Longest Wind Briefs – Trash, Writing and The One I Love

mota_ru_1062731

Every week, I come across some interesting things that are not big enough to devote an entire post to. I invented Longest Wind Briefs as a digest for misfit ideas. I hope you like it.

The Loser Has to Keep America Clean

6a0105367f07d8970b01156f6b2c76970c-pi

Tiberius and I have a routine. Whenever I take him for a walk, he darts for whatever trash he can find laying around (and there is a lot of trash to be found downtown) and I have to pull him away before he starts to chew or eat said trash. As a result, I am naturally inclined to be on the lookout for trash so I can steer the eager puppy around the veritable landmines of filth. Because of this, the same idea comes to my mind often — I could be picking up trash each and every time I take Tiberius for a walk.

I don’t suppose I would need much in order to do so: just a bag-holder to free up my hands so I could walk the dog AND pick up his poop, a grabber of some sort so I don’t have to bend over too often, some gloves for the particularly yucky stuff, and a bunch of smaller garbage bags. It would be nice if others in the community who would benefit from a cleaner neighborhood were interested in donating the supplies, but chances are I will just have to suck it up and pick this stuff up at my local hardware store.

Director’s Cut

writing

My wife is turning into my favorite writer. The first piece she wrote for her Grand Valley writing class was a narrative recounting a funeral she had attended as a child. Even in the first draft, the story was overflowing with opportunities. I identified a neat nautical theme that I wanted to see her develop, but her writing professor rightly pushed her to expand on a film metaphor that she had included. Amy took a huge risk and changed her piece from a narrative format to a hybrid narrative/film script with setting prompts like Interior and Exterior, stage directions, and narrator voiceovers. It was really bold. If she would ask for advice I would give her my solution to a problem, and immediately afterwards she would have her own solution that made mine look silly. When I imagine my version of the same paper and the paper that my wife pumped out, hers was so much better than mine in every way. There was no contest. The weird thing is that I don’t feel any jealousy. I feel this strange kind of joy from being on the ground floor for the creation of something great. I got to witness every step from brainstorm to final draft. I was able to feel the pride she would have felt if she hadn’t been tired and anxious about what grade it would get her. Amy’s professor eventually suggested she water down some of the more risky elements for fear that the oligarchy of graders would mark it down for MLA compliance issues, but the Director’s Cut I got to see was absolutely stunning.

The One I Love (SPOILERS)

theoneiloveblucover

I have been eyeing The One I Love on Netflix for a long time now. The film stars Elisabeth Moss (Justin talk: “the woman from Mad Men“) as Sophie and Mark Duplass (Justin talk: “the guy from Togetherness“) as Ethan, and it looked like a pretty normal depressing romantic comedy (much like Togetherness, honestly) until Amy found the film under the “Supernatural” category and flipped it on.

I think we can all agree that the filmmaker wants us to believe that Ethan went home with the doppelganger Sophie, but I want to put out another interpretation. I think the therapy was successful and normal Ethan emerged from the house with normal Sophie. It is true that Sophie would never have made bacon for Ethan in the past, but it is also true that doppelganger Sophie would never have left doppelganger Ethan. And Sophie wasn’t the only one who was different. Ethan was at least “20% cooler,” like doppelganger Ethan. What I think happened is that they simply met in the middle. Ethan knew Sophie wanted him to relax, take care of his body, and be more physical. When he followed through on this, Sophie did what she knew Ethan wanted. She became more loving and cuddly and rewarded him with bacon. I don’t think this interpretation robs from the creepiness of the ending; on the contrary, I think it adds to the foreboding. Even assuming that correct Sophie came home with him, Ethan will always wonder if maybe he left his wife behind at that rental house with another man. Unsettling…

If you get a minute, lets talk about how we are supposed to interpret the ending of The One I Love. Extra credit: We could also talk about what our interpretation of this film says about us.

StormCloudsGathering: The Paris Attacks Are Just the Beginning

StormCloudsGathering seems, at first blush, like an absurd conspiracy outlet, but instead of artist’s depictions and unrelated scenery, the video of every post is dedicated to real news articles. That’s right: much of the bibliography is included in the video itself. If you have a problem with how they are interpreting their sources or how they draw their lines of logic, let’s talk about it, but try not to dismiss the content simply because you don’t like what you’re hearing.

FDR’s Living Wage, Take One: The National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933

fdr2

While studying the national movement to drastically increase the minimum wage, I stumbled across the oft-quoted speech by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in support of the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933. Now, this may be because I am a son of a history geek, but I found it really neat to read. I found it so neat that I decided to include the full text here.

By reprinting the text here, I am not in any way suggesting that it settles the argument regarding the minimum wage as a living wage. I don’t generally agree with Forbes magazine, mainly because it is so hard to tell the articles from the advertisements, but I do agree with Forbes writer Tim Worstall when he points out that Roosevelt was a politician just like anyone else in his position. His words are not gospel.

For the sake of looking into the philosophical and historical basis of the current protest for a higher wage, I have bolded (emboldened?) sections that refer directly to a living wage. This text was borrowed from the FDR Library web page.

The law I have just signed was passed to put people back to work, to let them buy more of the products of farms and factories and start our business at a living rate again. This task is in two stages; first, to get many hundreds of thousands of the unemployed back on the payroll by snowfall and, second, to plan for a better future for the longer pull. While we shall not neglect the second, the first stage is an emergency job. It has the right of way.

The second part of the Act gives employment through a vast program of public works. Our studies show that we should be able to hire many men at once and to step up to about a million new jobs by October 1st, and a much greater number later. We must put at the head of our list those works which are fully ready to start now. Our first purpose is to create employment as fast as we can, but we should not pour money into unproved projects.

We have worked out our plans for action. Some of the work will start tomorrow. I am making available $400,000,000 for State roads under regulations which I have just signed, and I am told that the States will get this work under way at once. I have also just released over $200,000,000 for the Navy to start building ships under the London Treaty.

In my Inaugural I laid down the simple proposition that nobody is going to starve in this country. It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living. 

Throughout industry, the change from starvation wages and starvation employment to living wages and sustained employment can, in large part, be made by an industrial covenant to which all employers shall subscribe. It is greatly to their interest to do this because decent living, widely spread among our 125,000,000 people, eventually means the opening up to industry of the richest market which the world has known. It is the only way to utilize the so-called excess capacity of our industrial plants. This is the principle that makes this one of the most important laws that ever has come from Congress because, before the passage of this Act, no such industrial covenant was possible. 

On this idea, the first part of the Act proposes to our industry a great spontaneous cooperation to put millions of men back in their regular jobs this summer. The idea is simply for employers to hire more men to do the existing work by reducing the work-hours of each man’s week and at the same time paying a living wage for the shorter week.

No employer and no group of less than all employers in a single trade could do this alone and continue to live in business competition. But if all employers in each trade now band themselves faithfully in these modern guilds–without exception-and agree to act together and at once, none will be hurt and millions of workers, so long deprived of the right to earn their bread in the sweat of their labor, can raise their heads again. The challenge of this law is whether we can sink selfish interest and present a solid front against a common peril.

It is a challenge to industry which has long insisted that, given the right to act in unison, it could do much for the general good which has hitherto been unlawful. From today it has that right.

Many good men voted this new charter with misgivings. I do not share these doubts. I had part in the great cooperation of 1917 and 1918 and it is my faith that we can count on our industry once more to join in our general purpose to lift this new threat and to do it without taking any advantage of the public trust which has this day been reposed without stint in the good faith and high purpose of American business.

