The Walking Dead Issue #96 Review

Issue 96 of The Walking Dead is one of the more flawed entries in the series.  If you’ve come for the zombie action, well, you can forget it because there’s not a single walker to be found.  If you like lots and lots of talking, like, where speech bubbles take up most of the page, then you will be delighted.  In theory.  I generally like the talky bits  well enough but the one rule you should try to stick to when doing a low-key story is that what the characters are saying should make sense and be true to who they are.  This is where 96 not only fails, but completely goes off the rails.

Okay, I know we don’t know much about the Hilltop people, but it seems a tad ridiculous that the community would be pissed at Rick for killing Ethan.  Yeah, he’s a stranger and apparently Ethan was a cool dude, but no matter how beloved he was, the man just STABBED YOUR LEADER and attacked Rick when he tried to stop it.  That should forfeit all good will toward the guy.  Instead, they’re all so upset that they even get angry when Rick turns up at the funeral, and one feels it necessary to punch him.

It gets worse.  Jesus and later, the leader, Gregory, (who has somewhat miraculously survived his stabbing), reveal to Rick and company that the Hilltop doesn’t so much have a trade agreement with the kidnappers who motivated Ethan to kill as much as they are victims of severe bullying.  Jesus’ plan all along has been to make contact with other groups so they could help ease the burden of having to give half of their supplies to the evil group who call themselves “The Saviors.”  Carl, and then Rick offer to take care of the bad guys and thus take their place as the recipient of the supplies.  Gregory and the Hilltop people are so obsequious and helpless that they naturally think this is a good idea.   So instead of the “Larger World” of networking and helping each other out, Rick has actually stumbled into a group of wusses who are living a real life version of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life.

Then, even worse, the characters we know start acting strangely.  Rick, who has been more reluctant than necessary to make this trip, suddenly has to deal with his own people and their left field insubordination.  Michonne, super badass Michonne chooses to be scared of what she saw.  The person who was raped and tortured by The Governor is now scared that these people FROZE UP when their leader was attacked.  “They were terrifying.”  Uh, ok.   Andrea has suddenly become one of the Mean Girls, calling them pathetic and unworthy of dealing with.  Rick then gives a long speech about how he’s the leader because he’s an optimist who sees the possibilities here.  It takes six pages, five of them gigantic full spreads, to make this rambling point.  Rick, nobody asked you why you’re the leader, nobody cares at this point, years into their journey together.

And so the issue ends on Rick’s (latest) big speech and the gang is now going to head off to build a mechanical bird, possibly.  Or more likely, brutalize the bad guys the way they did the cannibals.  Or meet them and get the other side of the story.   And Jesus is going too because he’s still a badass, even though he spent the whole issue meekly apologizing for the wusses he hangs out with.  Must be more to the story of how he “barely escaped” the Saviors.  Doesn’t seem like a guy who kills zombies while pretending to be handcuffed should be afraid of anyone.

Finally, the oddest thing of all.  The front cover says this is the “conclusion” of the Larger World arc.  I don’t really pay much attention to arc titles like they’re seasons of a show, but this would be a weird place to end if I did think like that.  The ending of an arc should be an epic event like when they were forced out of the prison or the zombies busted the walls down back home.  This arc “ends” on a big speech like Bob Saget talking to DJ at the end of a Full House episode.  Ugh.

Please be awesome, Issue 100.  3 more to go til then.

Free Short Story! #2

Previously on ‘Al Powers’:  While stopping a wave of mind-control pogs from being released to the public by the evil genius, Rex the Wretched, superhero Al Powers was captured and placed in a cryogenic freeze chamber.  Fifteen years later, he was freed from this prison by two young brothers, who quickly befriended him and decided to help him adjust to the new world.  Al immediately sought revenge but found that his former enemy had gone straight and now runs a high profile robotics business.  Al accepted a large check and some stock as restitution for Rex’s wrongdoing, but once outside vowed to use this new connection to Rex to keep an eye on the former villain.  Al then set off to locate Windy Summers, his girlfriend in 1997.

AL POWERS! 

A HERO FOR THE NINETIES…TODAY!

ISSUE 2: Get the Girl

Just outside the Hideous Slug-man’s lair

1996…

Al Powers grinned with confidence as only he knew that the approaching villain was about to walk right into a trap the hero had set.

“I’m going to pound your butt, you stupid meddling superhero!” the Hideous Slug-man spat out as he squished, squirmed and slithered his way tantalizingly close to the exact spot Al needed him to be standing in.  Two more feet.  One.

“I’m afraid the only butts you’ll be pounding will be in prison!” Al shouted as Slug-man finally reached the sweet spot of Al’s trap.  The hero pulled a lever on the nearby wall and released close to a metric ton of salt onto the slug.

“Everyone knows you stop a slug with salt!” Al laughed.  As he watched the mountain of salt pour down on his enemy, he wondered briefly if what he had said was good enough.  He had spent two hours the previous night trying to come up with a salt-related pun, but hadn’t had much luck.  This was the real world where he didn’t have a team of writers to make him say something witty.  He shrugged.  He was known as a straight-forward no-nonsense hero anyway.  Not particularly witty nor the life of the party.  He decided to leave the wise-cracks to Spider-man and just relay the facts from now on.  Besides, even had he been armed with a classic one-liner written by Jerry Seinfeld himself, no one would have been around to hear it except the writhing monster buried under a pile of salt.  Image was important to Al Powers, and indeed all the heroes of the city, but results were even more so.  Al Powers got results and that’s what counted.

“Damn you, Powers!” Slug-man managed to wheeze as he slowly crawled out from under the trap.  He was weak and on the verge of collapse.  He did not even posses the power to resist once Al started tying him up with supervillan-proof rope.  “So…do you deliver me to the station now?” the villain asked as Al dragged him to his feet and forced him to stand up.

Al finished tying the last knot and stood back up straight.  “No, the authorities are on their way.  They’ll bring you in.”

“Then we just stand here and wait for them?  I mean, you salted me pretty good.  I need medical attention.”

“It’s all on the way.”

They stood in silence for a few more moments.  Al checked his watch.  He had defeated Slug-man more quickly than he had anticipated but the cops were still late.  “Can I ask you something?” he finally said, partially to break the awkward silence.

“Sure.”

“What did you think of my victory dialogue?  Stopping the slug with salt?”

Slug-man thought about it for a few seconds.  “It was a little too on the nose for my tastes, honestly.  The last guy who defeated me was like, ‘I just won this slugfest!’  I enjoy the guys who come up with puns, myself.”

“Yeah, I was trying, but it’s hard.”

