The Villain’s Sidekick 2nd Anniversary Sale

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This week marks two years since I threw common sense to the wind and unleashed my self-published novella onto the world. As I chip away at the sequel that’s taken twice as long as originally predicted, I pause to celebrate by putting the original e-book up for sale on Amazon for a mere .99c. I know most of you who bother to read this blog have long since read it (or at least bought a copy that you have every good intention of reading when you really genuinely feel like it), but maybe you can pass the good word on to a friend, coworker, associate or stranger who’s a degree or two away from the short arm of my marketing reach. It’s still as good as it was 2 years ago, and most of its contemporary references have not been consigned to the dustbin of “That is sooo 2013” just yet. The sale starts tomorrow, Friday Sept. 4th and continues until the following Friday, the 11th.

So give it a shot, huh?

And for those that haven’t heard it yet, here’s a link to the Dork Forest podcast that I participated in just recently. If, like me, you can’t get enough of this whole superhero fiction phenomenon, then this is the online chat show episode for you!

Shameless Self-Promotion Tour 2015

It’s been nearly two years since I first published The Villain’s Sidekick, and while I’d much rather be pushing the sequel by now, it’s been a bit more of an undertaking than I anticipated, so for purposes of trying to keep interest alive for the stuff that’s already out in the world, I’m throwing a little 2nd anniversary party for Villain’s. As such, for anyone out there who hasn’t read it, the Kindle Edition will be on sale for the mere pittance of .99c starting Friday Sept. 4th and continuing through Sept. 11.

As such, I did a little promotional interview with the e-reader targeted online publication, Book Reader Magazine and figured what the hell? Why not share it here and fill up some blogspace in the bargain?

http://bookreadermagazine.com/featured-author-stephen-t-brophy/

Featured Author Stephen T. Brophy

IMG_2501Featured Interview With Stephen T. Brophy

Tell us a little about yourself. Where were you raised? Where do you live now?
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas, which I ended up choosing as the setting for my first novella, The Villain’s Sidekick, even though I haven’t lived there in years. I left Texas after college and settled for a good long while in San Francisco, where I landed my first paid writing gig after many years working below my abilities in restaurants and cafes and the like. Once bitten, I couldn’t go back to those day jobs, so my girlfriend (now wife) and I relocated to Los Angeles a few years back. We now have a pretty amazing son and two wonderful, tragically aging dogs, a neurotic Lab mix and a pit bull/boxer.

At what age did you realize your fascination with books? When did you start writing?
I was born to two voracious readers, so the love of reading was instilled from about as early as I can remember. I actually had a little difficulty learning to read but once I got it, I took to it like a Great White shark to a helpless sea lion, and within very short order I was bored with kiddie lit and moving on to grown-up books. I remember reading “Jaws” when I was 8 years old (hence the shark reference) after being so enthralled by the movie. So, fittingly enough, when I started writing, my first book was entitled “Jaws,” and involved a shark who could walk on land (SNL had just started airing around that time, too, so dual influences at work). I wrote a lot of derivative stuff until I found my own “voice.” Which is really probably just a mash-up of all the authors and stories I’ve encountered and loved ever since.

Who are your favorite authors to read? What is your favorite genre to read. Who Inspires you in your writings?
My favorite genres are science fiction (Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, John Brunner, Ramez Naam), crime fiction (James Ellroy, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, Elmore Leonard), and the literature of the dissolute (Bukowski, Hunter S. Thompson, Don Delillo). They’ve all equally inspired what I do now. But the biggest influence over the last few years–and at my age maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this but I’m so not–has been a rekindled love of comics, from weird indies to straight up mainstream superhero fare. I’d read them off and on since adolescence, but when a friend introduced me to Sleeper by Ed Brubaker, and I went on to read his Captain America stuff, I became more immersed than I’d ever been. In fact, I’d been kind of stuck on a science fiction story I was telling and it was only when I got the inspiration that I could include superpowered characters and take it to a more interesting, liberating place. Since then, I’ve read a LOT of superhero prose fiction–basically comic books without the pictures, I guess, but so much more, too–like Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” Jim Bernheimer’s “Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, Rafael Chandler’s “The Astounding Antagonists,” Blake Northcott’s “Arena Mode” series and on and on. It’s really a whole terrific genre just waiting to be discovered by the mainstream. And with the current popularity of superheroes in film, it seems just a matter of when.