But industry is challenged in another way. It is not only the slackers within trade groups who may stand in the path of our common purpose. In a sense these groups compete with each other, and no single industry, and no separate cluster of industries, can do this job alone for exactly the same reason that no single employer can do it alone. In other words, we can imagine such a thing as a slacker industry.

This law is also a challenge to labor. Workers, too, are here given a new charter of rights long sought and hitherto denied. But they know that the first move expected by the Nation is a great cooperation of all employers, by one single mass-action, to improve the case of workers on a scale never attempted in any Nation. Industries can do this only if they have the support of the whole public and especially of their own workers. This is not a law to foment discord and it will not be executed as such. This is a time for mutual confidence and help and we can safely rely on the sense of fair play among all Americans to assure every industry which now moves forward promptly in this united drive against depression that its workers will be with it to a man.

It is, further, a challenge to administration. We are relaxing some of the safeguards of the anti-trust laws. The public must be protected against the abuses that led to their enactment, and to this end, we are putting in place of old principles of unchecked competition some new Government controls. They must, above all, be impartial and just. Their purpose is to free business, not to shackle it; and no man who stands on the constructive, forward-looking side of his industry has anything to fear from them. To such men the opportunities for individual initiative will open more amply than ever. Let me make it clear, however, that the anti-trust laws still stand firmly against monopolies that restrain trade and price fixing which allows inordinate profits or unfairly high prices.

If we ask our trade groups to do that which exposes their business, as never before, to undermining by members who are unwilling to do their part, we must guard those who play the game for the general good against those who may seek selfish gains from the unselfishness of others. We must protect them from the racketeers who invade organizations of both employers and workers. We are spending billions of dollars and if that spending is really to serve our ends it must be done quickly. We must see that our haste does not permit favoritism and graft. All this is a heavy load for any Government and one that can be borne only if we have the patience, cooperation, and support of people everywhere.

Finally, this law is a challenge to our whole people. There is no power in America that can force against the public will such action as we require. But there is no group in America that can withstand the force of an aroused public opinion. This great cooperation can succeed only if those who bravely go forward to restore jobs have aggressive public support and those who lag are made to feel the full weight of public disapproval.

As to the machinery, we shall use the practical way of accomplishing what we are setting out to do. When a trade association has a code ready to submit and the association has qualified as truly representative, and after reasonable notice has been issued to all concerned, a public hearing will be held by the Administrator or a deputy. A Labor Advisory Board appointed by the Secretary of Labor will be responsible that every affected labor group, whether organized or unorganized, is fully and adequately represented in an advisory capacity and any interested labor group will be entitled to be heard through representatives of its own choosing. An Industrial Advisory Board appointed by the Secretary of Commerce will be responsible that every affected industrial group is fully and adequately represented in an advisory capacity and any interested industrial group will be entitled to be heard through representatives of its own choosing. A Consumers Advisory Board will be responsible that the interests of the consuming public will be represented and every reasonable opportunity will be given to any group or class who may be affected directly or indirectly to present their views.

At the conclusion of these hearings and after the most careful scrutiny by a competent economic staff the Administrator will present the subject to me for my action under the law.

I am fully aware that wage increases will eventually raise costs, but I ask that managements give first consideration to the improvement of operating figures by greatly increased sales to be expected from the rising purchasing power of the public. That is good economics and good business. The aim of this whole effort is to restore our rich domestic market by raising its vast consuming capacity. If we now inflate prices as fast and as far as we increase wages, the whole project will be set at naught. We cannot hope for the full effect of this plan unless, in these first critical months, and, even at the expense of full initial profits, we defer price increases as long as possible. If we can thus start a strong, sound, upward spiral of business activity, our industries will have little doubt of black-ink operations in the last quarter of this year. The pent-up demand of this people is very great and if we can release it on so broad a front, we need not fear a lagging recovery. There is greater danger of too much feverish speed.

In a few industries, there has been some forward buying at unduly depressed prices in recent weeks. Increased costs resulting from this Government-inspired movement may make it very hard for some manufacturers and jobbers to fulfill some of their present contracts without loss. It will be a part of this wide industrial cooperation for those having the benefit of these forward bargains (contracted before the law was passed) to take the initiative in revising them to absorb some share of the increase in their suppliers’ costs, thus raised in the public interest, It is only in such a willing and considerate spirit, throughout the whole of industry, that we can hope to succeed.

Under Title I of this Act, I have appointed Hugh Johnson as Administrator and a special Industrial Recovery Board under the Chairmanship of the Secretary of Commerce. This organization is now prepared to receive proposed Codes and to conduct prompt hearings looking toward their submission to me for approval. While acceptable proposals of no trade group will be delayed, it is my hope that the ten major industries which control the bulk of industrial employment can submit their simple basic Codes at once and that the country can look forward to the month of July as the beginning of our great national movement back to work.

During the coming three weeks Title II relating to public works and construction projects will be temporarily conducted by Colonel Donald H. Sawyer as Administrator and a special temporary board consisting of the Secretary of the Interior as Chairman, the Secretary of Commerce, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of War, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Labor and the Director of the Budget.

During the next two weeks the Administrator and this board will make a study of all projects already submitted or to be submitted and, as previously stated, certain allotments under the new law will be made immediately.

Between these twin efforts–public works and industrial reemployment — it is not too much to expect that a great many men and women can be taken from the ranks of the unemployed before winter comes. It is the most important attempt of this kind in history. As in the great crisis of the World War, it puts a whole people to the simple but vital test:–“Must we go on in many groping, disorganized, separate units to defeat or shall we move as one great team to victory?

What do you think about this speech? Is it still relevant today? Is it as important to the current discussion about raising the minimum wage as many people are suggesting it is?

Krampus: The Reddit Sessions

krampus

The wife and I went to see Krampus on Friday and I was having trouble summing up my feelings on the topic, so I decided to check out what the Redditors were saying. The following article is the result of me spending an hour reading Krampus reviews on Reddit. There will be spoilers.

OLD-FASHIONED SPECIAL EFFECTS

Redditor is short for “Reddit predator,” and some people really live up to that name, but when it comes to the Krampus special effects there was one particular person on Reddit who summed up the film’s ingenuity quite succinctly:

In a world where horror films now are filled with [expletive deleted] CGI, I was so relieved to see them use actual prosthetic and animatronics on all the creatures and Krampus himself. My girlfriend and I agreed that the movie was a lot scarier because they were something that was actually there. A tangible object is way more scarier than a CGI one.

This was probably my biggest take-home from the film as well. The CG was mostly limited to the actions of gingerbread men and a lumbering Krampus as he jumps from rooftop to rooftop. When it was used, it was pretty fantastic, but it was used sparingly. Instead, Krampus made use of fantastic set design, masks, costumes, and machines. The balance was similar to Steven Spielberg’s vision for Jurassic Park. My hope is that other films will follow Krampus‘s lead, because an overuse of computer effects has made today’s films feel kind of inauthentic and lazy.

SNOW GLOBES

There’s a lot of confusion regarding the details of what actually happened at the end of the film and what it means. Was the entire town imprisoned in a snow globe or just one family? When were they placed in the snow globe? Was the grandmother in a snow globe within a snow globe because of her two encounters with Krampus? I’m going to try to break this down.

