Storytelling Failures – The Fantastic Four

This is actually a four-in-one, which I suppose is a bit of serendipity given the source material. So there have been four (debatably) cinematic attempts at bringing Marvel’s first family to the big screen. Thus far none of these have been particularly good or successful. Why has it been so hard? In its way, The Incredibles is a great Fantastic Four movie.

I’ll deviate from my normal formula for storytelling failures because one of the major reasons for failure sort of encompasses everything else – the studio doesn’t give a damn. This reason is the failure of the never-released ’90s movie. The studio made the movie to hang on to the rights and for no other reason. We know how well that worked out for Sony, and Sony could have learned from that. A studio does not hire prolific B-movie director/producer Roger Corman to make a quality picture; a studio hires Roger Corman to make a movie as cheap and fast as humanly possible (this is the same director who shot entire movies in three days). And here we are, two decades later, and the studio again produces something just to hang on to the rights. And again, it didn’t work. Fox also made the same mistake (although perhaps not so knowingly) of hiring a director who didn’t give a damn. It shows. It really shows.

So I won’t go into detail on the Corman version. The fact that it is “the Corman version” and was never meant to be released to theaters says everything there is to say about the failure of that movie.

1) Character – and this is where the movies truly fail. The heart of any FF movie should be the focus on the characters’ relationships to each other. The Avengers team up, save the world, and then split up and go do their own solo movies. The FF team up, save the world, and then go to the same home because they are a family. That’s the difference between the FF and pretty much every other superteam. If that isn’t the center of the movie, then the movie will fail.

a) Reed Richards – nerdy, stretchy genius and default team leader.
i) First reboot – I thought the actor had the right look and attitude. His relationship with Sue was the most explored and that was for a barely-there love triangle. His relationship to Doom was the second most explored and that wasn’t any deeper than a surface rivalry which could be interpreted to have to do with Sue, and not any jealousy between the geniuses. But his relationship with Johnny or Ben? Eh, well, there was a bit there with Ben because Reed obviously felt guilty over Ben’s condition, but there wasn’t much more to it. Even in the second movie when Reed and Sue were trying to get married there just wasn’t much about their relationship except the hackneyed cliche about trying to have a life and breaking up the team. In the end, this left the character feeling flat (ha!) to me.

ii) Second reboot – I thought the actor had the right look and attitude. However, the direction of the plot pushed the character away from how Mr. Fantastic is in the comics (even the Ulti-verse this was supposedly based on). He was angry and scared. When he stepped up to be team leader, this came across as a forced character development to serve the plot. His relationship to Ben was the most explored in this movie, but Ben was completely absent for a good deal of it. He flirted with Sue, of course, and Doom was a jerk to him, but there was hardly any interaction with Johnny. Again, the character was just flat to me.

b) Sue Storm – Invisible Girl turned Invisible Woman and to anyone paying attention the most dangerous member of the team.
i) First reboot – I thought the actress just looked too young. Sue, to me, needs to have a certain toughness to her, and this actress (and the script did her no favors) had none of that. Her defining relationships were to Reed and Doom in the weak love triangle, and she scolded her brother a little. Even the siblings barely interacted. To Ben there was nothing. In the second movie there was slightly more focus on her and Reed, even her getting killed still didn’t feel like a big thing. Her character could be summed up as “the chick” and that’s not a good thing.

ii) Second reboot – I actually thought the actress looked more the part. She had that tougher look about her and really sold herself as a genius (the script did help this time with that). Her relationship to Reed was barely touched on aside from some awkward flirting she pretty much shot down. In this version of the weak love triangle, Doom made his interest in her clear and she pretty much shot that down. The most developed relationship was between Sue and Dr. Storm, which while well-done distracted from what should have been the focus. There was a lot of potential to explore in her relationship with Johnny (considering she was adopted into a family of another race) but instead she scolded him a bit. I don’t even recall her giving him a hug. She was more than “the chick” but not much more.

c) Johnny Storm – The Human Torch (II), and generally one of the more angst-free superheroes, which is good, considering he can explode things really well when he’s upset.
i) First reboot – The actor was perfect. And in and of himself, the characterization was spot-on. He was brash, reckless, and angst-free. He thought his powers were awesome. His most developed relationship was with Ben in which he tormented him like the immature brat he is. But why Johnny treated Ben that way is never really explained. Still, it was nice to have them be foils for each other, although unfortunately this is somewhat lost in the second movie. But there’s hardly any interaction with his sister except to get scolded, and nothing with Reed or Doom. The movie is titled “The Fantastic Four,” not “The Terrific Two.”

ii) Second reboot – I liked the actor fine. He was also brash and reckless, and this version added a streak of teenaged rebellion to the character. He eventually thought his powers were pretty sweet once he learned to control them. But again, the most developed relationship was between him and Dr. Storm. There was little interaction with Sue, some annoyance shown toward Doom, a few minutes with Reed, and nothing with Ben until the end. His relationship with his dad, while a little clichéd, was well done. Still, that’s not the point.

d) Ben Grimm – the Ever-lovin’, Blue-eyed Thing, member/leader of the Yancy Street Gang, perennial sad-sack, and all-around good guy.
i) First reboot – The actor was perfect. He understood his character and it absolutely showed in his performance. And again, in and of himself, the characterization was spot-on. His interaction with his fianceé was appropriate and sad. He got pretty angsty about being a monster, but with losing his fianceé like that, who could blame him? He had the most interaction with Johnny, and while entertaining, the reason he’s the butt of Johnny’s jokes is not explained. There’s a bit with Reed, but almost nothing with Sue, and some annoyance at how smarmy Doom is. But the movie is titled, “The Fantastic Four,” not “The Terrific Two.”

ii) Second reboot – The actor was good. Ben’s characterization was fine right up until after the accident, and then it took a sharp turn from the comic book (maybe not so much the Ulti-verse though; but that’s not necessarily a good thing). Obviously he had the most interaction with Reed, whom it seemed he regarded with respect for his intelligence. He also understood that Reed was leagues beyond him and encouraged him. But after the accident? He’s fine with working for the government to kill people in the hopes he can get cured and immediately assumes Reed has betrayed him and is never coming back ever. What?

e) Victor Von Doom – To quote Stan Lee, “Sometimes you’re lucky. Sometimes you hit a homer first time at bat.
i) First reboot – Fail. I don’t know if the actor failed or the script failed but both movies’ efforts at a convincing Doom utterly failed. This guy was the poor man’s Norman Osborn. His only mode of acting was “smarmy” and while I get that he’d think it’s the best thing ever to steal a guy’s girlfriend from him, I never figured out why Sue would start dating him. I’ll give props to the Corman version for this – that movie understood the relationship between Doom and Reed was important. Also, the real Dr. Doom gave himself powers; this is a part of his character. This Doom got powers with the FF because a guy building awesome superpowers in his basement is somehow too difficult to believe? This Doom was lackluster and generic, which are two words that should never, ever be applied to Dr. Doom.

ii) Second reboot – Fail. This time I think the script failed more than the actor. Most of Doom’s interaction was again with Dr. Storm and not the people who should have been his friends/adversaries. When he’s first introduced, he’s wallowing in self-pity. Dr. Doom from the comics is incapable of wallowing in self-pity. Sure, he sulks, but self-pity? No way. Then Doom comes across as some angry, disillusioned person railing against “the Man.” Again, Dr. Doom is “the Man.” And in the end, he’s turned into a generic villain (with powers he didn’t make) who wants to destroy the world. Again, lackluster and generic.

