New “Who” Reviews: The End of Time, Part 1

So one of the reasons I stopped doing so many Doctor Who posts was that I was afraid I was turning this blog into a Who fan blog, which is probably somewhere between social media cat photos and top 10 lists about cats on the list of things the Internet does not need more of.  That was the main reason I gave myself, anyway.  In truth, I just really did not want to have to write about The End of Time.

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END OF TIME? More like, END OF MY DAMN PATIENCE!

We denizens of the Internet exist in the Golden Age of Nerdrage, so I feel like anything I say about how much I disliked “The End of Time” is already kind of meaningless.  But I’ve already delved into my feelings about the Russell T. Davies era here and I don’t want to launch some kind of “Steven Moffat rulez, RTD droolz” debate.  I simply don’t agree with some of the criticisms made about Moffat, especially the accusations that Moffat’s portrayal of the Doctor’s female companions has veered toward sexism, but there are some things that boil down to purely personal preferences and Moffat clearly had a very different vision for the show and the character of the Doctor than RTD did.  It’s inevitable that there will be many people who will prefer one showrunner’s vision over the other. Personally I tend to prefer the seasons made under Moffat, but there are episodes from the RTD era I enjoyed, just as there are episodes made with Moffat at the helm that I’d probably skip with future viewings.

All that said, I truly, genuinely, absolutely loathe “The End of Time,” to such an extent that whenever I hear fans complain about Steven Moffat, my only rebuttal is “END OF TIME!

Of course, I should start with the good.  Bernard Cribbins is more or less the companion for these episodes, and he’s a delight.  Enough said.  And I do like John Simm’s The Master, especially how he’s kind of an evil version of how David Tennant portrays the Doctor.  I don’t like what the writers do with the Master in this story – at all – but I do enjoy John Simm’s take on the Master for the most part.

…And I think that’s it.  As for what I don’t like…well, get a snack and make yourself comfortable.

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If the whole episode had just been Timothy Dalton talking while in full Time Lord regalia, my opinion would have been considerably more positive.

So like any would-be epic the first part is narrated – in full purple prose mode, no less – by Timothy Dalton who is dressed in elite Time Lord gear. I was tempted to put this in the plus column for this episode, but it’s really ruined by what goes down in part two. Plus Dalton’s narration makes less and less sense when you consider who he actually is and the people he’s talking to, but we’ll get to all that. In the episode’s defense I suppose we’re not supposed to think he’s narrating everything that’s going down on screen, even though the idea of Dalton with an epic tone narrating the Tenth Doctor getting felt up by an old lady (yes, this will happen) does make up for a lot. Also it’s not the goofiest thing that will go down even in just part one.

Since this is Russell T. Davies and apparently not a show that can take place anywhere and anywhen, it’s Christmas in contemporary London.  Bernard Cribbins, returning as Donna’s grandfather, is in a church where a mysterious woman in white discusses how the church was once the site of a convent the Doctor rescued in the Middle Ages.  Who is this woman and how is she connected to the Doctor?  We don’t really find out.  I get that one of the charms of Doctor Who is that the writers usually leave in some mystery and ambiguity surrounding the Doctor, but at the same time it strikes me as fairly pointless to introduce a mystery character, one who won’t appear again except maybe in the dubiously canonical spin-off fiction, and never even just strongly hint at who she is.  (Of course, personally I’m rooting on her being Susan, but I’m always for characters who disappeared decades ago making cameos in my fiction…).

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Later commentaries revealed that she’s actually just the Doctor’s landlord from that year in college he spent renting a basement apartment.

As is usually the case with RTD’s epics, we are assured by not only the Lady in White, but also the Ood and the fact that everyone on Earth has been having dreams of a laughing Master, that Something Big Is Going Down.  We’ve already had a mad scientist threaten to erase virtually all reality, so RTD has to resort to making the crisis as vague as possible.  Then there’s the Doctor’s personal crisis.  Having learned about his impending “demise” from both the Ood and the Magic Negro from “Planet of the Dead”, the Doctor has been hesitating to investigate what’s going wrong with reality this time.

To be fair, this reluctance is expressed through probably my favorite scene in the whole affair…

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How I like to remember the Tenth Doctor.

