What If We Let Tim Burton Loose On All of Our Heroes?



Tim Burton-style Captain America

We already know what it looks like when Tim Burton tackles Batman, but what if he wrapped his Cure-addled mind* around all the other superheroes? Artist Andrew Tarusov, who previously gave us Burton-fied Disney characters, has now unleashed an army of pensive, spindly heroes.

This God of Thunder seems a little unsure of his mightiness:

Tim Burton-style Thor


Naturally Burton would explore the conflict between nerdy Bruce Banner and The Other Guy:

Tim-Burton-style Hulk


Edward Wolverine-Hands!

Tim Burton-style Wolverine


And finally, I know Burton already did Batman, but for some reason the image of sad Batman, utterly dwarfed by that family portrait, make me laugh.

Tim Burton-style Batman


You can check out the rest over at Nerd Approved!

*Just to be clear, I love The Cure. I consider “Cure-addled” a feature, not a bug.

Holy Rewatch Batman! “The Joker’s Last Laugh” / “The Joker’s Epitaph”




“The Joker’s Last Laugh” / “The Joker’s Epitaph”
Written by Peter Rabe and Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Directed by Oscar Rudolph
Season 2, Episodes 47 and 48
Production code 9747
Original air dates: February 15 and 16, 1967

The Bat-signal: The Gotham City bank is providing counterfeit $100 bills for withdrawal, which results in law-abiding citizens passing fake money. The bills are perfect on one side, but blank on the other. Haunted by the insanity of the crime—and Joker’s laughter, which is echoing in Gordon’s office from an indeterminate source—Gordon and O’Hara call Batman, which interrupts Dick’s economics homework, to the boy’s delight and Bruce’s chagrin. (Bruce waxes rhapsodic about how awesome the subject of economics is, a diatribe that could only come from someone independently wealthy…)

The Joker’s laughter continues to echo in Gordon’s office, but Batman’s able to track the chortling to a speaker in Gordon’s cufflink, which is receiving from an antenna in Gordon’s trouser leg. Gordon insists that it must have gotten there from a weird person he bumped into on the subway, though how he got access to Gordon’s pants is a question best left unanswered on a network TV show in 1967…


At his headquarters in the former offices of Penthouse Publishing (really!), a publisher of comic books (really!!!), Joker tests two of his robots—really super-strong androids named Yock and Boff, whom Joker constructed in jail. A third robot, Glee, is working as a teller in the bank, and has been passing the counterfeit cash. Batman and Robin determine that he’s a robot (by telling what Robin describes as a “super-funny” joke (which is in fact, not even remotely funny (and even if it was, Batman and Robin told it so incredibly badly that no one would laugh at it anyhow)) and when Glee doesn’t respond, it “proves” that he’s a robot) and then they tweak his nose, which somehow makes his head explode. Sure.

They take Glee to the Batcave, though not before Batman makes some snippy remarks to the bank president on the subject of better vetting his tellers, a statement he feels that bank chair Bruce Wayne would echo. Indeed.

The Dynamic Duo toss Glee into the trunk and drive off, but Joker has a tracer on Glee, so he and his moll Josie hop into the Jokemobile and track him. However Batman knows there’s a tracker, so he deflects the signal to a decoy Batcave entrance, sending the Jokemobile there while he and Robin proceed to the real Batcave.


Batman and Robin analyze Glee, but find nothing useful. However, Alfred points out that the sleeves on Glee’s outfit were pressed unusually hard, and there are odd spots on them, which turn out to be printer’s ink, and in colors that would only be used in comic books. They discover that Penthouse was recently sold to W.C. Whiteface—a nom du plume for the Joker, though I mostly find myself wondering if the W.C. is supposed to refer to W.C. Fields or to the European abbreviation for a bathroom, a.k.a. a water closet.

They don’t have sufficient proof for an arrest, so Bruce Wayne shows up at Penthouse, pretending to be destitute, having played the stock market poorly. He noticed that Penthouse’s comics are printed using the same ink as the U.S. Treasury—and he offers “Mr. Whiteface” the position of vice chair of the board of the Gotham National Bank in exchange for providing Bruce with counterfeit currency to pay his newly acquired debts.

However, as Joker fires up the presses, Bruce signals Robin, who comes in the window. He “calls” Batman, saying he found Joker while on a routine crime patrol, and then fisticuffs ensue. Bruce tries to “help,” but his faux clumsiness just helps Robin do better in the fight (as planned), so Joker flicks the switch labelled “ROBOT SUPER STRENGTH LAST OUNCE OF ENERGY” to the “ON” side, and the robots are able to take Robin down. He’s tied to the comic book printing press, and to ensure no double cross, Joker has his robots force Bruce to pull the lever that will smush Robin.


