Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Futures Market, Part 3

We began last time with a recap so eloquent, so succinct, we would refer you there rather than go through it again. Do not think us lazy: we only want what's best for you.

Babylon A.D. (Aug. 29, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 75%
Vin Deasel (iD&Di: 1.0) once deterred us from seeing a film, but that was before he won our hearts with The Chronicles of Riddick. Now, at the very least, we take notice when he's in a science fiction film. What else is there to say about this movie? Not a great deal, I'm afraid: very little is known. If it can cross the 75% mark, and if we hear it's amusing, we might just go see one final film at the end of summer. Assuming we can still afford to do so.

The Fall (May 9, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 80%
Every now and then the geek and the artistic align. It has, we suppose, something to do with astronomy. A year and a half ago this occurred and Pan's Labyrinth was the result. It was at once a dramatic work of art and a movie for those of us with less conventional tastes. Judging from its trailer, this may be occurring again. We set a high bar for movies such as this, and even then we tend to miss them in the excitement (it comes out, after all, on the same day as Speed Racer). But if the reviews are positive enough, and if we remember, we might just go see this one after all.

Wanted (June 27, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 75%
Their are casualties in summers like this, movies we might otherwise see but will almost certainly miss. I sense Wanted is likely to be one of those movies. It is based on a comic book, though not one we've read. It looks good and is said to be good, but many other movies look so much better. Neither the property nor its original author, Mark Miller (iD&Di: .70), are enough in and of themselves to get us to the theater, and, while certainly intriguing, there are many other options that will be available. Still, if the weather's hot enough and the right reviews are positive enough, we could end up sitting in an air-conditioned theater around June 27th after all.

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (July 25, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 80%
I want to want to see this movie. We are children of nineties here, and science fiction in the nineties, to some extent, was driven by these films. Paranoia and paranormal defined our generation, and we can't hear that music without reminiscing at least a little. Yet... those days have passed. As good as the show was in its heyday, it went downhill at the end. While we once charged to the TV screen every week, we ended up catching it only on occasion. Will we see this in the theater? Probably not. But as the original show taught us so well, anything is possible.

Well, there you have it. Every movie of the summer worth seeing. Except, of course, for that one we missed. Yes, there's always at least one that slips by us somehow, that we don't even know about until it's out. But, however things play out, this promises to be an entertaining, though expensive, year.

We'll see you in line for Iron Man, dear reader. It opens in just a few days....

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Futures Market, Part 2

First, a quick recap:

As we anticipate seeing no fewer than 3D4 movies this summer, even a modest roll will surely tax our wallets. Given such a predicament, we found ourselves needing a metric to determine which movies would receive our money.

Since economics got us into this problem, we reasoned it should bare the burden of getting us out. As such, we've used the Futures Market as a model to build our own system of determining which films we would see.
Based on our initial interest, we've assigned each movie a minimum grade it will need on Rotten Tomatoes before we will consider handing over our hard earned funds. In a perfect world, of course, we would assign all movies the same minimum level. But the world is far from fair: like the first-level fighter whose highest attribute is fifteen, we must all accept the rolls fate has given us.

Without further ado, let us return to work. There are many more films than what we've covered thus far.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (May 16, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 55%
Our feelings about Narnia are complex. While fantasy is a genre we love as much as superheroes, that love does not necessarily extend to C.S. Lewis. We were underwhelmed by The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, though we enjoyed parts of it. So why is our bar set so low? Because this movie contains talking mice with swords. What's more, the leader of said swordsmice is voiced by Eddie Izzard (iD&Di: .49). This may be a deliberate attempt to win us over, dear reader: it will most likely succeed.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (July 11, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 20%
It was recently confirmed that Guillermo del Toro (iD&Di: .63) will be directing The Hobbit. That alone is reason enough to head to the theater. On top of that, we love the comics, the last movie, and every other film we've seen by this director. Is it conceivable we'll miss this? With the number of movies coming this summer, anything is possible. But it is far from likely.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (May 22, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 70%
Yes, you've read that right. We fully expect to see this movie, but only because we expect it to live up to expectations. If that isn't the case, we may need to stay home.