I really do mean it as a compliment when I say that I think the Tenth Doctor is at his best when he’s being an annoying tourist.

Of course, the last time we saw the Doctor he wasn’t worried about his mortality at all, just about becoming a megalomaniacal demi-god twisting all of the universe’s history to suit his personal ethics.  I don’t know if RTD just assumed his audience had the attention span of fruit flies or what, but this is yet another idea that actually would have been much more interesting if it had been developed slowly over the course of a season or a series of specials.  I know of fans that hated this twist in the Tenth Doctor’s character, the core argument being that it was out of character for the Doctor, especially since regeneration has been for the most part not treated like dying.  However, I can see how it could be a legitimate take on the whole concept of a species of aliens that can save themselves from the brink of death but at the cost of losing their original physical appearance and even some of their personality traits.  From the perspective of the Doctor himself, how is it not like death?  Again, though, like with the idea of the Doctor’s flirtation with godhood, it’s overshadowed by a dozen other plot threads and barely given room to breathe, much less grow.

Speaking of plot threads, while the Doctor visits with the Ood, he notes that their society is evolving much faster than it should.  And no, this isn’t brought up again or has any bearing on anything whatsoever.

Instead the focus turns on Lucy Saxon, the Master’s wife.  She’s been kept imprisoned for shooting the Master, who even though the reset button was slammed on his near-destruction of the Earth way back in “Last of the Time Lords” was still remembered as the Prime Minister of Britain by the world and was still “assassinated” by Lucy and…well, to be honest this makes less sense than a film adaptation of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” as directed by David Lynch.  There’s something about a cult that practically worships the Master even though his reign over Britain and then the Earth was at least 95% erased from history as far as 99.999999% of the human race is concerned, and they need a DNA sample from Lucy to bring the Master back to life, and when they do so they have Lucy present at the site of the resurrection even though they have no reason to do so and it’s actually a really bad idea as they find out the hard way, and even though the whole ritual of resurrecting the Master is spoken of in scientific terms it’s conducted like a Witches’ Sabbath, and Lucy throws some kind of potion, which she says her “contacts” helped her make even though she’s been in a secret and highly guarded prison this whole time,  into the cauldron over which the Master is being resurrected and it causes a huge explosion.

Oh, and yeah, except showing how the Master returns, all of that Adds Nothing To The Plot.  We’ll be talking about ANTTP quite a few more times before we’re done.

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Even the Master would admit a Time Lord can’t parse out and explain the plot holes in that one scene I described above.

Oh yeah, and because of the botched resurrection the Master is cursed with a ravenous, even cannibalistic hunger (along with the drum beat we learned about in “The Sound of the Drums” and “Last of the Time Lords”), but he also has superpowers, like being able to shoot lightning like Emperor Palpatine and leap really high like the Hulk (or Wonderella).  Now you might think, okay, this means RTD is trying to set up the Master as a new kind of threat.  But, guess what, aside from a scene where the Master randomly kills some homeless people because why not, it’s all ANTTP anyway!

Well, at least on my part, it did make me wish the Master would go back to shrinking people into dolls.

The Doctor does try to prevent the Master’s resurrection, and we get dramatic shots of him running to the TARDIS to do so, but despite being a time traveler he’s still too late because who the hell knows.  He continues to present remarkably bad timing for a Time Lord when he also fails to stop the Master from being abducted by mercenaries hired by the billionaire Joshua Naismith, whose only characteristics are that he’s got more than his fair share of rich British smarminess and that he has a vaguely incestuous thing going on with his daughter Abigail, whose own only characteristic is that she apparently likes to randomly say “Abigail – it means Beloved of God!” in conversation.

You’d think that sinister human agencies kidnapping a Time Lord, who has near perfect knowledge of all history past and future and of all the secrets of the universe, would be compelling enough for an end-of-the-season plot.  But, no, it turns out that the Naismiths just want the Master to fix some alien device they think can grant immortality.  Is this, and not the thing about time running faster or the Master getting resurrected by his very own secretive, all-powerful cult, supposed to be the main plot?  The truth is, Part 1 of “The End of Time” doesn’t really have a main plot.  In fact, I think the Tenth Doctor himself would describe it as a wibbly wobbly ploty-boty stuff full of crappy, dull, and nonsensical subplots that don’t go anywhere.

