Author: John Ostrander



We’re at something of a cultural crossroads.

On July 21, Saturday, the last new Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows, will be published. With this, J.K. Rowling completes her story and a literary phenomenon is completed. Yes, I know there are two more movies and scads of related tie-ins still to come but the story itself will be complete. We’ll know how it ends.

I have a mistrust of anything that labels itself an “instant classic.” It suggests adding water to a half-baked idea, mix, and you have something for the ages. For something to be classic, time must pass. The work must speak to more than one generation. In the 1920 and the 1930s, the detective Philo Vance was all the rage; today, virtually nobody has heard of him, let alone read him.

All that said, I do think the Harry Potter books have the potential to become classics, to be read and loved by future generations. There is a timeless quality to them; they create their own separate but accessible world; and – as with all truly great children’s literature – they are accessible to adults as well as children. I’m 58 years old; I write GrimJack and have written things like Wasteland. I’m a fan of hard-boiled noir detective fiction and, yes, I’m a Potter-head as well.

What is going to decide whether or not the Potter books become classics or not, I think, is going to depend on how author J.K. Rowling winds up the series. I have nothing but respect for Ms. Rowling; she went from being a single mother on welfare when she wrote the first Potter book to being worth more than the Queen of England as she winds up the series. By the end of the summer, they’ll have to start inviting her to G8 meetings. On a simple commercial level, the writer in me is in awe.

The writer in me also admires her clear-headed vision of herself and of her work. I’ve dealt with fans, my own and Star Wars fans, and while I love them I know how fanatical some can get. There can be this sense of identification with a work to where they can feel entitlement or ownership even above the creator his or herself. On a video, I heard Ms. Rowling address this and say, pretty close to verbatim, “Is it important to me what the fans think? Absolutely. Should it change one word of what I’m doing? Absolutely not.” For the record, I think Ms. Rowling is spot on.

As I was saying, however, whether or not the Harry Potter books go on to become a classic or a flash in the pan will depend on this final book – on how she winds up the series. That ending must satisfy everyone, young readers and older ones alike, who have made an emotional investment that spans years. That doesn’t necessarily imply a happy ending; the movie Casablanca doesn’t have a “happy” ending in that the two lovers, Rick and Ilsa, are together. But, boy, does the ending satisfy the viewer.

There’s been a lot of speculation about how the series will end. Word has it that two of the series’ characters will die and that one of them could be Harry Potter himself. Since this is my last shot at it before the book comes out, I’m going to chime in with my own opinions/speculations. WARNING: SAID SPECULATIONS WILL NECESSITATE REVEALING EVENTS THAT HAVE HAPPENED IN PREVIOUS BOOKS. IF YOU’RE NOT CAUGHT UP AND HAVE SOMEHOW AVOIDED LEARNING WHAT’S HAPPENED AND WANT TO LEAVE IT THAT WAY, GO READ SOMETHING ELSE. NOT THIS.


JOHN OSTRANDER: The Too-Late Review

JOHN OSTRANDER: The Too-Late Review

Okay, everyone’s already seen Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. It’s disappearing from the multiplexes and probably being replaced by the latest Harry Potter. I, however, just got around to seeing it recently and have some thought to inflict… er … share with you. And maybe a thought or two about writing as it pertains in the movie, I would say here there be spoilers, arrrh, but if you had any intentions of seeing the film, you’d have already done it. Just so you know – I can’t talk about the film without revealing part of its plot and if you want to remain unspoiled, STOP READING THIS COLUMN NOW.

OTOH, if you haven’t the film. . .well, IMO, you haven’t missed a lot.

The basic facts are these – just so we have common ground. This is the third in the series of films based upon a ride at Disneyland. That’s right – not based on a comic or an old TV show like all proper summer films should be; it’s based on a ride at a bloated amusement park. The films star Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, the feyest, drunkenest, and most conniving pirate to swash a buckle; Keira Knightly and Orlando Bloom as the young lovers; Geoffrey Rush in the first and third films as Sparrow’s opponent, Barbossa; Bill Nighy as Davy Jones and there’s lots of other good actors.