However, Alfred has been in reserve, dressed in a Batman costume, and he Bat-climbs to the scene and tosses bat-gas, which drives Joker, Josie, Boff, and Yock off. (Bruce tries to follow in his role as Joker’s pretend accomplice, but is left behind.) Joker’s counterfeit operation is now a bust, but Bruce fears that he’ll wreak more havoc, as Joker made off with the document Bruce had prepared that made “W.C. Whiteface” the vice chair of the board of the bank.

Batman and Robin check on the bank, but while Boff and Yock are now tellers, there’s no odd activity. However, Joker announces that he’s going to visit Bruce Wayne on a business matter, so the Dynamnic Duo zip home and change back into their civvies.

Joker recorded Bruce “confessing” to speculating and soliciting illegal behavior from Joker. He tries to use the tape to get Bruce to kill Batman and Robin, but when he refuses, he goes for Plan B: forcing Bruce to marry Josie, with a three million dollar dowry. Joker even announces it on the society pages. Gordon and O’Hara are outraged; they try the bat-phone, but Batman’s public statement is that Bruce Wayne is an adult and can make his own decisions. Undaunted, Gordon gets the GCPD psychiatrist, Dr. Floyd, to declare Bruce mentally incompetent, suffering from second childhood syndrome (snorfle), which will enable them to negate his appointment of Joker to the bank board.


Meanwhile, Batman dopes out Glee’s controls and activates him in the name of justice. (Really!) He’s able to transmit instructions to Boff and Yock through Glee, but before he can implement the rest of his plan, O’Hara shows up with the lunatic squad and takes Bruce away in a straitjacket. Alfred is forced to once again don the bat-suit, and he and Robin head out in the Batmobile to track down the van that is taking Bruce to Happy Acres. They free Bruce—in total violation of a legitimate court order—and head to the bank, where Gordon is alerting Joker to the illegitimacy of his post as vice chair. Then Glee shows up and declares that Josie is his wife, just as Batman and Robin enter and accuse Joker of promoting bigamy.

Then Boff and Yock try to rob the customers, at which point Joker manages to take control of their programming once again. Fisticuffs ensue, and our heroes somehow manage to be triumphant despite the fact that three of the foes are super-strong. As he puts the Bat-cuffs on Josie, she asks him to apologize to Bruce, saying it might have been fun.

Floyd examines Bruce and declares him to be mentally competent once more. Floyd also expresses a desire to some day examine Die Fleidermaus Mensch.

Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! Batman has a laugh-track detector, which must be handy to determine which sitcoms are filming before a studio audience and which has canned laughter. The Bat-deflector can deflect the signal of a tracer and lead it instead to a fake miniature Batcave entrance, complete with a sign under it that says, “LAUGH, CRIMINALS, LAUGH!” (Batman can be one nasty sumbitch when he puts his mind to it, can’t he?) He looks over Glee with the Integro-Differential Robot Analyzer (why it’s modified with the nonsense term “integro-differential” rather than the more traditional “bat” is left as an exercise for the viewer), which is later hooked up to the Robot Control Device. The Bat-spot analyzer can tell you what any spot is made of. The utility belt comes equipped not only with bat-gas, but also a bat-fan that will disperse it.


Holy #@!%$, Batman! Upon hearing Joker’s cackling on police HQ, Dick grabs his own elbow and says, “Holy funny bone, the Joker!” Upon realizing the lengths to which Joker went to plant a mini-loudspeaker and an antenna on Gordon’s person, Robin mutters, “Holy chutzpah!” thus injecting a much-appreciated dose of Yiddish to the proceedings. When he observes Glee counting money, he says, “Holy precision,” and when he discovers Glee has a tracker he says, “Holy hunting horn.” When they examine Glee, he enthuses, “Holy clockworks,” and when can’t find any useful clues on the robot, he grumbles, “Holy dead end.” When Bruce reveals that Joker is now the vice chair of the bank board, Robin aghasts, “Holy bankruptcy!” When the bank president says that Joker has the bank running at “apple pie order,” Robin’s response is “Holy stomachache.” When Bruce is forced to marry Josie, Robin envies, “Holy madness.” When Batman proposes taking control of Glee, Robin on-the-noses, “Holy remote controlled robot,” and then when Batman revives the artificial person, he just-as-on-the-noses, “Holy Frankenstein!” Upon the “revelation” that Glee is Josie’s “husband,” Robin jokes, “Holy wedding cake.”

Gotham City’s finest. Stymied by Batman’s unwillingness to help Gordon put Bruce Wayne away (for obvious reasons), Gordon is left to function on his own, which would seem to be dangerous, but dammit if he doesn’t actually take sensible action here, as declaring Bruce incompetent is a clever stratagem for getting Joker away from the bank.

No sex, please, we’re superheroes. Josie takes great pleasure in smooching Bruce, and promises to be faithful to him in her own way. (Cough.) Meanwhile, agreeing to marry a woman with a rap sheet is deemed sufficient to inter Bruce in a funny farm. Okay then.