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They too are wondering why they’re here.

Honestly, the only one of this episode’s many plot threads that actually gets any momentum is Bernard Cribbins, disturbed by his visions of the lady in white, enlisting his elderly pals to find the Doctor to warn him.  This leads into what is easily my favorite scene out of the entire “End of Time” saga, where the Tenth Doctor is harassed by a crowd of elderly people.

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The Doctor faces a threat greater than the Cybermen or the Sontaran Empire.

But, even so, this only highlights yet another problem I have the whole affair: the comic relief here is just as or even less goofy than the supposedly serious plot developments that are going down.

Finally, we get to subplot #2389-D4:  the return of Donna.  She’s engaged to a guy who I think gets two lines of dialogue, and the Doctor can’t even talk to her because she’ll supposedly die if she remembers their travels together.  It’s at this point that I think RTD meant to troll fans like me.  “Oh, so you liked Donna as a companion more than you liked Rose?  You’d much rather have a companion who’s female but isn’t romantically interested in the Doctor at all, eh?  Well then, how about I bring Donna back one more time…but she and David Tennant can’t even share a scene together.  BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, YOU FOOLS!!!!”

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Catherine Tate somehow captures my expression the first time I watched “End of Time.”

The hundreds of plots finally start to a coalesce, more or less, once the Doctor and Bernard Cribbins set out to save the Master from the Naismiths – or vice versa, really.  Once they’ve infiltrated the Naismiths’ lair they come across yet another subplot in the form of an alien couple who have been sent to retrieve the technological device in the Naismiths’ possession.  In the meantime, they’re working undercover as human scientists until the device is repaired and they can leave with it.  Now exactly how and why they expect to be able to abscond with it especially now that the Naismiths believe it’s the key to immortality, and especially since they apparently can’t just teleport it off the planet, you may be asking?  Actually, by now you probably already resigned yourself to the fact that there’s more plot hole than plot here.

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Yeah, I don’t get why we’re here either.

The aliens tell the Doctor that the device is intended to heal people on a planet-wide scale, using a basic genetic template.  This sets off the Doctor’s alarm bells and he rushes to stop the Master from finishing his “repairs.”  Unfortunately, for at least the third time this episode, he’s much too late, and the Master uses the device to do something so dastardly, so devastating, so silly that you’d think you were reading a Silver Age Superman comic:  he transforms the entire human race into clones of himself, which of course he christens the “Master race.”

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Well, at least I’m sure this is somebody’s flash fic fantasy brought to the small screen.

So this is where I have to make a disclaimer that I know Doctor Who is the softest of sci-fi, and that it’s practically a fantasy show, and this is the same program where the most iconic alien villains have plungers for hands, but…this still feels like that ’60s Batman story where Batman is turned into a toddler and still fights crime, you know?  Like someone’s deliberately trying to take a show that has complete disregard for the “suspension of disbelief” and still make people think they’re watching some kind of avant gardeMonty Python-esque satire?

To be fair, John Simm does sell it with flair.  I’m not ashamed to admit I still get a chuckle when Obama-Turned-Master announces “I’m President!  President of the United States!  Look at me!” and is applauded by a room full of himself.  And despite the silliness he still does present the Master with some low-key menace.  Still, this is another case where I wish RTD held back some and, like with making the Daleks a threat without giving them the capacity to blow up the entire multiverse, just have the Master force humanity into a hive mind controlled by him.  As much as I love the visuals of John Simm dressed in the clothes of dozens of extras, I think I would have much preferred the chance to see countless characters playing as the Master.

The Doctor saves Bernard Cribbins from being “Master-fied” by locking him into a radiation chamber.  Donna isn’t affected because she’s still part-Time Lord, which honestly  most writers would treat as a bigger deal than it is treated here but hey I’m not the one the BBC paid big bucks. As the Doctor scrambles to do anything and Donna is threatened by her own “Master-fied” family, Timothy Dalton promises the viewer that the Time Lords have returned!

I’ll get into more of this next time, but let me just say…if only.  