All three PotC films were directed by Gore Verbinski. All three were written by Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio although on the first one, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert also worked with the other two writers on the story. Jerry Bruckheimer is the producer of all three and that, I think, is an item of some importance that figures on my reaction to the latest film.

The latter two films in the series exist because the first one was so successful, far better than any film based on an amusement park ride had any business being. It was sharp, it was funny, it had great special effects and fights, a really cool element of the supernatural, memorable characters, lots of great lines, and came to a satisfying conclusion all the way around. Its success guaranteed a sequel and, inspired by Lord of the Rings, two sequels were shot at the same time to save money and make sure all the cast was back for both. And that’s where we start to get into trouble.

The first film really stands on its own but it was decided to make the next two films really one story. One very LONG story. And it suggests, through various narrative ties, that the three films are a trilogy. They’re not. The next two films add reverses and suggests deeper mythologies and do odd things with the characters. The second film plays off the enjoyment and goodwill the first film generated; it has some great set pieces in addition to adding some new characters – notably Davy Jones – but it starts to drag and ends with our favorite character, Depps’ Captain Jack Sparrow, getting dragged to his seeming death by a giant kraken. It ends with the promise of Sparrow’s possible return in the next film. (Of course he does. Depp’s Sparrow is the reason to see the films in the first place and no one is going to forget that. Especially not the studio,)

Then came what was, presumably, the concluding chapter in the “trilogy,” At World’s End, this summer’s installment. They forgot the fun in this one. The opening is rather grim; I’d call hanging a kid grim and it sets the tone for the rest of the very long film. The world doesn’t need a “serious” pirate story. Pirates stories are about colorful characters, high adventure, blazing action on the high seas. It can even be scary. It has to be, however. Treasure Island, Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk and the first Pirates of the Carribean movie are all great examples of that.

It’s also needlessly complicated. Everyone is betraying everyone or so it seems. Characters switch sides so often that you can’t keep track even with a scorecard. Why they were changing sides and even what they were after got lost or confused in the shuffle.

It also became entangled with a plethora of villains and this also makes things very complicated. Geoffrey Rush’s Captain Barbossa goes from being the villain in the first movie, to being dead and absent in the second film until the very end, to being something of an ally and a hero in the third film. In the second PotC film, Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones is the apparent main villain although by the end he has come under the control of Tom Hollander’s Lord Cutler Beckett, representing the East India Trading Company, who is really the master villain in the third movie and, by extension, the trilogy.

Elsewhere on ComicMix, Mike Gold has talked about the need that some films – especially comic book films such as the Batman and the Spider-Man films – to shoe-horn in as many villains as possible. It’s in evidence here as well and it’s just as sloppy and unworkable as in the comic book films.

For summer blockbusters and especially pirates movies, the KISS rule (“Keep It Simple, Stupid.”) really needs to in effect. In the first PotC movie, things are pretty straightforward. Captain Jack Sparrow wants his ship, the Black Pearl, back. The governor’s daughter on an English island in the Caribbean is kidnapped by the crew and the poor but honest swordsmith that loves her wants to get her back. She was kidnapped by jack’s former crew who got slapped with a curse from stealing a cursed treasure. They think the governor’s daughter is the one who will get the curse lifted. Boiled down, that’s it. And it works just fine as the skeleton on which to hang all the fun stuff that happens.

Nothing is that straightforward in POTC: At World’s End. To start with, it takes about 40 minutes to bring Captain Jack Sparrow back from the dead (I timed it). There’s no suspense in this – we all know that he’s going to be back. He’s front and center on all the movie posters. He was in the trailers. We know he’s coming back. The movie is not going to be about trying to bring him back. So why not just get it done and over in the first fifteen minutes? (Have I mentioned this is a lonnnnng movie? Twenty-five minutes longer than the original, coming in at close to three hours.) There’s a nice gag or two but nothing that should delay us that long.

After that we get everyone going after their own goals, backstabbing and betraying – or just seeming to betray – everyone else for reasons that remain murky to me. Story elements are introduced – i.e. the sea goddess Calypso – that we are told are going to be really important and turn out to be not so much.