Krampus comes when people have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas through selfishness, materialism, and indifference. He is summoned when the last true believer in Santa Claus and the positive mythology of Christmas loses faith and wishes evil on his/her kin. Krampus uses magic to enter our realm and isolate us from one another using inclement weather. Once this has happened, each family member is murdered and brought to hell, and this happens with every family in the community, until the only person left is the one who wished Krampus into our world. The last survivor is given a Krampus ornament/memento as a permanent reminder of the consequences of his/her actions.

All right, so this is what happens within our reality, but what happens in Krampus’s reality?

I’m not going to quibble on this one. The film makes it clear that Krampus brings the various family members to hell, and hell is depicted as a series of snow globes. Each snow globe is filled with one particular family from one of the towns that Krampus has destroyed over the years. Within the snow globe there is a feeling like life has continued as normal, but there is a constant reminder that you are in hell and you got there because of how you all treated one another.

But what about the individuals who summon Krampus and doom their loved ones to hell?

Those who summon Krampus are the only people who are spared from death and damnation. This is why the grandmother was not placed in a snow globe when she first encountered Krampus. She carried the guilt of receiving a Krampus ornament with her for her entire life. It wasn’t until her grandson summoned Krampus that she finally met her doom. Her fate was with the rest of her modern family in a snow globe, but her old world family was in a separate snow globe in hell without her. Under normal circumstances, Max, the boy who summoned Krampus in modern times, would have been safe from his fate, but because he returned and challenged Krampus he joined his family in hell. By revoking Krampus’s gift (a double-edged sword, certainly), he doomed himself to hell with his family.

Obviously, I’m open to other interpretations, but I thought advancing a positive concept of what happened in Krampus would at least be a good start.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY

635769092027592226-5714-D039-00053-RV2-CROP

I read a couple of comments that suggested that Krampus was morally arbitrary. One person pointed out that Krampus comes not to reward but to punish people who have forgotten the importance of giving and sacrifice, and yet many of the characters died in a self-sacrificial way. In other words, they all learned their lessons but were punished anyways. Furthermore, there were a couple of innocents who were punished alongside the guilty. Because of these facts, some people found the moral nature of this cautionary tale lacking.

In my opinion, this represents a misunderstanding of the moral of the story. The murders are not meant to be redemptive for the people who committed the crimes against Christmas. One person is left alive so the tale can serve to teach others not to make the same mistake. Though Max brings about the destruction, it is the corporate sins of the society that he is a part of that are being punished, and that means that everyone is involved whether baby or dog or otherwise. Someone is not a good person if the choice is between being good or losing everyone they have ever loved. A person is good because of concern for others, habitual good deeds, and learning from mistakes. The lesson Krampus taught Max when he rejected the boy’s offer to take his cousin’s place in hell is that you cannot take serious matters such as these lightly. Life never agrees to take-backsies. Some things, like death, are final. If that doesn’t sound like a moral, then I don’t know what would.

LOST IN TRANSLATION

There was an individual who described the grandmother’s foreign language subtitles sporadic and inconsistent, wondering why inane issues at the beginning were subtitled while other more dire issues later on were left untranslated except occasionally by her son.

The translated/not translated speech of the grandmother was one of the little artistic ditties that I enjoyed the most once I figured out what they were doing. Whenever the grandmother was in a room speaking with people who understood what she was saying, her speech was subtitled. The Redditor said that only Max’s father understood her, but Max understood her as well. The difference is that Max never spoke the foreign language back to the grandmother. He merely understood. Whenever everyone in the room understood her speech, so did we. If the room as a whole did not understand what she was saying, like every time she shared the room with the mother’s side of the family, it was left untranslated. If the people in the room generally didn’t understand her, neither did we.

A lot of these issues – the snow globes, the moral, the subtitles – seem to stem from a belief that the people making this movie didn’t know what they were doing. If we start from the perspective that they have a reason for everything they do and this movie isn’t completely random and arbitrary, it is actually pretty easy to understand what is going on. To me, this only adds to the appeal of the film.

THE HORROR, THE HORROR

The Reddit Krampus audience had quite a mix of positive and negative reviews, and I was happy to see some of the more positive comments and general discussion questions were upvoted. The following quote summed up my own personal feelings about the movie’s horror content much like the commenter above who loved the physical effects:

I’m definitely not an expert on horror, but this movie is the first movie I can recall ever genuinely terrifying me. All those creatures in the attic, and any scene with Krampus.

For me, Krampus was terrifying because it wasn’t clear that it was meant to be a horror movie. This means that the audience didn’t immediately write-off all of the characters as expendable. Because it walked the line between family comedy and horror, you felt like everyone, including the annoying in-laws, deserved to live. Throw in the fact that children were placed into situations with real danger, and I was a mess. I was honestly really shaken during the entire “toys in the attic” scene.

* * *

I honestly think that Krampus is going to become a permanent fixture in the holiday canon alongside White Christmas, Gremlins, Die Hard, Rare Exports, and The Shining. Though the film’s reviews weren’t exactly stellar it managed to dethrone the fourth Hunger Games film as the #1 film in America and is likely to reach cult classic status in no time. The Christmas horror genre is one of my favorite categories of film, especially those involving ancient traditions surrounding the holiday. The more, the merrier. I’m happy to add Krampus to my yearly repertoire.

Getting a Raise: Your Experiences

t_106_0

In my first article, I was pretty grim when it came to getting a raise, and in a way that kind of haunts me. Much of the reason for this, however, is because I have not had much luck with getting any kind of raise outside of the regular cycles or greater than the basic 2% inflation adjustment. I found that there are others out there for whom the situation has been equally or monumentally more grim, but there are still others who have found some success at getting the raise they deserve. Obviously, I don’t have the biggest sample size, but I think it is probably best to take our lessons where we can, set up provisional rules for success, and hone them down over time when better information emerges.

I want to thank the individuals who helped me gather data. I have removed their names and the names of their employers because sometimes businesses are really weird about what happens on the Internet. These tips are their tips. If you want to express your gratitude, I will be sure to pass it on.

  1. Ask for Opportunities to Grow

Sometimes you’re in a situation where it is clear that the business values its employees and sees them as the driving force in the company’s overall success. Sometimes you’re not, but we’re not here to talk about those situations. We covered most of the details about this in the previous post, but it never hurts to express interest in taking on more opportunities and just seeing where it goes. According to one of the people I interviewed, “a good employer listens and utilizes you to your full potential.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. This is a good early step toward getting a raise. In fact, if you have a particularly caring and observant employer you won’t even have to ask — maybe you’ll find an offer waiting for you unexpectedly some day.

  1. Schedule a Formal Meeting

Nothing says, “I’m serious about getting a raise” quite like scheduling a formal meeting with the appropriate supervisor, manager or human resources representative. In fact, for one of the people I interviewed, the formal meeting is the centerpiece of the methodology that has gotten him multiple raises at multiple jobs. I think people might undervalue this idea, and that is exactly why we should be discussing it. If you just stop by your boss’s office and say, “I need a raise,” it could easily be interpreted as witty office banter. Your genial boss might say, “Don’t we all, buddy,” and laugh it off. Setting a specific date and time for meeting is much more intentional, and it makes the topic of the meeting far more impactful.

If putting a meeting on the calendar makes your request serious, asking for a specific amount makes it doubly serious. You’re not always going to get the full requested amount, but if you make a serious offer and back it up with good reasoning you stand a better chance of getting some kind of raise.

