pretty effective with what little they have, but they’re stretched thin, and getting pushed towards emotional breaking points. They’re fighting a desperate war for survival, but the single most pressing stress weighing down on them is family.

Marcos knows that his baby is due any day, and what he wants most is to be there. The Struckers are still reeling from Andy leaving them, with Cait in the denial stage of grief, acting like her little boy was kidnapped, Lauren in the angry stage, wanting her brother back but also afraid to have him because of Fenris, and Reed trying to hold it together despite how his mutant powers are manifesting. Both families are trying, fighting to reunite with their loved ones, but it’s all in vain. SS is on one side, Hellfire and the Inner Circle are on another, and they, the Underground, are caught in the middle, enemies of both.

For Marcos, his frustration comes to a head when Lorna goes into labor. Reeva and the Frosts apparently had the foresight to prepare a near fortress for her to give birth in, protecting her from the sporadic surges of electromagnetic energy which struck all of DC, resulting in power surges and a vortex of everything metal flying in every direction. What they did not have was the foresight to do so a little earlier, just in case the baby came a bit early, which… yeah. Baby says, “I’m coming out now!” Things get a bit hairy there for a bit, with some kind of mental block inhibiting the birthing process. Reeva and the Frosts motivate Lorna with a vision of what they hope for, igniting Lorna’s will to see the birth through.

Of course, first they had to get past Andy, who, at Lorna’s maternal insistence, promised to protect the baby even if their “friends” wanted to save her at cost of the baby’s life. They did, though, and it turned out well, though I wonder if they might have altered something in Lorna’s mind in that moment. I mean, what happened to naming her daughter Aurora? Instead, in honor of the impending dawn of the mutant age, she’s named Dawn.

It’s kind of a beautiful moment, but warped, with a little girl, Dawn, coming into life amidst a storm of power, surrounded by her mother’s keepers instead of her family.

Said family was en route, easily detecting Lorna’s wildly-active powers, but they didn’t make it in time. Marcos was left in the dark with the rest of DC, weeping, his light flickering, with friends who could only share his sorrow.

As for the Struckers, that’s still coming to a boil. Lauren and Andy are dreaming of each other, and it’s putting both of them off. Lauren is increasingly afraid of Fenris even as she wants her brother back, while Andy is left unable to perform in training.

The Inner Circle preparing for a specific mission, probably to assassinate the President or something like that. Reeva’s so paranoid about this mission that she wipes out every trace that could lead back to them from the power outage, including destroying the building, murdering a hapless security guard who couldn’t identify them anyway, and also murdering the man they just bribed. So, when Andy, as a teenage boy, is less than forthcoming about why he’s under-performing, she’s ready to kill him then and there… until, at the last moment, he confesses. His mother has been messaging him, so he used that info to try and call Lauren, just to hear her voice, but she wasn’t there. Reeva uses that, tells him not to try and forget his feelings, but use them. They’re fighting for mutants, including her, so he ought to fight for her as well. It works, he manages to do it, and they’re all happy (and living).

Reed tried to confess the truth of his changing condition to Cait, but they were interrupted by the crisis of Lorna giving birth and Marcos trying to get to her. He only put his mutation on the back burner to begin with because Cait is violently obsessed with getting her son back. He’s her little boy, too young to be going to war, and all that. She’s so driven that she takes Marcos to go see this mutant with power as a hacker, who, after nearly selling them to the Inner Circle, gives them some intel. They still can’t find the Inner Circle, but they know they’re up to something big and violent in DC.

On that note, John went to Evangeline, the woman who recruited him and others for the Underground on behalf of the X-Men. She’s largely given up, and hurls John’s failures back in his face, which he’s already torn up over, but she still helps. It’s not much, but she’s able to direct him to someone who can help them muscle up, down in the tunnels beneath the city, without drawing on what little the Underground has left. They’re already fighting a war, after all, and losing. Fighting another war against the Inner Circle? Someone else will have to do that.

On the note of John, at least he and Clarice are finding some moments of joy. I have to say, I love the two of them together! They are just so adorable!

As for John’s responsibility for Atlanta, I actually can’t fault anything he did. He may have made mistakes, but he absolutely did the best he could, and I can’t think of any choices he made where there was anything better he might have done. Which is probably even worse for his morale, really. It’s one thing to lose because you make mistakes you can learn from. It’s another to lose without having made such mistakes, having done everything right, but still in vain, still losing, and still losing his dear friends.