Worse, we get a killing off of characters to which we’ve become attached and whose deaths make the movie glum. Jonathan Pryce, who happens to be a superb actor, and who plays Governor Swann, our leading lady’s father, is figuratively and literally wasted in this film. Jack Davenport’s Commodore Norrington is a rigid naval figure also in love with Keira Knightly’s Elizabeth Swann. In the second film he becomes a pirate and reverts, and then becomes a toady in this film and also killed. Worst of all, Orlando Bloom’s Will Turner, our male romantic lead, finally marries his sweetheart in this film only to be killed and made to take Davy Jones’s place as captain of the Flying Dutchman. I heard fellow movie goers grousing about it on the way out. “What was the point of all that?” my fellow movie-goer grumbled. My feelings exactly.

I’ve come up with a word to describe a flaw I find in some films – “Bruckheimered.” It’s named for the producer of this film and its symptoms show in it. When I use the term I mean a film in which certain events have already been decided upon at the beginning and the writer(s) must justify them, finding a way to connect them the way a child might do a “Follow the Dot” puzzle. You connect the dots and, hopefully, a picture of something emerges. It’s what fellow columnist Denny O’Neil has described as the “one damned thing after another’ plot. It may not be long on coherence or even internal consistency but it should entertain. When a movie has been “Bruckheimered,” I’m usually not entertained.

I’m not saying that every film Jerry Bruckheimer does is “Bruckheimered.” Obviously, I loved the first PotC film. He also done some fine work with shows I like such as CSI. But then he does stuff like Independence Day (don’t get me started). Plot is driven by events – big, noisy, and whenever possible, explosive. Narrative clarity or logic and character coherence appears to be way down the list of what is necessary.

No, I’m not part of the decision making process of Mr. Bruckheimer’s films and so I have no first-hand knowledge of this. I just see it more often in films he’s produced. I’ve worked with other writers to know that this can happen – to have an idea for a moment or a scene and to want to put it in whether it works as part of the plot or not. The results are the same as being Bruckheimered.

The story should never be about a scene, a line, an act, or even a character. The focus should always be on what helps to tell the story in the simplest, cleanest, and most entertaining way. That’s why writers have the phrase – “kill your darlings.” The “darling” is always that bit of writing that you love so much that you’re willing to twist everything else to keep it in. I want a film to tell me a story, take me on an experience. When spectacle becomes more important than narrative, a film has been Bruckheimered.

The end of PotC: At World’s End is not even a conclusion. They appear to be setting the stage for another movie – a search for the Fountain of Youth. Ostrander Rule – if you haven’t entertained me in the movie I’m seeing, I’m not going to be up for the one you’re planning next.

A good pirate movie should leave you exhilarated, pretty close to cheering, ready to sign on again. PotC: At World’s End didn’t. And where I come from, that be a keelhaulin’ offense.


Writer/actor/playwright John Ostrander knows a thing or two about writing pirate stories. Back in the day, he wrote Bloody Bess with actor William J. Norris. The play starred Joe Mantegna and Dennis Franz and was directed by Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon. Oh, yeah. He also writes a lot of comic books. It pays better.



It’s America’s birthday and what better way to celebrate than with fireworks? Yeah, I know – the Fourth of July was yesterday but if your neighborhood is anything like mine, people have been setting things off since last weekend and will probably continue through this weekend. So let’s see if we can set off a few here.

I hold these truths to be self-evident.

Item: Democracy is a radical experiment and one that could still fail. The notion that all men – and, as we have come to understand it, all women – are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights was certainly a radical notion in a world where the right to rule came by birth or by force of arms. Instead, we maintained that People could, should, and had the right to govern themselves and the right of any government to rule rested within the consent of the People. That’s just crazy talk – or so much of the world in the late 1700s thought. That was chaos – anarchy. Heck, it scares a lot of people today and that includes our own citizens, a lot of whom would be more than willing to trade freedoms (well, certainly OTHER peoples’ freedoms) for a little more security for themselves and their own. In the overall scheme of things, folks, two hundred twenty five years is nothing. We blow it and it’ll just be noted as an interesting aberration.