  1. Know Your Value

You may know your own personal worth and your boss may even know to some degree, but you’re going to need to find a way to make your worth quantifiable. In a perfect scenario, there would be a balanced equation when it comes to the relationship between your skills and your pay. If you don’t want to come off as greedy or out of line, you really want to prove that there is an inequality in this relationship, that your skills are greater in value than what you are currently getting paid. There are plenty of ways to make this clear, but I think the best way was suggested by one of the people I interviewed. She suggested that you base your argument off of the official job description for your position. When you sign on for a position you ratify two things, a job description and a starting wage, and these serve as a contract for employment. If you find that responsibilities have been added over time that were not on this original job description, you may have grounds for setting the scales right and getting a pay increase.

  1. Be Prepared to Walk Away?

The people I talked to are divided on this issue, and so am I. If you are ready to quit your job because you are not getting the raise that you want, you are adding extra value. If they give you the raise they don’t have to waste time and money hiring and training your replacement. On the other hand, I know there are plenty of employers who have a “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” attitude. If you are willing to quit your job then they don’t want you around anymore anyways. I think the take home message is that there is risk either way. If you are ready to walk, they may entice you to stay or they may just let you go. If you are not, they may not take you serious or they may just see you as a misunderstood team player. I cannot recommend one or the other.

* * *

There are a couple of conclusions I reached after speaking with a variety of people about what it takes to get a raise that don’t fit into simple numbered lists of imperatives. You are more likely to get a raise at higher income levels. You would be more likely to have success if your starting annual take-home pay was $50,000 rather than $25,000, for example. Similarly, raises seem to favor people working at local businesses rather than national or multi-national corporations. One of the people I interviewed noted that she had more problems at a small regional chain than she ever did at her current local employer. This doesn’t mean that you’re never going to get a raise of over 2% if you’re working near minimum wage at a mega corporation. The odds just aren’t in your favor as much as they might be for an Executive Vice President at an up-and-coming local business. None of these statistics are meant to be discouraging. Ultimately, you’re probably better off trying than not trying. Of all the stories I’ve heard about asking for a raise, I haven’t yet heard a story where someone was fired, demoted, docked pay, or retaliated against in any way for having the audacity to ask for a better wage. In fact, I have a strong belief that even if this were to happen there are labor organizations that would be happy to turn the issue into a lawsuit. If you view a request for a raise as either success or practice, then you’re probably going to be better off in the long run. Just be smart about it and ask for help. I’ve already learned quite a bit myself just in writing these posts, and I haven’t even heard that many stories yet.

Comic Recommendations: December 2, 2015

Dark Horse rolled out another issue of Angel & Faith: Season Ten building on the Archaeus intrigue; Batman and Robin Eternal #9 re-introduces one of the black sheep of the Bat-family to the New 52 (and I totally called it); at Image Comics it is Revival week once again, and it couldn’t have come too soon; and Marvel Comics certainly makes you feel like they’re just in the business of first issues and Star Wars.

UNSPOILED

  1. Revival #35 (Image Comics), Unspoiled Edition

Revival 35 01

Revival #35 is 100% adrenaline. Em Cypress has a hit out on her and Officer Dana Cypress is finding that the proper channels are no longer an option if she wants to save her sister. Revival is more than just Image’s other zombie book.

SPOILED

  1. Revival #35 (Image Comics), Spoiled Edition

Revival 35 02

I don’t know if I’ve ever read an issue of Revival with this much action, and even amid all of these highly kinetic panels there was quite a bit of story development. Here are some of the bigger topics that are addressed in Revival #35.

John Doe’s Last Stand

Revival 35 04

John Doe, or Jesse Blackdeer, has been one of the more formidable enemies of Revival, a highly skilled assassin with a perfect cover: because he was revived during his cremation he is kept in a coma to combat the terrible pain of continuously burning nerves. In the previous issue, John Doe was told to take out Em Cypress despite the fact that she reminds him of his recently deceased daughter Rose. Before he can decapitate Em and bury her body parts separately, he is stopped by a battle mad Dana, who has lured Jesse’s soul into reuniting with his body.

Revival 35 03

As is the case the Revivers, the reunion of body and soul results in the destruction of both, presumably a freeing experience.

For some time, however, it has been clear that John Doe was simply a key asset for a higher power with an unknown agenda. In fact, the backup asset nearly gets the best of Em before Dana shoots him in the mouth.

Revival 35 07

The next asset in line, unless I have been misreading the situation, would be Dana’s on-again off-again lover, the CDC Agent Ibrahaim Ramin, who has already been tasked at taking out Dana Cypress by some higher authority. The second act of Revival has made one thing clear: things are getting both messier and cleaner, messier in the sense that a lot of blood is being spilled, and cleaner in the sense that loose ends are getting tied up.

Revival 35 05

All of that said, I am happy that the tragic figure of Jesse Blackdeer can finally rest in peace. I try not to imagine what his existence must have been like.

Who Killed Martha Cypress?

Revival 35 06

Everything is up in the air, and yet Dana Cypress continues to have enough of her wits about her to keep asking, “Who killed my sister?” Before Jesse Blackdeer passes, he gives us our best response to date. Em was killed by the same person who created all of the Revivers.

Prior to Aaron Weimar’s death, much of this revelation was already implied. When Aaron returned from India, he attempted to repeat a formula for immortality in Wisconsin that he had learned there. It is unclear what the process was like, but we know that it happened at the abandoned grist mill, that it required a sacrifice, and that Aaron presumably brought some sort of arcane being back with him in order to complete the process. I think it is safe to say that the murder of Martha “Em” Cypress was the sacrifice needed in order to satisfy the dark entity, but it remains unclear who carried out the sacrifice.

Aaron Weimar was the best suspect for some time. After all, he was the one who started the whole thing. However, in a flashback we learn that he seems to be unwilling to go through with what the entity demanded of him. My knee-jerk reaction was that the being simply made the sacrifice itself, but I don’t think this is likely either. A dread god such as this would require the sacrifice as a symbol of devotion. The question is, “Who do we think this mysterious being could convince to do its bidding?” Right now, I think my prime suspect is Dana Cypress’s husband Derek Hinch. I am not certain what his motivation might be. Maybe he thinks that Em is responsible for he and Dana breaking up. Maybe it was an accident that just happened to bring about the Revival. There are two reasons I’m looking at Hinch: 1. it is clear that he is an important character but he’s been sitting undeveloped for a pretty long time, and 2. he and Em both go to the same college. This may not be enough for the rest of you to zero in on him, but I’ve watched enough movies that these two facts seem pretty incriminating.

Guantanimo Two

The incident at the detention center made national headlines somehow, and this is a big deal. Some people are calling for stronger security at the compound while others are putting pressure on the authorities to explain why these Revivers are still being detained. I would love to say that the next step will be the liberation of the Revivers, but if I know anything about politics it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Campaigns of understanding don’t show the immediate and proximal results that reactionary citizens crave, so I expect that security is going to get worse, the Revivers are going to be treated more harshly, and things in general are going to get ugly.

Revival 35 09

As a side note, did anyone notice that the feds used Dana’s blitz on the detention center as a cover-up for what they did with Jeannie Gorski? That’s some shady work there.

Get Yourself a Cooler and Lay Yourself Low

Revival 35 08

Very little about what Officer Dana Cypress did to save her sister was what we would call legal. Throw in the fact that if either are brought in by the authorities it is more than likely a death warrant being served by our mysterious villain and it seems pretty clear that Dana and Em need to disappear. It is difficult to imagine what it must feel like for Dana to abandon her son, but I understand her motives. What I think is going on is that Dana cannot trust herself as the defender of her family after the way she has treated her sister Em over the years. This is the tragic flaw of one of the most positive characters in comics today. Dana needs to prove to herself that she can take care of her sister. I think the ultimate test is going to be a circumstance where Dana can either learn the identity of Em’s killer or act to keep her sister from harm. These are two separate motivations. I just hope Dana makes the right choice.