Tell us a little about your latest book?
I’ve written two novellas featuring my alter-ego, Duke “HandCannon” LaRue, a supervillain’s henchman with a machine gun arm, a steel jaw, an ex-wife who used to do crimes with him before the birth of their adorable precocious daughter, and all the troubles that go with being a semi-reformed bad guy in a 12-step program who may be harboring a hero beneath his frightening exterior. He’s basically the distillation of all that Bukowski, Jim Thompson and William Gibson I mentioned up top. There’s The Villain’s Sidekick and it’s short prequel, The Eternity Conundrum, and I’m currently working on a full-length sequel, Citizen Skin. The sequel alternates POVs from chapter to chapter between HandCannon and his badass best friend Trista Brooks, also known as Nightguard. She’s a supporting character in Villain’s who steps large on the stage in the follow up.

The Good Stuff

I promised a while back that I would get better about posting to my blog with greater regularity, and I have all-but-failed mightily in keeping that promise. I was also hoping that this blog would take on some weighty theme that balanced my life in recovery with my love of comic books, superheroes and all manner of pop culture ephemera. Who knows? Maybe it still will. Someday.

But for now, I’m just going to throw up a lazy list of cool things I’ve stumbled across in my free time lately, the material that’s been filling my brain or stuff that just deserves a little extra exposure.

Thanks to Comixology, I read a lot of digital comics these days, filling up my e-shelves with runs of whatever they put on sale for .99c if they sound the least bit interesting, and doing my best to never pay more than $1.99 an issue for the premium stuff, which usually means waiting at least a month after the original release date for the prices to drop. Thanks to the convenience of the site, I’ve been exposed to all kinds of stuff I might have never discovered otherwise, especially since I haven’t been a single-issue print purchaser for decades, from mainstream “Big Two” books to all kinds of amazing indie material covering a multitude of genres.

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Far and away the most interesting, entertaining book I’ve been reading on the regular for the past couple of years–the one I look forward to most each month (or longer, if they’re shipping behind schedule)–is Lazarus from writer Greg Rucka (Gotham CentralPunisher: War Zone) and artist Michael Lark (Winter Soldier, lots of other terrific work with Ed Brubaker). Set in a dystopic American future (can we conceive of any other kind?), it’s the story of Forever Carlyle, the enhanced posthuman bodyguard for her family, one of a small group of corporate clans who control all of the world’s wealth and resources. Each clan has one family member who is dedicated as the family Lazarus, nigh-unkillable warrior-soldiers who protect their blood relations at all costs, and carry out much of the dirty work when it’s called for. And it’s called for pretty often. The rest of the populace falls into categories under an oligarchical caste system in which everyone’s societal status is determined by their value to their respective clans. Laborers are known as Serfs, and everyone below them–most of the 99%–are deemed Waste. And opportunities to change your station are slim to none at best. Which doesn’t stop people from trying, usually to their own regret.

It’s an impressive exercise in world-building science fiction and a brilliant allegory for our current state of income inequality, while also being action-packed, soap operatic, and immersively entertaining every step of the way.

Five Shots to the Skull! Highest rating!

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I recently discovered the British scifi comedy/drama Misfits, which ran for five tight, short seasons from 2009-2013 and was a moderate hit on BBC America. It’s an offbeat coming of age series about a group of young adults doing forced community service for various crimes, and on their first day on the job, they’re caught in a storm that imbues them with an odd assortment of superpowers that very much reflect their damaged personalities. In an American version, you might expect that these kids would fairly quickly realize their gifts and heed the call to become “proper superheroes,” but in this anarchic swirl of hormones and bad behavior, it takes this crew five years and a gradual but complete cast and character overhaul before they really pick up the mantle of herodom. In the meantime, they drink, drug, creatively curse, fuck and accidentally kill multiple probation workers in possibly the most punk rock TV show it’s ever been my pleasure to binge-view. It’s more reminiscent of Skins than it is The Avengers or even Mystery Men, with a hint of Buffy in the way that their young lives, their powers, and the monstrosities they encounter are frequently metaphors for the painful, puzzling struggles of adolescence and the agonizing transition to adulthood.