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Aug. 8, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 50% - 80% (see below)
Some things are not so clear-cut. We in The Middle Room are a rare breed: the type who enjoy The Mummy, its sequel, and even The Scorpion King. We realize, however, that few share our opinions on this matter. Because of this, we expect the Tomatometer may not accurately gage this film's appeal to us. Why this movie receives negative reviews will be more important than the reviews themselves. We'll be weighing word of mouth and a few choice critics above anything else. Should the movie be received positively... that's a bridge will just have to approach when the time comes.

WALL*E (June 27, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: NA
We are going to see this movie.

Well, we hope that was educational and that you, too will be able to utilize economics in your own day-to-day decisions. Our look at this summer's movies is now at - wait... there's more. How can there be more? That's almost a dozen films considered already: summer is only four months long.

Oh, well. More on the way. I'm going to need a second job....

Friday, April 25, 2008

Futures Market, Part 1

Like an asteroid on an unstoppable collision course, summer draws ever nearer, ever closer. We in The Middle Room have been trying to remember a year which filled us at once with such hope and such dread.

There are many movies about to be unleashed upon us this year, and already our wallets grow thin. On top of everything else, we have recently been reminded there are other expenses on the horizon, as well.

There are more than a dozen films coming between May 1 and August 31 which have caught our eye, and yet... with ticket prices as high as they are, it seems unlikely we will be able to justify seeing them all. With that in mind, we have turned to economics, to the market, to try and construct a system capable of helping us make what promise to be very difficult choices.

But the market alone is not enough. As much as we're weary of their methods, there are times we must turn to the critics for help.

Merging the worlds of the stock market and film criticism, we have created developed a system incorporating the wisdom of economics with the fluctuations of critical response. We shall set a target price, and should that price be reached, we will most likely go see the film in question.

Only we can't use "prices" per se. We require a system quantifying critical response. Fortunately, such a system already exists.

We turn to Rotten Tomatoes. We shall set a percent, and if that metric is met once twenty critics or more have weighed in, we will hand over our hard-earned money. Probably.

Let us consider some films set to be released:

The Dark Knight (July 18, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 20%
It is difficult to image a Batman movie we wouldn't go see (unless, of course Schumacher were to direct once more). If the reaction were truly awful, we can imagine waiting for the DVD, but even in such a situation we would most likely go to see it for ourselves. After all, it is Batman.

The Incredible Hulk (June 13, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 40%
Really, most any superhero film is given the benefit of the doubt. We did, after all, go see League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in the theater. Twice. It is highly unlikely we won't see The Incredible Hulk at least once. Unless, that is, our money is gone and the reviews leave us so indifferent we decide to skip it. On any other year, I would describe this as an impossibility, but there are so many films between now and then, that many things are up in the air.

Iron Man (May 2, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 40%
Iron Man, as a character, does not make the list of our top 50 favorite superheroes. To be fair, ours is a long list, and many deserving characters don't appear for several hundred spots. In fact, if we knew nothing more about the film, we might demand Iron Man be backed by 50% or 60% of critics before agreeing to see it. But we know much about this film, and all that we know is promising. Who are we kidding? We'll probably see this before we so much as glance at Rotten Tomatoes.

Kung Fu Panda (June 6, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 80%
Kung Fu Panda has enjoyed a great deal of positive publicity, and it has caught our attention. But we are cautious of computer generated movies which are not made by Pixar. We have been hurt before. Were WALL*E not coming out as well, we would be more forgiving. As it is, we demand justification for our expense. Should 80% of critics agree it is warranted, however, we expect we'll find our way to the theater.

Speed Racer (May 9, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 45%
We are not huge fans of the original program, but we respect history. Likewise, while having mixed opinions of the Wachowski brothers' (iD&Di: .78 and .79, respectively) previous work, they have seldom disappointed when it came to spectacle. The colors and images in the previews alone count for more than fifty percent of critics alive. If the other half don't at least find it interesting, however, it is possible (however unlikely) we may save our money.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Aug. 15, 2008)
Minimum Tomatometer: 55%
We spent no small amount of time considering this. On one hand, it is Star Wars, and for all that has come before, the brand still carries a great deal of weight. On the other hand, this was created as episodes of a television show then moved to the big screen for money and publicity. That isn't as much a deterrent as you might think, but we it does call for a higher bar than we might otherwise set.