What I dislike most about this story is that it feels like pure sleight of hand, although I write that with hindsight.  It promises some kind of change to the status quo beyond even the Doctor entering his eleventh incarnation, but – spoilers – it doesn’t happen.  However, I’m really getting ahead of myself, so join me next time for Part 2!

Trash Culture Literary Corner Special: What the Hell, Orson Scott Card?!

Today we’re going to get a bit controversial, or at least be more controversial than debating the merits of Generation One Transformers episodes versus the Gobots cartoon series.

I personally don’t really feel strongly one way or the other about the Ender’s Game movie and the attempts to boycott it.  On one hand, I am one of the people Card would have labelled mentally ill or imprisoned for being gay and I personally would never want to give him enough money to get a soda from a vending machine.  On the other hand, I am also a big fan of H.P. Lovecraft, whose racism was considered excessive by his correspondents even by the standards of 1930s America.  Granted Lovecraft is safely dead while Card is very much alive and still raking in profits from his well-established name, but regardless I’d feel like a hypocrite for decrying anyone for getting some joy and perspective from an author’s works despite how downright vile and personally threatening the author’s personal beliefs may be.

All I really want is that people, no matter which side they take, are aware that writer Orson Scott Card’s views on homosexuality go just a tad beyond just opposing same-sex marriage.  For example:

The dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.

It’s that desire for normality, that discontent with perpetual adolescent sexuality, that is at least partly behind this hunger for homosexual “marriage.”  (Source).

Or this gem, from way back in 1990:

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.  (Source).

All that said, there are people who have been profoundly moved by reading Ender’s Game or Card’s other works and feel that it taught them lessons that are actually counter to the bigoted sentiments expressed in Card’s own words above.   So if you do want to pay to see the movie, do so;  no boycott, however successful, is going to change Card’s mind or overturn his position as one of the grand gurus of American science-fiction.  All I wish is that everyone who cares about the issue is aware of why so many don’t want to see their money go into his bank account.

So with that, I want to take the opportunity of this controversy to do something I’ve wanted to do for over a year now;  well, besides having an excuse not have to talk about that damn Worlds of Power book.  Let’s look at one of Card’s more recent works, and see just how much his…unique views on sexuality have seeped into his fictional writings.  This is “Hamlet’s Father,” which was written for an anthology of ghost stories published in 2008.  It received some ridicule here and there on the Internet, for perhaps revealing a bit too much of what Card thinks about homosexuality.  But how ham-fisted is it really?  Well, that’s what I’m here for.

So we when we start we see Card is taking a similar revisionist line to John Updike’s Gertrude and Claudius (heartily recommended, and I’m anything but an Updike fan, by the way).  Hamlet’s father is an inept king and a coarse jerk besides, while Claudius is a tactful, intelligent man whom Gertrude, forced into a typical dynastic match, can’t help but fall in love with.  Still, the story is told through Hamlet’s perspective, and there’s a darker secret hanging around Hamlet in his adolescence than just his father’s royal incompetence.  See, the teenaged noblemen that Hamlet is surrounded by keep going off on hunts with Hamlet’s father, while for some mysterious reason Hamlet is never invited.  This includes Horatio:

Hamlet made a noise, so Horatio would know someone was coming.  Thus when Hamlet came around the corner, Horatio was not crying at all, though his eyes were red and his nose was red and a little snotty, as was his sleeve.

“How was the hunt?” asked Hamlet.

Horatio tried a little smile.  “I’m sorry to go, when I know you wanted to.”  […]

“We got lost,” said Horation.  “We didn’t rejoin the hunt until on the way home.”  […]

“You must have been sorry, though to miss the kill.”  Horatio almost sobbed again.  “I am very sorry to miss it,” he said, as soon as he had control of his emotions again.

Okay, I know you probably already figured it out, unless you grew up in a convent – and a convent run by nuns who would make Julie Andrews from The Sound of Music look jaded and world-weary by comparison – but let’s look in on our Laertes:

Hamlet’s tone had been jesting, but the darkness that came upon Laertes’s face was almost painful.  “What is it?”  “Hamlet, I beg you, before you go, ask your father to send me away.  To France…”

Before I get much further, let me clarify:  I am absolutely convinced that Card is a very good writer, even long after his Ender’s Game heyday.  He has a knack for a narrative that’s expressive and vivid yet brisk.  When his characters are meant to be seen as “wise,” they do sound like they’re quoting from a prepared sermon or lecture rather than like human beings who are just speaking in a casual conversation, but he’s far from the only writer guilty of that quirk.  It’s just that the entire first part of this story is mostly about, believe it or not, Hamlet’s father might just be sexually molesting all these pretty, athletic teenagers he’s surrounding his son with.