“The line you said before that was better.  The implied prison rape thing.  Adults would get it, but it’d go over kids’ heads.  That was perfect.”

“You know, that was pure reaction, too.  I guess sometimes I overthink it and should just go with the flow.”

“You won, that’s what matters, right?”

“That’s what I was telling myself.”

“Can I ask you a question now?”

“It’s only fair, I suppose.”

“How do you keep yourself in check?  I got these slug powers and I just couldn’t resist going out and doing whatever I wanted.  I feel superior to everyone else.  No normal men could stop me from robbing a bank and they wouldn’t be able to stop you either.  Why don’t you just take whatever you want?”

“Hmm, the easy answer I guess is that I was raised with a strong moral code.  Villainy isn’t something that ever even occurs to me.  Besides, thwarting evil makes me feel good and I live comfortably.  I have everything I want.”

“But what if there was something you wanted but couldn’t have?  Would you just take it?”

“No.  I honestly wouldn’t.  I guess that’s one of the fundamental differences between choosing good and choosing evil, isn’t it?  Selflessness vs. selfishness.”

“You’re a stronger man than me, Al.”

“Better looking too.”

“Another zinger!  You’re getting there.”

“We’ll see.”

 

PRESENT DAY…

Windy massaged her temples and tried to will her headache to disappear.  So far, it wasn’t working.  Sitting in the middle of a Chuck E. Cheese game room wasn’t helping matters any.  The bells and whistles and shouting children were all burrowing into her head and threatening to drive her mad.

“Mom, mom, mom, look!” a nearby boy screeched.  Windy opened her eyes and looked up but the boy hadn’t been speaking to her.  He was at the next table over, showing his mother how many prize tickets he had won playing skee-ball.  Windy picked up the last piece of cardboard pizza on the tray in front of her and gave it a bite.  It was awful, but, she thought to herself, the kids didn’t really want to go there for the food, did they?  She checked the time on her phone and decided to give them another ten minutes to play.

“Excuse me?  Are you Windy Summers?”

“Used to be.  It’s Windy Marcone now.”  She put her phone away and was surprised to see that the person addressing her was a teenage boy.  “I don’t usually get recognized by kids.  My fifteen minutes ticked by before you were born.”

“I have no idea who you are,” the kid said as he presumptuously took the seat across from her.

Windy chuckled.  “Yet somehow you know my name!”

“I know a friend of yours.  Someone you haven’t seen in a long time, and he’s a little nervous about seeing you.”

“Hmm, that’s intriguing.”  Windy threw her half-eaten crappy slice of pizza back on the tray, folded her arms and leaned forward.  “Does this mystery person have a name?”

A larger than life figure stepped up behind the boy.  “It’s me, Al Powers!  I’m back!”

Windy’s eyes widened from the shock.  Then she fainted and face-planted onto the pizza tray.

 

Ten minutes later…

“I know we were supposed to ease her into it, but I got so excited when I saw her.”  Al was standing near the back of the crowd with Tyler, leaning on a pinball machine.  Several employees had rushed to the fallen Windy’s aid and almost everyone in the restaurant had gathered around to see what had happened.  The manager shooed everyone back as he helped Windy sit up and get some air.

“This was pretty much a disaster,” Tyler remarked.

“It will be okay.  I’ll just give her a few minutes to relax and recover.”

 

Ten seconds later…

“Windy!  Over here!  It’s me, Al Powers!”  Al waved frantically and approached the table.  The manager looked concerned but Windy told him she was all right and allowed Al to take a seat.  “My goodness, Windy.  It’s been so long but you look almost the same.”

“Al, did you reappear after fifteen years just to lie to me?  If anyone looks the same, it’s you.”

“I was frozen.”

“I remember.  What happened?”

“My new friend, Tyler, unfroze me.”  Al glanced over.  “Took you long enough, Tyler!”

“What?” Tyler asked.

“I’m sorry, could we maybe go somewhere more private to catch up?  I have a headache, I just fainted and everyone is looking at me and whispering, ‘that woman fainted.’”

“Sure,” Al said with a smile.

“Oh good, here come the little terrors now.  Perfect timing.”

“Mom, mom, mom!”  A boy and a girl ran up to Windy and hugged her fiercely around the waist immediately after she stood up.

Al watched with amazement as Windy wiped her children’s faces with a wet napkin and handed them their coats.  Realization washed over him and for a moment or two, he stayed frozen to his seat.  “Windy…are these my… children?”

Windy made a show of rolling her eyes at him.  “Jenna is six and Brandon is nine.  It is mathematically impossible for these to be your children, silly.”

Al shook off his confusion.  “Oh, oh, of course.  I’m still a little disoriented from skipping out on such a long period of time.  Sorry.”

“It’s okay.  I can’t imagine what you must be going through.  So much catching up to do.  Like waking from a coma or something.”

“I’ve never been in a coma, but probably.”

The five of them began to exit the restaurant together.  The manager stopped Windy to make sure she was feeling better one last time.  She nodded and thanked him.  In the parking lot, Windy led them all to her minivan, which was as new and sleek-looking as minivans could be.  “Let’s drive your young friend home and then you can come back to the house with me for some coffee or something.  We have a lot to talk about.”

 

Meanwhile…

Rexibald D.W., known fifteen years earlier as the villain, Rexcalibur the Wretched, coughed as he inhaled some dust.  Normally, as a respected and well-known business mogul, he wouldn’t be caught dead in the abandoned warehouse district of the city, but curiosity was gnawing at him.  Leaving behind his limo driver and his faithful assistant, Brenda, Rex had walked quickly through the maze of decrepit old buildings until he found the specific one he was looking for.  It had been a small white lie that Rex had told Al Powers.  Rex knew in exactly what location Al had been frozen.  It was a secret Rex had hoped to keep buried, but somehow that teenager had found his way inside and dug up that secret.

He made his way to the lowest level and saw his beloved machine.  The cryogenic freezing chamber had been one of his first successes.  Rex had achieved a great deal of fame and fortune over the years, but that day when he defeated Al Powers was still one of his proudest moments.  Even if he could never say so publicly.  He rubbed his palm on the old machine and patted it like a faithful dog.

Wiping his hands free of dirt and dust, Rex moved to the other side of the room and found where the boy had gained access to this secret place.  Collapsed bricks.  He picked one up and spun it in his hand, contemplating.  An entire business empire might be brought to its knees because of some shoddy masonry.  It was unfathomable.

“Sir, what is this place?  What are you doing down here?”