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Apparently loyal viewers during its original run were unhappy with the wholesale cast changes that took place, particularly from season 3 to 4, but watching it in one fell swoop made the transition feel much more organic, and eventual series lead Joseph Gilgun (a terrific bad guy in Lockout and soon to co-star as the Irish vampire Cassidy in HBO’s take on Preacher) is so goddamned entertaining he pretty much walks away with the whole show anyway. Also entertaining to see Iwan “Ramsay Bolton” Rheon as a likable nerd and burgeoning badass in the early seasons. It’ll make you hate his face just a little less.

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Three Strikes Against Your Record! Highest Rating!

This past week I read an article on the AV Club about David Fincher having the plug pulled on his proposed cable series Utopiawhich was said to be a remake of a fairly recent scifi suspense series from Britain’s Ch. 4, in which an obscure graphic novel holds secrets that could apparently lead to either mankind’s salvation, or its doom. Maybe depending on who’s reading it? I dunno.

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This was the first I’d heard of it in any form, and considering my recent good luck with British scifi series, I tracked it down, finding several episodes from its two seasons available–in high-quality HD no less–for free on YouTube. Watch the first scene of that first episode and if you like your scifi thrillers gorgeously shot, intriguingly scored, shockingly dark and laced with brutal humor, you’ll be hooked from the jump. I’ve had to search a little harder to find episodes four and five but I have found them, and while I’m not quite through the first season, I’m enjoying it at least as much as I did the Wachowski’s Netflix series Sense8 (though that show is decidedly more utopian than Utopia for sure).

Four White Rabbits! Highest Rating!

Finally, for today, I want to mention Springan offbeat romantic horror fantasy that feels more like a well-made naturalistic indie drama before the high weirdness kicks in. It’s the story of an underemployed young man from California (Lou Taylor Pucci from the 2013 Evil Dead remake) who gets into some potential legal trouble shortly after the death of his mother and decides an impromptu trip to Europe is just what he needs to get free of the life that’s closing in on him at home. Once there, he meets some incredibly obnoxious British backpackers who drag him on a roadtrip to an idyllic resort town in the shadow of Vesuvius (and yes, SPOILER ALERT, that is definitely Chekhov’s volcano, destined to go off in the third act). There he meets Louise (the jaw-droppingly stunning Nadia Hilker)

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who is either God’s gift to weary travelers or a nightmare walking, depending on her blood sugar levels. It’s equal parts Before Sunrise and American Werewolf in London with a hint of another recent indie horror flick, The Afflictedthough it doesn’t suffer from that movie’s ill-considered choice to muck around in the exhausted subgenre of the found footage thriller. It’s solidly scripted, the leads are charming and likable, and the indie directors got a lot of mileage out of utilizing carefully planned drone shots to capture their Italian seaside setting. And even when it erupts into horror, it’s anything but a generic monster movie, emerging as something much more Lovecraftian while remaining thoroughly romantic and surprisingly sweet. This is a horror flick that, occasional grossouts aside, would make a better-than-average date movie.

Four Probing Tentacles! Highest Rating!

The Greatest Fan Fiction Ever Told

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This guy, am I right?

I’ve never been a big Spider-Man reader, so my awareness of the character Herman “Shocker” Schultz–frequent Sinister Six member in reasonably good standing and a Spidey foe for pretty much as long as I’ve been alive–was dim at best before I read Superior Foes of Spider-ManIn that fantastic series, Herman makes a fateful decision that leads him and the other five members of the Six (if that doesn’t seem to add up, just read Superior Foes, dammit!) down a path that could spell doom for all of them. But in the end, out of everybody, it’s the Shocker (whose only superpower is the shock-resistant suit and vibration gauntlets he built in prison, because he’s actually kind of a genius even though he doesn’t know it) who pulls out a big win when he single-handedly takes down…well, why should I spoil it for you?

It was my childhood friend and brother from another mother Jeff Coleman who turned me on to Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Claremont and Byrne’s X-Men and Dave Sims’ Cerebus when they were the freshest things on the spinner rack, and thus inspired my lifelong dalliance with comics. He’s also the artist responsible for the 3D rendition of HandCannon that graces the top of this blog. He recently stumbled across a terrific piece of fan fiction that basically answers the question “what would The Villain’s Sidekick be like if I’d written it using licensed Marvel characters?” 

Shocker: Legit,  written entirely on spec, or for fun, by Max Landis (son of filmmaker John Landis, screenwriter of the found footage superhero flick Chronicle) concerns itself with what might happen if Herman Schultz were to grow weary of being a punching bag for metahuman crimebusters like Spider-Man and try his hand at doing the hero thing himself. He gets his first opportunity when he comes across the Hulk-ish Ravage running riot in downtown Manhattan and manages, through grit, determination, and some dumb luck, to take the monster down.