Let it not be said that we lack standards. If these movies fail to reach the levels above, they will not add our money to their coffers. Unless, of course, the previews look really good. Or someone recommends them.

Or we just happen to change our mind. We in The Middle Room are notoriously unpredictable.

Join us next time when we consider several more films awaiting release this summer. Even if the critics are feeling less than generous, this is destined to be a long and expensive season.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


The Middle Room prides itself on being respectful of religious differences. However, as we recently discussed, our charity has a limit. Let us repeat, once more, the most important rule for those wishing to keep our friendship:

Unless you are an established super-villain, you do NOT mess with our superheroes.

Today, bright and early at 9:30 AM, we rushed from our beds and turned on our televisions to watch the Spectacular Spider-man on the CW. What we saw shocked and horrified us. No webslinger graced our set, no super-villain attack, or anything of the like.

Just coverage. Live news coverage. Of Pope Benedict XVI (iD&Di: .04). He's holding mass, and the CW, along with every other television station in New York City, feels the need to cover it live, complete with commentary analyzing each action and scheduling decision as though this were a sporting event.

We should not have been surprised. The last few days have been nearly round the clock coverage of the Pope: where he's going and what he's doing, analysis of his papal style, and speculation on what he'll say. We appreciate the importance behind this one man, and until now have viewed the whole thing in good humor.

But that all changed today at 9:30 AM when Spider-man was bumped for more coverage. As we said, we have nothing but respect for the Pope. But - let us be honest here - he is no Spider-man. When has the Pope fought Electro? When has he wrestled with the Lizard to redeem Dr. Connors? There can be no comparison: Spider-man is a true hero, and deserves better than this oversight.

We ask you, in all seriousness, which of these two men has done more for New York City?

Which leads us to ask: who do we blame for this outrage? Is it the Pope's fault? No, in truth, he is only doing as he has ever done.

We in The Middle Room believe we know. The fault, of course, lies with the CW. Frankly, they have forgotten their origins and abandoned their responsibilities: oh, yes fans of Spider-man know something of responsibility. There were many other stations covering this, some of which, unlike the CW, have reputations as news outlets. There was no need for them to join in. There was no need for any of this.

We do not expect much from the CW, but we expect to be able to watch our Saturday morning cartoons at the arranged hour. This is a disappointment, to say the least.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Dangerous Times

Yesterday we discussed the possibility that Ghost in the Shell could be remade as a live-action American picture.
Were this not part of a larger trend, our discussion would have ended there. But this is far from an isolated incident. Beginning with the release of Speed Racer next month, we will soon be bombarded by remakes and revisions of Japanese animation and manga. Some, we expect, will be good, some will most likely be bad, and others... well... we have no idea what to expect.

(As a side note, we are well aware that the cartoon The Last Airbender is not based on is not true anime. But it's close enough).

What to make of this coming wave? Well, we do not concern ourselves with trivial fears that the movies may be awful. Other properties have faced far worse, dear reader, and lived to tell the tale.

What worries us is science. We in The Middle Room know evolutionary theory well, and we are aware what can occur when two species compete to occupy the same niche.

Our normally friendly attitude towards anime dramatically shifts as soon as our superheroes are threatened.

This attitude may strike some as paranoid, but we have seen genres fall before. What became of the action films of the 90's when superhero films became the norm? I ask you, where is Jean-Claude Van Damme (iD&Di: .19) now?

Superheroes are now the rage. They are the chosen property, and they seem truly invulnerable. But the public is fickle and films are expensive. It would not take much to cause producers to shift their money to a new trend.

Certainly the superhero genre will not die out entirely, but it could easily fade to a shadow of its current glory should the best filmmakers abandon it.

James Cameron (iD&Di: .30) and Steven Spielberg (iD&Di: .47) have already cast their ballots. How many will follow?

We truly hope there is room enough at the theaters for both genres. We hope that both are able to flourish and provide the Geeks of the world, both those within The Middle Room and those beyond, with a banquet of diverse films. But we are not optimists here: we have thrown enough dice to know the old adage holds true: for every twenty, there is a one.

