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Monday, March 31, 2014

Our Evolving Morality in Castle and Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Society's ethics, and our own sense of right or wrong, is constantly influenced by what we experience, and those with whom we interact. Each generation embraces its own values, and casts aside ones they believe no longer serve their needs. We always believe we're making the right choices, the necessary choices for us, but our decisions define us, and our evolving sense of morality.

In the recent episode "T.A.H.I.T.I." on "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," Agent Skye lays dying. So Agent May bursts into their plane's detention room and wails away at Quinn, the man who shot Skye.

Their superior agent Coulson calls her off, so she returns to the cockpit. Agent Ward, who witnessed her assault on their prisoner, says, "It was good to see you wail on Quinn like that."

Later, agent Garrett boards the plane mid-flight. He believes Quinn has information that might save Skye's life. So he tells Quinn that he'd better answer his questions now…or he'll rip out his tongue.

In case Quinn doesn't believe him, Garrett shows him how that might feel.

The way Batman wailed away at the Joker's face in "The Dark Knight," while in police custody, turned me off that movie franchise. In "Star Trek Into Darkness," the way Captain Kirk wailed away at Khan, after Khan surrendered to him, left me disgusted. I know our world is full of villains who would do us harm, and embracing reasonable measures of protection is prudent. But as for taking out our anger on others, and employing torture to get the information we need to secure our safety…when did that become okay? 

In season four of "Castle," Captain Gates becomes Detective Beckett's commanding officer. As a former Internal Affairs officer, one of her overriding concerns is public officials who abuse their authority. In the episode "Dial M for Mayor," she asks Beckett, "As for the sergeant who abused my patrol partner under the mantle of authority, who holds him accountable?"

Last year, in the fifth season, boyish, nonviolent Richard Castle is thrown for a loop when his daughter Alexis is kidnapped in the two episodes "Target" and "Hunt." When the police can't find her fast enough, he asks Detective Beckett to leave him in a room, alone, and not come in, while he aggressively questions a man as to his daughter's whereabouts. 

So, naturally, she agrees.

It's easy to love those who love you and show you kindness. It's more difficult to love those whose words and actions annoy or anger you. But isn't the highest test of our morality--both as individuals and as a society--defined how we treat those in our care, whether they be subordinates or prisoners, and whether we approve of their actions or not?

Or does our safety, and that of those we love, trump all other concerns? 

Dragon Dave

Friday, March 28, 2014

How To Cook A Cyberman's Head

Pocket: Oh! Beware the Mutant Squash!
Denim: Danger Alert! Danger Alert! Danger Alert!
Pocket: Stand down, Private. I was just having a little fun.
Denim: So, if it's not dangerous, what is it?
Pocket: Let's see how it looks inside, and I'll tell you.

Pocket: Remember all those squash and pumpkin plants that Mistress grew last year?
Denim: Affirmative. She called them volunteers, because she didn't plant any seeds.
Pocket: Right. Remember the plant that had pumpkin-like leaves, but the only fruit that matured looked like a mutated Kobacha squash? This is that lone fruit. The interior resembles squash, but the seeds remind me of pumpkin seeds.
Denim: It reminds me of autopsy photos of a Cyberman's head.  
Pocket: That's unkind, Private. Besides, it's natural that a humanoid head would decompose under long-term Cyber-programming. 

Denim: Instead of slicing up those halves, we should have fitted them with outboard motors. We could have ruled Earth's waterways!
Pocket: Now you come up with a great idea like that? To quote the human spy Maxwell Smart, once again we missed out on the Dalek Domination of Earth…by "that much."

Denim: So, is ten minutes sufficient to cook a Cyberman's head?
Pocket: I'm warning you, Private. No more derogatory name-calling. 

Denim: Well, it's done. Now we'll see if Master and Mistress like the taste of mutant squash.
Pocket: First we must ascertain its flavor, and make certain it's safe to serve them. I want you to--
Denim: Uh, no thanks, sir. I really feel you should have that honor.