Special Guest Villain. Back as the Joker is Cesar Romero, last seen in “The Penguin Declines.” He’ll be back in the season’s penultimate storyline, “Pop Goes the Joker” / “Flop Goes the Joker.”


Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.

“Once again, we take our poor cracked pitcher to the Caped Crusader’s well.”

–Truer words, Commissioner, truer words.

Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 41 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, independent filmmaker and graphic designer Robert Long.

Two of Joker’s henchfolk have a Star Trek connection: Mr. Glee is played by Lawrence Montaigne, who played Decius in “Balance of Terror” and Stonn in “Amok Time” (he was also being groomed as a possible replacement for Leonard Nimoy as Spock if contract negotiations broke down between seasons one and two); and Josie is played by Phyllis Douglas, who played Yeoman Mears in “The Galileo Seven” and one of the space hippies in “The Way to Eden.”

Lorenzo Semple’s script is based on a story by crime novelist Peter Rabe. It’s Rabe’s only time writing for the screen—perhaps he was traumatized by Alan Napier doing a bat-climb. Rabe met Semple while the former was in Spain recovering from an illness.


The Jokemobile is a reuse of the “Mongrel T” roadster created for the Elvis Presley movie Easy Come, Easy Go.

The use of Penthouse as the name of the publisher Joker takes over is a bit jaw-dropping to modern eyes, but while the erotic magazine of the same name debuted in 1965, it didn’t start being published in the U.S. until 1969, so it’s probably a coincidence that it has the same name. Probably. (Having said that, there was a Penthouse Comix magazine in the 1990s…)

Pow! Biff! Zowie! “It’s sometimes difficult to think clearly when you’re strapped to a printing press.” So first Joker nails time travel, and now he’s mastered robotics, to the point where he’s created humanform androids (inaccurately referred to as “robots”). You gotta wonder, if he’s this kind of scientific genius, why he’s bothering to commit petty crimes, y’know, ever? I mean, it could just be that he’s nuts, though this iteration of the Joker is far saner than most of the other screen versions.


Also, how does the W.C. Whiteface identity hold up in any way? I mean, Gordon knows he’s really the Joker and it’s not a nom du plume, so why can’t he remove him as vice chair of the bank that way? Unless his real name is legally W.C. Whiteface. (Beats the heck out of “Jack Napier,” if you ask me…) And Bruce gets committed solely on the basis of getting engaged to a criminal? And he’s declared mentally sane because he has good reflexes? Buh?

Anyhow, this is all minor stuff that’s mostly just a fun hour. It’s not a top episode or anything, but it’s just fun to watch and doesn’t make you want to beat your head against the wall. I love the fact that Batman has a miniature Batcave entrance (labelled, of course, because this is Gotham) for the express purpose of trolling the bad guys. I love that Batman’s plan doesn’t entirely work (well, it mostly does—he does end the counterfeiting), and has the unintended consequence of putting Joker in charge of personnel at the bank. I love that Alfred has to pretend to be Batman, not once, but twice, and he gets to do a bat-climb! (Take that, Sean Pertwee!) I love the glee with which Phyllis Douglas plays Josie—not the best of the molls, but definitely in the upper echelon. I love watching Bruce pretend to be a klutz in order to “help” Joker by really helping Robin. I love that the GCPD, left to their own devices, actually approaches competence for once. (Though I was disappointed to see that Gordon didn’t participate in the bat-fight at the end, staying on the sidelines with Josie. He’s a trained cop for crying out loud!) And I love that Batman is a paragon of virtue and law-abiding-ness right up until the part where Bruce is put in a straitjacket and placed in an insane asylum, at which point he has no problem with Alfred and Robin violating a court order to illegally free Bruce from the paddy wagon.


Basically, this is the perfect episode to toss into the DVD player if you want to watch a Batman ’66 episode that has all the usual craziness (including a most impressive selection of Bat-gadgets) without the plot howlers to drive you, er, batty. It’s even got a decent cliffhanger, and one that relates to the original format Batman debuted in!

Bat-rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that Book 2 of his “Tales of Asgard” trilogy, Marvel’s Sif: Even Dragons Have Their Endings, is available for preorder from the fine folks at Amazon. It’ll be released in mid-November. And you can still get Book 1, Marvel’s Thor: Dueling with Giants at finer bookstores and online dealers.

Jeffrey Alan Love Talks the Art and Words of Notes from the Shadowed City in His Reddit AMA



Notes from the Shadowed City Jeffrey Alan Love

Despite being a self-described “late bloomer” in entering the art world, Jeffrey Alan Love has created some incredibly distinctive work—from painting J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beowulf for The New Yorker to illustrating Tor.com Originals and Tor.com Publishing novellas. You’ve likely noticed his work on Yoon Ha Lee’s “Combustion Hour” and Andy Remic’s Song for No Man’s Land trilogy (both of which he provides fascinating process posts for). Now, Love is releasing his first book: Notes from the Shadowed City, a fictional travelogue filled with the sketches made by the main character exploring a fantastical world. Here’s the elevator pitch:

An amnesiac finds himself in a strange city over which floats an ominous citadel. The only clue he has to his identity is a journal which leads him to believe he was traveling to research lesser-known magical swords. As the years pass in this strange land he writes and draws his experiences in the journal in the hopes of rediscovering himself and returning home. But then he falls in love.