And the icosahedron is always turning.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Ghost in the Shell is not our favorite work from Japan: that honor rests with the even stranger Serial Experiments: Lain.
But Ghost in the Shell would certainly rate in our top five. It is a work of visual beauty and philosophical depth. It avoids the more comical aspects of its genre, developing and maintaining a start tone reminiscent of Blade Runner. Indeed, it owes much to the work of Phillip K. Dick.

And now, for better or worse, it may be remade as a live-action motion picture.

Intellectually, this strikes us as a poor idea. The spectacle of the piece could just as easily be drawn from a hundred other sources, while the ideas and tone which make it stand out will be difficult to capture. Even if the result is successful, it is hard to image it as anything more than a facsimile of the original: thematically appropriate, perhaps, but not particularly advantageous to viewers already familiar with the story.

Yet emotionally we find ourselves excited by this announcement. There is little to explain this reaction rationally, but there it is nonetheless. We fully expect to be disappointed by the final product, and yet, until that occurs, we will await it eagerly.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Required Reading

Here in The Middle Room we tend to overlook intelligent reflections on religion. It isn't that we find such things dull: nothing could be further from the truth. It is only that such quandaries can distract us from our mission: to seek out new comics and new films, and boldly roll where no man has rolled before.

Ours is a study of Geek, and if we forget that, we risk losing our path.

But to consider today's discussion we do not need to leave the road. This one is on the way. Gabriel McKee's observations rate among the most intelligent we can remember reading on the subject of science and religion. That they are rooted in science fiction makes them all the more enticing. His comments are brief and elegant, reminding us that the battle between religion and science is often waged by less subtle forces. His indictment of fundamentalism accomplishes more in a couple sentences than most writers could accomplish in an entire book:
Religion, in fact, does not inherently believe that it knows the full and complete truth. The best theology, from Plato to Augustine to Alfred North Whitehead, depends on speculation, thought experiments, and best-guesses; the biggest crime of fundamentalism is its theological laziness.
Of course, no less would be expected from Gabriel McKee, whose recent work, The Gospel According to Science Fiction, belongs on the bookshelf of every self-respecting geek on Earth. Perhaps beyond.

So take a minute off from work to glance through his posts. If your boss yells at you, just say he's oppressing your freedom of religion.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

An Old Hope

As this article explains, the trailer for the next Star Wars movie has appeared online. Of course, this isn't a movie, strictly speaking, but pilot for the animated series, originally planned for television but instead released theatrically under the assumption that even after the prequels, geeks will shill out another ten dollars each to view what will probably be aired a few months later.

That said, you can expect to see us at the theater on opening day. But such is the way of things.

Yes, George Lucas (iD&Di: .46) hurt us. Most grievously with Episode 2, an abysmal display which all but destroyed our hope for the franchise. Episode 3 was a little better, more in tone with the Clone Wars animated series than the movie preceding it: a blessing, to be sure.

And Star Wars is more than a franchise: it is The Franchise. It opened a door to a new kind of movie, a new kind of fan. It changed us from awkward, lone outcasts into awkward outcasts swinging glowing plastic lightsabers at each other: a subtle improvement, but a step up, nonetheless. Without Star Wars, there would be no Lord of the Rings movies (fitting, since without the Lord of the Rings, there would almost certainly be no Star Wars, but that is a conversation for another day).

So, how is this new trailer? The animation is stylized after the last animated series, which we greatly enjoyed. Expanding to three dimensions does not suit the character designs, however, at least in our opinion, though we may feel differently after we've seen the movie. The vehicles and droids, on the other hand, look exceptional.

The content also gives us hope. We found the conceit behind Jabba's inclusion inspired, and are fascinated to see how things play out.

But if there's one thing we've learned over the past nine years, it's to be cautious with anything George Lucas is involved with. That goes for you, too, Indy.

We can't help it though: for all that has happened, for all we've seen and all the disappointments, the prospect of new Star Wars still excites us.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Greater World

The other day we said that we were concluding our discussion of music. We may have misspoken.

For a while now we have been exploring the world of Nerdcore, and surely it is a genre worthy of limitless attention.