* * *

Invincible Iron Man 02 02

Since the dawn of Iron Man, Tony Stark has been a difficult character to relate to. In the early years, the real charm was the adventure factor, which fueled his comics until he became an Avengers support figure. The greatest leap forward was the 2008 film Iron Man where Robert Downey Jr. brought Tony Stark right off the pages. Well, it’s been seven years since that movie was released and Tony Stark / Iron Man is certainly in need of another boost. This is where Brian Michael Bendis and his new series Invincible Iron Man come in.

In order to rehabilitate an Iron Man comic, you need to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. The former comes easy for Bendis. A master of dialogue-driven stories — I remember loving the issues of Ultimate Spider-man comprised mostly of Peter Parker just talking to his schoolmates — Bendis is able to take advantage of Tony Stark’s fast-talking humor to the fullest. Meanwhile, David Marquez does a great job delivering fantastic stills of the Iron Man armor and highly energized action scenes.

Invincible Iron Man 02 04

As for eliminating the negative, that takes a little more finesse. To make Tony Stark easy to relate to — which he almost never has been — Bendis takes it slow, sanding down his edges by introducing a love interest that he really seems to want to do right by and reinforcing it all by his earnest desire to help people in need.

Invincible Iron Man 01 03

 

One thing I’m particularly excited about is how Invincible Iron Man fits in with a couple of the other series in the All-New, All-Different Marvel imprint that are really working right now. After a meeting with an all-new, all-different Dr. Doom, Stark brings a trans-dimensional Wand of Watoomb to Doctor Strange, who is currently featured in a self-titled series by Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo. The most recent issue features Mary Jane Watson, straight out of the pages of Dan Slott’s The Amazing Spider-man. We’ve talked a few times about the need for smaller crossover events like that between Slott’s The Amazing Spider-man, Mark Waid’s Daredevil, and Greg Rucka’s Punisher, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Aaron, Slott, and Bendis follow a similar formula with their current titles.

Here’s my pitch: Mephisto has returned in The Amazing Spider-man, and Spider-man enlists the help of Doctor Strange (Doctor Strange) and his trainee Illyana Rasputin. Mephisto manipulate’s Tony Stark’s girlfriend (Invincible Iron Man) into curing Illyana of her mutant teleportation powers to take her off the board.

Invincible Iron Man 01 02

Ultimately, the team overpowers Mephisto, and when they do there’s a strange side-effect: May Parker drops dead and Peter and Mary Jane remember their history and their marriage. Epilogue: Pete and MJ start a new chapter in The Amazing Spider-man, Illyana becomes a full-time student of the arcane in Doctor Strange, and Tony Stark has to deal with the consequences of the public knowing that mutants can be cured in Invincible Iron Man. Boom. Hire me, Marvel!

Invincible Iron Man 03 02

Next week, I’m looking forward to getting caught up on Extraordinary X-Men, which reminds me… I have another pitch for Marvel: a series following the first mutant born after Decimation and written by the current writer of All-New X-MenHope by Hopeless. What do you think? Also, tell me what you think about this week’s comics, your favorites, the let-downs, whatever. Let’s talk shop. Comic shop.

How to Get a Promotion Starting With Day One

Business dressing Ideas – How to dress like a gentleman ?

Some of you are probably asking, “Is it necessary to start so early when looking for a promotion?” I ran the question by one of my highest performing co-workers, and he said, “Well, yeah. If that’s what you want.” If it is your goal to move up at your company, no time is too early to start working toward that goal.

Here are some suggestions of things that you can be doing as soon as day one in order to get that promotion you’ve been looking for.

  1. Dress for Success

It is unlikely that I am the first source you have heard this advice from, but you always want to dress for the position that you want. Similarly, you want to make sure that you conduct yourself in a way that parallels the quality of your clothing. If you want to become a supervisor, for example, the best thing that you could do would be to make it hard to distinguish between you and your supervisor.

Is it possible to dress too nice? Clearly, this is a matter that probably deserves some discussion. I posed this question to a group of co-workers and the response seemed to be, “You don’t exactly want to wear a tucsedo to work.” There weren’t any clear reasons why you shouldn’t. My personal inclination is that you don’t want to dress too nice because it could either make it seem like you’re trying too hard, trying to cover something up, or making fun of the whole process.

For some of us, dressing and acting differently sounds quite a bit like conformity. The sad truth is that sometimes you have to make some sacrifices in order to get what you want. That said, I don’t think you have to throw away your entire identity to move up in the world. If you really feel confined, purchase a Batman tie clip or some Millennium Falcon cuff links. You should never sacrifice who you are in its entirety, because that is the person that your company hired. You are not some empty suit.

  1. Make Your Goal Clear

It never hurts to announce your intentions to your direct supervisor. A good supervisor will look out for opportunities where you can prove yourself to HR and management, give you guidance regarding the process of moving up, and explain to you their own experience moving up in the workplace. All of these are valuable. You can always talk to other supervisors, managers, anyone who has had an experience with climbing the corporate ladder. Even if they went through the same process as your direct supervisor, their own story will never be exactly the same simply because they are different people who observe different things.

I shouldn’t need to say this, but alas, it needs to be said. You need to have a good work ethic for this tip to have any value. If you don’t, and you still think you deserve to get a promotion, you are, as a co-worker of mine once said, “a chump.” This is another area where your direct supervisor can be a resource to you. If you are not meeting performance expectations, it is basically your supervisor’s job to help you get back on track. People who respond well to criticism are in many ways better than people who were doing everything right to start with because they know how to become what they need to be to get the job done. In fact, this attitude toward feedback is so important, I originally gave it a category of its own in the first draft of this article. While it is never too early to start working toward a promotion, it is never too late to become skilled at responding to criticism.

  1. Always Strive to Better Yourself

A good friend of mine is always telling me, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Of course, when he says it he is responding to my cocky feelings about the Dallas Stars doing better than the Detroit Red Wings during the first month of the season, but this lesson also applies to your job. At just about anywhere you work, there is going to become a point when your job gets easy because it becomes second nature. Some call this “the plateau” and in my opinion this is the most dangerous time in your career because it will become easy to become bored, disenfranchised, or unmotivated. For some people the only option is to get another job and quit before you get fired, but since we’re talking about getting a promotion we will proceed by assuming that the termination route is not on the table.

There are many options for bettering yourself while at work. You can focus on gaining additional knowledge about company processes, you can help others who are still learning, or you can work on improving morale and effectivity. When it comes to this last idea, keep in mind that it pays to be proactive. I used to work with a woman who was highly skilled with sales and just an all-around well-organized leader, but she spent a lot of her time either waiting for ideas from our supervisor or waiting for permission to move forward with them. While I don’t fully agree with the whole “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission” philosophy, you need to keep in mind that if you are not proactive you are actually putting more work on your supervisor’s shoulders. This doesn’t prove that you’re worthy of a promotion. All it proves is that you’re stressing your supervisor out.