Ravage

During this encounter, he gets an unexpected assist from Felicia “Black Cat” Hardy, who becomes his unlikely ally as they uncover a vast conspiracy involving a company called First Person Shooter that allows regular, high-paying citizens to operate mind-controlled supervillains and use them to wreak real-world havoc as if the actual death, destruction and carnage were all some kind of virtual reality game. And that’s just the tip of the conspiratorial iceberg. Meanwhile, Felicia becomes an even more unlikely love interest for the embattled  Herman.

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It’s not hard to see why (and for the record, I had to search far and wide to find an image of Black Cat that made her look like the badass she is in this story, rather than the hypersexualized fantasy figure she’s usually portrayed as). No sooner do they start investigating this dark conspiracy than they are the targets of not only the drone-operated super baddies, but mercenaries for hire like Bullseye and the Enforcers, and while Herman and his crew manage to beat the odds time and again, they are well-brutalized for their troubles–in addition to repeated nose-breakings, contusions, lacerations, stabbings and shootings, at one point Herman loses an ear. A fuckin’ ear!

The story’s not perfect. Considering it’s fan fiction, there’s an impression from the typos, occasional grammar mistakes and tense switches, and a few places where small but crucial bits of information seem to be missing, that you’re reading a first draft. And considering it’s unsolicited fan fiction, one can’t really fault Landis for not going back and fixing it all for our consumption. Plus, it compensates with a pretty ingenious story, a smorgasbord of well-placed Marvel character cameos, and an extremely likable, relatable take on its accidental protagonist.

I’m not exactly sure when Landis wrote it–my best guess is that it’s from sometime in the mid-oughts–but what struck me right away, from the first page, was how stylistically similar it is to Villain’s, Confessions of  D-List Supervillain and other works in this subgenre (bad guy/henchman goes good) of a subgenre (superhero narrative fiction). Like my own book, it concerns a street-level goon with self-esteem and anger issues whose abilities are purely technological; it’s first person present tense, highly comedic without resorting to parody, and as loaded with heart as it is with violence and insanity. Especially touching, along with Herman and Felicia’s love affair, is his equally unexpected friendship with this guy:

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Landis’ and Herman’s portrayal of Rhino is as a not-always-gentle giant with a heart of gold and the mind of a child. He’s simple, sweet-natured, capable of terrific destruction but loathe to hurt innocents or civilians even as their war heats up. Again, I haven’t read enough Spidey to know how accurate this portrayal really is, but it works well here, providing another sympathetic layer to Herman as he looks out for his big loyal lug of a buddy.

Along the way, Herman scores some more unlikely admirers and allies in a quest for truth that leads to some (emotionally as well as physically) uncomfortable places: Reed Richards and Tony Stark marvel at the genius of his prison-created suit and power gauntlets and begin to treat the low-level schemer as an intellectual equal…

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…and after an extremely unpleasant initial encounter, he even earns the grudging admiration of this taciturn motherfucker…

1819576-punisher_get_castleThe-Punisher

More than anything, for fans of this kind of stuff, which I obviously am, Shocker: Legit is just one of those unexpected treasures the internet coughs up every now and again that hits right in the sweet spot. Well worth a read. And the price is unbeatable.

If You Enjoyed “The Villain’s Sidekick”…

When I first started writing my novella (which I seriously thought was just going to be short story) I was naive enough to think I was doing something at least vaguely original. I mean, I knew there’d been a hefty handful of comic stories told from the villain’s POV and/or stories in which a bad guy went good. Hell, half The Avengers started out as bad guys, or at least in the deep gray on the moral scale.

Of course, I’d only started reading superhero prose–funnybooks without the pictograms, in layman’s terms–shortly before embarking on my fictional experiment, but I was already aware of a couple of terrific novels that were in the subgenre I was working in. The first is probably still one of the most popular and widely read of these books, Austin Grossman’s terrific Soon I Will Be Invincible.