That is a terrible burden to bear. Small wonder he wants so badly to hit something.

About the only good news is that Hellfire is hardly united. Reeva does not command loyalty, Lorna’s first concern is her daughter, Andy fights for his sister, not Reeva… and even the Frost sisters have a little crack in their unity. Esme, the one who was with the Underground instead of getting captured and tortured, is hesitating, arguing for less murder. The security guard they already compelled to forget them, the manager they paid off, Andy… she argues against harming all of them. Still, it’s only a start. She relents on all three. About the best mercy she can scrounge up is having the manager hit by a truck instead of made to walk into an airplane’s rotor blade.

And then there’s Lorna, who truly misses Marcos. So, when Marcos gets a bit drunk and, not-so-prudently lights up the sky, she smiles to see it. She even tells Dawn, “Your daddy is saying hi.”

Less happy: the baby’s burning up.

There’s a reason that’s a nightmare for any proper parent.

So, recap: Reeva’s leading an ambitious plan to take over the country (probably), murdering anyone who might be an inconvenience to her; Lorna gave birth without Marcos; Lauren and Andy are dreaming of each other and it’s not in a happy way; Reed is mutating and it’s starting to hurt him; Cait is crazy to get her son back; John is trying to save the Underground and take up the mantle of the X-Men, though he may not think of it in those terms; the Frosts are dividing; and the baby is in danger from some sickness. I miss anything?

Oh, and Turner seems to be leaving his mutant-hunting past with SS behind him. At least, for the moment.

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Book Review: Bill the Vampire, by Rick Gualtieri

I dimly recall, a long time ago, a friend telling me about this fan-fiction parody version of Final Fantasy VII he’d once read. According to him, it was a hilarious read. The only downside was that the author apparently only got into that “zone” where he could write with such comedic and literary skill when he was high as a kite.

Somehow, as I was reading Bill the Vampire, by Rick Gualtieri, I couldn’t help but wonder if something similar was going on here. I hope Mr. Gualtieri won’t take that personally, though, based on his sense of humor in this book, I don’t think I need to worry. 😉

The story is about Bill, a nerd who falls prey to a pretty face and gets lured into a vampire’s lair. With a little bit of defiant cunning and a whole lot of luck, he survives the experience… well, ok, he dies, but he survives after he’s turned into a vampire, instead of being turned into a pile of dust. Right from the get-go, he’s unique among vampires for 1) not being absolutely sexy, 2) successfully retaining some semblance of normalcy in his undead life, and 3) being impossible to compel.

That last makes him a legendary Freewill, capable not only of defying any mental compulsion any other vampire tries to lay on him, and, as it turns out, he can bite and feed on other vampires. Also very unusual!

That second point goes more into a Bill as a person. He works for a living, he has nerdy friends who take his change in status in competent stride even as he, himself, adapts to his new situation. For all that he’s a blood-sucking fiend of the night, he’s still human in a way that other vampires seem to have forgotten how to be.

Mind you, he’s no saint and no hero as of yet, as evidenced by how he still has less care for the lives of others than he does for his own. He’s also not suddenly some master manipulator or combat expert. No, the manipulation is done by the beautiful female lead, Sally, who is partially responsible for his new vampire condition. She’s a bombshell, crafty, scary as hell, and far more dangerous than she might seem to be.

On which note, that first point, about Bill being the only un-sexy vampire we meet, the book is constantly making fun of the usual tropes and stereotypes found in most vampire-based stories. Things are not often as they appear to be, and certainly not what one might expect. Vampires are terrifying, but they can also be terrified in return, the moment they learn they’re not an undisputed apex predator, and they lack most mystical abilities credited to them in popular culture. There are zombies, and they are good for desk work. Bill gets by mostly by being unique and playing it up, courtesy of his past experience with RPGs. And, to get information, Bill is somewhat disappointed when Sally slips someone a fifty instead of… ah, we shall say paying with the utility of her physical assets.

Which is my first actual complaint: the gutter.

Bill’s mind and attention often wander in that direction, as does the language and sometimes the humor, and though they never show it (because Bill is completely deprived of it), there are numerous references to sexual activity. I get that they’re dealing with vampires, which have been pretty sexualized these days, but we don’t need to be beaten over the head with it, ya know?