There are also plenty of options for bettering yourself outside of work. Many employers now offer educational sponsorship worth $5250 per year to qualifying employees who are taking college courses pursuant to a degree that could be directly used to benefit the company. If this isn’t an option for whatever reason, many communities have a variety of different non-university training programs, some expensive, others cheap, some often free, and ranging from advancing typing skills to becoming an effective leader. Last, but certainly not least, is the wisdom you can learn from library books. If I had was given a promotion for every person I’ve seen reading Dale Carnegie’s How to Make Money and Influence People, I think I would be a CEO by now.

The main thing that bettering yourself does to defeat the power of the plateau is to freshen your experience and give you a new perspective. You are no longer simply an employee. You are a leader in training. You have effectively reinforced your motivation and reached escape velocity. Your promotion is much closer than it was when you were thinking about putting out resumes, and it shows.

  1. Don’t Complain

If you study the stock exchange then you know there are people called “noise traders” who act erratically and destabilize the system. At every business there are also noise employees who spend all of their time complaining. In their own heads, they feel like they are seeking justice but in truth they are doing the same thing as the noise traders. Complaining is a perversion of a natural inclination to seek out and correct weaknesses in a system. The best way to express feelings of discontent is to identify the problem, understand the conditions that create it, and generate plans to overcome the issue. People don’t get promoted because of poignant complaints. They get promoted because of elegant solutions.

  1. Don’t Butt Heads

You may be competing for one open position, but the total time that you’re competing with your co-workers spans less than a week, the amount of time between the first interview and the ultimate decision. The total time that you work together is usually going to be a minimum of 6 months to a year. This means that you are allies more than you are adversaries.

This might just be my squishy, hippy-oriented side, but I really believe that you succeed more the more you help others to succeed. The Empire would have found and killed Luke Skywalker before his training on Dagobah was over and completed their oppression of the galaxy if his friends hadn’t kept Darth Vader’s attention playing cat and mouse in an asteroid field. Voldemort would have conquered the whole world if Harry Potter hadn’t valued all of his marginalized friends, magical creatures, and the like. The true power in this universe shows up in web form, not in a single point. You are only as good as the people you gather around you, and you gather better and better people when you don’t throw them under the bus.

Every co-worker is a potential future recommendation, and this process works both ways. Every co-worker you alienate is a burned bridge toward your future.

  1. Sell Yourself

If we’re talking in economic or art terms, what you want to do is build a portfolio of your professional value to your company. If you’re more inclined toward medican analogies, we are talking about identifying chronic and acute symptoms of success. Examples of chronic symptoms of success are general qualities, attitudes, or habits whereas acute symptoms are times when you were the best at something, the most of something good or the least of something bad, or unique incidents when you went above and beyond. In general, you want to identify times when you have made or saved the company money. Issues of quality are important, but if you can quantify the benefit you bring to the business it makes you much easier to promote. What sounds better to you? “Justin has a winning personality,” or “Justin increased profits by 20% in his first year with the company.” In many situations, your superiors will already know what you bring to the company, but you want to go into this as if they do not. You can make fun of the fact that I am an Eagle Scout, but I always prefer to err on the side of being more prepared than less.

* * *

I didn’t really include anything about creating a fantastic resume or wowing everybody with a  great interview because we already spent some time with that on the previous post. That said, if you have any specific questions about resumes and interviews, lets get them on the table. All of these suggestions are based on my experience and ratified by my previously mentioned high-performing co-worker, but if you have other experiences we can certainly benefit from them.

CW’s The Flash and the Fight Against Fate

HM_HG_v01_r02a-718x1024

If you’re watching CW’s Arrow and The Flash, then you know they have recently introduced Hawkgirl and Hawkman as two reincarnated lovers doomed to be killed time and time again by the immortal assassin Vandal Savage. Savage has replaced the Hawk-family’s arch-nemesis Hath-Set who, in the comics, was eternally reincarnated alongside the two and driven to repeat the cycle of love and murder, and this convenient re-imagining of this ancient trinity sets the stage for the Arrow/The Flash spin-off Legends of Tomorrow which debuts on the CW on January 21, 2016.

An unfortunate side-effect of the intertwined nature of Hawkgirl and Hawkman is that it makes it impossible for viewers to get emotionally invested in the romance between Cisco Ramon/Vibe and Hawkgirl/Kendra Saunders which has been developing in the past few episodes of The Flash and all but fizzled in the latest episode of Arrow. This narrative issue plagues many television shows based on popular source material like Game of ThronesThe Walking Dead, and Gotham as well. The source material represents an impenetrable wall, a playbook for all possible actions, something that limits rather than frees up the writers for these shows. It is fate and it ought to be resisted.

The first season of The Flash posed a similar problem. Despite an epic lack of chemistry between Grant Gustin (Barry Allen) and Candice Patton (Iris West), we witness a newspaper headline from the future written by Iris West-Allen which suggest that Barry and Iris get married between now and 2024.

screen-shot-2015-04-28-at-12-34-53-pm-133730

If we were basing the future on who has the best on-screen chemistry, it would be Gustin and Danielle Panabaker (Dr. Caitlin Snow) during the first season or Gustin and Shantel VanSanten (Patty Spivot) during the second season.

flash-season-1-episode-12-barry-caitlin-karaoke-e1423164335286

If you introduce the certainty of an Allen-West union as soon as the first season, you are doing one of two things: 1. setting up a battle between fate and free will, or 2. setting up a series of boring melodrama that prolongs the inevitable so long as ratings are still high enough. The latter almost certainly seems to be the way of the world with network television, but I still hold out for the former. I side with Fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss, who writes of his belief that children and young adult fiction should actually be held to a higher standard than adult fiction. So, what can we do to remedy this problem?

One of the things that pulled me into DC Comics after being a long-time Marvel junkie was the Green Lantern stories where Hal Jordan spat in the face of fate left and right, always throwing a wrench into the machinations of the universe. If Hawkman and Hawkgirl weren’t being set up just to be ported over to Legends of Tomorrow, then Kendra’s relationship with Cisco could be framed as an exercise of free will against the indomitable force of destiny. This wouldn’t be unheard of. In fact, there is a precedent for this lateral move in the comics. Prior to Blackest Night, Hawkman and Hawkgirl ignored their destiny as a power couple and Kendra Saunders even ended up dating Red Arrow for a while. Because the two Hawks didn’t fall in love, Hath-Set couldn’t find them and kill them. Of course, this didn’t last forever, but it proves that DC Comics has dealt with this issue in the past. The Hawkman and Hawkgirl fight against fate would be a seasonal arc, but it would frame the series-long arc of whether one newspaper headline means Barry and Iris must end up together.

When I run this idea through the standard comic book rubric of, “Will it sell and will it bring in new viewers?” it actually passes fairly easily. New viewers aren’t going to care if Barry and Iris end up together. Some will root for Barry and Iris (Barris?), while others will root for Barry and Caitlin (Baitlin?) and still others will root for Barry and Patty (Batty?) and nobody will be able to bully them by saying, “Nuh uh. That’s not how it happens in the comics.” The postmodern separation of the television show and the source material as free will and fate will make for more compelling stories and unpredictable endings. In other words, you’re not going to lose viewers because the show becomes dry and formulaic, and you’re certainly not going to lose viewers because The Flash is just a watered-down Smallville.