2) Plot – superheroes are no good unless they have something to do.
a) First reboot – Ugh. So their first adventure as a team is to remedy a problem that Ben accidentally caused. Then sitcom-like hijinks ensue, and they fight and defeat Doom-lite. Their second adventure could have been better, but was rendered ridiculous by the colossal incompetence of the military, more sitcom-like hijinks, and the baffling decision to turn Galactus into a giant space cloud.

b) Second reboot – Okay, this could have been a good movie: an experiment produces superpowered humans that the government tries to exploit and turn into military weapons. Hell, I’m pretty sure this has been the plot of at least one movie or TV show. Except this is not the plot of a Fantastic Four movie. This is too dark, too serious, and not superhero-y enough. It’s a fine plot for a sci-fi dystopia, but not for a family of superheroes. I’ve heard there was a lot of conflict between the director and the studio to the point the studio essentially took over directing to try to make this a proper FF movie. Whatever happened, there is a severe tonal shift near the end of the movie during the final battle scene. The resolution of the battle seems too convenient and the last scene in which the four are actually acting like the Fantastic Four contradicts the tone of the rest of the movie. That was way too little, too late.

3) and 4) Not much to say here. The failures here were in characterization and plot, not structure and setting.

Conclusion – had this movie not been titled “The Fantastic Four” and not featured those characters, it might have been a decent movie (much like if Man of Steel had not ostensibly been about Superman). Hell, even the logo at the end wasn’t the right logo. But this wasn’t a FF movie.

Final thoughts – I don’t think this should be that hard. Obviously the first step to getting this right would be to let Marvel have the characters back. Sony’s figured that out, but apparently Fox is more stubborn. By the way, here’s my brief summary of a FF trilogy:

1) First movie – start with a cold open featuring the team beating up some giant monster that retreats into the ground. They all meet up in the Baxter Building. Reed and Sue follow up the investigation. Johnny goes on a date. Ben babysits a young Franklin Richards who wants to hear the origin story. Ben tells the story via flashback to college inter-cut with scenes of the others finding clues on the giant monster. Ben finishes the story, the others trace the monster to the Mole Man, and they go fight and defeat him. The teaser is the Mole Man tells them that something else was behind stirring up all the monsters and that this isn’t over…

2) Second movie – the team investigates to eventually find Dr. Doom has some sinister plan (because he’s DOOM!), and Reed realizes his frenemy from college is not dead after all! They fight and defeat Doom but he berates them for being idiots because he was just trying to save the world from the coming threat…

3) Third movie – After getting little information from Doom, they eventually figure out the coming threat is Galactus, Devourer of Worlds. Hell, they could throw in a line about his appearance and Galactus would say back something like, “This is not what I look like; this is only what your inferior minds can comprehend.” They fight the Surfer, they turn the Surfer into a good guy, he tells them there’s one way to beat Galactus, sneaks them onto the World Ship, and Reed defeats Galactus by threatening to use the Ultimate Nullifer. Galactus sulks off, fires the Surfer, and he gets a proper spin-off while the FF go home and Sue and Reed hug Franklin and ask him what he did at school that day.

And there you go. Too bad Fox won’t relinquish a property it obviously can’t handle on its own back to Marvel.

Fifteen-Minute Movie – The Fantastic Four (2015)

I didn’t pay to see this; I knew it would be very good and I don’t want to support bad movies.

or, “Why is it so hard to make a good Fantastic Four movie?”
or, “An Excellent Argument for Returning the Rights to Marvel.

Anytown Elementary School (the past):
L’il Reed Richards – When I grow up, I’m going to be the first person to build a working teleporter. I’m going to
use my inventions to change the world. I even have a prototype in my garage.

World’s Worst Teacher – Look, kid, the assignment was to pick a real career, not blather on about some “Star Trek”
stuff. Sit down and try again tomorrow. Weirdo.

Grimm Junkyard:
[[L’il Ben Grimm is sent out with a bat to investigate a weird noise and finds Reed scrounging for parts]]

L’il Ben – Okay, four-eyes, show me what you’re building and I’ll help you out.

The Richards’ Residence’s Garage:
L’il Ben – Okay, so that thing looks pretty cool. But does it work?

L’il Reed – We’ll find out. You should cover your ears because this might blow up again.

[[The teleporter does work, kind of, but also blows up, kind of; however, this is enough to establish a long friendship between Reed and Ben]]

Anytown Science Fair (the present):
Reed – Okay, so I’ve figured out the kinks in the teleporter. I’ll just borrow this model airplane because my
partner forgot the model car…

Ben – Dude, I can’t think of everything for you.

Reed – Alright, let’s do this thing. It probably won’t even blow up this time.

[[The teleporter does not blow up, and in a moment the model plane returns dusty and worse for wear, but whole]]

Reed – We haven’t figured out where it’s going, but it did come back.

World’s Worst Teacher – You’re disqualified! This is obviously some kind of elaborate magic trick! [[huffs away with the rest of the judges]]

Ben – Dude, this sucks.

Dr. Franklin Storm – This is exactly what’s missing from the Quantum Gate. You do realize that you’re teleporting into another dimension, don’t you?

Reed – Um, what?

Sue Storm – We’ve gotten samples of the same sand that’s covering the plane. We bothered to analyze it and it’s not from this world.

Ben – Is that safe? I mean, should someone get that plane back from that kid? No? Okay, well, I’m not one of the geniuses here.

Dr. Storm – Reed, I’ll give you a full scholarship to the Baxter Foundation and give you the opportunity to build your teleporter to scale.

Reed – Aw, yeah! Wait, Ben?

Ben – Dude, you’re a genius. You deserve this. I’ll be back in the movie when you get into trouble.

The Baxter Foundation:
Reed – This place is amazing!

Sue – You realize that you could have ripped open the fabric between dimensions which would duplicate the effect of a black hole and destroyed the planet?

Reed – Um, well, that didn’t happen so we’re okay, right? Anyway, I like to read. Do you like to read? *crickets chirping* So, um, you like music?

Sue – I like pattern recognition, therefore I like music.

Reed – Um, cool. So, are you working on the Quantum Gate?

Sue – Yes. I’m developing the environment suits. Excuse me. [[she leaves]]

Reed – Did that go well? I can’t tell.

Baxter Foundation Boardroom:
Mr. Smarmy – You think a couple of genius kids have finally figured out inter-dimensional travel?