And then, in the next breath, we get another nerd’s faith in his new Optimus Prime figure turning it into an anti-vampire talisman. I admit, the line, “The power of Prime compels you!” is pretty hilarious. So, I learned to roll with it, or at least tolerate it, and it actually felt like a small accomplishment when I finished the book.

That is the sort of duality which made me wonder if Gualtieri was on something. One moment, blood, gore, violence, sex, and the next, a toy burns vampires. A nerd vampire, who has trouble surviving, even with help, against one alpha-dog vampire who doesn’t like nerds, is apparently at the center of a great amount of intrigue rising up almost overnight. Bill’s trying to fight for his life, and he’s some strange alternating combination of helpless and terrifying in his own right. The way Bill manages to get by, including with the assistance of his nerdy friends, kind of boggles the mind, especially since… well, he’s actually pretty passive, getting steered around by the will of others all the time. His own goals pretty much being and end with “don’t die again.”

I certainly did appreciate some of the humor and geeky references, though. I liked how Bill kept finding himself chomping down on guys instead of girls and getting weirded out by the experience. And the debates, which everyone on our side of the geek/nerd line absolutely has, felt realistic, if also a bit creepy, though I’m not sure how much they actually added to the story. And, while the final confrontation felt a bit drawn out and convoluted, it was probably pretty realistic, complete with all of the antagonist’s mistakes, which, he being a great, big, stupid douche, there were many.

Bill the Vampire leaves me in a rather unique position I don’t recall ever having been in before. On the other hand, I like it, and on the other hand, I don’t. It’s odd. I enjoy the characters, but I don’t really care about them that much. Same for the plot, which felt driven, but driven on cruise control. There’s times when it’s hilarious, times when it’s annoying, and lots of times when I was left wondering about this twisted imagination I’d wandered into.

So, I recommend the book… sort of? It might be nice as a literary version of a popcorn movie, maybe, not looking for something too deep, just something to kill time and have a few laughs.

It’s the first in a series called The Tome of Bill, which apparently does all sorts of things I couldn’t guess just from this book. I might read it someday, but I don’t feel especially compelled to do so, ya know?

Rating: 6 stars out of 10.

Grade: C.

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Megane Day

It’s Megane Day.

“Megane” meaning “glasses,” as in spectacles and such, for those who are unfamiliar with it.

You can go to Mel for the details. Enjoy! 😉

I have only one question: why has no one mentioned Shiroe from Log Horizon?

And that’s ’nuff said! 😉

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Sunday’s Wisdom #202: A Place to Belong

“I would go most anywhere to feel like I belong.”
– Hercules, from “Go the Distance,” Hercules

Who doesn’t love Disney? 🙂

Their version of the story of what may arguably be the single most famous of mythical heroes is absolutely not at all true to the myth itself, but they tell a story that I think most of us can relate to. Hercules, as a youth, is so strong that he’s little more than a freak of nature, and one that tends to be surrounded by disaster and property damage. In the absence of anyone who can help him learn to control his power, he’s left outcast and virtually alone. He might live with normal mortal humans, and his adoptive parents certainly care for him, but he doesn’t truly belong with them.

The entire movie is about the hero’s quest, which is not to defeat a great evil, but to find a place where he belongs.

To belong. It is a both a joy and a necessity for us as humans. We are social creatures. Even loners are not meant to be alone. As deep-seated as any other urge we have is the one we have to be among “our people.”

I see some of myself in Hercules. Mind you, we differ somewhat on the form we want our “belonging” to take. He wants a cheering crowd, which he gets both among the mortals of Greece and the gods of Olympus, but while I’ve sometimes imagined that, I’ve never really wanted it. I’m more comfortable out of the spotlight, thank you very much! 😉 But he does find an even better place not in front of a crowd or among the gods, but by the side of the woman he loves, and among close friends. Now that, I could go for!

It’s that quest, that search of a place to belong, which I think most of us can relate to. Maybe we don’t always realize it, but we do engage in that search. Sometimes – tragically far too often – that search can go terribly awry, as there are many dark corners in the world, just waiting to swallow up whoever wanders into them. Maybe our parents or our peers tell us what we’re supposed to want before we can find out what we want for ourselves. Maybe we’re offered a momentary release from a life that feels like a cage. Maybe, in our search, we’re just experimenting a little, and don’t realize the danger. Either way, had my life been just a little different, I fear I would be in a far different place than I am right now.