Rex was startled from his thoughts and turned around to face his assistant.  “Brenda?  Oh, you shouldn’t have followed me.  I was just checking out the viability of some of these old buildings.  In case we ever need to expand.”  Rex walked by her and casually tossed the brick, which Brenda awkwardly caught against her chest.  “They’re all collapsing, as you can see.  Terrible work.  I wasted my time.  Let’s go.”

 

At the home of Windy Marcone…

Al sipped some coffee while Windy was in the other room helping her daughter, Jenna, with some tough homework.  The older child, Brandon, was sitting across from Al, staring hard and seeming very interested in the strange man who had been invited into his home.

Al struggled to make small talk.  “So, Brendan…”

“Brandon.”

“Right, sorry.  So, Brandon, what’s your favorite baseball team?”

“Washington.”

“They don’t have a team.”

“Yes they do.”

“That’s cool.  What about your favorite basketball team.”

“Oklahoma City.”

“What?  Why would they have a team?”

“They stole it from Seattle.”

“I have so much to learn,” Al sighed.  The two stared at each other some more.  Brandon had a smug look on his face which Al found annoying.  “Is your mother almost done?” he finally asked.

“Are you staying for dinner?”

“I don’t know.  I’m just an old friend who hasn’t seen your mom in a long time and we’re going to chat and get caught up.”

Windy appeared in the kitchen door.  “Brandon, honey, why don’t you go play some video games?”

Brandon lit up happily and ran off, instantly forgetting his interest in the stranger in favor of his interest in Call of Duty.  Windy took the seat he had just vacated.  She put her elbow on the table and slid her cheek into the palm of her hand.

“So how did you find me?”

“Something called facebook.  It said you checked in at Chuck E. Cheese.  I knew the internet was powerful, but I didn’t realize we now have to tell it where we’re going at all times.”

“That’s just the way it is now.  What can ya do?”  Windy laughed in the same beautiful way she always had, momentarily making Al forget about the fifteen year gap between them.

“I wasn’t lying before.  You don’t look all that different.  Time has been good to you.”

“Yeah, time and make-up technology.  I feel old as hell.”

“You got married.”

“Oh, you noticed,” Windy replied, letting a nervous laugh slip out in the process.  “You were declared missing and then later declared dead.  Can you forgive me for moving on?”

“There’s nothing to forgive.  You did nothing wrong.”

“Thanks.  I’m sorry we couldn’t find you.  I remembered the encounter with Rex the Wretched with the metal tentacles and the freezing and stuff, but he did something to me.  I woke up in a different abandoned warehouse with no idea how I had gotten there.  I helped the authorities as much as I could, but in the end, I wasn’t of much use.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Rex knew what he was doing.  He is a diabolical genius.  At least he was.  I guess he went legit while I was away.  Says our encounter helped him see the light.”

“Not sure I ever believed that, honestly.  But I haven’t been kidnapped in fifteen years so there’s not much to go on except my gut.”

“I’m keeping an eye on him.  He made me a shareholder to make up for what he did.  I’ve got a big check in my pocket too.”

Al and Windy stared at each other for a long time without speaking.  It was a much more loaded silence than the one Al had previously shared with Brandon.  Two former lovers were reconnecting with their eyes, each unsure of how far the other wanted to go.  As if reading his mind, Windy finally said, “I’m happily married, you know.  Stuart is a good man and he’s had a lot going on in his head over the years.  It’s not easy dating and then marrying someone who can constantly compare you to a superhero.”

Al averted his eyes self-consciously.  “I only wanted to see you.  I wasn’t expecting anything romantic.  That would be crazy.  This whole deal is crazy enough without mixing in feelings and stuff.”

Windy shook her head and her hair fell over her face a little.  “Yeah, I know.  I’m sorry.  I just…you should probably go before Stu gets back from golf.  It would just be weird if, ya know…”

Al stood up and pushed his chair out.  “Yeah, I’ll go.  It was good to see you again.  I’m glad you’re happy.”

“I am happy, thanks.”   Windy stuck out her hand and Al reluctantly took it.  He thought about kissing it, but instead he shook it awkwardly.  As soon as he let go, Windy stepped into his personal space, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him on the mouth.  It started as a peck, but she lingered.  Unexpectedly, Al found himself putting his arms around her waist and hugging her even closer, letting her do as she pleased with their connected lips.  Soon, they were kissing as lovers, as if no time had passed at all.

“What the hell?”

Windy broke the embrace abruptly and wiped her mouth.  Al’s eyes widened with surprise when he saw a man standing in the door.

“And this would be my husband, Stuart.  Stu, Al.  Al, Stu,” Windy said, her face turning a deep and bright shade of red.

 

Elsewhere…

“Sally, I’m not going to lie.  I’m not an easy man to work for.  But I remember from our first interview that you did impress me with your work ethic and I’ve wanted to find a place for you here at R.D.W.  If you can stand having me as a boss, I’d love to sign you on board with the company.”

Sally put a finger over her lip, obviously trying to make it look like she had to think about the offer.  She was a spunky young girl fresh out of college, and Rex had no doubt she would prove to be loyal and useful.  Call him a dirty old man, but she was nice to look at, as well.  “When can I start?” she asked, no longer trying to contain her glee.

“Um, how about right away?  I am really lost without a good assistant.”

“Okay, I will show up here first thing tomorrow then!”

“That sounds fantastic.  Looking forward to seeing you.”

They both rose from their chairs and shook hands across the oak desk.  “You seem nice to me.  What makes you so hard to work for?” Sally asked.

“Oh, you know, the usual cranky boss stuff.  It’s very stressful to run such a prominent company as this one.  If I say I need to be alone, you had better leave me alone.”  He flashed a smile, which she returned.

“Will do, boss!  You can count on me!”

Rex walked her to the door of his office and guided her out with his hand placed near her shoulder.  “I hope so.  Just do what you’re told and nothing bad will happen.”

“I will, sir.”

Rex saw her out of his office’s waiting area and shut the door behind her.  He lingered near the reception desk and picked up the picture frame that rested near the edge.   It was a picture of Brenda and her dog.  Rex thought the beast’s name was something generic like Rusty, but he couldn’t remember.  It didn’t matter anyway.  He tossed the picture frame in the garbage can and strolled back into his office.

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

An Invincible Interview with The Spectacular Peter Clines

If you said the name ‘Peter Clines’ to someone, they would say, “Yeah, the comedian who does impressions.”  And then you would say, “Why am I talking to a seventy year old?”  Once you moved on to someone younger and hipper, they would say, “Oh yeah, the superstar writer who crossbred the zombie and superhero genres and placed it in a jar of awesome sauce!”  And you would say, “You talk funny, but yeah.”  If you haven’t read Ex-Heroes or Ex-Patriots, you should, because they are two of the very best Permuted Press has to offer.