Granted we do find out more about Hamlet’s character – he’s sullen and envious, basically – and about his relationship (or lack thereof) with his father, but all the “hints” are just so distracting in much the same way a kid punching your arm while chanting, “Is this bothering you?  Is this bothering you?” can be.  And I get that this may have been intentional.  Card is trying to make the point that Hamlet has been sheltered all his childhood and has only seen as much of the world and humanity as his father allowed.  Maybe Card is even trying to draw a gap between what a modern reader would immediately pick up on and what someone in Hamlet’s time and position could understand. Even then, Hamlet just comes across as dense.  He doesn’t even wonder why Horatio has been sobbing.

Anyway, the story finally gains some momentum when Hamlet learns from his father that he’s to be sent to receive an education at a university in the Holy Roman Empire (Germany, basically, more or less; go read up on your medieval European history!).   After trying to get Gertrude to support Laertes’ plea to leave for France, Hamlet says goodbye to his mother and they have this exchange:

“You’re a better son than your father and I had any right to hope for,” she said.  “It’s a well-kept secret from my father.”  “You do not know what you do not know,” said Mother.  “Your father has loved you better than you think.”

So, yeah, Hamlet’s father sends Hamlet away because he’s afraid that now that Hamlet has passed puberty he’ll just have to rape him. That’s a little strange, if only for revising Hamlet and his father’s entire relationship to be about potential rape,  but it still doesn’t completely set off my official alert system for these types of things:

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The morning after discovering that Claudius was in his mother’s bedroom hiding behind a tapestry (here Card actually does practice some subtlety, as he leaves it up to the reader to guess if Claudius and Gertrude are having an affair, at least for now), Hamlet leaves for Heidelburg.  There Hamlet studies until he learns his father had died and the nobles of the realm elected not him, but Claudius, to succeed him.  Also Claudius had already married his mother, which shocks Hamlet, but not as much as not getting the throne.  I think this is the part of the story I like most so far, as Card does a good job of portraying Hamlet’s ambition and frustration without squandering the reader’s sympathy or clashing with his previous characterization of Hamlet as bright but naive.  At least the story has stopped being about implied child abuse.

Hamlet has gotten past his thwarted ambition and has resigned himself to being a scholar and perhaps a member of the Church.  At least until that faithful night when Horatio tells Hamlet about a ghost he has seen…

“Murder and usurpation, treason and adultery,” said the ghost.  “I live now in hell.  Will you have all Denmark join me there?  Avenge me, and purify this kingdom.”

Hamlet is skeptical, and debates with his father’s spirit over whether or not Claudius really did murder him, Gertrude truly cheated on him, and if his father ever loved him.

“Why did you wait?” whispered Hamlet.  “Why did you keep me at such a distance?”

“I would have coddled you.  Spoiled you.  I needed you to be a man of firm resolve.  Strong, cold-blooded as a King must be, and yet I knew I injured you.  Even that was a gift to my people:  Out of your anguish would come your compassion.  A just and merciful judge you would have been, but now you are supplanted, as I was supplanted.”

This is really where Card’s lack of subtlety causes the story to derail.  We know what Hamlet’s father has done (again, unless you were raised in that hypothetical convent), so readers won’t trust the ghost’s side of the argument.  The reader is kept two steps ahead of the story’s own protagonist.

Eventually Hamlet’s father plays on Hamlet’s sense of filial obligation and gets him to swear to avenge him.  Of course, the ghost’s story looks more and more implausible.

“Garden?” asked Horatio.  “He told me he lay sleeping in the garden.”  “I didn’t know that,” said Horatio.  “I thought they found him in his bed.”  “He said the garden,” said Hamlet.

Subtlety is spelled with O-S-C here!