Love took to Reddit’s r/fantasy to discuss the book, in particular how these strange and compelling drawings inspired the accompanying text.

Notes from the Shadowed City Jeffrey Alan Love art Reddit AMA

Love talks about how the art came first, with the story growing out of images with surprising links:

tonymcmillenauthor: I really loved Notes from the Shadowed City, it was lyrical and dark and really nailed what it feels like to move somewhere new. How did you develop the story? I know you have a lot of common mythic images in your work, horns, swords etc, did you create a story to work around these reoccurring images in your work or did the story come first?

JAL: The story started as individual paintings in my sketchbook. After I painted one a line or two of text would suggest themselves to me and I’d write it down. It was only after I had about 30 or so that I saw that I could use them as a framework to create a larger story (one that I had subconsciously been telling myself already). So the overall book came about by setting myself up with these moments and then trying to figure out how to give enough information/story between them to make the whole feel complete and not just a random series of paintings. It wasn’t until I was halfway through that I realized I was telling a story about myself (growing up I moved every three years or so, and always felt like an outsider searching for something magical in the world that will make me feel like I belong—a feeling that persists to this day.)

jjohansome: What was the inspiration behind Notes from the Shadowed City? What made you want to tell that specific story?

JAL: The honest answer is I broke my foot and had to spend a few weeks with my foot elevated and not moving around much. So I started doing these weird paintings in my sketchbook, and the story started to suggest itself. I think of it like Sergei Eisenstein’s uninflected images—the paintings were unrelated until they were put next to each other, and when I did that my brain couldn’t help but start to tell a story that linked them together. As the number of paintings grew, so did the story. It was only when the story was really formed and I could look back on it as a whole that I saw how it related to my own life and early childhood.

Phil_Tucker: You art is very striking and atmospheric—it evokes the best of Dave McKean and Barry Moser (I’m thinking his Divine Comedy work). Love it.

How did being able to add visual components change your approach to world building? Can you explain how you went about choosing what to depict so as to best convey your setting?

JAL: Thanks for the kind words. My approach to world building is the same as my approach to image-making—I ask myself “how much information is enough?” or “What can I get away with?” I try to just reach that edge and then quit. I’m not smart enough to construct an entire world beforehand so that it will have all the wonder and mystery and strangeness that I desire. I want it to hide parts of itself from me, to have shadows and blank spots on the maps marked with “here be dragons”. If I can give just enough so that the viewer/reader grabs onto it and takes it off into their own brain and makes it their own—that excites me. I guess it’s a bit like being a pantser or a plotter. Do you build the world beforehand that then builds the book, or does the book you write build the world? I think I tend towards the latter.

Notes from the Shadowed City Jeffrey Alan Love art Reddit AMA

An excellent question that should show up in more illustrator AMAs:

jdiddyesquire: If you could redo one fantasy or science fiction cover in your style, which would you choose? And how would you reimagine it?

JAL: This is a tough one, because I’d like the opportunity to redo ALL OF THEM. But if I had to choose one, I’d choose Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer. In addition to being one of my favorite books, and the one that really showed me how wide and varied the world of “fantasy” can be, I have been trying to convince someone to let me paint a black square as a solution, and the fuligin cloak would give me a lot of ammo to try and convince someone that a cover that was 99% black paint was the right choice.

Notes from the Shadowed City Jeffrey Alan Love art Reddit AMA

Could the artist go all the way to the other end of the spectrum and just write?

PingerKing: Does either writing or image-making take precedence for your creative endeavors? Would you ever write a long-form novel with no pictures (‘cept maybe a cover I guess) or do you see your illustrations as essential to what you want to make?

JAL: So far image-making takes precedent, just in the fact that I’ve established myself as an illustrator and that is what pays the bills. I’m working towards doing both, but whereas in painting you can finish something in a day with a novel it takes a long time to get something ready for public consumption. Right now I’m writing every day, and the projects I’m working on for myself include an illustrated book and a graphic novel as well as a novel, but I have no idea which one of those horses will race out into the lead. Time will tell.

Grassteeth: Along the same lines as above: everyone says to focus on ONE thing and go for it. How did you decide it was ok to do both? I ask because I also want to do both (maybe combined, maybe separate) but I’m not sure if I can (or should). Also, I’m a late bloomer.