But it is not Nerdcore that we will discuss today. Instead, we turn to true hip hop, a genre we in The Middle Room must admit knowing very little about.

But we know good music when we hear it, as we know the cries of monsters.

It is rare indeed that the two should meet, and when such a convergence occurs, as geeks we must take notice.

With this in mind, we would like to introduce you to the work of Ravage, also known as MeccaGodZilla. He is a musician, an artist, an activist, and a world traveler. He draws inspiration from many sources; among them are comic books and monster movies, two subjects quite close to our hearts. Gaze closely at some of his design work, if you have a chance, and you shall begin to understand his brilliance.

He is one of several artists working to integrate Japanese monster movie sounds and themes with hip hop, a fact which suggests this world is a far greater place than we might previously have expected.

That the results should be so successful is nothing less than awe inspiring.


Much of Disney's Peter Pan was atrocious, an affront to taste and literary merit. The lost boys, even Pan himself, were portrayed as cute. Originally, they were killers, ladies and gentleman, worse than the pirates by far. In Disney's dismemberment of the story, the Darling children were gone a matter of hours, not nearly long enough to cause their the parents weeks of suffering and pain endured in the original. And, to cap matters off, we are left with the impression that it was all but a dream, a game of make-believe, and that, dear readers, we in The Middle Room cannot stomach.

But one aspect, one small part, was handled with some manner of attention, some respect for its source, and that was Tinker Bell.

Okay, Wendy wasn't bad, but that's not really relevant here.

It may seem odd that such discussion should be raised now, since Peter Pan was released in 1953. Do not think for a moment it was our choice to reopen old wounds: this was Disney's doing. You can read all about Disney's upcoming projects, the majority of which fill us with hope and excitement. But notice how, tucked in the back, they disclose darker designs: a series of stories, slipped into the market place directly to DVD.

These, we are told, are to tell the continuing tales of Tinker Bell.

Those of us familiar with J.M. Barrie's original know this is impossible. Tinkerbell died years ago, as revealed in a discussion between Peter and Wendy, when he came to visit a year after she'd left Neverland:
When she expressed a doubtful hope that Tinker Bell would be glad to see her he said, "Who is Tinker Bell?"

"O Peter," she said, shocked; but even when she explained he could not remember.

"There are such a lot of them," he said. "I expect she is no more."

I expect he was right, for fairies don't live long, but they are so little that a short time seems a good while to them.
-J.M Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy (1911)

Heartless, yes, but so then are children, and that was more of less the point of the story, anyway.

Disney has exhumed Tinker Bell and pinned her in a display case. We'd rather they had let her rest in peace, but where there's money to be made graves are seldom left alone.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Soundtrack to our Lives, Part 4

This will, for the time being, conclude our discussion of music. Surely there are many other artists out there deserving of our respect, but together the four musicians we have featured here help define a soundtrack to The Middle Room which will, we like to hope, offer you, the reader, a better understanding of what we are about.

To close out this study, we turn to the father of nerdcore, himself, MC Frontalot, whose music speaks to us in a close, personal manner.

At times, one might even call it religious.

Frontalot's comprehension of the human condition cannot be overstated. If you are unfamiliar with his work, the time has come to correct that.

A New Challenger....

In The Middle Room, we play few video games. It isn't that we do not respect the medium: nothing could be further from the truth. It is only that our time is taken by other endeavours. You are far more likely to find us studying the sacred intricacies of the twelve vertices of a twenty sided die... or, perhaps the twenty vertices of the twelve sided (there are mysteries here mortals are not meant to know).

But do not mistake our preoccupation with role-playing games and comic books for indifference. All aspects of Geek are embraced within these walls.

When one face of the icosahedron is smeared, the entirety is marked. Likewise, we consider an attack against video games an attack against us all. And certainly nothing that geeks love has been attacked more in recent years that the infamous video game.

But fear not, for a warrior has risen. As is very often the case, Stephen King (iD&Di: .88) has shown us the way.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A Soundtrack to our Lives, Part 3

This is more than a continuation of our series on music: this will fuse with our discussion on science and scholarship, as well.