Pocket: Private, I order you to sample it. It's your duty to Master and Mistress.
Denim: With respect, sir, there's no way I'm going to taste a cooked Cyberman's head.
Pocket: Derogatory name-calling and insubordination? That's it, Private. I'm putting you on bathroom duty!
Denim: Oh! Beware the Mutant Squash…

Pocket & Denim Dalek

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Brave Look At A New Superman

“Man of Steel” is a shockingly ugly movie, filled with violence and destruction, reprehensible ideologies, and twisted takes on beloved, time-tested characters. It is also a supremely beautiful movie, filled with visions of grandeur, ideas that push the story forward, and a hero who rises above questions of identity and moral quandaries to protect those in need. Like the teens it caters to, it is a pulsing, heaving, aching mass of strong performances and vivid scenes. We lean forward to hear its huddled, whispered conversations, then cover our ears when it lurches, crashes, and explodes into motion. As the hero of my own life story, I heeded those desperate, pain-wracked calls, and made another attempt not just to understand it, but also to enjoy it.

In the first few moments of the film, we find Lara on the planet Krypton. She lies on a bed, her legs spread wide, as she struggles to push a child from her womb. Her screams ring through a darkened room as she gives birth to her son Kal-El. Her husband Jor-El stands beside her, holding her hand, and willing her strength. Hers is the first natural birth in generations, for on Krypton children are genetically programmed, their bloodlines, abilities, and purpose in life approved before they gestate in the bio-mechanical birthing containers of the Genesis Chamber. 

As Krypton's chief scientist, Jor-El recognizes how planning out every conceivable aspect of their society has led the World Council to develop and utilize every available resource, even the planet's core. In exhausting this last store of energy and materials, Jor-El tells the council it has pillaged their future. Others realize this too, including their chief military officer, General Zod, who intends to wrest control of his world and remake it in his own design. So Jor-El compounds the heresy of creating an unprogrammed child by stealing Kryption’s genetic library, downloading the information into his infant son's DNA, and sending young Kal-El off in a one-man spacecraft, knowing his planet may implode at any minute.

Kal-El hardly finds life on Earth easy, even when his adoptive parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent, give him the Human name Clark. With his enhanced Krptonian senses, he functions like a boy with ADHD, constantly inundated by stimuli you and I would never perceive.  Nor are his troubles limited to concentration in the classroom. His adoptive father, Jonathan Kent, continually rides Clark to rein in his super-abilities, to fit in with society, and above all, not to reveal who he really is. For most people, he argues, cannot accept anyone who stands out, who says or does things they don’t understand, and challenges their preconceptions and beliefs. 

Meet Lois Lane. As Martha means everything to Jonathan Kent, and Lara to Jor-El, she is destined to become Clark’s partner in love and life. She’s a hard-edged reporter who forces her way into a military-led archeological dig. She’s not afraid to stand up to the base commander, list her “rights” to be there, and then, with her steely gaze, tell him, “Now, if we’re through comparing the size of our dicks…” She drinks hard liquor. She leaks stories to rumormongering blogs (i.e. not The Dragon's Cache) when her boss refuses to print them. She may be as tough as any man, but she is also a Human, and therefore frail and weak in comparison to Clark Kent.

On her first night in camp, Lois follows Clark across the dig site, and into a spaceship buried in the ice. Clark shrugs off an attack by the ship’s robot guardian, but Lois is not so fortunate. She is bleeding internally, and will die unless she receives immediate medical aid. Clark must make a choice, and decide where he belongs. Will he embrace his identity as Kal-El, and use his Kryptonian abilities to save her life? Or will he be the Human his Earthly father Jonathan desires, and watch Lois Lane die.

And so we return to the beginning, and I wind down this musing on “Man Of Steel.” Kal-El’s eyes glow hotter and hotter, until they generate twin beams of light, which spear down into Lois Lane’s torso, and staunch her internal bleeding. Her screams ring through the dark corridors of the Kryptonian spaceship. The scene, like the movie, is cringingly ugly, hauntingly beautiful, and rich in ideas. It is a writhing mass of incompatabilities that craves our understanding, and challenges us to evaluate our preconceptions and beliefs. 