Between recently reading Ex-Patriots and my daughter breaking out my old comics and me writing that recently posted hero short story, I’ve been in a superhero state of mind lately.  I decided this would be the perfect time to grab Peter Clines for the interview I promised back in January.  For me, this was like a special teamer getting to hang out with Peyton Manning.  Or Spider-man agreeing to team up with NFL Superpro or even some other obscure non-football related superhero.

Anyway, it’s clobberin time!  Here’s my chat with Peter Clines:

 

KB:  I read Ex-Heroes a while back and just finished Ex-Patriots and they are both excellent.  Flattery out of the way…What drew you to writing these stories in novel form as opposed to comic books, which would obviously be the more typical route for the subject of superheroes?

PC:  Actually, writing comic books was my big goal when I was a kid.  My first rejection letters are from Jim Shooter, because I would send him (in retrospect) really God-awful stories and covers every month.  This is back when I was maybe ten or eleven.  He was very polite about it in his rejection letters—I still have a bunch of them.

The thing is, at that age I didn’t realize that there were different people doing different things, that each issue was a team effort.  And now that I do, especially with my experience in the film industry, I know how important it is to have a good group of people on those sort of projects.  And I don’t know how to do it—not well enough to do it right, anyway.  So it just never crossed my mind to do Ex-Heroes as a comic book in the same way most of us don’t consider rebuilding the transmission on our cars.  It’s a skillset we don’t have, so it’s never even an option.

We can't all be so...uh...well-rounded.

KB:  There’s an enjoyable scene in Ex-Patriots where Captain Freedom is eager to test his powers against our heroes.  That’s part of the fun of being a superhero nerd is debating who would win against who, isn’t it?  Was that scene a nod to that part of fandom?  And who would win if your four heroes had to fight the Fantastic Four?

PC:   It’s a nod to fandom, yeah, but I think it’s also just human nature.  I mean, if you somehow magically became one of the greatest boxers in the world, of course you’d start wondering if you could knock out Mike Tyson or Klitschko or one of those guys, right?  It’s nothing personal—you just want to know if you could knock him out because of what he represents.  It only seemed natural that Freedom would want to know how he measured up against St. George, especially considering the levels of confidence you see in a lot of military folks.
If they had to fight the Fantastic Four… I’m guessing classic FF here and not any of the substitute teams?  Well, to be honest, the extended Richards family would probably pound my guys without breaking a sweat.  Most of the heroes at the Mount are pretty low-level as far as heroes go.  I mean, St. George is superhumanly strong but he can only lift six or seven tons.  Zzzap’s powerful, yeah, but he’s actually too powerful.  He’s got to spend more effort containing his energy than using it.  It makes them a bit more interesting and believable, story-wise, but it also means 90% of the Marvel Universe is more powerful than them.

Also, even though my guys are all friends and live together in their zombocalypse refuge, they’re not really a team.  Not as we all generally think of superhero teams, anyway.  They don’t train together or have maneuvers or combos or anything.

Not yet, anyway…

KB:  While I’m on the super-nerd kick, let’s say you could form your very own supergroup and you could take five heroes from any universe, including your own.  What’s your starting lineup?

PC:  Hmmm… are we saying as a useful, capable, deal-with-anything group or as a group that would be interesting to read about?

St. George and Stealth are kind of a given for me, I think.  They’re a couple, brains and brawn. I love all my characters, but these two are special.

I’ve always loved Spider-Man.  I think I’ve been collecting Amazing Spider-Man since I was nine or ten.  I’ve got an entire longbox full of those issues, although I have to admit I quit after the whole “selling his soul to the devil” thing.

After that would be Rom.  Because we all want to see Rom again.  Honestly, since Mattel bought Parker Brothers, I just want to see them put out a Rom action figure in scale with the Marvel Universe figs.

Finally, I know he’s considered a second or third-stringer, but I’ve always liked Terror, Marvel’s zombie hitman.  He seems like a character with tons and tons of potential that’s never been well-used.

I have no idea what I’d call this team.

[Image of “The Clines-men” not yet available] -ed.

KB:  While stumbling around the internet I came across a theory that all the great foursomes, be they Beatles or Ninja Turtles, can be broken down into mother, father, craftsman and clown.  Your big 4 in Ex-Patriots fit this perfectly, I immediately thought.  Was this a paradigm you were aware of or did I totally just blow your mind?
PC:   It’s a little bit mind-blowing, although I wonder how it works with the old Fantastic Four cartoon with Herbie the robot.  Actually, now I’m trying to think of different quartets and fitting them into that…

I find archetypes like that kind of interesting in a basic way, but not terribly informative.  If you boil anything down far enough you’ll start finding similarities.  That’s why you’ve got people who insist there are only seven stories (or six or nine, depending on who’s selling what that day).  It’s a neat literary trick, but eventually someone latches onto those things and makes them a hard-fast rule of writing.  “If you have a cast of four characters, they must fall into one of these categories…”  That’s when this sort of thing fails, because then the moment someone does something that isn’t that archetype, people label it as wrong.

KB:  I think you’re spot on in your analysis.  It falls apart pretty easily.  Who’s the clown, idiot Mike or wise-cracking Raphael?  And the other one is then, what, mother?

I can’t wait to sink my teeth into 14.  Anything that is compared favorably to LOST has my attention.  Please talk a little bit about the creation of 14.

PC:  14 was something that simmered in my head for a while.  One of the big elements was something that occurred to me right after I moved to Los Angeles.  I was living in an old brick building in a less-desirable part of the city.  Not a bad place, but it was still one of those areas where you’d tell people “Oh, I live over there” and they’d always blink for a second and say, “Really?  Do you like it?”  Anyway, the thing that struck me after a few months was that I didn’t know anyone in my building.  Not a single person.  I could recognize some of them on sight, but that was it.  Contrast that with most college dorms, where you know everyone on your floor and you hang out together all the time and sometimes just crash in each others’ rooms (for any number of reasons).  It got me wondering why things were so different in an apartment building.  Why did everyone stay so isolated?

The thing that changed all that was the big fire in Griffith Park in early 2007, the one that threatened the Observatory and parts of the city.  A bunch of the residents ended up on the roof of our building, just watching the fires and drinking all night.  And we all started talking and got to know each other.  And suddenly the whole building was different.  Now we were this little community with shared interests and hobbies and we were trading DVDs and sharing meals.  It turned out one of my downstairs neighbors, Hunter, was one of the founding members of Gwar, and we hung out a couple of times.