It has been years since I first heard the music of MC Hawking, and it has stayed with me. Bridging the divide between science and art, MC Hawking analyses the world we live in, the problems we endure, and, what's truly amazing, offers solutions.

If you are unfamiliar with this philosopher and musician, I recommend you open your mind to his fine work.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Mortality and Legacy

I'd be lying if I said the first thought to go through my head after hearing about Charlton Heston's (iD&Di: .04) passing wasn't a joke. Of course, that same joke, it seems, has occurred to everyone. I think Shortpacked! delivered the punchline best, and I'd encourage you to take a look.

The finer points of good taste are always called into question in situations like this, and one can't help but feel for the family. But this is something of a special case: Heston more or less invited this. As far as showing respect for the dead, well, he did once hold an NRA rally following the events in Columbine.

Of course things are never simple. This is a man who once marched beside Dr. Martin Luther King. He fought for equality and starred in several science fiction movies, which would otherwise elevate him in the eyes of the Geek community.

He could have been remembered differently, and, in some sense, perhaps he should have been.

But to some extent we choose our own legacy. He felt strongly in his politics, and while his passion is certainly admirable, his means were questionable and his actions at times were comical.

A few sneers seem called for, but lets not forget there was more to the man than the above picture suggests.

Changing The World

We here in The Middle Room have never hesitated to show our heartfelt admiration for the advances in science and in scholarship. The diligence and sacrifice of the researchers, inventors, and academics whose hard work, discoveries, and inventions are constantly changing the world always leaves us in awe.

But it has always been a point of great shame that we here in the Middle Room have added nothing substantial to this scholarship.

That changes now.

The Middle Room has always had a few spare super-computers sitting around collecting dust: mostly we've been using these as coat racks or to build the occasional fort. But, after years of leaching off the work of others, we decided it was time to give something back.

So we dusted off those super-computers and tossed our coats on the floor, being sure to avoid the chasm that runs through the center of the room. We powered those machines up and got to work, striving for a new discovery, something The Middle Room could give the world.

It is in that spirit that we are proud to introduce the International Dungeons & Dragons Index (or iD&Di for short). This index, graded on a scale of 0 to 1, provides us in The Middle Room with the ability to calculate the precise statistical odds that any given celebrity or politician has played Dungeons & Dragons.

Powered by a network of 20 powerful super-computers, the index utilizes a vast system of equations in assigning an accurate value.

But all of that is academic. You no doubt want results, and we have no intention of disappointing. We begin with an easy case, that of Tom Cruise, and after only fifteen minutes of processing, we learn that there is a seventeen point three percent chance he has, at some time, played some version of D&D (our system is not so refined yet to factor in for game edition, but we hope to improve that by the fall of 2012).

Tom Cruise (iD&Di: .17)

But that's only the beginning. Due to a sizable grant allowing us to continue our research, we can now crunch the numbers for any celebrity with enough public data available.

Sam Jackson (iD&Di: .78)
Bette Midler (iD&Di: .02)
Vin Diesel (iD&Di: 1.0)

It should be noted that while the system will return a grade of 0.0 in few (if any) instances, a grade of 1.0, or a 100% chance, is given in circumstances where the individual's D&D background has been confirmed. Other iD&Di 1.0's include: Stephen Colbert, Patton Oswalt, and Judy Dench.

It is important to note that the program is calibrated to return a grade of 1.0 only in situations where the individual (or a designated representative) has publicly verified their D&D experience: doing so in character or as part of a skit will not count.

We don't want this turning into some sort of joke.

Therefore, Al Gore does not receive an iD&Di grade of 1.0, despite claiming on Futurama that he was a "tenth level vice president," because this comment was clearly made in jest. Nonetheless, Al Gore does have a perfectly respectable iD&Di grade of .58.

It should be added that the program is not perfect, that it is limited by the information put in it. But, for the time being, it is surely the best option available, as we are aware of no other tool or organization offering this service. Updates and corrections will be made as additional information becomes available and system improvements are implemented.

From now on, whenever we mention a celebrity or politician, we will try to supply you with their iD&Di grade for your information. This is but one of the many ways we are working to make your experience to The Middle Room satisfying and educational.