And we’re really close to blowing it. Voting is a pain and we can’t be bothered to turn out in real numbers even for the Presidential elections; we abide rigged elections and voting machines; we let ourselves be led like lemmings by polls and attack ads.

I’m not a political innocent; I was raised in Mayor Richard J. Daley’s Chicago. I know the difference between political theory and political reality. We, the People, increasingly vote for appearances rather than bother to look at issues. We assume that, because America has been around for two hundred years, it will be forever. History says the odds are way against that. We are an experiment and the results are not yet in, folks.


JOHN OSTRANDER: My Karma Ran Over My Dogma

JOHN OSTRANDER: My Karma Ran Over My Dogma

In my 25 odd (sometimes very odd) years in comics, I’ve had a chance to be associated with certain books/characters/concepts and produced work of which I’m very proud such as GrimJack, Suicide Squad, The Kents, Wasteland, and others. With some – such as GrimJack and Suicide Squad – I’ve had a chance to go back again recently and re-explore them which offers different challenges, new perspectives, but also familiar pleasures.

One series that I’m not certain I could revisit is The Spectre. At the time, the book was an examination of theological issues, questions of redemption and of punishment, and the concept of God. All along with some truly exemplary and horrific art courtesy of Tom Mandrake. It had a great run and is one of the highest points of my career, in my own opinion, but at the time I wrote it I was still something of a believer. I was a lapsed Catholic (for me, RC meant Recovering Catholic). I didn’t hold with the hierarchy or the theology of the Church but I guess I believed in the general outline – Jesus the Son of God, died for our sins, came back from the dead, and so on. Certainly I believed that sin existed and that redemption was something that was possible. It was from all this that my questioning in Spectre emerged.

These days – well, I’m more of an agnostic. I got my doubts. It began when I asked myself a basic writer’s question – who were the gospels and epistles written for at the time they were written? Who was the anticipated audience? Not us – they were very much written for their age. The Second Coming was expected within the audience’s lifetime.

From there I learned to see the texts in the social and political contexts of their time; these helped shape the writings as much or more than theology. Finally, I came to see that we project on God and or the Devil many of the things that are within us. Above all, I came to understand that the things in which I thought I believed were things that I inherited or that had been drummed into me (sometimes literally) when I was a boy.

Even in grade school, there were some questions. Sister Mary Tabernacle Door Half Open taught us that the Holy Trinity consisted of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – a bird. A dove, to be exact. As an image that made no sense to me. Shouldn’t it be Father, Son – and Mother? Didn’t that make more sense? S’ter (all the nuns had their names shortened down to an abbreviation of their rank – S’ter) was not amused and informed me that if I kept up that kind of thinking I was bound for Hell. Worse, I’d get sent home with a note to my mother which was a far more immediate peril and one that I understood on a deeper, primal level. Hell was a concept; my Mother was real. I stifled my heretical ways for a long time.

As a result, I’ve come to be very leery these days of dogma – stated beliefs of an organization or individual, religious or not, that are uttered with an authority that does not invite question or contradiction. It’s where thought processes stop. It is where truth is assumed to be obvious or ordained. I’m right because I say I am. I have either God or logic or something to back it up but there it is. These days, I’m seeing dogma all over the place including some I didn’t expect.


JOHN OSTRANDER: Backing Into The Future

The new Suicide Squad miniseries got announced this last weekend and noted by many, including here on ComicMix. The series was always a cross between Mission: Impossible and The Dirty Dozen and will be again. I’ve always tried to give it a “real world” feel, even going back to its origin. And sometimes the “real world” pulls a fast one.

When I proposed the Squad, there was some concern that the premise – that the U.S. government would hire bad guys to undertake missions considered to be “in the national interest” but needed deniability – seemed a little “out there.” In between the time that the proposal was accepted and we got our first issue out, Irangate broke – where the government was using bad guys etc etc – and made us look like pikers. It looked like we were cashing in on the story rather than inventing an edgy and daring scenario.