I’m not sure why I wanted to watch “Man Of Steel” again, but I did. Some might regard this as a valiant attempt to understand why the movie achieved such wide-spread acceptance. Others might see it as a heroic attempt to accept the latest evolutions in popular culture. Alas, my superior reserves of humility prevent me from commenting on either assertion.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries

Monday, March 24, 2014

Conan Cares For Valeria

In the Marvel Comics' adaptation of "Red Nails," Conan and Valeria see a far-off city surrounded by desert.  But before they can travel there, they must battle the dragon that devoured their horses, and trapped them atop a rocky butte amid the forest. 

Using a makeshift spear--its tip coated with juice from poisonous Darketa Apples (covered in "Conan Battles A Dragon")--Conan skewers the dragon's tongue.

They climb down and run through the forest. All too soon, the dragon recovers sufficiently to pursue them.

Valeria thinks Conan is only interested in sampling her charms.  But once he slays the dragon...

Like Loon in Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Shaman, Conan repeatedly demonstrates well-honed survival skills. Another example? After spending the rest of the day trekking across the desert, Conan finds them a defensible camp site.

In Robert E. Howard's stories of Conan the Barbarian, I see a protagonist who is not only courageous and resourceful, but also cares for others. 

Those qualities, along with his chivalry and self-sacrifice, make him an admirable hero.

Still, after a sleepless night, even Conan can get a little prickly

Related Dragon Cache entries
Aliens in the Hyborian Age

Dragon Dave

Friday, March 21, 2014

A Dalek Fiesta

Denim: Look Master, a young man brought you this basket of chips.

Pocket: And here's some fresh salsa.  It's a good source of vegetables.

Denim: Let's secure some guacamole for Master before it disappears!

Pocket: With all the chips, what shall we do with these hot tortillas?

Denim: We could fill some up with refried beans.

Pocket: Beans are good, but this looks like the ultimate tortilla filling.

Denim: The way food keeps appearing, this is rapidly becoming a fiesta!

Pocket: Is it just me, or did the leftovers multiply on the way home?  
Denim: Really. Now all we need is twelve baskets of loaves and fishes.
Pocket: Quick: open up that bag of chips.  I want to exterminate some of this before Master puts it all in the fridge.
Denim: Si. Exterminamos! Exterminamos!! Exterminamos!!!

Pocket & Denim Dalek

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Conan Battles A Dragon

In Marvel Comics' adaptation of "Red Nails," Conan and Valeria are atop a rocky butte when they hear their horses scream. By the time they climb down, their horses have gone silent. Then they hear the predator rushing toward them. From the animal's tread, they imagine it must be as big as an elephant.

As Conan and Valeria cannot battle something this large and powerful head-on, they hurry back up the butte. Valeria is too exhausted to resist Conan's desire to comfort her.

But Conan has noticed the skeleton atop the butte. Whether the man died of poison or old age, he has no intention of joining him. 

So, like Loon in Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Shaman, he uses his knowledge of the land, 

and the skills he learned while growing up in his native Cimmeria, 

to forge a weapon that may kill the dragon,

or at least slow it sufficiently to make a head-on confrontation possible.

Artist Barry Windsor-Smith evokes Robert E. Howard's story with vivid imagery. Conan is not a genius, a philosopher, or an inventor, but he's always alert to the possibilities inherent in any situation. In addition to his courage, that ability helps him battle dragons, and fills his life with adventures. 

That's why we love and admire him.

Dragon Dave

Monday, March 17, 2014

Kim Stanley Robinson: Growing Up During The Ice Age

In the first section of his novel Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson introduces us to Loon, a boy growing up during the Ice Age. After his parents' death, Loon was taken in by Thorn, the local shaman.  One cold, rainy night, Thorn takes Loon up a hill, strips him of his clothes, tools, and everything the pack has given him, and pushes Loon off into the darkness.  