We want to make the world better place, and we know from growing up watching GI Joe that knowledge is paramount in importance.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Saying Goodbye

The final episode of Superman and The Legion of Superheroes aired today, and it is with mixed emotions we must bid the show farewell. Before we go on, it's only fair and proper to warn you that here we shall discuss that episode and its ending.

There be spoilers within, dear reader: continue at your peril.

The series, as a whole, was often good, rarely great, and more often than not mediocre. I preferred the first season to the second, overall, though both had their ups and downs. Character development was never lacking, but it always felt forced.

The second season centered largely around a fight against Imperiex, here a time-travelling warlord seeking domination over the Universe. On a scale of villains, I'd place him somewhere between Mumra and Skeletor. He didn't hold a candle to Starfinger, who faced off against the Legion of Substitute Heroes during season one. But then, that was by far the best episode of the series, and Starfinger did, in fact, have a different power in every finger, so such a comparison is far from fair.

Imperiex didn't last the season: Brainiac-5, possessed by the original Brianiac, assassinated him in the second to last episode. In addition, it should be noted, Brainiac 5 also offed Superman.

And if that feels like an afterthought here, rest assured it seemed far more peripheral in the actual episode. Superman dies, gets his shiny black coffin from The Death of Superman, and is shot into the sun in a short scene that echoes Spock's departure in The Wrath of Khan. Before any tears have dried, someone realizes Superman is, in fact, merely mostly-dead. Superman's clone takes off like a speeding bullet and picks up the original just as his coffin is burning up in the sun.

A few aspirin and a blood transfusion later, the two Supermen are ready for action, just in time to be beamed into Brainiac-5's head for the epic climax.

Did I mention the homosexual overtones to all this?

Season two opened with Brainiac-5 enjoying a holographically-enhanced Superman fantasy. Yes, our little Brainy is growing up, and lets just say he's more C3PO than R2D2. At the time I found the scene obnoxious and badly scripted, though the final episode mirrored the moment so poignantly, I must now admit it paid off in the end.

I think that the world has progressed far enough to accept a gay Brainiac.

The redemption of Brainiac-5 was likewise successful, managing to close the series without killing him, an impressive feat given what had previously transpired. No blue fairy appeared, not counting the obvious pun, but Brainiac-5, purged of his ancestor's evil, is given what his heart desires.

Well, Superman's already spoken for, so he gets his second choice. Brainiac-5, the little robot with a soul, becomes a real boy. It doesn't really make sense, but it does bridge the robot Brainiac with the humanoid version, and that's good enough for me.

It was a fine closing for a show that was never perfect but always watchable. It never came close to the levels of Justice League, but it can stand shoulder to shoulder with Teen Titans well enough.

Time will show whether Batman: The Brave and the Bold will be able to claim as much.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Fear for the Future

Is this the end of all we hold dear? Things may not be so grim. After all, these are but images, void of motion or life. These are pictures, and there exists a glimmer of hope. After all, these are reminiscent of the 1950's. They even bear a notable resemblance to the art of New Frontier. And certainly The Brave and the Bold is a valid starting point for a DC animated program. Yet... the childish quality here cannot be overlooked.

What's more, the concept has already been used. First on Justice League Unlimited, which utilized small teams, clearly influenced by the old Brave and the Bold comics. Then, less effectively, the final season of The Batman, matched the Caped Crusader with hero after hero. It met with mixed success, though never - not for a moment - did it emerge from JLU's shadow. I am skeptical this new attempt will fare better.

I am not entirely without hope, but it is truly a dim hope. I pray I am wrong, that this show somehow does justice to Batman and the rest... but I fear no gods, new or old, are listening.

The last thing we need is a DC animated series made purely for young children. Unless, that is, they want to bring Krypto the Superdog back. That show was fantastic.


The trailer to Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the follow-up to Guillermo del Toro's masterpiece, can now be found online. I would link to it on Youtube, but I fear such an action would be futile, as there is little promise that link would endure. All on the internet is transient, but Youtube is particularly ephemeral, rivalled only by Wikipedia, where all is truly impermanent.

A search should bring you the trailer quick enough, and it is well worth viewing. Yes, I've been anticipating this sequel for a long time, but my interest has been magnified tenfold by this preview.