JAL: I could be the wrong person to turn to for advice on this, but I say why not? I could end up being like Michael Jordan giving up basketball (image-making) for baseball (writing) but I’ll never know until I try. And I bet Jordan had a lot of fun playing baseball while it lasted. With doubts about whether or not I should do something, or if I’m too old, I generally just assume that I have the talent/age/ability to do it – you’ll never plow a field by worrying over it in your mind. You have to just go out and do it. The worst that happens is you make something that isn’t good – but that’s the only way you learn to make something better. You can’t fix nothing.

Notes from the Shadowed City Jeffrey Alan Love art Reddit AMA

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from Love’s AMA, it’s that he’s always looking forward. He talks future projects, including another book of Norse mythology, this one illustrated:

Ketchersid: Love you work! Whats next?

JAL: Thanks! I’m doing over 100 paintings for an illustrated book of Norse Mythology right now, written by Kevin Crossley-Holland. I think it will be out next year from Walker Books. I’m also writing an illustrated book, a graphic novel or two, and a novel. Hopefully one of those will turn into my next personal project that is released.


Read the rest of the AMA for Love’s favorite artists and tips for illustrators looking to break in.

All art by Jeffrey Alan Love, via Muddy Colors

We Want to Live In a World Where Studio Ghibli Makes a Legend of Zelda Movie



Ghibli meets Zelda

Matt Vince is an artist and a visionary. In his series of concept posters, he created a world in which Studio Ghibli make a Legend of Zelda movie. Not satisfied with static images, however lovely, he has now created a fan trailer for said movie, and it’s gorgeous, and weirdly moving? Click through to behold the Great Ghibli-fied Deku Tree!

I can’t wait for the poignant story arc when Link is caught breaking pots for money, and a gruff-but-kind potter takes him and teaches him the ways of his craft.

[via AV Club!]

This Week in Publishing: Worldcon 75 Guests of Honor and Discovering Your Patronus



Pottermore Patronus quiz test J.K. Rowling

This week in science fiction/fantasy (and related subjects) publishing news… All the covers! We’re talking three Neil Gaiman book covers by Robert E. McGinnis, all in different styles; a special edition of Kushiel’s Dart; and John Scalzi’s The Dispatcher. Plus, you can finally find out what your Patronus is (and see if it matches J.K. Rowling’s) while reading up on Worldcon 75’s Guests of Honor and the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius grant” recipients.

The Dispatcher John Scalzi novella audiobook Zachary Quinto cover reveal

Kushiel"s Dart special edition Subterranean Press

Anansi Boys retro cover by Robert E. McGinnis

Love is Love comic DC IDW Orlando Pulse shooting victims LGBTQ

Art by Rafael Albuquerque

Uncanny Southern Gothic: The Family Plot by Cherie Priest



The Family Plot Cherie Priest

The Family Plot is the latest novel from Cherie Priest. It’s a Southern Gothic horror set in Chattanooga, and it marks Priest’s return to Southern Gothic sensibilities. Her first three novels (Four and Twenty Blackbirds, Wings to the Kingdom, Not Flesh Nor Feathers) bore some of the hallmarks of the genre, before she spread out to explore zombie steampunk (the acclaimed Boneshaker and its sequels), Lovecraft meets Lizzie Borden (Maplecroft, Chapelwood), and Young Adult (I Am Princess X). Priest has never entirely left horror behind, since most of her work stirs a frisson of uncanny dread, or plays with horror tropes. (Like, for example, zombies.) But The Family Plot wholly embraces the inexplicable and inimical uncanny.

Horror’s never really been my cup of tea, but this is a really good gothic haunted house story. Until the very end, but I’ll get to that.

Chuck Dutton owns a salvage company, specialising in furniture and fittings. When the aged Augusta Withrow offers him the rights to salvage her family home—soon to be torn down and the land sold—it seems like the deal is too good to be true. The house is a fancy old property, with a bunch of period fittings and a carriage house that’s been shut up for a century. Short on funds (this is a deal that will either make or break his business) Chuck sends a small team to start work: his daughter, Dahlia, who’s just finished her divorce; her cousin Bobby, an abrasive personality who likes to drink; Bobby’s son Gabe, a nice young man; and doctoral student Brad, for whom the job will be his introduction to the business and to significant manual labour.

The deal seems too good to be true because it is. The house has great stuff in it, stuff that may keep the Dutton family business financially solvent for years. It’s also haunted by various apparitions: a soldier, a child, a young woman in a yellow sundress. At first, none of the four admit to each other that they have seen any evidence of the supernatural. But slowly, things grow weirder and more unsettling. Brad finds a cemetery hidden in the trees, a morbid Hallowe’en mockup based on unclaimed headstones from a previous Withrow’s funerary business. There should be no graves to go with them, but Brad has seen a spectre of a soldier, and is driven by the increased malevolent and uncanny happenings to prove there is an actual corpse there.

There is. This is the first real proof that something went very wrong at the Withrow house earlier in its history, and that the murderous spirit inhabiting it is not just a figment of their collective imagination. A murderous spirit that’s taken a particular interest in Dahlia, who seems to be the focus of its most frightening and its most palpable aggression. All four of them want to leave. But they need to get the job done.