That continued through the Squad’s run. I would read the papers and try to extrapolate events from them, concoct possible and likely scenarios and try to fit the Squad around them, and the real world would get there around the same time the issue came out. I was successful enough at one point that a friend contacted me one January wanting to know where I was setting the Squad that summer. She was preparing her summer vacation plans and wherever I was sending the Squad she wanted to avoid.

In truth, I’m not much of a seer. I simply apply what I know from writing plots – formulating a sequence of events that would lead to a given event/moment and then extrapolating the most feasible series of events that might follow from said event. I apply this method to what I see in the world. Very useful in plotting or dealing with characters; a little scarier when dealing with real-life situations.

For example, a couple of weeks ago I did it in a column concerning the sudden death of bees. Others, such as Al Gore, are doing an admirably scary job looking at climate change (a.k.a. global warming). I remember once when I was teaching a writing class at the Joe Kubert School – yes, I was teaching writing to artists – I gave an assignment on scanning the future. We started from a given factoid: oil is not a renewable resource. At some point we will cross the line where we will have taken more oil out of the ground than there is left in it. Some speculate we either already have or will within the next ten years. At that point, oil has to start becoming a scarcer commodity. Given our current rate of consumption, there are some who think the oil will give out around 2030.

We started to explore what that would mean. Not just higher costs for driving your car or heating your home but what the impact would be in other areas. For example, as the cost of transporting goods goes up so does the cost of bringing in food outside the local area. Everything then costs more from the clothes you wear to the food you eat.

Plastics are made from petroleum and as petroleum becomes scarcer, the cost of plastics goes up. Think of everything – EVERYTHING – you use that depends on plastic use – on CHEAP plastic use. The cost, of course, gets passed on to the consumer. That’s a given.

With all this, I asked them to contemplate what happens geopolitically. As oil becomes scarcer and control of it literally dictates what happens to a country’s economy, who will do what in order to control access to the oil? I don’t mean just this country; there are up and coming players as well. Hungry players.


JOHN OSTRANDER: That’s A TV Wrap, Part 2

A couple of weeks ago I did a wrap-up of my opinions of some of the TV I watched this past season. I held back on two shows because they hadn’t yet ended their seasons or their runs and others were cut because the column was getting too blamed long. So I’m going to try to finish up and include some shows that finished their “seasons” a while back but are about to start new seasons this summer. Looking back is a way of looking forward. First, however, a quick look at two shows among my faves and that are linked.

The Daily Show/The Colbert Report. These two almost have to be discussed together. The “fake news show” and the fake news commentary show. I have to admit I watch the Daily Show more often than The Colbert Report. While I admire the latter, Colbert’s persona – a terrific send-up of right wing on air demagogues – gets a little hard for me to watch at times. It’s right on the money.

What I love about The Daily Show is there is a sense of moral outrage and while a lot of it is aimed at the Bush Administration – justifiably – a lot also goes right at the media itself. It’s a serious show that makes use of comedy and makes me laugh out loud more often than not. Jon Stewart is brilliant on a consistent basis and his gang of reporters – while not overall the best the series has had – has some truly shameless members like Samantha Bee.

Stephen Colbert was the “star reporter” for a long time on The Daily Show until they launched his spin-off show, The Colbert Report, a send-up of Bill O’Reilly and all the other right-wing, self-important blowhards doing commentary on TV and radio. I admire the show tremendously; so much of it falls on Colbert. Given the nature of the show, there isn’t a cast of “reporters” that he can fall back on. And there are truly gonzo moments that pop up, such as Colbert’s guitar showdown or the green screen challenge that featured Stephen with a lightsaber and invited viewers to finish it and submit their offerings. George Lucas himself came on the show as one of the two finalists – and lost. It’s just that some nights I’m just not in the mood. It’s me, Stephen, not you.

Doctor Who. This is no-brainer for me. I’m a long time fan and the new series brought me right in again. Christopher Eccleston did a fabulous job in Season One and now David Tennant is just as good in a different way as the latest incarnation of our time/space traveling hero. It’s not that every episode is brilliant or that every concept is the best; that was never the attraction. But for all the fact that the Doctor is a Time Lord from an alien planet, the show remains one of the most human of S/F shows and consistently celebrates humanity. I love it.