Anyway, when I moved out, my girlfriend and I had this sudden idea of leaving a note for the next person who moved in.  And being who we are, we came up with some twisted things you could leave.  That got me thinking about the kind of things you could find left behind by other tenants.  Maybe deliberate or accidental.  And a lot of this floated up in my mind a few years later while I was working on The Eerie Adventures of the Lycanthrope Robinson Crusoe.  I had to sit on it then, and after that I had to dive into Ex-Patriots.

Once Ex-Patriots was winding up, though, I had a talk with Jacob Kier at Permuted Press about what I was going to do next.  One idea was a sci-fi/horror thing I’d actually put aside to do Crusoe, but Permuted had actually just bought Containment Room 7 by Bryan Hall and he didn’t want two similarly themed books competing against each other.  So I told him I had this other idea I’d been kicking around for a while—the story that would become 14— and sent him a one-page synopsis of the first half of the book (explaining that I had the whole thing mapped out).  And off that one page he bought it.

It was, hands down, the fastest thing I’ve ever written.  I think I did just shy of 150,000 words in about two and a half months.  And then I had to cut almost a quarter of it.  We’ve already talked about doing a “complete, uncut” version somewhere down the line if it does really well.

KB:  Seems to me like every new TV show or movie is based on a book lately.  Where would you draw the line for “selling out?”  Would you be okay with St. George being changed to a sparkly vampire and Stealth is a dude now and we’re thinking Adam Sandler…

PC:  What’s that great Krusty line?  “I couldn’t help it!  They backed a truckload of money up to my house!”

I get what you’re saying, but I think it’s really rare to see direct changes that drastic.  It’s usually something subtler that has wider ramifications (like saying “What if Greedo shot first so Han doesn’t seem so ruthless…?”).  The people making those changes don’t understand the nature of storytelling—they’re the ones making up those hard-fast rules we were talking about a couple minutes ago.  They’ll just say things to fit a made-up rule or random market criteria or some personal agenda without any thought of how it affects the greater story.  My girlfriend’s a screenwriter and she was pitching a story once about an escaped Civil War slave who became a war hero for the North.  The development exec actually said “Does he have to be a black guy?  Black guys don’t play well overseas.”  True story, actually happened.

KB:  That reminds me of the Patton Oswalt bit about Hollywood notes, “On page 2 she’s eating peanuts, but later she’s wearing a hat.  Does that make sense?”  Your example is even funnier, I think.

PC:  But where would I draw the line?  I don’t know.  Like I mentioned, I worked in the industry for a long time, and I understand that changes have to be made going from one medium to another.  And there’s going to be changes out of the necessity of making the movie.  I never once pictured Will Smith as St. George or Anna Torv as Stealth, but attaching them to the project could get millions in funding so… maybe?

But, yeah, I would be upset if Cerberus became a magic costume.  Or Gorgon became an actual vampire, let alone sparkly vampire.  And if Stealth became Adam Sandler, yes, I would probably give back the truckload of money.

Probably.

Depending on the denominations.

With great power comes great flibbidy floo.

KB:  You opened your recent question-answering video with a Simpsons quote.  My brother opened the toast at my wedding with a Simpsons quote.  Is it never not appropriate to use a Simpsons quote for anything?  And what are some other pop culture-type things that have just seeped their way into your brain over the years?
PC:  I don’t know… everything?  I have a freakish, almost photographic memory for such stuff.  I can rattle off the plots to movies and television episodes I saw when I was nine or comic books I read when I was eight.  For Valentine’s Day, a few years ago, my girlfriend was actually able to track down some of my favorite childhood books because I’d related the plots so well to her.

I think it’s a fascinating phenomena that entertainment has become such a huge part of all our lives.  It also kind of baffles me when I see writers who go out of their way not to mention pop culture in any way, shape, or form.  It’s such a simple, straightforward way to add life to characters (like Zzzap ranting in Ex-Patriots that because of the zombocalypse he’s never going to know how LOST ended, or making joke references to the old Incredible Hulk prologue).  It does tie stories to a certain period, but no more than the cars or the politics or the technology.

But to answer your main question, no.  There is no situation where it is not appropriate to use a quote from The Simpsons.

"I wasn't going to give the eulogy, but Grandma's death reminded me of a particularly relevant episode of Itchy & Scratchy..."

 

KB:  I can’t believe I went this long without bringing up zombies. 

PC:  I can’t either, to be honest.

KB:  Who was your favorite cinematic zombie?  The original Night of the Living Dead graveyard ghoul?  Hare Krishna zombie?  Tar Man?  Other?  

PC:  I know how people will react to this, but I always loved the zombie Julie Walker from Return of the Living Dead Pt.III.  Yeah, there’s the hot redhead zombie aspect of it, but I really loved the idea of this girl desperately trying to hang on to her humanity as it keeps slipping away bit by bit, especially because we can see that she’s hanging on just enough to realize how much she’s losing.  When she has to start… well, let’s just say “inducing sensation”… on a regular basis to help her hold on, it’s creepy and gross, but it’s a little bit sad, too.  To stay human, she has to become more and more inhuman.  It’s one of the first movies I remember that made the zombies out to be sympathetic, almost pitiful creatures.

And, yeah, she does look pretty hot and badass.

Can't wait to see the search terms that lead people to this post.

Peter Clines has a blog:  http://thoth-amon.blogspot.com/

If you type “Peter Clines” into Amazon’s search bar, lots of wonderful things become available for you to purchase.

You can also find him on facebook, where he is not yet too cool to interact with his fans.

Free Story- Volume 1

Last week, my daughter found some comic books I wrote back in college.  Before you go saying how cool that is, just know that I ain’t no artist.  Not even close.  My brother and I enjoyed The Tick and the way it poked fun at the super hero genre, and we wanted to do that too.  My drawings were never anything to brag about, not even close to comic book quality, but I didn’t care.  For me, it was all about the writing.  (often a page would be one small picture of a head with a gigantic speech bubble that took up the whole rest of the page.  Anyway, like I said, my daughter blew the dust off of them and thought they were funny.  So much so, that she demanded I make more.  Which I am definitely not going to do!  Though it did get me thinking about how different the world was back then.  Things change so much decade by decade, yet we don’t even realize it or appreciate it.  So I decided to write a short story about a hero in the vein of Captain America or Austin Powers.  Only this guy was frozen allll the way back in the nineties.  It’s dialogue heavy and would probably work better as a script if I knew how to write one.  It’s fast, like 3100 words fast, but that’s well-suited for a comic style story, I think.  I decided to put it up here for free and see what the reception is like.  Hope you like it.

 

AL POWERS! 

A HERO FOR THE NINETIES…TODAY!