Unfortunately, things only get creepier and more dangerous.

Most of The Family Plot is told from Dahlia’s point of view. She’s a fascinating character, complex, prickly, with strong feelings about her family and about old houses. She’s not quite as over her recent divorce as she’d like to be, either, and that lasting… not exactly grief, but a combination of regret and resentment… is a palpable presence in the narrative, a subtle counterpoint to the unhealthy and obsessive resentment cherished by the Withrow house’s brooding and violent poltergeist. The other characters are drawn just as strongly, although the ghostly presences have at times more striking and well-developed personalities than the three living men who’re working with Dahlia. (The house itself is an incredible character. Place matters, here: matters deeply. One of the most notable things about The Family Plot, as a southern Gothic haunted house horror novel, is the sense of ever-increasing claustrophobia. It’s about interiors, both literal and metaphorical: the interior of the house, and the inside of a person’s mind and/or emotions. The inside of the home turned strange and threatening: the inside of the self exposed and forced into the light.)

Priest has a striking prose style—she’s immensely readable—and a chilling ability to write really unnerving scenes. One scene especially, where Dahlia is taking a shower in the Withrow house, and malevolent presence fills the bathroom along with the steam, is the kind of writing that leaves a physical sense of dread in its wake. It made me glad I was reading during daylight. The pace is tight the whole way through, with tension that rises peak on peak up to the climactic crisis.

I really enjoyed The Family Plot up until its final page. But on its final page… well.

[Editor’s note—in discussing the ending of the novel, this review does not go into specific details, but does comment on the way the novel ends in general terms which may constitute a spoiler for some readers.]

It’s a convention of screen horror—and I haven’t read much in the genre, but perhaps it is a convention of literary horror, too—to provide a sense of catharsis, relief, safety in a denouement and then, as its final act, take that away and leave the true fate of the main character(s), or the true outcome, both unresolved and—for the viewer—unresolvable. I’ve always felt, when it comes to narrative, that this final irresolution is a transparently manipulative device. It feels like cheating. And The Family Plot does exactly that.

That closing emotional trick means that in retrospect I don’t love the novel as much as, up to that point, I was expecting to. But it’s a really solid novel, and very entertaining: if haunted house novels are your thing, definitely check this one out.

The Family Plot is available now from Tor Books.
Read an excerpt from the novel here on Tor.com

Liz Bourke is a cranky person who reads books. She holds a Ph.D in Classics from Trinity College, Dublin. Find her at her blog. Or her Twitter.

Take a Journey Through the History of Stop-Motion Animation!




Filmmaker Vugar Efendi creates video essays to explore relationships between filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick and Andrej Tarkovsky, to see the ways images from art and sculpture crop up in movies, and to explore thematic elements n the work of director like Terence Malik and Alejandro Innaritu. Now Efendi has shared a montage that takes the viewer through a concise history of stop-motion animation, from silent films through the work of Tim Burton and Henry Selick.

[via Laughing Squid!]

In Praise of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Infamous “Reset Button”




A friend of mine who had never watched Star Trek in any form recently decided—my endless nagging may have contributed—to check out The Next Generation. Halfway through season two he asked me, “Why do the characters start each episode acting like none of the previous episodes ever happened?”

For our purposes that’s a good definition of the “reset button.” (Some might say it’s a “soft” version of the reset button. The “hard” version would be instances of timeline modification that actually erase the events we’ve seen, or something equivalent. Star Trek: Voyager was often accused of both types of resets—more on that below.) Accustomed to modern serialized shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Orphan Black and Breaking Bad, the fact that, for example, Picard could uncover a conspiracy at the highest levels of Starfleet (“Conspiracy”), or Counselor Troi could become pregnant with an alien (“The Child”), or Data could be “possessed” by an egomaniacal scientist (“The Schizoid Man”) and then never again address these experiences, was both perplexing and frustrating for my friend.

And yet TNG remains a beloved series, one that’s been painstakingly re-mastered and released in Blu-ray (2012-2015), and will surely be much celebrated next year, during its thirtieth anniversary.

Could the reset button be a contributing factor to the show’s success?

Form should follow function: When Paramount was considering the re-launch of Trek on television, neither NBC nor the Fox network “were willing to commit to enough episodes to justify the massive start-up costs involved.” [*] Eventually Paramount went with first-run syndication instead, but what’s relevant here is that having a large number of episodes per season was part of their business model. Successful in the ratings from the start, TNG (1987-1994) went on to air 178 episodes over 7 seasons. The show was not conceived with serialization in mind—quite the opposite—but imagine if it had been: heavy serialization over the course of that many episodes would have meant an exhausting amount of character changes, or the continual rotation of characters, or the kind of reliance on plot twists and reveals we associate with soap operas rather than primetime TV (not that TNG didn’t have its melodramatic, soapish moments, but I digress…).