Loon's most pressing need is to make fire.  He searches for the necessities, such as duff, punk, and the right kinds of wood.  While he has built many fires, tonight no one stands by to guide or correct him. He is cold and wet…and he fails. So he huddles under trees, dances and shouts to keep warm, and in this way passes the first night of his trial of manhood.

The next morning, he builds a trap in a nearby stream. He gets a fire going. He uses a sharp rock to cut long, thin strips of wood. The latter he weaves together, cuts the crosshatched wood into shapes, and fashions garments for himself. Then he returns to the river, tosses the fish in his trap onto the bank, and cooks them over the fire he has carefully tended while making his own clothes.

Loon's trial of manhood will last two weeks.  His mandate is not merely exist, but to return and regale the pack with his adventures. His next goal is to hunt for animals, so he can strengthen himself with meat, use its bones to forge tools, and turn its hide into warmer, more durable garments.  But he is not the only hunter in this area. He must beware predatory animals and other tribesmen while hunting, skinning prey, traveling by day, and sleeping at night.  An open area under trees, with a fire that can be seen miles away, and with nothing to stop the wind from carrying his scent, can serve as but a temporary home. 

As always, Kim Stanley Robinson writes with beauty and style. While he weaves action with memory and dreams, we learn about this boy who must prove himself a man. Loon's Ice Age adventures remind me how ignorant I am of the necessities of survival. Yet, as a modern man, Loon's challenge is also my own.  To use my knowledge, experience, and the tools at my disposal to not just survive, but to thrive.  

To have adventures.

Dragon Dave

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Dalek Joyride

Rex: It's nice to be back at Seven Sisters. I just wish it wasn't so cold.

Artist: I'm glad you persuaded me to sneak off in Master's TARDIS with you, even if the weather is inclement today.  Ever since Master & Mistress watched "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" last weekend, I've been yearning to return. If only we could have attended the World Quidditch Cup with Harry! The chance to see Viktor Krum in action would have made the trip worthwhile, even if it meant risking a Death Eater attack after the game.

Rex: We're Daleks. We're not afraid of no Death Eaters, or even a particular wizard who shall not be named. Say, I don't know about you, but my heating circuits are having trouble compensating for today's low air temperature.  Let's take one last moment to savor the view, then head back for Master's TARDIS. There's somewhere else I want to visit before we return home.

Artist: Magnify! Magnify! Magnify!

Rex: Ah, that's better.  A visit to an English tea room is the perfect way to cap off a joyride in the Master's TARDIS.

Rex & Artist Dalek

Related Dragon Cache entries
Visiting My Seven Sisters: Part 1

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Elf-Bolts & Sex-Rocks in Wuthering Heights

I've finished Wuthering Heights, and although I enjoyed it, I'll admit I found the novel a tough read.  About a quarter of the way in, I got lost for awhile.  Emily Bronte gave many of her characters similar names, and children in the novel were often named after their parents.  The fact that the oldest son and/or daughter was often referred to by their last name, rather than their first, also made it difficult to track who was who. Additionally, when Mr. Lockwood gets sick and becomes a shut-in during the winter, Mrs. Dean rushes through a great deal of Earnshaw family history to pave the way for more recent events concerning Heathcliff.  

Overwhelmed by cultural differences and family history, I abandoned the story for awhile.  But I returned, as it was a novel I've long wished to read.  As you may have gathered from my previous posts, I found it a very interesting story.  Consider Catherine's statement from Chapter Twelve, roughly about a third of the way through.

'I see in you, Nelly,' she continued dreamily, 'an aged woman: you have grey hair and bent shoulders. This bed is the fairy cave under Penistone crags, and you are gathering elf-bolts to hurt our heifers; pretending, while I am near, that they are only locks of wool. That's what you'll come to fifty years hence: I know you are not so now. I'm not wandering: you're mistaken, or else I should believe you really WERE that withered hag, and I should think I WAS under Penistone Crags.'