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The story of Dr. Impossible, recently released from prison and ready to get back to doing evil, this is one of those stories where the bad guy would be 100% more sympathetic than the heroes if it weren’t for the fact that the POV alternates from chapter to chapter between the bad doctor and a female cyborg superhero named Fatale. This was the first book I read that let me get inside the narrative heads of its antagonistic protagonists in a way that even the most literate graphic novels and comics sagas sometimes struggle to achieve. And while I already owe a huge debt to Grossman just for demonstrating that it can be done, and with an edge of satire tempered with genuine human emotions, I also owe him a debt for that narrator-swapping gimmick because I’ve shamelessly borrowed it for the follow-up to “Villain’s” that I’m hammering away at now.

Much like “Invincible,” when I first plucked Jim Bernheimer’s Confessions of a D-List Supervillain from Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, I assumed it would be maybe good for a laugh, a jokey riff on supervillainy, based on the title alone. And considering it was an obscure offering available for a low price, I had low expectations in regards to its potential quality. Boy, was I wrong.

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Like “Villain’s” and “Invincible,” Bernheimer’s book is a first-person shooter in storytelling terms, from the point of view of Cal Stringel, a low-rent supervillain in Tony Stark armor who’s forced to help save the world when most of the population, including the heroes, are overtaken by alien parasites launching a full-scale invasion. When we first meet him, he hasn’t been out of his armor in days, and his descriptions of how sweaty and putrid that can get are the perfect kind of “never-thought-of-that” moments that give the story it’s realistic edge.

Of course, I’ve stayed on the prowl for superhero fiction ever since getting my first book out into the world, and in the process stumbled across the work of Casey Glanders and his Gailsone series. Glanders is one prolific motherfucker. I don’t know if he holds down a day job, but if so, I want to know his secret because I don’t think I have enough writing hours left in my life to pump out the amount of work he’s produced just in the last two years.

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Glanders created his villain-turned-hero, Alice “Dyspell” Gailsone, because he’s got daughters, and he looked around and felt there weren’t enough female heroes on the market. So his books are all led, and well-populated, by strong females (all with their share of baggage, as any good villain-turned-hero should have). After a lifetime on the dark side, Alice is taking a second shot at life seeing how the hero half lives, and while she’s not afraid to get dirty, she’s frequently better at it than the heroes who’ve recruited her.

Last but not least, there’s Rafael Chandler’s The Astounding Antagonists

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Don’t let the cover art fool you: this Anti-Avengers type tale makes for one solid book. It’s a wildly entertaining story about what happens when the “good guys” become nothing more than abusive authority figures who are as morally compromised as the so-called villains, and frequently worse. If anything, Chandler might weight things a little too heavily on the side of the heroes being just outright awful, while imbuing his Antagonists with far more complexity, weight and moral authority. But if you enjoy rooting for the outsider, if you’re the type to always bet on the underdog, or if you just want to identify with the bad guy’s POV sometimes, you couldn’t go wrong with any of these.

Real Human Stories and Other Fallacies

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As a long-time member of SAG/AFTRA (and a soon-to-be-ex-member of the Writer’s Guild), the holiday season officially begins when the awards screeners start to trickle in, appearing sporadically in my mailbox from early November to late December. This is the time of year that ostensibly gives the lie to the notion that all Hollywood produces is superhero movies and CGI blockbusters. The movies that arrive, the ones comprised of scripts and performances allegedly worthy of consideration among the pantheon of serious, award-worthy efforts, range from the heavily heralded (Angelina Jolie’s tale of WW2-era triumph of the spirit “Unbroken”) to the borderline invisible (Julianne Moore as an early-onset Alzheimer’s sufferer in “Still Alice”). Packaged in tasteful boxes or indifferently stuffed into generic slipcovers, these are the real gifts that my family looks forward to me dutifully packing into my luggage and bringing home to Texas so they can enjoy or dismiss them all from the comfort of my parents’ living room before their friends can even get out to see them in theaters. Inevitably, one of the “must-sees” always gets lost in the shuffle and left behind at home (this year, it was the Reese Witherspoon-goes-walkabout character drama “Wild”) and I feel guilt disproportionate to the crime for not being able to give them this rare and special treat.