Eureka. I also love this show. The concept is that there is this small town in the Pacific Northwest which is the home for some of the most brilliant scientific minds in the country who live and work in a safe, supportive, small town environment. Rural weirdness ensues. Think The X-Files meets Mayberry RFD. The local garage mechanic also happens to be a genius-grade engineer. The new town sheriff is a regular guy, a U.S. Marshall who happened to come on the town and helped with one of their problems. The fact that he is just a normal Joe with no more scientific background than the rest of us makes him the perfect alter-ego for the audience who are also new to the place and, probably, not world class brains (I’m not). Colin Ferguson plays Sheriff Jack Carter; he has a deft comedic timing, along with being a good looking guy, that makes him not only a great lead but a solid anchor for the weirdness that goes on around him. The show combines humor, well thought out science fiction ideas, characterizations that take surprising twists and is, overall, terrifically well written. It attracted more viewers than anything other series on SciFi and the new season starts in July.


JOHN OSTRANDER: Overlooking the Obvious

Awards season is loose in comicland and I can already tell you what won’t be getting awards, this year or any other year. Anything that smacks of a licensed property. When I speak of a licensed property, I mean anything like Battlestar Gallactica, or The Phantom, or Buffy, or Conan. Or Star Wars.


And, yes, I write some of the Star Wars comics – currently my book is Star Wars: Legacy. If that sounds like a conflict of interest on my part or that maybe I have an axe to grind – so what? If there is one thing being in rotation with Michael Davis has taught me, there is no shame in saying your own name and being proud of what you do. Michael is my hero and my shining example. I intend to channel my inner Michael.


I’m as proud of my work on Star Wars as I’ve been of anything I’ve done in my career – and never more so with Legacy. We’ve jumped down the Star Wars timeline 100 years past anything that is being currently done in Star Wars, including the novels. We’ve imagined a whole new galaxy of characters and re-defined Star Wars, working from its past while making it open to newcomers.


But forget me for a moment. Wait – I’m channeling my inner Michael. Don’t you ever forget me but, in addition to me, there are other folk doing superlative work. My artist and partner in crime, Jan Duursema, is doing some of the finest work of her career and, given the amount of talent she has to begin with, that’s considerable. When a new Star Wars project is conceived, it usually takes a team of designers a year or so to come up with the look. Jan designed it herself (with Sean Phillips designing a lot of the ships) in less than a year while she was finishing work on our predecessor Star Wars title, Republic. She has a wonderful team of Dan Parsons on inks and Brad Anderson on colors and both of them contribute massively to the just straight out beauty of the books.


And it’s not just our book. Doug Wheatley does breathtaking work on Star Wars: The Dark Ages. Nor is it only Star Wars; Timothy Truman and Cary Nord have been doing stunning work on the Conan title. Nor is it only Dark Horse books; the number of books based on licensed properties is growing and coming from many different publishers. Their sales are increasing; the first issue of the new Buffy, the Vampire Slayer series cracked the Top Ten on Diamond’s list the month it came out.


So – where’s the love? Where’s the respect? Certainly, Legacy gets it from the Star Wars fans. I was out at Celebration IV about two weeks ago and it was in plentiful display. I find it frustrating that more general readers aren’t at least looking at the titles. These are just good comics, gang – good characters, good stories, lots of adventure, intrigue, great dialogue. And these are just in my comics. (Man, I’m loving channeling my inner Michael. Maybe I’ll call him John-Michael. Or is that too French?) The point is – they’re as good as or better than most of the comics out there. I’ll stand them up against anybody else’s willingly.



I just got back from Star Wars Celebration IV in Los Angeles and, boy, are my X-wing tired. (Bada-bump)

What follows are my impressions and meandering thoughts of the event and of Star Wars as well as the thirtieth anniversary of the first movie (now, perversely, Episode IV – A New Hope) is, well, celebrated. I came out as a guest of Dark Horse comics because my artist (and partner in crime) Jan Duursema and I have just completed the first 12 issues of our new SW comic, Legacy. Jan and I have worked other SW projects for DH for maybe seven years now and have managed to attract our own following.