All those references to myth, legend, and fairy tales made me wonder what Emily Bronte was referring to.  At this point in the story, Edgar Linton has had a huge argument with Heathcliff.  His wife Catherine always wanted things both ways: she wanted to keep her adopted brother Heathcliff close, and yet she married Linton for his wealth and position in society. As Linton is too soft and genteel for her taste, she never really respects him.  After he bans Heathcliff from the house, and forbids her to see him again, she locks herself in her room, claims to be sick, and refuses to eat. One night, as she's tearing apart her pillow, her maid Mrs. Dean tries to settle her down. Catherine refuses while making this strange prophesy.

According to Richard Thornhill at the website Northern Earth, Bronte is referencing local folklore.  Rock formations, especially striking ones with holes in them, were associated with stories and beliefs.  Some taught that if a young couple crawled through one but did not marry within a year, then they would die.  Alternatively, one might commit suicide and haunt the other if they married someone else.  When people found pointed pieces of stone on the ground, they attributed them to mythical, magical, and real creatures with whom they shared the world.  Yet even though they looked newly-formed, we now know they were arrowheads made and used thousands of years ago by prehistoric hunters. 

(That's not to say that elves aren't real.  Frodo lives, folks!) 

Thornhill describes many of Bronte's characters in sexual terms, and suggests she intended several as metaphors contrasting the world, the flesh, and Satan.  From such comparisons follow cultural and societal outlooks on good and evil.  I didn't perceive half of what Thornhill described in reading the novel, but then, I didn't grow up in England. I certainly didn't grow up in Haworth like he did, the village where Emily Bronte taught the Bible to one of his grandparents' friends. Nor am I familiar with the myths and legends associated with the Pennine region. At first, I wondered if he wasn't reading too much into Bronte's novel. But then I realized what the first five letters of Penistone crags spells.  

While Penistone crags is a Bronte creation, the hill that rises up behind the church in Haworth (and the parsonage, where the Bronte Museum is located), bears the name Penistone Hill. 

This suggests, among other things, that Bronte is infusing her novel with beliefs that informed her society's concepts of right and wrong.  

When reading the Bible, history, or stories written in centuries past, it's easy to judge the actions of these people by how we might react to events in contemporary culture. With references to Elves, Goblins, Witches, Fairies, and the like, Wuthering Heights reminds us that peoples of the past saw their world differently than we do today. When our beliefs are called into question, and we cling to them, telling ourselves this is what our ancestors believed, we may in fact be correct. But do we really know why our ancestors believed what they believed? And if so, can their beliefs of the past be applied to situations and dilemmas that arise in our constantly evolving society?  

Insights of this nature make me want to read more literary classics.  It's so nice to be able to read such stories on a computer, during the "Information Age," when I can access the Internet to look up anything that intrigues me, and hopefully gain a better understanding of the author's beliefs, morals, and culture.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
Emily Bronte & the Will to Live
Daleks Banish Emily Bronte's Ghouls, Goblins, Ghosts & Vampires

Related Internet Links
Wuthering Heights: Chapter 12
Northern Earth: Wuthering Heights' Cave
Wuthering Heights: Penistone Crags  