We gather and watch them one and sometimes two a night, working through the stack and ticking them off the list. Most of them are entirely watchable, even the ones that I had little personal interest in seeing based on mediocre reviews or tepid-seeming subject matter (Robert Downey Jr.’s foray into intimate family drama “The Judge,” which boasts fine performances from a cast of ringers including Robert Duvall, Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D’Onofrio and Vera Farmiga). Some of them are mildly interesting variations on an expected genre or theme (“A Most Violent Year,” despite its title, is intentionally as near-bloodless as a crime drama about a mob-averse businessman can be; de rigeur disease pic “Still Alice” contains an incredibly nuanced and sympathetic performance from Moore; as for “Unbroken,” I liked it better 30 years ago when it was called “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”). Some of them I know are not going to be for everyone, or maybe anyone (creepy “Nightcrawler” was reserved for just me and my old man to view, and we enjoyed it well enough, though it’s not the second coming of “Taxi Driver” early previews might have suggested, and I still haven’t found the right time to pop in PTA’s “Inherent Vice”).

The point here is, somehow, year after year, despite the dire pronouncements of friends, family and film reviewers, small human stories still get made, somehow. And while it’s impossible to argue that the big Hollywood machine has shifted focus to superheroes in a way that’s not only extreme, but borderline absurd, I bristle when I hear cinema snobs blame the fanboys for that fact. Obviously, the movie business is about the bottom dollar now more than ever, but if superhero movies are what’s dominating the global box office, there aren’t enough fanboys in the known multiverse to account for all that money. It’s the average filmgoer, looking for adrenaline-fueled escapism just as they did during the action movie dominance of the ’80s, or the better part of the 20th century, when something like 70-80% of movies produced in Hollywood were Westerns (before CGI, what gave you more bang for your epic Cinemascope buck than Monument Valley teeming with a thousand extras, herds of buffalo, and galloping horses being run to death). And many of those much-derided genre movies are now beloved timeless classics, from “The Searchers” or “My Darling Clementine” to “Die Hard” and the early Terminators, while a multitude of the “intimate human stories” and art house favorites of those eras have tumbled into obscurity along with all the other piles of pure product.

As a part-time fanboy, I love quality small scale, art house and original cinema as much as I enjoy the Marvel Universe. One of the best movies I’ve seen in the past two decades is Jennifer Lawrence’s breakthrough “Winter’s Bone,” and I could watch it a thousand times to the single viewing any of the “Hunger Games” movies deserve. Conversely, my favorite movie of 2014 was and remains “The Winter Soldier,” as good a piece of smart high-dollar cinema as the Big Machine has ever produced, “The Searchers” of the superhero genre, and it doesn’t hurt that its filmmakers boldly chose one of the greatest periods of American cinema, the dark, paranoid ’70s of “All the President’s Men” and “The Parallax View,” as its main source of inspiration. I rewatched it with my dad this Xmas–one of the few movies he hadn’t already seen, because my septugenarian and semi-retired parents go to see EVERYTHING–and he loved it as much as I knew he would. For me, it holds up to repeat viewings in a way that none of these awards-bait pics has so far. Sure, “A Most Violent Year” was completely watchable, but was it rewatchable? Not really. Even if you love “Unbroken” (which I didn’t because see above), would you want to sit through that highbrow torture porn twice? I thought last year’s “12 Years a Slave” was fantastic and essential and important, but do I want to tune it in on late-night cable and fall asleep to it? No thanks–I’ll let “Django Unchained” be my slave-narrative lullaby. Does that make me shallow? Maybe, but it also makes me pretty normal. I don’t think all film needs to be comfort food, obviously, and I frequently get “more” out of those films that are anything but, but I don’t tend to revisit them, and therefore they don’t become favorites. Oftentimes, they just feel like chores.

“The Judge”–an unfortunate box office failure for Downey–is a very watchable, at times highly entertaining piece of fluff masquerading as “human drama,” every bit as much a slice of comfort food pie as any superhero flick, and every inch its own kind of Hollywood fantasy–the big city slicky returns to his small town and his dysfunctional family to recover the soul he left behind, and find a little redemption for everyone in the bargain. In terms of RDJ’s performance, it’s basically Iron Man Goes Home, his fast-talking lawyer spouting Tony Stark quality laugh-lines several times per scene. It’s an enjoyably crowd-pleasing star turn that he could deliver in his sleep at this point, and for my fanboy money, his emotional arc in “Iron Man 3” is still more satisfying. And rewatchable.