Dr. Storm – Yes. But I want to ask Victor to come back.

Mr. Skeptical – Victor Von Doom? Are you kidding? He’s a criminal! Nothing good can come from working with him.

Dr. Storm – I’m willing to risk it. What’s the worst that could happen?

Vic’s Lair:
Dr. Storm – Victor, I’d like to talk to you.

Vic – Whatever. I’m through with you and your corporate masters.

Dr. Storm – The project is almost finished. We found a kid who independently duplicated your design. If you’ll quit wallowing in self-pity, I’m offering you the opportunity to finish what you started.

Vic – Yeah, I guess, whatever, as long as Sue is there.

The Mean Streets:
[[Johnny Storm participates in an illegal race; while it’s clear Johnny has suped up his car, the engine blows out under the pressure and Johnny gets into an accident]]

Dr. Storm – What the hell, Johnny?

Johnny – I was doing 45 mph and the road was wet and I spun out.

Dr. Storm – *blink* *blink blink* Seriously? You know what, never mind. I paid for that car, so if you want it back, you work for it.

Johnny – Buuut Daaaaaaad…

Baxter Foundation:
Reed – Hi, I’m Reed Richards.

Vic – And?

Sue – Always so charming, aren’t you?

Vic – Susan. I’m glad to see you.

Sue – Whatever.

Dr. Storm – Okay, everyone, Johnny’s back to help.

Vic – With a broken arm?

Johnny – Ugh, that guy.

Dr. Storm – Victor, you know Johnny is a very good mechanic. Johnny, you know Victor helped start this project. I intend to see you get the first chance to cross the inter-dimensional barrier. Remember, we’re all in this together, and we’re better and stronger when we work together.

*icy stares all around*

Reed – Um, hey, I could use some help welding.

Johnny – Alright, I’m your man.

[[Cue the A-team montage; also, no one has superpowers yet…]]

Vic – Hey, Reed, come here.

Reed – Do you need something?

Vic – Quit flirting with Sue, you nerdlinger, she’s my girl.

Reed – Your efforts to bully me just sailed right over my head. We just finished the Gate.

[[The board members are invited for the live test; shocking it goes very well although how the hell they get a real-time broadcast signal across dimensions is never explained]]

Mr. Smarmy – This is great! I’ll contact NASA and we’ll start training professional astronauts to explore this new world.

Johnny – But Dad said we could go.

Mr. Smarmy – Why in the world would we send untrained kids to go on a very dangerous exploration mission instead of professionals? Also, you’re pretty much the only people who can troubleshoot a mission if anything goes wrong.

Vic – That’s a totally valid point we’re going to totally ignore. Why don’t you bring in the military and start figuring out if you can weaponize this somehow? Corporate tool; you’ll ruin everything.

Dr. Storm – I’ll take care of this.

[[Later, the guys get drunk and resentful]]

Vic – The people who did the work to get men on the moon died friendless, unloved, and completely and utterly forgotten. I don’t want that to happen to me!

Johnny – Yeah, you said it, man.

Reed – Even though I told Sue I didn’t want fame and fortune, I totally get what Victor is saying. We should totally go ourselves, tonight!

Vic/Johnny – That’s a great idea!

Reed – [[Calls Ben]] Ben, Ben, wake up. It’s time to do something totally stupid! I mean, amazing!

Ben (phone) – Are you drunk?

Reed – No. Well, yes, but so what? The project is a go and because you’re my best friend in the whole world, and you need more screen time and nothing will go wrong!

Ben (phone) – What the hell.

[[So the foolish four load up in the teleporter shuttle and do not blow up; Sue is the only person paying attention and/or has access to the Gate system because oddly absolutely no alarms go off when it’s activated; she also has the good sense to call her father for help]]

The Other Side:
Ben – Did that work?

Reed – I’m not sure. Let’s find out.

[[They step out onto an alien world and of course they first thing they try to do is plant a flag; this results in a crack in the ground pulsing with green energy; of course they investigate the source, which is a giant green pool]]

Vic – It’s pulsing like a nerve ending. [[And Victor von Doom, certified genius, decides to touch the energy-goo; predictably, everything explodes]] That was totally not my fault! Run for it!

[[They run for it but the energy-goo catches up to them and grabs Vic despite Reed’s desperate efforts to save him; the others manage to get to the shuttle and luckily the unexplained cross-dimensional transmission function starts working]]

Sue – Guys, what the hell is going on?

Johnny – Sue! We can’t activate the shuttle! You’ve got to manually override the controls before we die!

Sue – I’m trying!

[[The shuttle gets heavily damaged before Sue overrides the system and there’s an explosion when it returns that blasts Sue into the wall]]

Area 57:
Reed – What the hell is going on? I’m all stretched out. Where’s Ben? He’s the only one I know survived. Where is he?

[[The sinister government officials elect to sedate him rather than answer him]]

Dr. Storm – Where the hell are my children?

[[It turns out Johnny is on fire but not dead and in containment, and Sue is now fading in and out of the visible spectrum]]

Dr. Storm – I want my children back. I want to cure them. I don’t want this government involvement.

Mr. Smarmy – Damn it, we don’t have a choice. They blew up a building and now they’re all changed. If we don’t try to work with the military, they’ll just take the kids someplace else.

Dr. Storm – I really hate it when you have a good point.

[[Reed wakes up again and manages to pull himself together (ha!) and goes in search of Ben, who is yelling for help; he crawls through the air vents until he finds the giant rock monster]]

Ben – Reed, is that you? Get me out of here.

Reed – I will, I will. I’ll fix this. I promise I’ll fix this. [[Alarms start to sound]] Oh, hell. I’ve got to
get out of here! I’ll be back, I promise!

Ben – Reed! Reed!

[[Reed manages to escape]]

Mr. Smarmy – Mr. Grimm, we want to help you. Reed Richards has abandoned you. If you do some work for the military, by which I mean covert operations in which you kill people, we’ll research your condition and try to reverse it.

Ben – Sure, I’m totally cool with military assassination. That’s totally within my character.

[[One year later and Ben has been on numerous missions, Johnny and Sue have received nifty suits and training on their powers, and the military is about ready to send Johnny out for covert military operations]]

Mr. Smarmy – Turning the survivors into superweapons was a great idea that won’t backfire on us in any way! In fact, when we get the Quantum Gate rebuilt, we’ll send more people over to give them powers!

Dr. Storm – That wasn’t the deal. We’re rebuilding this to fix my kids.

Mr. Smarmy – Riiiiiight.

Dr. Storm – Sue, if we don’t find Reed, we can’t finish the Gate. If we can’t finish the Gate, the military is
going to send your brother into combat.

Sue – Alright, I’ll find Reed.

[[Of course, with her mad pattern recognition skillz, she figures out where he’s hiding in a matter of hours; Reed’s been secretly trying to rebuild the Quantum Gate and has apparently learned a few tricks with his powers; however, while this is enough to take out the military guys, it’s not enough to stop Ben, who captures him]]

Reed – Ben, I’m so sorry. I’m going to fix this.