 

THE BIG CITY

…1997

“You’ll never get away with this, you madman!”

The villain known as Rexcalibur the Wretched bent over until he was practically touching noses with the young vixen he had tied to a chair.  “But my dear,” Rex cackled.  “I already have!”  He straightened back up and motioned to the steady stream of brown boxes slowly moving down the conveyor belt behind him.  “The entire city will soon be under my control.  You see, every one of these boxes is filled with thousands of pogs, each fitted with a mind control device of my own design.  Anyone who possesses one will instantly fall under my command.  They will do whatever I say.”  He saw the woman’s fierce determination as she gave him a steely gaze.  “Let me guess, Miss Windy Summers.  You think your hero, Al Powers is going to swoop in at the last minute and save the city.  Well, he’s not.  I put one of my special pogs in his mailbox just this morning.  He is under my control at this very moment.”

“Then it’s a good thing I don’t open my mail, Rexcalibur!”

Rex looked up toward the sound of his archenemy’s voice as it echoed from the rafters of the warehouse.  Then, faster than a flash of lightning, the superhero was standing directly in front of the villain.  “I don’t believe this!  Who doesn’t open their mail?  That’s like the highlight of my day!”

“It’s called snail mail now, evildoer!  Pioneering heroes such as myself communicate only by electronic mail!”

“What is this electronic mail you speak of?”

“Everything is done by computers now, Rex!  Even the mail!” Windy shouted triumphantly from her chair.  “And, by the way, pogs are totally over, too.  Your failure to keep up with the times has undone your evil plot before it even got out of the warehouse!”

“Windy Summers is absolutely right!” Al Powers proclaimed.  “And she’s absolutely beautiful, too.”  He winked at her and she nearly fainted.

“Damn it!” Rexcalibur cried.  “I suppose you’ll want to punch me now.”

“That won’t be necessary, my evil chum.  The police are here to back me up and they already have this place surrounded.”  The hero put his hands on his hips.  The light caught his smile in just the right way to make it sparkle.

“Curses!  It seems as if I am defeated!  Luckily for me, it only seems that way!”  Rex dashed across the room and pulled down a switch on the wall before Al Powers even had time to stop posing.  Four metal tentacles sprung up from the floor and each wrapped themselves tightly around one of the hero’s limbs.  Al Powers struggled mightily, but even someone as strong as he could not break the robotic grips.  The tentacles yanked downward and though he resisted as best he could, it was only another moment before Al was forced to lie prone on the floor.

“What is the meaning of this?” the hero asked through gritted teeth.

“The whole pog thing was only part of my plan, you see,” Rex announced, hardly able to contain his glee at having the upper hand.  “I knew you would come to rescue your beloved Windy Summers.  Why else would I kidnap her when she obviously has nothing to do with my pog scheme?  Of course you came to save her and of course I was ready for you.  It doesn’t happen very often, but this is the part where evil triumphs over good!  Muah ha ha ha!”

“And have you forgotten about the police positioned right outside this warehouse?”

“Oh please.  There’s not a seemingly abandoned warehouse in this city that isn’t connected to the elaborate tunnel system conveniently located underground.  I’ll just take that.  After I dip you into a cryogenic freezing chamber and wipe your girlfriend’s memory forever, of course!”

There was a loud rumbling sound and the part of the floor Al Powers was pinned to began to separate and lower down to the next level.  Al saw smoke billowing all around him and was already beginning to feel the effects of the cryogenic chamber.

“Al Powers!” Windy called out as she watched in horror from her chair.  “I love you!”

“I know.”

“What?”

“I know!  I’ll use my super power of…blarrrrrrrrgh!!!!!!”

“Cryogenic freezing complete,” a computerized voice stated coldly.

“Hmm, what was that super power he was going to use?” Rexcalibur the Wretched wondered out loud.  “No matter!  There are no ‘deus ex machina’ last second saves this time!  My plan totally worked.”

Windy Summers began to whimper.  “I guess it did.  What the hell?”

 

 

FIFTEEN YEARS LATER…

“I don’t think we should be here, Tyler.”

“Relax, Jake.  Tell me you’re not having fun exploring all these seemingly abandoned warehouses.”

Jake stopped walking and looked his older brother in the eye.  “I’m not having fun.  Why did you think it would be fun to do this?  They’re abandoned warehouses, for crap’s sake!”

Tyler shrugged off his brother’s lack of enthusiasm.  “Well, I think it’s cool that they’re all connected.  And besides, they’re seemingly abandoned.  Which means there might be treasure in one of them or something.”

“I think it means that rats live here, actually.”  Jake kicked a stone with his sneaker.  It sailed across the warehouse floor and though it was too dark to see, it sounded to the boys like it had struck something metallic.

“What was that?” they both asked each other.

“I don’t know!” they both answered each other.

“Legend has it,” Tyler said, as they slowly crept toward where the rock had landed, “that one of these warehouses contains a frozen super hero.  You ever heard of Rexibald D. W.?”

Jake scratched his chin.  “The business mogul?  Who hasn’t?”

“A lot of people think he was the one who defeated the hero and put him down here somewhere.  But no one could ever prove it.”

“And you think two random kids like us are going to just stumble upon it after no one else could find…”

“I think this is it!”

Tyler and Jake almost collided with the large metal chamber tucked into the back corner of the warehouse.  There was a glass panel near the top.  Tyler had to stand on his tiptoes in order to blow and rub years of dirt and dust away.  He gasped when he saw a frozen face staring back at him from the other side of the pane.

“What did you see?” Jake asked, feeling nervous, though he didn’t know why.

“There’s definitely a dude in there,” Tyler whispered to his brother.

“What do we do?”

“I don’t know.  Maybe we should try to open it.”

“But we’re just a couple of kids.  It’s probably really complica…”

“Got it!” Tyler lifted up a latch on the door and there was a loud hissing sound as air and steam burst forth from the odd machine.  Then the door swung outward and the person who had been trapped inside slowly stepped forward.  The boys trembled as the figure towered over them; the smoke had not yet cleared enough for them to get a good look at him.  The strange man was either ignoring them or had not yet noticed them.  He turned his head from side to side and kept walking forward.

“Sir?” Tyler said timidly.  The man stopped when he heard the boy’s voice.  Then he stepped out of the smoke and approached the frightened children.  As he got closer they could make out his muscular frame, his chiseled chin and perfectly coifed brown hair.  They had never seen him before, but he definitely looked like some kind of superhero.  “The legend is true…” Tyler whispered under his breath.

“What has happened here?” the hero asked.  “What is this place?”

“You were defeated,” Tyler said softly, his voice almost cracking from his nervousness.  “Frozen in that chamber by a villain.”