But as I watch, I find myself wondering what this is a sequel to. Surely it follows the first Hellboy film, but might it be in continuity with Pan's Labyrinth as well? The design and thematic connections are too similar to ignore, and there is little in Pan's Labyrinth which would preclude its existence in Hellboy's world.

Perhaps the similarities are merely due to the same designers or del Toro's love of the style, which would be understandable enough given its beauty. But I, for one, will be watching for clues of something more.

And then, in another sense, this may be something of a prequel. Guillermo del Toro is getting ready to direct the Hobbit, and that Troll is a bit familiar, too....

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Dark Knight Revisited

The world casts a shadow in which all works of art must struggle: this is called Tradition.

But some works of art are so large they cast shadows of their own: this is Legacy.

We must never forget this when speaking about Batman. There is no character, not even Superman, who is at once so powerful yet so volatile. To discuss such a figure is to walk a tightrope. And should we stumble, dear reader, think only of the fate that awaited the Flying Graysons.

There is a chasm across the floor here in The Middle Room, and only a wire-thin Bat-line to keep us from tumbling into its depths. There is no net to catch us should we fall, and no one paid Boss Zucco a dime for protection.

In the last thirty years there have been a number of comics which have risen above the rest, which have brought on lasting discussion and contemplation, and demand the title classic. A few come to mind easily: Watchmen, Sandman, The Dark Phoenix Saga, Marvels, Kingdom Come... surely we could continue.

But of all these works and the countless others we could surely name, one stands apart. And that is The Dark Knight Returns. Frank Miller's dystopian story is surely in its own league, at least in terms of influence and popularity.

Not necessary in terms of quality, mind you. That isn't to say it is anything less than great, but it is far from perfect. Any facet of The Dark Knight Returns can be bested by at least one of the works listed above. While Watchmen feels like a period piece, The Dark Knight comes off as dated on inspection. Elements which once must have seemed cutting edge now feel mundane. And other elements just seem odd or clumsy.

Of course, a good comic is more than the sum of its parts. Here we were truly introduced to the idea that, should it ever come to it, Batman is a match for Superman. Denny O'Neil's version of the Caped Crusader was taken several steps further, both in what he was capable of and what he'd do to wage his war on crime. For the first time in the character's history, we understood why criminals in Gotham lived in fear.

This one book forever changed Batman. What's more, it changes him still.

And, as such, I propose that The Dark Knight Returns cannot be judged as we might judge other books. Its writing, its concepts, its art: these cannot be scrutinized to any effect. Rather, if we wish to examine this at all, we must consider its legacy. We must look to the greater tradition and see what has developed.

I reread The Dark Knight Returns about four years ago and thought it was no near as good as I remembered. I know now that it wasn't the book I found lacking, but rather its shadow. At the time Batman was being written as an angry curmudgeon, who despised criminals while holding his fellow crime-fighters in only slightly higher esteem. This character no longer felt like Batman, and there was little question as to what was being emulated. I could not ignore the character's current state as I read.

Nor should I have. But I only had to wait. Again, just this last month, I revisited The Dark Knight Returns, and found the story again enjoyable and exciting. DC Comics has, over the past few years, returned Batman to a version reminiscent of Denny O'Neil's, while leaving in touches of Frank Miller's work. Batman is still a force to truly be feared, still a man who can stand toe-to-toe with the Gods and, if necessary, against them.

In the context of this Batman, knowing that Miller's work had improved the character, I was able to look back fondly on this classic work.

But there were still reservations.

Frank Miller still has an enemy out there, a man who does not understand what was created with The Dark Knight Returns, what should be kept and what must be discarded. This is Frank Miller, himself, who continues to mock and desecrate his own work. First in The Dark Knight Strikes Again and now with All Star Batman and Robin, Miller distorts and derides his own legacy.

Yet as long as level heads prevail, as long as Batman's guardians remain truly vigilant, then the legacy of this book will endure. Even as much of Frank Miller's other work is forgotten, this may continue to stand the test of time.

But The Dark Knight Returns cannot stand on its own. Only with the larger tradition around it, can the book truly shine.