It is a little too late to keep the Hawkman/Hawkgirl/Vibe love triangle at full-strength, mainly because it is just too hard to support ongoing chemistry between main characters from two different TV shows (Hawkman and Hawkgirl from Legends of Tomorrow and Vibe from The Flash), but it is not too late for The Flash to take the risk. In fact, with an Iris West who is more than simply Flash’s girlfriend/future wife, Candice Patton might be written into some more interesting situations. She certainly seems more central this season, at least when she’s actually on the screen, but I’m thinking some more Blechdel-friendly solo development couldn’t hurt. Ultimately, I’m not saying that The Flash shouldn’t even consider bringing Barry and Iris together in the end, but it would certainly be refreshing if they presented a real alternative.

The New Bucket List

From the Old Bucket List: "Do a Spider-man kiss with a female, preferably while raining."

From the Old Bucket List: “Do a Spider-man kiss with a female, preferably while raining.”

Updated: Sunday, April 10, 2016.

If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you probably didn’t even notice that I deleted my Bucket List. It’s not like you’re a bad friend — I would never suggest that — but Facebook has done everything it can to phase out the Notes app other than, well, phasing out the Notes app.

Just as Thomas Jefferson said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants,” so also must one’s Bucket List, especially as you transition from a lonely, nomadic twenty-something obsessed with TV and film memes — I honestly though that, before I die, I needed to hide in a barrel from someone pursuing me! — to a thirty-something adult with responsibilities.

There are two things in common between those two dudes with bucket lists — I am still going to die some day, and there are still plenty of things that I want to do before I do. Here’s the new (and improved?) bucket list:

[ ] Get a second tattoo.
[ ] Send out a Christmas card with a photograph of my family.
[ ] Make an ant hill casting.
[ ] Attend a Dallas Stars playoff game.
[ ] Order the Creature Feature at Stella’s Lounge each month I live at Half Century.
[ ] Use a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation.
[ ] Learn to ride a motorcycle.
[ ] Visit a net zero community.
[ ] Become an expert at driving a manual transmission automobile.
[ ] Brew a batch of ginger ale.
[ ] Attend a Renaissance Festival.
[ ] Eat a giant roasted turkey leg.
[ ] Attend an Of Montreal concert without leaving early.
[ ] Become proficient at skiing.
[ ] Read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.
[ ] Eat barbecue in Kansas City.
[ ] Conduct an EVP experiment.
[ ] Visit all 50 states.
[ ] Acquire a “Spocked Fiver.”
[ ] Go scuba diving.
[ ] Compete on a game show.
[ ] Use Aeris’ ultimate weapon and limit break in Final Fantasy VII.
[ ] Write and record a solo album.

As with the original, I am going to update this as the muse strikes me. (Does a muse strike? Or possess? Or what? What do muses do?) Furthermore, I abide by the rule of “pictures or it didn’t happen,” so this post will slowly get more and more visual as I knock ’em down.

UPDATE, Monday, January 11, 2016: Because of the death of David Bowie on Sunday, January 10, 2016, I removed “[ ] See David Bowie live” from the Bucket List.

 

Star Trek: The Original Series Season One Highlight Reel

star-trek-logo-star-trek-original-series-19173893-1440-900

#TrekWithUs is a group that my friend Josh and I started on Facebook dedicated to re-watching every Star Trek television series and film in order, one episode/film per week. One of the things we were hoping to do as a result of this re-watch was to generate some quality posts about our favorite episodes and important issues in Star Trek history. Josh completed his first review much earlier than I did, but I figured better late than never.

Here’s my highlight reel from the first season of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS).

NOTE: If you’re new to TOS, there are a couple of things that you might want to know before doing your own re-watch. The first is that Star Trek was originally envisioned to be a discontinuous series like The Twilight Zone but with a continuous crew. As such, stories do not build from episode to episode and characters do not have a clear arc of growth. The second thing you should know is that there are big differences between the production order and the order in which the episodes aired. For example, two episodes (“The Man Trap” and “Charlie X”) aired before either of the series’ two pilots (more on that later) saw the light of day. If you do end up doing your own re-watch, you want to make sure everyone is clear about which order you are using and whether or not you are including the original pilot. With #TrekWithUs, we viewed the episodes in the original airing order (with the addition of “The Cage”) but I have reviewed the episodes in the production order.

THE CAGE

c

The original pilot for TOS was an episode called “The Cage,” and it featured Captain Christopher Pike as the commander of the USS Enterprise. Because of a surprising turn of events on a planet overcome by political unrest, Captain Pike lost many of his crew members, and the experience scarred him. When me meet him, Pike is a tragic figure, an officer who probably ought to retire but who cannot seem to escape his duty. After this episode, we will not see Pike again until “The Menagerie: Part I” and “II,” where the captain is confined to a machine that is half-iron lung and half-wheelchair. Pike has been crippled in a terrible accident, and a devoted first officer Mr. Spock puts his neck on the line to abduct his former commander and bring him to Talos IV, where a group of cone-headed telepaths can grant him hallucinatory escape.

“The Cage” is one of a couple TOS episodes that gives us an idea of what has happened in the years between the narrative setting and the setting of the current viewer. A picture is painted of a utopian Earth where even the Mohave desert has been terraformed into a new-age Eden. Presumably, all differences of race, class, and gender have been overcome, though the writing often doesn’t reflect the latter. But in space, the rules that keep the peace on Earth don’t necessarily hold true. At one point Pike and the ship’s doctor Phillip Boyce discuss alien slave trade as a legitimate retirement source of income. It makes you wonder if there are any laws in space or if it is a free-for-all for anyone bold enough to travel outside of Earth’s atmosphere.

The most interesting part about “The Cage” might be the story behind it. When Gene Roddenberry first presented the pilot to NBC they rejected it, essentially cancelling Star Trek before it ever begun. However, Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy,The Lucy Show) took notice of this fledgling series and became its biggest supporter. The network would not air “The Cage,” but Ball used her influence to get Roddenberry an airing for his second pilot, something that is basically unheard of in the industry. The episode he presented featured a brand new crew (save for Mr. Spock alone) and sported the title “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” The rest, as they say, is history.

WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE

wherenomanhasgonebeforehd833

“Where No Man Has Gone Before” is the first episode to feature James Tiberius Kirk as the Captain of the Enterprise. From the beginning, Kirk is a well of courage, and he is going to need every ounce of it for what lies ahead of him. His good friend Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell has accidentally contracted godhood and its sudden onset has transformed him into a dangerous enemy. Kirk has just been introduced, and already an impossible sacrifice has been demanded of him: he must take the life of someone dear to him, the deity who was once Gary Mitchell.

11542089_10203278410040617_7053375458291137023_n

This is my dog Tiberius. We named him after Captain James Tiberius Kirk. That woman holding him is my beautiful wife Amy.

This second pilot is a gut-wrenching descent into the heart of darkness where Kirk is forced to face his own mortality.

180px-james_r_kirk_tombstone

It’s James *T* Kirk, not James R. Kirk.

In later episodes, stories like this might end with a smile and an off-color joke, but the second pilot doesn’t pull any punches. “Where No Man Has Gone Before” proves that TOS is unafraid of leaving you vulnerable at the end of an episode. The ensuing discomfort stimulates your imagination, and it apparently saved Star Trek from TV oblivion to boot.

THE CORBOMITE MANEUVER

mondo-corbomite

In “The Corbomite Maneuver,” we witness the best that early Trek has to offer: first officer Spock, whose immaculate logic makes him the clear brains of the operation; Dr. Leonard McCoy with his bleeding heart for moral issues; and James T. Kirk, the only one with the guts to keep this diverse crew alive. Kirk himself has gotten a bad name in the years since these original episodes first aired, but I think this is unfair. I’ve heard him described as a reckless womanizer who would make a terrible commanding officer, and yet his devotion to the Enterprise, her crew, and her mission are never more clear than in this episode. There is no better captain than Jim Kirk, and no better crew than the people who follow him every week into the unknown.