Ben – You ran away. We’re not friends any more and you can go to hell.

Reed – Wow, that seems sudden and out of character.

[[Reed manages to complete the second Quantum Gate in ten minutes; the government is ready to send professionals to explore the other dimension]]

Reed – That’s weird. The landscape changed.

[[A hooded and cloaked figure stumbles across the barren plain and falls down in front of the explorers; they are ordered to immediately return]]

Reed – It’s Victor!

[[Vic is taken to quarantine where he appears to have partially bonded with the environment suit and is glowing with the alien green energy]]

Mr. Smarmy – Victor, we can help you. But we need to know what happened to you and how you survived in that dimension.

Vic-ihilus – That dimension merged with me and gave me power.

Mr. Smarmy – What kind of power? Like, awesome superpowers? I mean, I need to know for strictly research purposes.

Vic-ihilus – You want to send people over there to take that power and take over this world.

Mr. Smarmy – Um, no, of course not. Heh heh, that’s silly.

Vic-ihilus – I’m not going to let you. I’ll make sure you can’t ever go back to my world by destroying this one. It’s the only way to be sure. And I’m going to start with you.

[[He explodes his head with presumably telekinesis powers; no one is sad; and goes on a killing spree through the complex, which triggers the evacuation alarms; Dr. Storm meets Vic-ihilus in the Gate room first]]

Dr. Storm – Victor, please, we can help you.

Vic-ihilus – I don’t want help. I’m going home, and I’m going to destroy this world.

[[He only fatally wounds Dr. Storm instead of popping his head so he can have a touching death scene with his children]]

Johnny – Dad! I’m sorry!

Dr. Storm – Take care of each other. *dies*

[[Reed and Ben show up; Vic-ihilus breaches the Gate and everything nearby starts getting sucked into the other dimension; Johnny just turns his flame on and Sue protects the others with her force field]]

The Other Side:
Reed – We have to stop him!

Johnny – Leave it to me! [[Flies off]]

Ben – I’ll pound his head in. I’ve had a lot of experience with that. [[Runs off]]

Sue – I have an idea. [[Turns invisible]]

[[Ben and Johnny’s separate attacks fail to even phase Vic-ihilus, who contains them; Sue’s effort to block the energy stream with a force field works better until Vic-ihilus finds her and contains her]]

Reed – Victor! Please, stop this!

Vic-ihilus – There is no Victor any more. [[smushes Reed to the ground]] Your world is doomed. Also I think you’re a snotty know-it-all.

Reed – That was a random revelation.

[[Vic-ihilus tries to crush Sue, but this distracts his control long enough for Reed to break free and save Sue which in turn allows the others to escape]]

Ben – We can’t beat him! He’s stronger than any of us. We should totally give up now, because that’s totally in character!

Reed – No! Remember what Dr. Storm said; we’re all in this together, and together we’re better and stronger. I have a plan!

[[This plan involves hitting Vic-ihilus with an invisible Ben, which is actually a good plan; Johnny smashes some stuff and short-circuits the reaction which disintegrates Vic-ihilus but conveniently leaves the portal open long enough for them to get back to Earth]]

Military De-briefing:
Colonel Generic – If you continue to work for us, we’ll let you continue your research. Agreed?

Reed – No. If you continue to let us do our research, we’ll consider possibly undertaking missions we want to.

Colonel Generic – And if we don’t agree?

Ben – *cracks knuckles* You really should.

Research Center:
Reed – Okay, it’s time to actually act like the Fantastic Four fans were expecting so we can get a sequel.

Sue – What, now, in the last five minutes? Do you think people will really buy that?

Ben – And won’t it be inconsistent with the tone of the rest of the movie? I mean, I totally killed people!

Johnny – Dude, the logo doesn’t even look right.

Reed – Dang it. Sounds like we’re headed for another reboot.

–fade out on the FF logo except it’s rectangular instead of round–

A Media Entry – Random Thoughts of the Mid-week, Part 13: The Quest for Randomness

Deadpool – Yes, of course I saw all the teasers and trailers available. Because of course. I am cautiously optimistic. I hope the movie doesn’t veer off course into “generic action flick” territory (like it’s quasi-sequel). I noticed that Deadpool’s subtitles were yellow, and that gave me a bit of hope that someone actually has read Deadpool’s comics. I think Ryan Reynolds is actually a good choice. See, I’ve not seen Ryan Reynolds in very many movies, and those I have seen, well, aren’t very good. So I wasn’t sure he could really pull off the loveable sociopath that is Wade Wilson. But so far, this seems okay. Still, Fox doesn’t have a great track record, and they have months to muck up the movie with re-shoots, so I’m going to remain cautious.

Top Gear – the British version, of course. There’s a few seasons available on Netflix, and while I think it’s been cancelled because one of the hosts got fired and the other two wouldn’t stay on, it’s still a good series to watch. I’m not really a car person, either. My car is plain and sensible and ten years old. But I appreciate the idea of a super-car even it’s not something I’d ever spend my money on. The three hosts are a lot of fun to watch and represent to the Freudian stereotypes – Richard is the Id, Jeremy is the Ego, and James is the Superego. It’s also fun to watch the producers give them challenges and realize that while they truly, deeply love cars, for the most part they don’t even know how to change the oil (they do get better as time goes on). You also get to watch the likes of Sir Michael Gambon almost kill himself going around the track in the “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” section.

Shaun the Sheep – speaking of British TV series, this is one I highly recommend. Yes, it’s aimed at kids, but so what? From the studio that made the “Wallace and Gromit” shorts and Chicken Run, the series follows the adventures of Shaun (the sheep featured in “A Close Shave”) and his dull flock as they make trouble for the guard dog and evade the farmer. No one actually talks, at least not in a way that’s understandable, so the humor is all visual. Much of it is outright slapstick, but some is as subtle as an eyeroll. Shaun is not just smart for a sheep (because that isn’t a high bar there) but smart period. His fellow flock members, well, not so much. I ended up watching it because a friend of mine with kids told me I would like it. He was right. Also, Shaun the Sheep the Movie is out right now, and I’m going to go see that even though I am an adult with no children. I don’t have to be grown up all the time. But I think I will aim for a late night showing so the theater won’t have any pesky children (one can hope, anyway; a friend of mine had the misfortune of attending a 10:30 PM showing of Resident Evil 3 in which a woman brought in her baby and her toddler…).

“He’s Shaun the Sheep, he’s Shaun the Sheep; he doesn’t ever miss a trick or skip a beat…”

My Fiction – A Tale of Two Kitties

Apologies for missing Wednesday; I was distracted by a small monster, an ancient grizzly bear, and crab rangoon. These things happen.

This story was published in the October 2012 edition of “Pagan Edge.” I’ll warn you, this one is somewhat sad and unfortunately based on some real-life experiences. I’ll admit it; I have a real soft spot for animals (and currently own two black cats because superstitions be damned). So, a bit of a bummer for the entry, but I’ll try to be more lighthearted later.