Now I haven’t been discussing the original play, but I will point out that there have been critics who have argued that the reason the play is so compelling is its portrayal of Hamlet’s madness, whether it’s coming from the demands placed on him by his father’s ghost, an existential crisis, or (as one critic argued) Shakespeare’s depiction of what we now call bipolar disorder.  What’s happening with Card’s Hamlet?

It was almost fun, and certainly exhilarating, to feign a bit of madness and watch them all hop. […] I’m a coward, that’s what my madness is about, to delay the day of action, and then delay some more.

So he’s going to take one of the most famous psychological portraits in all of English literature and interpret it as, to put it in twenty-first century terms, faking it for the lulz.  That’s…one way to do it, I guess?

Speaking of madness, Ophelia does get mentioned and eventually shows up, but she never gets any dialogue.  Hamlet’s narration does mention he could conceive of marrying and having children with her, so at least she does help prove Hamlet is heterosexual.  But guess who isn’t heterosexual, according to Horatio…

“[Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are] not the friends that I remember.”  “Things changed in the four years you were gone.  When the Companions were dissolved at your parting, they decided not to dissolve themselves.  Living four years together on Guildenstern’s estates has made them as fusty and peculiar as an old married couple.  I pity the woman who tries to wed her way into that house.”

So, yeah, two of the nobles Hamlet’s father sexually abused are now living together as a married gay couple.

I hate to say this, Orson, but I’m afraid you’ve forced me to heighten the alert.

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Card rushes a bit through the next two parts of the play:  Hamlet mourning Yorick, his confrontation with his mother and his murder of Polonius while he’s hiding behind the tapestry, and Ophelia’s suicide.  And no, we never get Card’s take on the “to be or not to be” soliloquy or the “Get thee to a nunnery” line (Hamlet does at one point misogynistically compare women to pudding as food you take your fill of and throw away, which may or may not be way more sexual than Card intended).  For that matter, Claudius never tries to kill Hamlet by having the King of England execute him and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are never captured and killed by pirates.  Whatever issues Card has while writing this story, at least he does leave Rosencrantz and Guildenstern living happily in a castle somewhere in Denmark.  Maybe they even open up a bed and breakfast.

Another revision Card does take is having Horatio imply that Laertes had been practicing as a swordsman because he wanted to kill Hamlet’s father for abusing him (although even now toward the end of the story it still is only all but spelled out) and assumed he’d have to fight Hamlet, who starts the story as a naturally talented swordsman, to do it.  There’s no poison in any wine or on any sword either; only a reference from Hamlet who says, “The only way I’ll die is if you poisoned your blade and some of it spills on me.”  In Card’s version, Hamlet simply stabs both Claudius and Laertes to death, which causes Horatio to reveal one of the weirdest plot twists in a reinterpretation of a Shakespeare play this side of Xena versus Anthony and Cleopatra (okay, that doesn’t actually exist…I think).

“Oh God!”  cried Horatio.  “O God, how could you punish them all for my sin!”  “Your sin?”  said Hamlet.  “I killed your father!”  […]  “He lied!  The old bastard lied!”  cried Horatio.  “Why didn’t you tell me what he said?  I would have told you.  I thought you knew the truth – I offered to let you kill me right there in the garden!  I thought you understood!”

“Offered?  But I never – why would you kill him?”

“Because he was evil.  Because of what he did to us.  All of us.  the Companions.  All the boys but you!”

Oh, and if you didn’t pick up on the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern thing…

“It twisted us.  I saw it in the others.  Rosencrantz and Guindenstern, they could never look at women.  Laertes – he told me, even before he left for France, that his stick was broken and would never grow again. [?!?!]  And me – I thought I was all right.  I thought…”  He broke down and wept.  

But we’re not done yet!  So it turns out that Gertrude once caught Hamlet’s father molesting him as a baby (which shows that Card doesn’t know the difference between a pedophile and someone who molests boys after puberty, but that’s really the least of our issues here, I think…).  She threatened to tell the nobles that their king was a latter-day Tiberius (my words), but (somehow) never figured out that he was molesting “the Companions.”  Horatio continues:

“Too late,” echoed Horatio.  “A few months ago, a new page came to the castle.  I taught him.  He followed me everywhere like a dog.  I delighted in his company.  And then one day I found myself…I had him naked, I was telling him how a boy shows love to his friend and teacher…the words your father used, the very words.”