Years later, the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan will introduce Star Trek audiences to a training test known as the Kobayashi Maru which trains Starfleet Academy cadets to deal with the lose-lose situation. “The Corbomite Maneuver” features an early precursor to this concept, as an invincible alien ship counts down the moments until the Enterprise’s total destruction. Just as he reprogrammed the Kobayashi Maru so he could win, Captain Kirk saves the day in this episode by changing the paradigm. In other words: “Not chess, Mr. Spock. Poker.”

THE NAKED TIME

14032007494517371612080912

The Half-Naked Time.

It doesn’t get much more fun than Hikaru Sulu swashbuckling with his shirt off, but “The Naked Time” is more than just an hour long giggle fest. While every other character is busy transforming into a caricature, Lieutenant Joe Tormolen is busy having a paranoid breakdown. For Tormolen, the Federation’s outreach mission is overreach, hypocrisy even. His rants speak more clearly than any synopsis: “We bring pain and trouble with us, leave men and women stuck out on freezing planets until they die. What are we doing out here in space? Good? What good? We’re polluting it, destroying it. We’ve got no business being out here. No business.” This rings true with the situation in “The Cage.” If the Earth has been rid of its sins, then those same sins have been banished into space. There is an active slave trade, unsupervised would-be-Mengele’s, and debris from discarded colonies and destroyed vessels. Tormolen’s questions trouble the waters. We glorify discovery, but is it always worth the price? Why did we leave Earth in the first place? Was it due to overpopulation issues or were we just too curious for our own good? Was it the necessary end result of science and technology? Was somebody looking to expand the sphere of human influence? Tormolen’s fears give us a metric for judging the moral content of future Star Trek episodes — was the crew of the Enterprise doing a good deed or were they overstepping their boundaries? What were the consequences?

CHARLIE X

charlie_x-e1346677255202

There are few things more perilous than dealing with a god who is going through puberty. Do you remember what it was like when your hormones were surging and your body was transforming and your emotions were out of control? Try throwing the limitless power to create and destroy into the mix, and you can imagine the threat posed in “Charlie X.” We have seen how far Kirk will go to defeat a god who threatens his crew in “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” but in this episode Kirk takes a more nurturing pose. The role of father seems strangely natural for the Enterprise’s Captain, and it feels as if Kirk’s influence might be enough to stabilize Charlie and turn him into a force for good. This is where the episode takes a turn for the worse. Against his will, Charlie is taken from his new human family by the very alien force that granted him his powers in the first place. Earlier in the episode we might view this as a foreign power taking responsibility and diffusing a nuclear weapon, but by this point it feels much more like kidnapping an innocent child from his own people. The crew becomes one with the at home audience. Charlie X is abducted against his will, and we are all forced to watch.

BALANCE OF TERROR

Capture

In this Cold War allegory, the Romulans are revealed as the Federation’s intergalactic rival much like the Russians were understood as the enemies of the United States for the original viewing audience. Years of blind battle between Federation and Romulan ships reminds us of underwater battle between nuclear submarines. Though the civilizations involved in this ongoing war are in the dark, the audience gets a rare glimpse into both sides of the conflict. On one side is Captain James T. Kirk, an amazing force for good in the universe, and on the other side is the unnamed Romulan Commander, perhaps the most noble opponent Kirk has ever faced. Working together, these men could bring peace to the entire universe, but they were born into civilizations at war and their efforts will always be adversarial. The Romulan Commander is like Hector of Homer’s Iliad, perhaps the kindest soul and greatest leader involved in the Trojan War. Like Hector, this Romulan’s only fault is that he is on the wrong side of history.

“Balance of Terror” also presents one of the most unambiguous criticisms of racism in the science fiction canon. When the Romulan Commander is first revealed, he has pointy ears and bushy eyebrows much like the Enterprise’s own first officer Mr. Spock. The resemblance goes even further for die-hard fans of Trek who know that the same actor (Mark Lenard) plays both the Romulan Commander (“Balance of Terror”) and Spock’s father (“Journey to Babel,” et. al.).

balanceofterrorhd213

This similarity is too much for Lieutenant Stiles, a crewman who lost family in the Earth-Romulan War, but Kirk is fast and firm with his support for the Vulcan science officer.

While it might seem offensive that a white male (Leonard Nimoy) becomes a figurehead for racial justice, it is important to understand this in the context of Gene Roddenberry’s vision. The diverse crew of the Enterprise is the result of a utopian Earth where people of different backgrounds have finally overcome their backgrounds. Despite the fact that we might be impressed by the inclusion of Uhura (a black woman) and Sulu (a Japanese American) on the Enterprise’s bridge, nobody else on the bridge bats an eye. This has been the norm for over 100 years. TOS tackles the next frontier of social justice, the issue of how one welcomes a neighbor from another planet.

THE ALTERNATIVE FACTOR

27-The-Alternative-Factor

Between the enigmatic Lazarus with his costume beard, the psychedelic color inversions during the reality quakes, and Lazarus’s Jetsons-style vessel, “The Alternative Factor” is one of the campiest episodes in TOS. This should not mask the fact that it has some of the best science fiction of the first season, delving into the frontier of inter-dimensional travel. I honestly didn’t know whether I loved or hated this episode until the very end, but it certainly holds a special place in my heart.

SPACE SEED

4687210802_bb62230854_o

What “Space Seed” lacks in terms of a strong story and gender equality, it makes up for with the sheer power of Ricardo Montalban’s portrayal of Khan Noonien Singh. The writers did manage to deliver a compelling story behind the story. Khan is one of a handful of tyrants who carved up the Earth into territories during the third World War of the 1990s. He and his crew are super-soldiers in an ancient ship with primitive technologies of propulsion and suspended animation (from Kirk and company’s POV). It is interesting that Roddenberry and crew had such generous expectations for our future technology. If I’m not mistaken, the most heralded technologies of the 1990s were flip phones, SMS, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, not hybernacula and interstellar flight.

“Space Seed” might just be the most important episode of TOS. This is because it serves as a prequel to the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which might just be the greatest moment in Star Trek history. My wife will attest to the fact that I cannot even discuss the last act of this film without welling up with tears, much less listen to “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes or drive by a vehicle with one of those photon torpedo-esque car top carriers on it.

THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER

city-on-the-edge-of-forever

In the 1930s there was a woman named Edith Keeler who started a peace movement so powerful that the United States committed to never warring again. As a result, the United States stayed out of World War II and Hitler’s Third Reich conquered the entire planet. The utopian Earth we’ve been talking about — that never happened. Neither did the United Federation of Planets, and without the Federation there is no USS Enterprise. There is just a handful of starship officers from a reality that no longer exists stranded on a far off planet with talking stone arches. To get back everything they’ve ever known, peace activist Edith Keeler must die. I’m just going to leave you with that one.

* * *

#TrekWithUs has come a long way in just over a year. A couple of weeks ago, we started the third and final season of Star Trek: The Original Series. If you’re interested in joining our re-watch, just let me know and I can add you to the group. I don’t know exactly how to do so if we’re not already Facebook friends, but I’d be willing to give it some research. It can’t be too difficult. Also, I expect to roll out a Season Two Highlight Reel shortly, so keep your eyes open friends of the Federation.

star-trek-behind-the-scenes-9-mad1