A Tale of Two Kitties

Dara was at the farmer’s market finishing up her weekly grocery shopping trip when she noticed a booth that had quite a crowd. Curious, she walked up to it and soon understood the draw. There was a litter of kittens in a cardboard box.
“Free to a good home,” the farmer said.
There was an orange kitten that head-butted every hand that got near him.
“Oh, he’s so cute,” Dara said, putting her hand in the box.
He laid his head in her hand and started to purr.
“Yeah, he’s a friendly little guy.”
The kitten sneezed.
“He might have a cold or something.”
Dara withdrew her hand and wiped it off on her jeans. “Oh, I wish I could take you home,” she said to the kitten, “but I can’t afford the pet deposit or the extra twenty-five bucks for the rent.” Reluctantly, she the orange kitten behind.
She was about half-way home and at a four-way stop when she saw an orange cat by the side of the road. She pulled over and went to look at the cat.
The cat was not injured, but his face and nose were covered with mucus and he was having great difficulty breathing.
“I wonder if it can even eat?” she thought, listening to it wheeze. There was no collar or tag on the cat. She felt so sorry for it she went back to her car and pulled an old towel out of her trunk, carefully wrapped up the cat, and put it on the passenger seat.
The cat stayed calm.
She took him to the only animal hospital in the area of her small, rural university.
“Excuse me,” she said, carrying the cat inside. “Can you please help this cat? He’s very sick.”
The young woman behind the desk looked at Dara and the cat. “We can have the doctor look at him, but he’s so sick it’s probably going to cost at least three hundred dollars.”
“What?” she blurted. “I don’t have that kind of money. Can’t you get him to a shelter or something?”
“The shelter can’t take care of sick animals, ma’am,” the woman said sadly. “We can give him to the animal warden, but he’ll probably just get put down.”
Dara started to cry. She so badly wanted to help the cat, but she had no money to spare and no one close by to help her out.
“I’m sorry, ma’am, we just don’t have the resources to help stray animals. Do you want me to call the animal warden?”
Dara nodded wordlessly and sat down in one of the three chairs in the waiting room and petted the orange cat. “He hasn’t even scratched or bit me,” she thought. “I can’t take him. I just don’t have the money.”
The animal warden arrived in about ten minutes. He saw Dara’s bloodshot eyes and took the cat from her. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but understand if you had left him, he probably would have died in a few days anyway from suffocation, starvation, or dehydration. This is kinder.”
“I suppose,” she sniffled. “He’s a good cat.”
“I’m sure he is,” the warden said, and put the cat in his truck and drove off.
“It’s not fair,” Dara thought. “I’m sure he started out his life just like that orange kitten I saw this morning.” That night, she did some research to figure out what charities she could work with to try to prevent more sad stories like the orange cat.

My Fiction – The Hobbit: A GM’s Tale (Part 7)

It occurs to me that I may have lost some of my readers because I’m a nerd and assume everyone knows how role-playing games work. Luckily, the internet comes to the rescue. Knights of the Dinner Table is a good resource. But there’s also Dead Gentleman Productions. Here’s a link to a five-part series (combined into one convenient video) that should give outsiders an idea of how gaming works (it does have some bad words). This is also a bit deliberately exaggerated for comic effect, but I’ve played with gamers like this.

“I don’t want his pants. I just want to steal his pants.” *Sigh* Munchkins.