And Gertrude does pull out some poison and kills herself, but not before saying farewell:

“I love you, Hamlet,” she said.  “I tried to protect you.  Horatio did only what I should have done.  What the law of God demanded.”

I’m guessing that’s a reference to Leviticus, so, there you have it, any guy who wants to “lie with men” is either a molester, was molested, or both!

Alright, Card, in these few pages you’ve already shown more bizarre and simply wrong ideas about human sexuality than a dozen Oral Roberts University textbooks.  You can’t possibly…

[Hamlet kills himself after refusing to kill Horatio and instructing Horatio to let the invading Fortinbras, King of Norway, unite the kingdoms of Norway and Denmark.]  Then Hamlet’s body slumped onto the floor.  But his spirit did not go where his body went.  His spirit arose and looked around the hall.  To where Laertes’s spirit held his father’s and his sister’s hands; then they arose into heaven.  To where his mother and Claudius, bright spirits both, embraced each other, and also rose in the air, toward the bright light awaiting them.  And finally to the dark shadowy corner where his father’s spirit stood, laughing, laughing, laughing.  “Welcome to hell, my beautiful son.  At last we’ll be together as I always longed for us to be.”

Yes, you might be tempted to  look at that passage a dozen times, possibly more, but, yes, Card just ended his version of “Hamlet” by having Hamlet condemned to Hell where his pedophile-ephebophile-homosexual-whatever father will rape him for all eternity.

At the risk of making a pun…

terroristalertlevelwithcardatred

But, yeah, this is kind of why some people don’t want to pay money to see Ender’s Game.  

 

Non-Nostalgia Reviews: The Sandman: Overture #1

sandmanoverture

DC Comics has been on a bit of a nostalgia kick lately, with prequels for Watchmen and now a new prequel for The Sandman. Luckily, unlike the Watchmen prequels, The Sandman: Overture is being written by the original creator, Neil Gaiman, himself.  Also, while it’s possible that the main reason this is coming out now about twenty years (God that’s depressing) after The Sandman concluded is that Neil Gaiman got a call from an editor, Gaiman has been discussing a possible prequel in interviews as early as the ’90s.  From what I understand, the two possibilities being openly mentioned were a series about how Delight of the Endless became Delirium or a story explaining why an occultist was able to imprison a virtually omnipotent being like Dream in the first place, the event that began the Sandman saga.  This series, much to the disappointment of some fans I’m sure, is about the latter (but, who knows, maybe some clues about the former will show up as well)…

It’s 1915, and Dream of the Endless is diligently (and ruthlessly) attending to some of his responsibilities as the personification of the act of dreaming.  Suddenly he does what would normally be unthinkable:  stopping in the middle of carrying out in the task.  Something is calling him, a summons so powerful that even a fundamental force of sentient existence can only barely delay answering it.  Longtime readers might assume it’s all because of a quasi-crackpot, quasi-sorcerer in London, but the answer is something a bit more cosmic…

Part of the problem with prequels is their preoccupation with filling in the gaps that only diehard fans really focused on  It’s too soon to tell if The Sandman: Overture will fall into that trap too, but I will admit I was concerned when I heard that the impetus of the prequel is to explain how Roderick Burgess was able to capture Dream in The Sandman #1.  However, it’s clear that this is a story Gaiman wants to tell, and if the main motive is to elaborate on some backstory this issue also ends with Gaiman potentially explaining one aspect of the Endless’s existence that readers of The Sandman have tended to ponder, which I can’t contemplate myself in this space without giving a lot away already.

The art by J.H. Williams III is, of course, gorgeous, whether it’s painting an alien world populated by sentient plant life or a dream of a dreary London office.  As for Gaiman’s script, for this long-time fan of The Sandman it hits all the right notes.  Skeptical readers might worry if the series will succumb to another dreaded problem with prequels, cameo-itis, but while there are a lot of familiar faces even in the first issue all of them carry on the plot.  Still, I hope we will get to see some new characters to add to the already rich Sandman mythos.