If you’re looking for real outside-the-box (and outside-the-box-office) human stories, which do somehow continue to defy the odds and get made despite the total global domination of special effects and spandex, I recommend trawling Netflix for the endless stream of amazing foreign and independent films across all genres that I stumble across on a weekly basis. In the coming weeks I’ll recommend a few of my favorites by genre as definitive proof that if you love film, and regardless of your feelings regarding Hollywood product, genuine original cinema is alive and well in the world, and there seems to be as much or more of it than ever.

In the meantime, hey Academy, where the hell is my awards-season screener of the best indie movie of the year, “Blue Ruin”? It’s almost like these award things are complete bullshit or something.

General Public, Part Two

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BROCK STONE

Detroit, Michigan Thanksgiving 1956

General Public—no, Brock Stone; the General was dead to him now—made it as far as Detroit before the withdrawals started. While there may not have been any magic super-serum that transformed him from regular Joe to G.I. Jehovah, there had been a lot more than extra ammo and mystic weapons tech in those belt pouches. On the streets of Chicago, he’d left a pharmacopia of substances that had made General Public possible. The stimulants to improve his speed and agility, not to mention keep him conscious and in so-called fighting form for days at a stretch. Also the senso-enhancers that let him notice absolutely everything within the parameters of his sight, touch, hearing and smell, the mood stabilizers that allowed him to appear the perpetual paragon of unwaveringly upbeat virtue and fortitude, the constant synth-tosterone injections that increased his strength exponentially but made maintaining that supposed virtue off the battlefield that much more unlikely. Not to mention the powerful painkillers that were meant to dull the negative effects of the sensos, which had the unfortunate side effect of making every injury feel even more profound than it was. Problem was, he had to keep taking that stuff in regular and frequently increased dosages pretty much all the time in order to keep up the image. And if/when his supply went dry, which was wont to happen in the privations of a wartime setting, he was well and rightly screwed, crashing into an exhausted gibbering shivering wreck until he could sleep off the comedown or reach a resupply station. He once hid in a Bavarian barn for nearly two weeks waiting for a drop, more afraid of being found out by his own men than caught out by the Nazis. He finally managed to regain enough strength to make his escape by castrating six of the farmer’s bulls and devouring their testicles as a midnight snack.

Now he was going cold turkey, a strung-out ex-hero on the run, if not from actual justice, at least from the burden of being its living symbol.

He found a hotel—a flophouse really—in the heart of downtown, rented a room with the two dollars he’d found in the hollowed-out bootheel of a snoring hobo on the freight train that carried him away from his final battle and deposited him here. Dragged himself up six flights of stairs, kicking at rats with the last of his strength, their rodent hisses and snarls putting him in mind of Doktor Spleisser’s hideous mutant Dobermenschen. Staggered to the door past a sneering whore who briefly transformed into the uber-bitch Sister Hitler, the hapless sailor boy john on her arm never knowing the tortures that awaited him behind her door. Belly-crawled to the bed across a carpet of the dead and dying, trying not to put his hands in the guts and gore that spilled from yawning wounds. Climbed into the bed using the thin blanket like a hastily made rope ladder trailing from a speeding gyrocopter, a hateful face staring down at him from the cockpit, trying to kick him loose with a savage boot. He made it anyway, and threw himself down on the lumpy mattress before the hallucinations kicked off in earnest.

The neon sign blinking outside his window became the red flash of battlefield explosions, and Brock jerked away in spastic reflex. The shouts of people passing by down on State Street were the shocked and terrified screams of doomed soldiers who just wanted one more chance to see their mamas, or kiss their best girls. Brock prayed for unconsciousness, to a God he was sure had abandoned them all, but open or shut, all his eyes could see were nightmares.

All fighting men were witnesses to the unspeakable, but as the appointed savior of the free world, General Public beheld things that regulation dogfaces could scarcely comprehend.

At the entrance to the Hollow Earth, dead Nazi foot soldiers rose once again from the Antarctic snow, mindless killing machine-men with crudely implanted electrodes sending orders to their otherwise thoughtless brains. In his memory, he’d overcome them easily, knocking out servo-motors and pulling wires and watching them slow and still like unwound clocks, frozen statues in full uniform. But now they surged and swarmed, many more of them than he remembered, and it was they that were undoing him, one piece at a time. And he was helpless to stop them, helpless to reach the laughing bastard that created and controlled them, unable to stop the man as he removed Public’s silver helmet, and then his brittle skull…