Chapter 7: Queer Lodgings

“Well, this is a bigger group than I expected,” the GM said. “Did word get around about last week’s adventures?”
The assembled players looked at him.
“Well, hell, if you roll like you did last time,” Mike Patterson answered, “We’ll be rolling in XPs.”
“Okay, but I’m not promising anything.” He surveyed his players. In addition to Mike Patterson, the regulars of Martin, Terrence, Fred, and George were present, as well as Juan, Seth, and Dave. “So, when last we left our intrepid heroes, you’d managed to not get killed by goblins, not get killed by dire wolves, not get killed by fire, and get rescued by giant eagles. You’re through the mountains and on the ground.”
“But we don’t have any food, any water, or any transportation,” Terrence grumped. “And we’re in the middle of nowhere.”
The GM sighed. “Gandalf tells you he can do one more favor for you. ‘There’s a fellow around here named Beorn who may be talked into helping us.'”
“Just one guy?” Mike asked.
“Yes,” the GM answered hesitantly.
“Well, there’s fifteen of us, so why don’t we just jump this guy and take his stuff?”
“Hey, that’s a good point,” Seth said.
The GM sighed deeply. “Gandalf tells you that Beorn is a were-bear, and has a kinship with bears. He’s very dangerous.”
“Great! More XPs for us!”
“Mike, what’s your alignment?”
He looked at his character sheet. “Um, neutral good.”
With great patience, the GM replied, “Uh-huh. And what about ‘neutral’ and ‘good’ makes you think it’s appropriate for Bombur to suggest killing an innocent person and looting his stuff?”
“Um, well, um… Fine. I guess.”
“Right, so here’s the plan. Beorn doesn’t really like company, so Gandalf is going to introduce you in small groups. He’ll go first with Bilbo, and then you come in pairs about five minutes apart.”
“But that’s seven and a half groups,” Juan said thoughtfully.
“Bombur can show up last and on his own,” the GM said.
“Because he’s fat?” Mike asked sourly.
“Dude, you wrote it on the character sheet.”
“It’s supposed to be funny.”
The GM shrugged. “Whatever. Anyway, Gandalf leads you through the foothills of the mountains.” He rolled his die. “And you reach a valley with giant bees, fields of flowers, and tame animals without any trouble. ‘Beorn takes good care of his animals and will defend them,’ Gandalf warns you. He takes Bilbo and heads to a large, long, wooden cabin.”
“We’re not going to have to listen to you talk to yourself for like, an hour, are we?” Mike asked.
The GM rolled his eyes. “No. Do you all show up like Gandalf says?”
“Bombur isn’t staying behind on his own. He goes with the last group anyway.”
The GM made a note. “Okay. Well, Beorn looks human but he’s over seven feet tall, with black hair, a black beard, and wearing crude burlap clothing. He looks really strong.”
“Huh. Guess it’s good we didn’t attack him,” Mike commented.
The other players kind of shook their heads at him. He didn’t seem to notice.
“Anyway, Gandalf managed to talk Beorn into letting you stay the night by telling him about your adventures.”
“Well, a place to stay is better than nothing,” Terrence sighed. “Still doesn’t get us supplies.”
“Beorn is going to feed you.”
“Yes!” Martin said.
The others gave him a disdainful look.
“What? Bilbo is very food-centric. I’m sure if Nguyen was here, Dori would agree.”
“Well, you all sit down at dinner, and Beorn starts telling stories of his life in the mountains.”
“Do we have to listen to those stories?” Mike asked. He was playing a game on his phone.
“No,” the GM sighed. He looked at the rest of the group expectantly. “So, Beorn seems to know a lot about this area.”
“Can he get us some supplies and transportation?” Terrence asked.
The GM looked crestfallen. “Gandalf will talk to him and see what he can do. So, do you just have dinner and go to bed?”
“Well, there’s nothing else to do,” he replied.
Martin sighed. He understood that the GM was hinting that the party should actually talk to Beorn, but again, he felt Bilbo wouldn’t speak up.
“Okay, you go to bed. Nothing happens during the night, although when you wake up in the morning both Beorn and Gandalf are gone. But there’s food waiting for you.”
“Well, that’s something,” Juan said.
“Does anyone want to do anything today?”
“Are we going to fight anything?” Mike asked.
“Probably not. You’d have to go a pretty good distance to get to an area with random encounters.”
All the players except for Martin sighed.
“I don’t think I’m even going to need my dice,” Seth muttered.
“Okay, so Gandalf doesn’t come back until sunset.”
“Bilbo asks him where he’s been,” Martin asked.
“He tells you all that he’s been following Beorn. It seems Beorn went to check on the story Gandalf told him and tracked all the way back to the burnt clearing. It also appears he collected several bears with him to take out the remainder of the goblin raiding party.”
“Wow, okay, I’m glad we did not attack this guy,” Mike said.
“Dude, no one was voting for that except you,” Juan snapped.
“What? XPs are XPs.”
“Beorn comes back at dinner,” the GM continued. “‘A very good story, Gandalf, a very good story,’ he says. ‘The leader of the goblins is dead. Many dire-wolves are dead. And many goblins are dead. I don’t typically care for dwarves nor do I understand your love of gold, but I will give you supplies and lend you the use of my ponies to take you to Mirkwood forest. You can keep the food, but send the ponies back.'”
“Alright, free supplies,” Fred said.
“That’s not too bad for a boring session,” Mike muttered.
Seth nodded in agreement.
The GM glared at them. “So do you do anything else tonight except have dinner and go to bed?”
“Not much else to do,” George replied with a shrug.
“You don’t want to talk to Beorn?”
“What does some backwoods hermit know about slaying dragons?” Terrence asked. “He already said he doesn’t care for dwarves. Why waste time?”
The GM sighed. He skipped several pages in his notes. “Okay, so you leave the next morning to go to Mirkwood forest. The forest is home to a kingdom of wood-elves, but they tend to keep to themselves. Some kind of evil has infiltrated the forest that the wood-elves haven’t gotten rid of, so it’s pretty dangerous.”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Mike said.
Seth nodded in agreement.
The GM rolled his die. “And nothing bothers you on the way to the forest.”
All of the players except Martin were visibly disappointed.
“The road into the forest is marked by two giant mostly dead oak trees. The forest is very thick and the only clear path is the road. Gandalf says, ‘You need to return the ponies now.'”
“What? No way, dude, why would we do that?” Terrence asked. “I don’t want to walk through the evil forest. I mean, I’m fine with random encounters, but I know how you roll some nights and we’ll get killed if we don’t get a move on.”
“Roll a perception check.”
Terrence rolled his die. “Eh, 12. Not so great.”
“Can we roll?” Fred asked.
“Go ahead.”
Everyone rolled their die, but only Martin rolled high enough to get a text message from the GM.
“‘You’ve noticed a large bear following you since you left Beorn’s place. For such a large animal, it’s pretty good at hiding.'”
“Um, Bilbo thinks we should let the ponies go,” Martin said.
“What, why?” Terrence asked.
“Gandalf says, ‘Your burglar has better eyes than you do. Beorn has been following us, and he will be most upset if you don’t return his ponies.'”
“Oh, fine,” he said. “Well, at least we’ve got food. Unpack the ponies.”
“Gandalf says, ‘This is as far as I’m going with you.'”
“What? I thought Gandalf was here to keep us alive,” Terrence said.
“You want him to stay?”
“Why?” Mike asked. “There are still fourteen of us. We’ve got a few levels now. Terrence’s dwarf has a magic sword and the halfling has a magic ring. We should be fine. We don’t need to share our XPs with the wizard.”
“That’s the first thing you’ve said tonight I agree with,” Terrence replied. “So does Gandalf have anything to tell us about this forest?”
“Gandalf tells you not to drink any of the water in the forest, and to avoid even touching the water of a large river that you’ll run across. And most importantly, do not stray from the road. Some ancient magic still protects the road, but if you leave the road, you may never get out of the forest alive.”
“Isn’t that the way it always goes?” Juan sighed.
“Alright, next up, you get to enter the evil forest,” the GM said.
“I hope it’s more exciting than spending two days with an NPC,” Mike said acidly.
The GM glared at him. “Don’t worry; there are plenty of dangers in the forest. Even the wood-elves could be dangerous. They aren’t evil, but they don’t like strangers especially since their forest is slowly turning evil.”
“Good! We need more fights.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want…”

A Movie/Comic Book Entry – Where’s my Black Widow Movie?

Buckle up and keep hands and feet inside the ride at all times because you’re in for a seriously bitter and cynical nerd rant.

Ant-man hit the theaters a couple of weeks ago and while was no Avengers, it was No. 1 at the box office opening weekend and is doing about as well as anyone could expect from a movie concerning a hero no one really knows or cares about. Not that I’m bitter. I haven’t seen it yet, although some friends tell me it’s a decent movie, and that the focus is thankfully on Scott Lang rather than Henry Pym and his significant baggage (to the degree said baggage is pretty much erased). Fine by me; by making Henry Pym so straight-laced and righteous, he has been rendered boring and thus no one will care that the far more interesting Scott Lang will appear in the next phase of the MCU.

But Ant-man? Seriously? No one cares about [expletive] Ant-man. Hell, most of the writers don’t care about Ant-man or his character wouldn’t have been screwed up so badly. Why did Ant-man get a movie before Black Widow? Why isn’t Black Widow getting a movie? Hells bells [expletive] Gambit is getting a movie after all of 10 minutes of screen time in “Wolverine: Origins.” Ten [expletive] minutes, a nearly complete lack of accent, and being totally pwned by Wolverine gets Gambit a movie. Black Widow has been a major secondary character in two hero solo movies and a co-star in two ensemble movies. In the world of movie-goers, I am pretty certain there are far more Black Widow fans than Gambit fans.

I am so sick of this. The guy heading up the MCU, says, “Yeah, sure, we want to do a movie with a female lead, but you know, how are we going to do that?” You [expletive] do it, you [Denis Leary]! You’re the guy in charge! You can add another movie! This sounds exactly like the last CEO of WB’s DC division who said, “Yeah, sure, we’d like to do a Wonder Woman movie, but we’re just going to have to take it slow and be careful.” [Expletive].

This is not hard. If Marvel Studios doesn’t want to mess with the timeline of the MCU, simply make an origin story movie for Black Widow. Normally I’m not a fan of origin stories, but I think in this case it could work. We already know Black Widow was an elite Russian assassin who was trained and brainwashed from a very young age to be a soulless killing machine. We know from “Agent Carter” that even pre-WWII this was an extremely effective program and no doubt made more effective over time. I am genuinely curious how Black Widow came to see the error of her ways and decided to repent. I am curious about her relationship with Nick Fury and how any kind of trust was forged between them.