The thing is – as I’ve written/said elsewhere and, if you’ve heard this before, feel free to skip this paragraph – I was a SW fan from before the first movie came out. I’d seen the novelization on the counter at my local comic book shop and decided to pick it up. It was a good, fast paced, fun read and I thought if they could get maybe half of what was on the page up on the screen, it would be a fun movie. For those of you under 30, this was back when the height of sci-fi special effects was 2001 or Dr. Who. Yeah, the stone age.

George Lucas, of course, got 200% of what was on the page up on the screen and melted my widdle mind. He changed not only sci-fi films and special effects, he changed summer releases, he changed the technology in the making of the films and invented modern movie merchandising. I mean, the studio gave those to him because they saw very little use to them. Today, the merchandising of the film rakes in more bucks than the film itself.

Every few years, a Star Wars Celebration takes place and they switch locales around the country doing it. This year the place was LA (appropriate perhaps considering the 30th anniversary) and the venue was the LA Convention Center. The place is huge but C4 bid fair to fill it. I was only out there two days so I can’t claim to have caught more than a sliver of it. I was doing several signings and a panel and the news I learned is closer to what I was involved in. End of caveats.

The Con was organized to a fare-thee-well. The staff knew what they were doing and, while friendly enough, stayed firmly in charge. Despite all that, there was a bomb scare during the opening ceremonies on Friday night. Oddly enough, the corridor in which people were standing to get into the ceremony space was evacuated but not the room itself. Of course, it turned out to be nothing but you almost can’t have an event like this without having something like that these days, can you?

The Con itself was the almost the size and density of the San Diego con and yet, at the same time, more intimate. I chalk that up to the fact that Celebration has a single theme/topic – Star Wars – and everyone is there because they love SW. They’d better; C4 admission wasn’t cheap and there was plenty of things inside on which to spend more money. Some of the media coverage was, predictably, condescending (along the lines of “Get a life!”) but within the Con was safe harbor. You could dress up and become an instant celebrity; if your costume was good, people would stop and want your photograph or to have their photograph taken with you. It was a large family.

There were some costumes that I saw or heard about that had a sly sense of humor. There was a Wookie about five foot tall, wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt and a cap, taking pictures everywhere as he went – Tourist Wookie. There was a stormtrooper who wore all the armor except the helmet. Instead, he had on a big plastic Burger King head like they use in those commercials of which I’m so fond. There was Stormtrooper Elvis – again, no helmet and the white spangled half cape Elvis wore along with the pompadour, shades, and sideburns from the 80s.

There was a lovely young lady in Slave Leia get-up who I saw in the lobby with a baby stroller. No, I don’t think the stroller was part of the look she was going for, but it was an interesting look nonetheless.


JOHN OSTRANDER: That’s A (TV) Wrap Part 1

It’s May which means, out in TV-land, it’s the final sweeps period of the season. Yeah, a few of the final shows have yet to air but I might as well look back on what I liked/disliked over the past season. This may not be what you watched, liked or disliked but, hey, it’s my column.

Battlestar Galactica. I finally succumbed and started looking in on the series. I’d been afraid that it would be too dense at this point, that there was too much backstory, to be accessible to late viewers like myself but I found I was able to pick things up as I went. Yes, it would be better if I knew more of the backstory and I plan on picking up the DVDs but I’ve gotten into the series. I’m not certain why finding Earth is such a good idea for these people or why so much of their culture seems to be very post-1940’s American culture but I’m willing to hang in and find out. Yes, I liked it overall.

Boston Legal. A tip of the hat to ComicMix head inmate Mike Gold for getting me to watch this series. Mary and I started watching late last season and it’s become one of our favorites. I was resistant because I’m not really a big David E. Kelley fan but this show causes me to laugh out loud. It makes brilliant use of some old pros – James Spader, Rene Aubenjois, Candace Bergen, and the simply amazing William Shatner – as it talks about current issues, goes consistently over the top, touches the heart and simply entertains me more than almost any other show in a given week.