As with all reviews of just the first issue of a comic series, this is basically just the review of the first chapter of a novel or the first fifteen minutes or so of a movie.  Nonetheless, I just wanted to add my own little voice to the deluge of promotions for this, especially for those who might be reluctant because of certain well-publicized and infamous…missteps that the management at DC have made recently.  All that aside, despite some recent successes like American Vampire, the Vertigo line, which I have a great deal of fondness for since it played a huge role in teaching me that the medium can do so much more than just superheroes, has been floundering.  Here’s hoping that, much like how The Sandman helped make Vertigo what it was back in the day, The Sandman: Overture can revitalize the line.

Trash Culture Literary Corner: Worlds of Power: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest: Chapters 14-15

It’s Halloween!  What kind of sublime horrors do we have in store?

Several hours later, in the middle of the Aljiba Woods, Tim Bradley’s satchel – the one with all the chocolate – flew away and splashed into the center of a quicksand pool.  It sank without a trace.  Tim, who had just fallen flat on his face after tripping over a root in the path, watched all this with a horror approaching panic.

Well, at least it’s a different kind of horror…

By this point F.X. Nine really starts spinning his discount gears and just going down a checklist of things in the game,  Simon finds an invisible wall that hides the Sacred Flame item and buys a chain whip, things that at least I vaguely recall do happen in the game, so there’s that.  Seriously, though, I miss the spirit and verve the book had in the beginning, when Simon was cornering middle schools in bathrooms.  At least I could make easy yet rewarding pedophile jokes then.  

“Just over here, I think!”  called Simon.  He stepped quickly down the cobblestones, holding up his torch.  The illumination showed a sign depicting a vampire with long fangs, pointed ears, a bat on his shoulder – and an red [sic] NO sign stamped over him  “The Ye Olde Anti-Vampire Shoppe,” Simon explained.  “Come in with me, Tim.  We’ll get some things we need here.”

See what I have to work with?  What can you expect, a five-page treatise on why saying “The Ye Olde” is completely incorrect?  The humor in this book makes me yearn for the subtle gags surrounding Simon Belmont in Captain N.

When there aren’t crappy jokes that would make even a ten-year old whose entire repertoire consists of fart jokes, Simon and Tim just run into an ally, easily get an item or weapon that’s a big reference to the game but doesn’t add to the plot in any obvious way, run into another ally, easily get another item or weapon, rinse and repeat, ad nauseam, for a hellish eternity, sans fin.  

Seriously, I’ve said it before, but I honestly got nothing, so let me repeat:  would it have been really that hard to write a kid-friendly horror yarn?  Whatever you think of R.L. Stine, he was able make a career out of doing exactly that.  Scholastic still publishes a ton of G-rated horror, including one book with the completely, objectively fantastic title of Professor Gargoyle:  Tales from Lovecraft Middle School.  Couldn’t we have had something like that, instead of Tim’s Orgy of Puns and Lame Jokes?

Well, in these two chapters Dracula’s spirit does show up in the form of a young girl named Melanie (totally a name you’d hear in Orange County as well as a place that’s supposed to be modeled after sixteenth century Transylvania) who of course has “dark eyes and dark hair,” because all black-haired people (myself included) are avatars for ultimate evil (I was being sarcastic especially because recent scientific research has indicated that’s gingers).  In most fiction the “villain tempts one of the protagonists” is a perfect opportunity to explore the hidden depths of a character.  Here, we’re just reminded for the 657,991st time that Tim really likes chocolate.   Seriously, Dracula tries to seduce a middle schooler with chocolate.  Count, I have to tell you, this is your worst showing since that time you lost your reincarnated wife to Keanu Reeves.  Seriously, you could have just picked  a random middle-aged guy who drives around in a van and spends his lunch hour near an elementary school and gotten some tips from him.

“You will be my friend, won’t you?”

“Sure.  Why not?”

“Here, would you like a piece of chocoate?”  

How does Tim see through the charade?  Not because Gargamel had more elaborate and sophisticated ruses to trick the Smurfs, but because…there’s no chocolate in Castlevania.  

“Impossible!  Nobody resists the temptations of Dracula!”

If you think this dialogue sounds corny and unrealistic, well, I say the exact same thing after a bad first date.

We’ll wrap this up next time, and finally put this curse to rest.