I remember growing up, I had a family who loved me, parents who raised me, peers and classmates who were generally nice, even if some of them weren’t, and I had friends, of course, some of whom I still count as such. I had a number of people around me who were kind and patient and bore me no ill will. Yet I can’t say I ever felt like I truly belonged among them. I was different. And while I learned to love my uniqueness, and I was not really so miserable, I still felt like the odd man out most of the time.

Then I got to college and, as it happened, I finally met my tribe, so to speak. 😉

C.S. Lewis is reputed to have said, “Friendship is born in that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!’”

And that very much summarizes my integration into a circle of geeks and fans and weirdos and intellectuals and more. These were people who struck a chord in me, one that hadn’t ever really been struck before. I felt happier among them than I ever felt before, and I know they played a part in making me a better person than I was. For the first time, I was among people with whom I could be truly and absolutely comfortable, even when they challenged and expanded my views.

In short, I found “my people.” I found a place to belong.

I will always be grateful for that.

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Sunday’s Wisdom 201: Meeting Fate

“You cannot alter your fate, my prince. However, you can rise to meet it if you choose.”
– the Wise Woman, Princess Mononoke

As I celebrated the milestone of two hundred quotes last week, I thought about what quote to pick to represent moving forward. This one ought to do! 🙂

At the beginning of the movie, the main protagonist, Ashitaka, battles a demon and, though successful, he is cursed by his enemy to suffer a most slow and agonizing death. There is nothing whatsoever that he or his loved ones can do to change this. His fate is now fixed, it would seem. But that doesn’t mean he has to sit back and wallow in misery until death finally claims him.

Instead, he leaves his home, looking for where the demon came from and the true source of the evil behind his curse. His hopes for finding a cure are very low, and every being he encounters either can’t or won’t help him, but nonetheless he perseveres and helps others instead of trying to save himself. He confronts hatred itself, and pain, and fear, and stands strong against all of it, even against death itself.

In the end, his choice, indeed his entire attitude of meeting his fate head-on instead of letting it devour him, is rewarded when he finds the curse removed from his flesh completely. He still has some life left to live.

There is something very inspiring about that. Especially so, I think, when so many people are bemoaning their lot in life. It’s not as easy or as happy as they would like, they don’t have everything they want, they’re suffering something truly terrible, etc. They let their pain get to them, becoming angry and afraid. It’s a perfectly human thing, of course, but having gone just a little ways down that road myself, I can say… it sucks! There’s a better way to go through life, and to approach what seems to be our fate.

First of all, no one’s fate is truly set in stone.

Ashitaka was cursed to die slowly and in pain, but he could have just as easily died before the curse killed him, perhaps in battle, or an accident, or some natural disaster, or from starvation. Some people – and I dearly hope I am not being insensitive about this – live with diagnoses of fatal diseases hanging over their heads like guillotines. Some people grow bitter over it, and I can’t really blame them for that. But I think they often forget that we can die anytime anyway. They might go into remission, or they might beat whatever is killing them only to die some other way five minutes after getting the good news. Even when you have a very good idea when and how you might go, you don’t actually know. That’s part of what’s so inspiring about people who meet such a fate, rather than cursing it, with dignity and grace, with joy in their lives and love in their hearts. Which goes into the real point I want to make.

Fate may decide when to meet us, but we decide how to meet our fate.

I don’t just mean how we meet our ending, whether it be as cowards or heroes or whatnot. I don’t just mean that choice that cornered men make to either lie down and die or fight to their last breath. I mean the everyday choices of who we choose to be. The sort of person we are, or are trying to be, that’s entirely up to us. If we can’t avoid death, then who do we want to be when we die? Who we will be is who we are every day leading up to it, and who we are still choosing to become.

That’s part of why I keep blogging, actually, most especially sharing these many quotes. I do this because it brings me some joy, and because it’s one small, humble way in which I can give just a little bit of my light to this world, by giving it to you, my wonderful audience. That’s who I want to be when I meet my fate: someone who was happy, and someone who offered something, anything, to the world and the people I love.

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