“Really?  Being defeated doesn’t sound like me…”

“It happened, I guess.  We just found you and set you free this very minute,” Jake offered even more hesitantly than his brother.  “It’s 2012, in case you were wondering.”

“2012.  My God.”  The hero turned away from them and studied his surroundings more closely.  “Look at this degradation!  Is this what happened when the computers couldn’t process the year 2000?  Society collapsed?”

“Um, no.  This is just an old warehouse,” Jake said.

“Oh.”  The hero began to look agitated as he more fully realized his situation.  “Fifteen years I’ve been frozen in time!  Windy Summers…”

“Is that a douche?” Tyler asked.

“No, it’s a retirement community!” Jake answered.

She is a woman!  The most beautiful woman in the world!  And we were going to be together before…before…”

“Before you were frozen in time by that evil business guy!” Jake finished for him.

“Exactly!  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am off to win back the girl and defeat the villain.  I will show you helpful children that good will always triumph!  Al Powers is back!”   He strode confidently off to the right.  When he found no way out, he walked back across the boys’ line of sight to the left.  A second later, he returned and stopped in front of them again.  “Maybe you guys could just help me get started.  A door would be a good first step, for example.”

“We’ll help you!  That would be so cool!” both boys chimed in simultaneously.

 

TEN MINUTES LATER…

“Wow!  Everything looks exactly the same but slightly different,” Al declared as the boys led him through their city neighborhood.  “So really nothing happened during Y2K?”

“I guess.  I was only two and Jake wasn’t even born.  You can ask our parents maybe.”  Tyler bounded up the stairs to the boys’ building and motioned for the superhero to follow him inside.

“Okay, so what do you want to do first, Mr. Powers?”

“You can call me Al.  And that’s not a Paul Simon joke.”

“What?” a bewildered Jake asked.  “Who’s Paul Simon?”

“Never mind,” Al replied, shaking his head.  He allowed Tyler to take him by the hand and lead him to the family computer in the corner of the living room.

“You know what the internet is, don’t you?”

“Of course I do!” Al answered defiantly.

“Good, because that will be the easiest way for you to find the people you’re looking for.”  Tyler pulled out the chair and let Al sit down in front of the keyboard.  Then he grabbed a nearby folding chair and positioned himself next to the hero.

Jake appeared behind them with a wireless phone in his hand.  “I’m calling Dad to tell him we have company.  Hope he doesn’t freak out.”

Al’s eyes widened.  “Don’t use the phone!  We’re on the internet over here!  You’ll knock us off!”

“Mr. Powers, the internet doesn’t work like that anymore.  You can get it through cable TV now.”

“So you can’t watch television while you’re on the internet?  That seems so much worse.”

“What?  No.  Never mind!  Here, I found some information on Rex D.W.  We can confront him at his office.  The address is listed right on the site.”

“Wow, Tyler!  How did you get the page to load so fast?”

“I don’t know.  It just does.  Jake, when you get Dad on the phone, tell him I’m out with our new friend and we’ll be back for dinner after we defeat evil.”

“Defeating evil, got it.  Yes, I’ll hold.  His son.  Tell him his son is calling.”

Al’s head was spinning.  In what had seemed like only the blink of an eye to him, he had gone from a superhero with super speed to having circles run around him by a couple of tweens.  The speed of this new world he found himself in would take some getting used to.  Tyler was leading him back out the door before Al had even remembered what his AOL screen name was.

 

LATER, AT THE R.D.W. OFFICE BUILDING…

Rex sat down at his large oak desk and ran his fingers through his fine silver hair.  He was about to sign the contract that would enable R.D.W., the company he had built from the ground up, to absorb its third small business in the last three years.  It was a proud moment for him and he decided it was one worth sharing.  He pressed the intercom button and summoned his secretary, Brenda.  Oddly, she did not respond.

“Brenda?  I said I’d like a couple of employees in here and a camera for the newsletter maybe.  Are you there?”  Brenda was always at her desk; she was Rex’s gateway.  No one got to see the head of the company unless they went through her first.  Rex stood up and strode over to the door of his office.  He feared something had happened.  Even on the rare occasions when Brenda excused herself to the lavatory or to go to lunch, she always informed him first.  Rex opened the door and his face instantly turned a ghostly shade of white.  And indeed, it was as if he had seen a ghost himself.  Standing before him, gripping poor Brenda in a chokehold, was Al Powers, an enemy Rex had vanquished fifteen years earlier.  And some random kid.

“Unhand that woman!   I will call the police!  You there, boy, do you have a cell phone?  Call the cops!”

Al tossed the woman onto a nearby couch and pointed his finger squarely at the president and CEO of R.D.W Industries.  “You should have killed me.  We both knew this day would come, Rex.”

“Al,” Rex stammered and backed slowly into his office.  Al Powers matched him step for step.  “You haven’t aged a day!”

“Yeah!  Thanks to you!”

Rex bumped into his desk and scooted around to the other side of it.  “About that, see…I’m really sorry.  I’ve been meaning to come get you and make things right.  But I couldn’t remember where you were.  I’ve had people looking, I swear.  A lot has happened since our last encounter.  I’m totally legit now.”

Al put his finger down and rested his hands on his hips, not in the manner of a confident hero, but more like a sports coach confused by a referee’s bad call.  “Make things right?”

“Yes!  Yes!  I was so young and stupid back then!  There’s so much more money to be made in legitimate robotics; I don’t know what I was thinking with all that evil scheming back in the day.  I guess I got so caught up in my hatred of you, that I wasn’t looking at the big picture.  Once you were gone, I got my act together.  For the last thirteen years, I’ve built R.D.W into a very powerful company.  I’m rich beyond belief.”

“That’s, uh, admirable.  I’m glad you saw the light.  But I’ve still lost fifteen years.”

“Yes, I know, and I want to make up for it.  It would be so bad for my company if word got out that I used to be a super villain!  And of course, I have wronged you so badly, as well.  Maybe $75,000 would keep this whole thing out of the news, I hope?”

Al thought for a moment.  “Make it a hundred and some stock.”

Rex cautiously made his way around the desk and held his hand out to his hopefully former arch enemy.  “I can do that,” he said confidently.

“Let’s see it in writing.”

“Absolutely, absolutely.  I told you, I’m completely legit now.”  The two men shook hands; something neither of them would have believed possible fifteen years ago.  “Brenda, could you draw something up for Mr. Powers?  I’ll fill in the details later.”

“Wait, so you’re not going to beat his brains in?” Tyler asked from behind the hero.

“What’s with the kid?  Look, boy, life isn’t a comic book.  Real men work out their differences.”