Most serialized shows today have far fewer episodes per season than TNG. The first season of The Walking Dead, for instance, had 6 episodes, and the first season of Breaking Bad had 7.

One of the first science fiction shows that did feature heavy serialization was Babylon 5 (1993-1998), and even that ended after five seasons, or 110 episodes, because J. Michael Straczynski had essentially told his story. One of the results of Straczynski’s novelistic approach to B5 was that the tone of the show varied a lot less than TNG’s. It was also harder for B5 to gain new viewers as it progressed, since chronology was necessary to understand what was going on. With TNG, viewers could pretty much jump in at any moment. (That was my experience; I discovered the show in its third season and had no trouble following along).

And yet TNG did have some continuity—namely its characters. I like how Brannon Braga describes it: “To me, the show was an anthology show like The Twilight Zone, an opportunity to tell the kinds of stories I was really into, which were mind-bending things. This was a show where you could do anything.” [*] Thinking about TNG as an anthology show helps to highlight one of its strengths: its enormous range of stories, themes, and tones. Such diversity helped keep things fresh (mostly) over the course of 178 episodes.

Morality first: Braga’s comparison to The Twilight Zone is apposite for another reason. Just as that canonical show was heavily geared toward the exploration of moral quandaries, TNG also often foregrounded the morality of its stories. A serialized show, in which each episode works in a manner analogous to a chapter in a novel, will have a tougher time putting on a variety of individual “morality plays” than an anthology show, in which episodes are more closely akin to short stories. These can be expressly designed to highlight a particular issue or subject, and that was often the case with TNG (for example, “Who Watches the Watchers,” “Ethics,” “The First Duty,” and so on).

Psychology and adulthood: While this is still a hotly contested topic, some psychologists believe that our basic personalities don’t tend to change much after the age of thirty, and that while changes continue, they slow over time. I think it’s fair to say that over the course of several seasons of a TV show, many viewers basically remain the same, even if we undergo a few life-altering experiences during that time. Having TNG’s characters remain fundamentally the same throughout, despite their many adventures, could be one reason why it’s easy to empathize with them. Note: I’m not saying this raised the stakes dramatically or led to better storytelling, simply that it may have made it easier for the audience to grasp the characters and feel like they were relatable on an ongoing basis.


Getting out of bed in the morning: Seeing someone cope with all sorts of difficult experiences and essentially emerge undamaged can be refreshing, even inspiring. You watch TNG episodes like “Identity Crisis” or “Violations” or “Schisms” or “Frame of Mind” or “Chain of Command” and think, “If Geordi and Troi and Riker and Picard were able to come out okay from such apparently brutal experiences, I should be able to survive my 3 PM meeting with management on Tuesday.”

And if TNG doesn’t feel immediately realistic on these grounds, perhaps it’s because we’re unfairly judging the characters by our own limited standards. TNG is saying, “These are advanced, 24th century people. Look at what they can handle. They’re incredibly resourceful and resilient. They hardly ever succumb to self-pity, they continually focus on self-improvement, and no matter what, they keep trekking on. We’ll get there one day.” Escapist, sure, but unlike many of today’s serialized shows, which regularly threaten, traumatize, or outright kill their core characters, TNG’s approach is more optimistic and uplifting. It aligns nicely with Star Trek’s overall hopeful message about a utopian future, perpetuating the aesthetic that drew many viewers to Trek in the first place.

Voyaging home: One reason TNG’s “anthology” approach to storytelling probably didn’t serve Voyager well is that the two series’ fictional mandates were starkly different. TNG’s mission was, famously, “to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before.” We were explicitly told that in the opening narration. Voyager didn’t have an opening narration, but if it had, it might been something like “Fleeing from the perils of the Delta Quadrant, the U.S.S. Voyager leads a ragtag crew, on a lonely quest—for a shining planet known as Earth.” While TNG was conceived as an abstract exploration of endless possibilities, Voyager had a concrete mission: to safely get back home. Serialization or heavy continuity would have been a better strategy to chronicle Voyager’s epic journey, and I believe viewers were ultimately disappointed that the show didn’t take that approach. We’re back to function and form; these series had quite different functions, and yet were molded with the same form.

Ronald D. Moore has always been fond of continuity, but quickly learned that Paramount wasn’t a fan. He first found resistance to continuity while working on TNG. He recalls, for instance, that when he conceived the episode “Family,” Gene Rodenberry “didn’t like the continuity from “Best of Both Worlds” ” [*] But in retrospect, as I’ve been saying, it may have been to TNG’s benefit that continuity was played down.