And if Marvel Studios is worried this doesn’t fit into the mold of a summer blockbuster, then don’t make it a summer blockbuster. This could be an amazing spy-noir thriller. Marvel can do noir; I’ve seen Daredevil (I mean the good one here, not the bad one). The studio is planning to continue the gritty noir theme with future installments of the Secret Defenders. This kind of tone is not outside their wheelhouse. And in that case, don’t release the movie in the summer. It turns out there are actually 12 months in a calendar year, not just five. There is a terrible dearth of any watchable movies around November and February. Yeah, I get Disney wants no competition for “Star Wars” so just move Black Widow: Red Ledger (it’s a working title) to a February release. All that’s in theaters at that time is usually Oscar-bait dramas or low-brow, low-budget comedies the studios need to unload at some point.

Everyone would watch this. Everyone, not just men, not just women, not just fans. Everyone. Hell, Lucy made decent money at the box office and that was almost a superhero movie (perhaps the closest to a live-action cinematic version of the Phoenix Saga we may ever see). What’s wrong, comic movie studios, do you not want our money? Surely that’s not the case.

Here’s the truth, and everyone in charge is just too cowardly to say it – Gambit gets a movie before Black Widow (and potentially Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel) because Gambit is a dude. That’s [expletive] it. That’s why Ant-man hit theaters this summer. Because Ant-man is a man, and it says so right in the title. The upcoming Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel (coming in 2017 and 2018 respectively) are concessions to a rising tide of rage that the studios aren’t really taking that seriously. Why they don’t want to make a female-led superhero movie is the matter of some debate, but honestly the motivations are irrelevant. People want to see these movies; people want to throw money at the studios to watch female superheroes like Black Widow and Wonder Woman kick some solo ass. It’s the studio heads and marketing departments that are sticking their fingers in their ears and going, “La la la la can’t hear you!”

I know that isn’t actually the case. I know there aren’t a bunch of shady characters in the executive boardroom of the movie studios cackling to each other and saying, “Muhahaha!! I shall personally see to it there will never be a female-led superhero movie!” True, I have speculated perhaps supervillains do run the movie studios, but I am aware that such decisions are made in what seems to be a logical sequence carefully considering the information presented. But, to quote a cliche/meme – garbage in, garbage out.

Eventually the studios will make female-led movies. The cynical part of me (okay, me) thinks this will happen not because they want to, not because they think they’ll make any money off of them, but just to shut up the critics and say, “Hey, there’s a female-led movie, now leave us alone.” Yeah, because one Captain Marvel totally makes up for 19 previous male-led superhero movies, and totally allows for another 19 male-led movies before She-Hulk gets her day in the sun. By the by, I recognize that a lack of diversity is not limited to a lack of women. How long until Black Panther is released? Oh, right.

Cynicism aside, actions speak louder than words. And the actions of Marvel Studios and WB/DC say that they don’t want to make a female-led superhero movie. That’s the whole truth of it. I don’t care why; I just know the people in charge condescendingly lie to us every single time they say they want to make a female-led superhero movie and then just shrug and add, “But whatcha gonna do?”

MAKE THE DAMN MOVIE!

Black Widow: Red Ledger. Not coming to any movie theater near you any time soon, and it is long past time the studio heads were called out for this [expletive]. There is no excuse.

My Fiction – The Hobbit: A GM’s Tale (Part 6)

Did I mention I’m working to get a novel published in time for Halloween? Did I mention I’m seriously behind? And did I mention my Muse wants me to write this? ARGH! Please enjoy my pain.