Deadwood. Big fan of this show and I can’t tell you how pissed off I am that HBO didn’t let it continue. Yeah, they talked about two movies to finish it up but a) that’s not the same and b) I haven’t heard that those are actually going forward. Creator David Milch had said that the concept was the advance of civilization as seen through the focus of the town of Deadwood, South Dakota, originally a boom camp for the gold found in the hills nearby. Real historical figures intermingled with totally fictional creations much the same way real history was mingled with a lot of inventive writing (and serious profanity). It’s not a technique unknown to me; I did the much the same thing when I wrote my historical graphic novel The Kents. The show boasted some fine performances topped by Ian McShane’s incendiary Al Swearingen.

All that said, I have to confess that Season 3 turned out to be a disappointment to me. The through line was the gradual take-over of the town by George Hearst (given a dynamite performance by Gerald McRaney). Hearst was an actual historical figure, the farther of William Randolph Hearst who, in turn, was a model for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, and that was both the attraction and the problem. The actual Hearst himself never visited Deadwood, so far as my researches showed, although he did wind up owning several big mines there.

The problem in Season 3, for me, was that it was headed for an almost apocalyptic showdown between Hearst and his men versus the citizens of the town who, although usually at violent odds with one another, were brought together by a common threat. The season built in tension to what should have been a staggering climax and then – Hearst simply decides to leave town. Go on to his next location. The tension dribbles away.



I prefer not to tell my editors – including ComicMix’s own Mike Gold – how I spend my workday. They’re generally happier thinking my nose is always to the grindstone but, as the ever delightful Elayne Riggs has pointed out in her column this week, you can’t be writing 24/7 and that, sometimes, playing a video game helps clear and even focus the mind.

My Mary recently turned me on to a web-based game called Boomshine and I play it usually once a day. It’s a simple game: on the screen bounce a number of colored dots, like the ball in the old Pong game. They randomly float around, bounce off the borders, come back. There are twelve levels in the game and the number of dots bouncing around vary from five in the first level to sixty in the last one.

At each level, you can click only once and this creates an explosion – a boom, a circle of light. Boomshine. Any dot hitting that circle also becomes a circle of light and so on, often in a chain reaction fashion. You have a goal pre-set for you at each level of how many dots you must change, from one at level one to fifty-five at level twelve, before you can go on to the next level or complete the game. The goal is the minimum amount of dots that must change; you actually want as many changed as you can get to increase your final score. Your final score determines where – and if – you place on the list of daily/weekly/monthly high scores.

Music accompanies all this. There’s a vaguely New Age piano playing under the game or you can click the speaker icon at the start of the game and a single random piano note plays every time a dot changes, which is what I prefer.

The motion and speed of the colored dots are random and the “explosions” where they change to circles of light appear to affect this. It’s not really predictable and, outside of when and where you place your initial explosion, you have no control on what happens next. It just happens.

Like life.

I’ve found myself doing a form of meditation while playing Boomshine. I don’t do well with meditations that ask me to sit quietly and let my mind go blank and just open myself to the Universe. My mind has to be tricked. It has to think I’m doing something. There’s a whole series of meditations that are like that; I know them as “moving meditations.” My church has a labyrinth pattern where you walk a pattern in to the center and then out; the repetitive act of walking as I follow the pattern frees my mind. Same thing happens when I follow my walk around the block – at some point, my monkey brain shuts off and allows other thoughts to come. I’ve sorted out plots this way sometimes. Almost any repetitive act will do that.

As I’ve played Boomshine recently, some observations – perhaps insights – occurred to me.

You can try to plan when and where is the best spot to make the first “boom,” but the little dots don’t always do what you expect them to do. They slow down; the boom seems to send them away; they skirt the edge of the circle of light without actually touching it, without transforming, and escape. Control is an illusion. That thought touched another in my mind and – boom – another little explosion. That’s Iraq. Those who brought us into the situation thought they had it under control; they had a clear vision of how things were going to be. They still think they can make it what they will. However, there are all kinds of random elements at work and there is no control over those elements.