Moore later tried to readjust Voyager’s course, but ultimately—and for complex reasons—left the show after a brief stint. Here is Braga again, with some telling comments: “Ron came aboard as a writer and—God, I have a lot of regrets—he came aboard wanting the show to do all sorts of things. He wanted the show to have continuity. When the ship got fucked up, he wanted it to stay fucked up. For characters to have lasting consequences. He was really into that. He wanted to eradicate the so-called reset button, and that’s not something the studio was interested in, because this thing was a big seller in syndication.” [*] In this instance, I think the studio made the wrong call. On the other hand, their decision indirectly helped bring the reimagined Battlestar Galactica into existence, so we can’t complain too much…


“Cause and Effect.” This popular fifth-season episode may be the ultimate triumph of the reset button. In the episode’s teaser the ship is destroyed, and then act one begins as though nothing’s the matter. The show manages to reset itself four times, embedding its own resetting (a “temporal causality loop”) into the story’s narrative structure, and doing it quite compellingly. (Viewers were apparently thrown off by this at first, and called in to ask if something was wrong with the broadcast.) This is one of Braga’s triumphs: he’s taken a storytelling constraint and turned into an engine of drama.

But beyond its craft and entertainment value, I think the show can also be read as a meta-textual commentary on the part of TNG’s writers. Data is able to utilize his advanced positronic brain to send a short message to himself across loops, one so subtle it will be undetected by the rest of the crew. Kind of like the writers smuggling in small bits of continuity across seasons without the Paramount execs catching on, don’t you think? Ron Moore: “We very much wanted to do more serialized storytelling, and we would try to sneak it in whenever possible. You have casual references to other episodes or events or other characters just as part of the fabric of the show, but you had to be careful.” [*]

By the time Deep Space Nine came around, some of those restrictions were lifted, but as mentioned, I don’t think Ds9’s approach would have been optimal for TNG, either. Ds9 deliberately went for a darker, grittier tone, and was constructed around a stationary, relationship-bound premise, rather than an exploratory, star-hopping one.

The future: Discussing Star Trek: Discovery, showrunner Bryan Fuller recently said: “I would strongly recommend that we never do 26 episodes. I think it would fatigue the show. Ideally I would like to do 10 episodes. I think that’s a tighter story.” The show’s initial season has been reported as having 13 episodes.

Gone is the reset button, clearly. But beyond that, can we infer that the show won’t be as uplifting or utopian as TNG? Will it focus less on individual morality tales and more on sequential character experiences? Will its characters be more traumatized? Perhaps. But that won’t necessarily be a bad thing. With sufficient craft and skill, Discovery might help to expand Star Trek’s parameters, and what it means to contemporary audiences. It’s a tall order, but even partial success could make for interesting viewing. Science fiction is inevitably a reflection of its own present, and 2017 will no doubt be very different from 1987. That’s one reality even the most far-flung spaceship can’t escape.

[*] Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman. The Fifty-Year Mission: The Next 25 Years: From The Next Generation to J. J. Abrams: The Complete, Uncensored, and Unauthorized Oral History of Star Trek.

Alvaro Zinos-Amaro writes fiction, of the non-tingler variety, and non-fiction, of the technicolor kind.

Do Stranger Things and Parks & Recreation Share A Universe?



Jean-Ralphio Saperstein hangs out with his dad, Steve Harrington

Stranger Things takes place in a fictional town in Indiana.

And Parks and Recreation takes place in a fictional town in Indiana.

Town rich kid (turned mostly nice guy) Steve Harrington sports towering, Everest-like hair.

Spoiled man-child Jean-Ralphio Saperstein also rocks high hair.

When the internet turned its flaming eye on surprise Netflix hit Stranger Things, it was quick to notice these connections, and soon a rumor sprang forth that Steve Harrington was Jean-Ralphio’s dad. And now, thanks to time travel (possibly via a Delorean, since that will continue Stranger Things’ ‘80s fetish) the two have met! And if you click through you can see Steve Harrington teaching Jean-Ralphio how to shave.

See? The resemblance here lies not just in their appearance, but that Steve Harrington, having just traveled through time to meet his adult son, would try to angle a perfect mirror-selfie to document this moment.

Steve HArrington teaches his son, Jean-Ralphio, how to shave

I can only assume that this was preparation for a stellar night out with Tom Haverford at Snakehole Lounge.

I’m going to go further: Looking at Jean-Ralphio, I also detect a resemblance to Nancy, Steve’s high school sweetheart. I’m going to work under the assumption that Jean-Ralphio is Steve  and Nancy’s kid, and that Steve and Nancy’s relationship went south sometime in the early ’90s. (Their divorce can be another classic Duffer Brothers Spielberg homage, after all.) Nancy moves to Pawnee for a fresh start, remarries, step-dad Saperstein legally adopts Jean-Ralphio, and now poor Steve, his guts churning with Glenfiddich and remorse, resorts to time travel to share a bonding moment with his estranged son.

It all connects, and I’m going to hope that it leads to a young Ron Swanson battling the Demogorgon in the next season of Stranger Things.

(Actually Ben Schwartz and Joe Keery just met up to do this fantastic photo shoot, and Schwartz posted said photos to Twitter, but I think the time travel version is more fun.)

[via Paste!]