Chapter 6: Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire

The GM surveyed the diminished party. “So I’ve got Thorin, Kili, Fili, Balin, and Dori. This is the smallest party yet.”
Mike Nyugen shrugged. “The other guys figured you were done with combat.”
The GM sighed. “Fine. Well, you’d better hope I don’t roll high on the random encounter table.”
“We didn’t think of that,” Juan said. “You did almost get us killed by stone giants.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Terrence said dismissively. “Hey, where’s Martin?”
The GM shrugged. “I’m not going to tell you that. You’ll have to figure that out ourselves.”
“Oh, well, great, he must have gotten himself killed. Damn it, Mike, why didn’t you hang onto him?”
“Oh, yeah, right, like that was so easy,” Mike shot back. “The goblins had a surprise round and I have a terrible reflex save. There was no room to maneuver and you almost took my damn head off!”
“Hey, everyone critically fails once in a while,” Terrence retorted.
“Yeah, but you have a vorpal sword!”
“It’s only vorpal for goblins!”
“I only lived because I actually made my reflex save!”
“Who’s on watch right now?” the GM interrupted. “I mean, I’m sure you guys aren’t standing around in goblin territory without someone keeping an eye out, right?”
The players took the hint.
“Balin’s on watch,” Juan offered.
“Okay, make a perception check.”
Juan rolled his die. “23.”
“Okay, you don’t see anything out of place.”
“Well, I’m going to doubly pay attention now.”
“The point is,” Terrence continued irritably, “is that we’ve lost the halfling and we have to figure out if we’re going to go back to the goblin tunnels and try to find him or just forget about him.”
“Gandalf strongly objects to leaving Bilbo behind,” the GM said.
“Yeah, well, it was his idea to bring that useless thief with us. Maybe he should go back and find out if he’s dead or not. Stupid thief can’t even sneak up on a bunch of [expletive] trolls.”
Suddenly the library doors opened and Martin walked in. “‘The thief is right here!’ Bilbo declares to the group.”
“Wait, what?” Terrence stammered.
“Bilbo pops out from behind a tree,” the GM said.  “He seems fine although his clothes are torn.”
“Theater majors,” Fred and George sighed in unison.
“But I got a 23 on my perception check,” Juan protested. “How the hell did he get past me?”
Martin took a seat at the table. “Maybe I’m a better thief than you guys thought.”
“No, something’s up here,” Terrence said. “What happened when you got lost? And keep it short, okay?”
Martin frowned and gave a short version of what happened and omitted the part about finding the ring. But by the end of that short explanation, the other players looked more impressed.
“Well, if you did manage to sneak back up the goblin tunnels like that, maybe you are a better thief than we thought,” Juan said.
“We’ll see,” Terrence replied. “But everyone’s here, so shouldn’t get moving? We are still in goblin territory.”
“Gandalf absolutely agrees with you,” the GM said.
“Alright, then we get going.”
The party started to move as quickly as they could down the mountain.
The GM rolled his die. “Rockslide. Everyone make a reflex save.”
The players grumbled and did so.
“Well, at least that will make it harder for the goblins to track us,” Juan said. “What’s in front of us? Any place to hide?”
“Well, not really. You’re still pretty high up on the mountain. There are pine trees, so I guess you could climb those if you had to.”
“Dwarves don’t climb,” Terrence said stubbornly.
“Halflings sure can’t,” Martin said, looking at his character sheet.
“Let’s keep running and hope we’ve lost them and can find a secure place to camp.”
The GM rolled his die again. He frowned and checked his notes. Then he rolled the die again.
“This is not good, is it?” Martin said.
“Yeah, no,” Mike agreed.
“Are you going to kill us?” Terrence asked.
“I’m not trying to,” the GM answered, still pouring through his notes. “Okay, look, I never do this, but Terrence, you roll a D100.”
“What, really?”
“I don’t want to kill you guys, but my dice do. Roll low.”
Terrence pulled out two ten-sided dice. “Okay, usually red is high, but since I want to roll low, I’ll make the blue one high.” He dropped the two dice on the table so hard that the red one rolled out of his sight and in front of Martin. “And there we go. The blue is a zero. No problem.”
“Um,” Martin said, “the red is a zero too.”
“Seriously?” he exclaimed.
Mike glanced over at it. “Yeah, that’s a zero. You rolled a hundred, dude.”
“Okay, well, I gave you guys a chance,” the GM said. “You start to hear wolves howling in the distance. What do you do?”
Everyone looked at Terrence.
“Keep running, I guess. Does Gandalf have any bright ideas?”
“‘Those are the howls of the dire-wolves,’ he says. ‘They are bigger and more intelligent than other wolves. Sometimes they even ally themselves with goblins.'”
“This just keeps getting better and better,” Juan sighed.
“And the howling is getting closer,” the GM added.
“Well, damn it, I guess it’s up the trees anyway,” Terrence said.
“Okay, give me some climb checks.”
They grumbled and rolled their dice.
“I think Bilbo failed,” Martin said.
“Whoever’s closest to the halfling get him up the tree,” Terrence ordered.
The GM rolled a die. “That would be Dori.”
“Oh man, do I always have to save this guy?” Mike replied.
“Hey, you’re the one who dropped Bilbo in the goblin tunnels,” Martin retorted.
“Guys, just get in the damn trees,” Terrence sighed.
Eventually the whole party did manage to climb into the pine trees.
“Okay, almost as soon as everyone is up, the area is filled with dire-wolves. They’re the size of small ponies, and it doesn’t take long until they find you in the trees. They bark and threaten you, but they can’t climb, so they just set guards by the trees. A huge, old dire-wolf calls a meeting to attention.”
“Does anyone have speak with animals?” Fred asked. “You know, like the wizard?”
The GM rolled his eyes. “Yes, Gandalf can understand what they’re saying. Apparently they were supposed to meet up with the goblins tonight and go on a raid.”
“Man, what are the odds we’d end up here right at that time?” George mused.
“Hey, I let Terrence roll the die,” the GM said. “I tried.”
“Does anyone have any weapons or anything?” Terrence snapped. “Anything ranged at all?”
“We could throw some pine cones,” Mike answered sourly. “You know the goblins took everything.”
“What about the wizard?” Juan asked.
The GM rolled his eyes again. “Gandalf doesn’t have a lot spells left, but I’ll see what I can do.” He checked his notes. “Well, I’ve got some fire spells left.”
“We’re in trees,” Terrence retorted. “That’s going to get us killed! Don’t you have any magic missiles?”
“I told you, Gandalf is low on spells, and he’s a specialist in fire magic anyway. Do you want him to try to scare the dire-wolves off or not?”
“Fine,” he grumbled.
The GM had Gandalf cast a few fire spells and sure enough, the dire-wolves caught on fire and were running around in an enraged madness. “Okay, Terrence, you roll a D100 for me again.”
“Oh, no, not me. Who’s the luckiest?”
The players discussed this amongst themselves.
“Okay, we’ll split the difference,” Fred said. “I’ll roll the low die and George will roll the high die. That should do.” The twins each rolled one ten-sided die. “Oh, man, that’s a nine.”
“And I rolled a nine too,” George said. “Ninety-nine.”
The GM consulted his notes. “I swear I’m not trying to kill you guys.”
“What just happened?” Terrence asked.
“I mean, I’m really not.”
“JR, what just happened?”
“Remember Gandalf told you the goblins were supposed to meet the dire-wolves tonight? Well, they got over the death of their leader and finally made it to the meet up.”
Terrence slapped his hand against his forehead and muttered a string of swearing.
“Yeah, so after the goblins finish laughing at the dire-wolves, they put them out and set your trees on fire. I swear I’m not trying to kill you. The dice are.”
“Yeah, well, that isn’t going to save us, is it?” Juan retorted.
“The goblins are taunting you.”
“Thanks. Just pour salt in the wound,” Mike sighed.
The GM checked his notes again. “Okay, I need another D100 roll.”
“Oh, [expletive],” Terrence said. “How could we get more screwed?”
“Just roll.”
“Martin, you roll.”
“Okay,” he replied. He dutifully rolled a pair of ten-sided dice.
“We’re so dead,” Mike sighed. “It doesn’t matter which was called high because he just rolled a hundred.”
“You know, I really wish I could roll like this when we’re in a fight,” Martin said.
“Maybe you will in the next campaign,” Terrence replied acidly.
“Okay, guys, as Gandalf is getting ready to jump down and use a really nasty spell, he’s suddenly grabbed by a giant eagle and carried away. Other eagles follow and grab the rest of you with their talons. Do any of you try to evade?”
“Um, no, I guess,” Terrence said. “I mean, if they want to kill us, there’s not a lot we can do here.”
“Martin, Bilbo needs to make a reflex save.”
“Oh, man, I hope my luck holds out.” He rolled the die. “Alright, a 25!”
“Great. The eagles didn’t see you but you manage to grab a hold of Dori’s legs before he’s carried off.”
“And here I am carrying the halfling again,” Mike sighed.
“The eagles fly away with you and eventually drop you on the side of the cliff. There are a lot of other eagles. Gandalf is talking with one of them and eventually he joins you. ‘Don’t worry, these are allies. I was talking with the Eagle King. They’ve been keeping an eye on the goblins and dire-wolves in this area and happened to see the raiding party and the fire. The King owes me a favor, so we’re going to spend the night here and they’ll drop us off in the morning.'”
“Can they take us all the way to the Lonely Mountain?” Juan asked.
“Gandalf glares at Balin. ‘They are not my pets. They do not come at my beck and call. They will get us outside of goblin territory, but go no further.'”
“Oh, fine. It’s just we lost all our ponies and stuff.”
“‘We’ll worry about that later,’ he says. So you all get to spend in the night in the eyries. The eagles even bring up some meat to roast up.”
“Well, that was a fun string of coincidences,” Terrence said.
“And a nice deus ex machina,” Martin added. “Not quite chariots from the sky, but pretty close.”
“Hey, I had to do something. Anyway, you’re all alive and you’re getting fed. Do you want your XP or what?”
The group clamored for their experience points.

The Raging Fanboy

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