“Al Powers, you’re going to take the money and forget the whole thing?  Is that what heroes do?” Tyler questioned, his eyes looking betrayed.

Al looked at the kid with regret etched in his face.  “What choice do I have?  I’ve not only lost fifteen years, I’ve lost the world I knew.  I’ve lost my home, my friends, my identity!  I’ve gotten so caught up in vengeance today, that I haven’t even thought about where I’m going to sleep tonight.”

“I thought I had unleashed a hero, but instead I got another instant sell-out.  Maybe you can get a reality show.”  Tyler stormed angrily out of the office.

“Tyler!” Al called, though he did not go after the boy.

“You know,” Rex said, putting his hand on the hero’s shoulder, “I can probably help you get some of your life back.  I have strings I can pull in some government offices.  What’s your real name?  Al Powers?”

“No.  But I shouldn’t tell you.”

“Come on, Al.  I want to help you.  The world has changed.  There are no heroes and villains anymore.  At least not in the sense that we once knew.  Just tell me and I can get the ball rolling on getting your identity back.”

“Fine,” Al answered reluctantly.  “It’s Beeba.  Justin Beeba.”

“Ummm…you might want to stick with Al Powers.”

 

LATER, ON THE CITY STREETS…

“Tyler!  Tyler, wait!” Al shouted.

“How did you find me?” Tyler asked grumpily, continuing to walk away.

“I used my super tracking powers.  Also, you’re walking in the direction of your apartment.”  Al put a hand on the boy’s arm so he would turn and face him.  “I know you didn’t like what you saw in there, but I think you know deep down that violence doesn’t solve anything.  Grown-ups work out their problems in more grown-up ways.  That’s the reality you have to face as you get older.  Being a hero is not always beating up the bad guys.  It’s making sure every situation has the best possible outcome.”

“I guess,” Tyler shrugged.

“But you’re not convinced.”

“I can’t believe how easily you were convinced.  Guy owns a company and has a nice suit and desk now, so you just take his word for it?  What if he just found a sneakier way to be evil?  What if he was buying you off so that you wouldn’t dig deeper and find out his evil plans?  People don’t change.  My mom always said she would stop cheating on my dad, but she never did.  And now she’s gone.  You just seemed so gullible in there.  Just like every time my dad took back my mother.”

“I know we just met, but don’t think so little of me, son.  I got stock.  Stock gets me into shareholder’s meetings.  If he’s up to no good, I’ll be around to catch him.”

Tyler smiled.  “Not the most exciting superhero adventure ever, but I guess you can’t get it all back in one day.”

“Thanks, buddy.  Now how about we move onto Phase 2?  Let’s go get the girl!

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

Zombie Movie Night: April 2012

We kicked off April with Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer.  Now, “Monster Slayer” is one of those occupations that looks cooler on a business card than it actually is.  It’s thankless, highly dangerous, and it’s not entirely clear what the pay grade is.  Money doesn’t seem to be an issue for Jack, as he accepts payment for his plumbing services in eggrolls and A grades in college classes.  Later, once he graduates to full-time monster slayer, the film doesn’t delve into how an African village intends to compensate him for his time.

Maybe I should start at the beginning.  As a kid, Jack Brooks witnessed the murder of his entire family by a monster of unexplained origins.  He ran away (at the urging of his doomed father) to save himself and has lived with that regret his whole life.  This pain manifests itself in Jack’s anger management issues (classmates and car radios beware).  One of the film’s flaws is that it spends way too much time focusing on this aspect of Jack’s personality.  His verbal diatribes seem to be played for laughs but they are fundamentally unfunny and it really drags down the front half of the film.  When Jack decides to go back and save the day during the climax, it’s a triumphant moment for the formerly traumatized child… but it has nothing to do with anger management.  This is where the movie fails most.

A second problem is that they landed Robert “Freddy Kreuger” Englund, and damn it, they gotta use him.  Giving the name brand actor something to do leads to some tedious scenes in the classroom (he plays Jack’s teacher) and at his home, where he and Jack accidentally unleash the evil force that drives most of the film.  Later, Englund chews the scenery as he (slowly)undergoes the transformation from man to monster.  It’s funnier than an angry guy yelling at his therapist, but at this point, we’re the ones yelling for the movie to get on with it already.

Thankfully, the action does finally pick up in the last third of the film.  Englund morphs into the hideous love child of Slimer and Jabba the Hutt and begins eating people or transforming them into zombies by grabbing them with his many slippery tentacles and forcing them to deepthroat his evil vomit tube.  It all looks so cheesy that my 11 year old daughter walked in, started watching and declared it not scary at all.

The classmates turned zombies seem a little more aware than the usual brainless zombie, which leads to some decent fight scenes.  Jack fighting the zombies in the hallway of the school is easily the best part.  Jack turning into a monster slaying action hero is  good fun, but not enough fun for me to ever want to sit through the first half of the film again.  I might watch a sequel, however…   Grade:  C+

Next up was Devil’s Playground.   Think 28 Days Later, only in Great Britain.  Wait, um, okay, so it’s a rip-off.  But rip-offs can still be good.  At the very least, the budget was there to make a sleek looking production.  Even some of the actors were familiar faces, like one of the guys from Doghouse and Dexter’s crazy mistress from Season 2 of Dexter.

A drug trial has gone horribly wrong and 29,999 of the 30,000 participants have turned into pumped-up super zombies who run and jump.  The jumping is actually one of the film’s problems as it really kills my suspension of disbelief when zombies start springboarding off walls and forward flipping through car windows and over fences.  Running zombies, I can deal with.  Zombies preparing for the London Olympic Games is too much.

The one woman who hasn’t turned could be the key to it all and a power struggle develops between Cole, the hired muscle who works for the drug company and is tasked with bringing her in and Joe, the woman’s disgraced cop boyfriend, who doesn’t want her to become a lab rat.  Ultimately, the latter seems like an unbelievable selfishness that only exists so that the conflict can exist.  Worse still, the characters are all good ideas (even if not terribly original) on paper, but it just doesn’t translate on screen.   Even with decent actors, there’s just something about the whole film that falls flat.  The poignant scenes feel unearned and I just never really found anyone I felt like rooting for.  Part of it maybe is that Cole, the conflicted villain, is actually in the right in this case.  The woman should go with him and try to save the world.  Her supposedly sympathetic boyfriend is a whiny jerk.

I give this one a C+ as well, partly based on production values.  Looks good but it’s an ultimately empty experience.  I imnagine in a year, it will be way down in our rankings and I’ll be like, “”Devil’s Playground”? what the hell was that again?”