As fingers sank into soft gray matter, he was transported to the skies over Luxembourg, onboard a dirigible filled with deadly nerve gas, as Air Marshal Bludwulf pumped round after round from his Luger into his impenetrable chest armor. Only this time, the bullets punched through like his uniform was tissue paper, sinking heavily into his torso and taking on lives of their own inside, not just puncturing organs or smashing against bone, but changing him in some terrible way. Bludwulf took the last parachute and jumped free—again, this wasn’t how it happened last time—laughing and falling away and firing one last shot right into the zeppelin’s hull. Just before it exploded and the world went white, Public saw that he wasn’t alone. The laughing maniac from the Hollow Earth expedition was there again, perfectly happy to sit behind the controls and let this play out, as long as it meant watching America’s Last Best Hope die in searing agony as he failed to save even a corner of the world.

The KamiNazi got the best of him on Iwo Jima, delivering a blast of energy that sent him flying nearly two hundred feet. “I’m okay,” he told the medic that rushed to his aid. “I was carried to safety by the explosion.” That was just as he remembered it. Until he looked down and saw that his legs had been blown off, one below the knee and one at the hip. The KamiNazi cheered his own victory and exploded, an orange-yellow blast of rising sun that swept across the island, flash-frying every hopeless soldier in its path. Even as the mushroom cloud turned the skies to winter night, the laughing man was there again, a strange pair of someone else’s legs tucked under his arms, and this time, he spoke. “Not to worry,” he said, and the General was pretty certain he was speaking German, but he understood the creep just fine. “I can fix you. You will be better than ever when I am through with you.” As he shoved the spare body parts against Brock’s bloodied stumps, they fused instantly into place, and he screamed in agony as his hypersenses felt every bit of the unnatural melding, and his body struggled to reject the unwanted limbs. As the shockwave and heat blast from KamiNazi’s self-destruction rolled over him in agonizing slow motion, his new foreign legs were forcing him to stand and walk…

…into a laboratory, high in the German Alps, enormous glass tubes filled with liquid, skinless bodies bobbing within like tropical fish specimens in an alien aquarium. He’d been here, too, after the fall of Berlin. There’d been no resistance then, no one to fight. Just him and a squadron of exhausted soldiers, hoping to find a comfortable bed to sleep in and maybe a hidden cache of fine European liquor, not more horror. But the horror never ended, even when the war did. And even if they were lucky to be alive, they hadn’t really escaped anything. Just moved to the next level of shit.

“It disturbs you, does it not?” The little sneering Nazi fuck again, emerging from the shadows in his labcoat, peering out from thick goggles, holding something under one arm, not a severed limb this time, but a strange jar of some kind, with dials and switches and an electric crackle emanating from one end, filled with thick green liquid and something floating inside, maybe some kind of mutant monster thing, and in the other hand, a giant steel syringe. “To know that in spite of all of your efforts, you have lost? That your own country has managed to handily snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? But did you ever believe, even if you truly managed to save it, that you would return to the same place you had left? It is not America that changed. It was always a dark and terrible place. It is you. The veil has lifted. For the first time, your eyes are truly open. And you are able to see Hell for what it is. And while it believes it has no more need of you, the hard, sad fact is, America needs you more than ever. But it is too late. And in a way, it always was…”

The Nazi rambled on, even as he plunged the syringe into the neck of the jar and drew some of the green stuff into it. When he did, the thing inside seemed to stir, and rolled toward Brock with a pair of wild staring hate-filled eyes on stalks. Eyes attached to a brain that was somehow miraculously alive in there.

Brock tried to say something. He’d been trying the whole time, but nothing would come. It was like he didn’t know any words. The brain in the jar was alive, but his was dead. And what did it matter, really? This was just a hallucination. In a few hours, or days, or weeks, all of this would end, and he’d be able to go downstairs, outside, grab a pint of whisky, eat some pork chops, find a girl to bang. And everything would be fine. Just fine.

“We are here, you know? Even as we speak—well, even as I speak—we walk and work and live among your people, occupying homes on your streets, enjoying the view from corner offices meant for you and yours, brought here on America’s dime, ready and willing to direct your future, to manipulate it to our own ends. To re-orient the path of history and bring the Reich back on track. This is not your homecoming. It never was. It is mine. America is the Fatherland of the Future. And you are a memory.”

His limbs were weak and heavy and even his new self-determined legs were buckling as the sneering Nazi scientist plunged the big needle into his neck, and Brock Stone let out a scream to beat the band.