Friday, March 7, 2014

Daleks Banish Emily Bronte's Ghouls, Goblins, Ghosts & Vampires

Pinky: Thanks for helping me assemble Master's lunch.
Rusty: Glad to help.  Say, I know I'm new to the household troop, but is Master looking tired to you?
Pinky: Yes, I don't think he's been sleeping well lately.
Rusty: Why's that?
Pinky: In Wuthering Heights, the housekeeper Mrs. Dean calls Mr. Heathcliff a goblin. After he foregoes eating and sleeping, Mr. Lockwood wonders if Heathcliff is a ghoul, a vampire, or some other kind of demon.  I always thought the Bronte sisters wrote classic Mainstream fiction, not Horror. 
Rusty: I read over Master's shoulder when he was researching Emily Bronte on Wikipedia.  She and her sisters wrote poems and stories about several fantasy worlds, which even her sister Charlotte described as "weird."  Some modern critics claim that the sisters wrote Speculative Fiction, a literary genre that evolved into today's Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. But I suspect, in the instances you mentioned, that Emily Bronte used those terms as metaphors for Heathcliff's personality quirks.
Pinky: So after Heathcliff dies, and the locals see his and Catherine's ghosts wandering the moors, you think--
Rusty: Whoa! They actually see ghosts? Maybe I was wrong, then. No wonder Master hasn't been sleeping well lately. In addition to fearsome Wesen like the Wildesheer on "Grimm," Ghouls, Goblins, and Ghosts are enough to give a human nightmares.
Pinky: Don't forget the Vampires.
Rusty: I wish I could! Any Dalek made with red Dalekanium yarn fears Vampires.
Pinky: I know Master's eating healthier these days, but I think we'd better assemble a special dessert, just to make sure he sleeps well tonight. Want to help?
Rusty: I'm your Dalek, partner.

Rusty: A Chocolate Rice Krispy Square, Easter candy, and Cookie Crisp cereal cookies? You really know how to cater to Master's needs.
Pinky: Wait, I think he still needs something else.
Rusty: Something else? Exactly how frightened is he?
Pinky: Do you want to sample what I'm preparing next, or not?
Rusty: Sorry. What's next?
Pinky: Wait and see.

Rusty: Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream? If this dessert doesn't banish Master's nightmares, nothing will.
Pinky: You're not being sarcastic, are you?
Rusty: No, I'm just glad he's eating "healthier" these days.  Otherwise, he'd have to be a lot more cautious with his reading choices.

Pinky & Rusty Dalek

Related Dragon Cache entries
Daleks Love Sundaes
Daleks on Pop-tarts & Ice Cream

Related Internet Links
Emily Bronte at Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Grimm Family Portrait

Meet Monroe and Rosalee, two nice young people who inhabit the wonderful world of "Grimm."  In a recent episode, when Monroe told his parents of their engagement, they were so excited they flew off to visit him in Portland, Oregon. 

You might not know it to look at him, but Monroe is a Blutbad, or if you prefer, a werewolf.  Thankfully for us, he's given up the normal activities of his kind, such as running with the pack and hunting.  His parents know he's become a vegetarian, but they don't know that he plans to marry a Fuchsbau, or a real fox-y lady. They find this situation rather alarming.

Shaken, Rosalee leaves, but then his friend Nick arrives.  Nick doesn't possess a human-animal nature like Monroe and Rosalee, but he's inherited the rare trait of a Grimm, which enables to see the true form of people like Monroe and Rosalee. Traditionally, Grimms have hunted and killed Wesen, a generic term for Blutbad, Fuchsbau, and anyone who possesses extra-human traits.  When Monroe's parents learn their son has helped a Grimm hunt down Wesen, they are appalled.  

In Nick's work as a homicide detective, he meets people from all walks of life.  Some of them are Wesen.  Unlike most of his ancestors, he takes the time to look past external differences, and view all people as individuals.  He's even befriended a few Wesen, like Monroe and Rosalee.  Currently, he wants Monroe's help in tracking down a group of Wildesheer on a killing spree.

Monroe's father may not like Grimms, but he fears Wildesheer more. These Wesen weave the scalps of their victims into magical, impenetrable cloaks.  He knows that, with each victory, the Wildesheer grow more powerful, until they can summon forces of nature like thunder and lightning.  So he follows Nick and Monroe, and helps them defeat the psychotic, rampaging Wildesheer.  Meanwhile, Monroe's mother visits Rosalee, and tries to understand what her son sees in her.

Through working to overcome traditional boundaries, Monroe's parents gain a better understanding of their son.  So they accept his dinner invitation, only to find themselves sharing the evening with Nick and his fiancee Juliet. Unfortunately, Juliet tries to relax the stilted atmosphere by asking if they're looking forward to the wedding. 

This proves too much for them, and they instinctively revert to their animal form. Alarmed, Nick grabs his table knife to protect himself and Juliet.  

Monroe calms everyone down with a few soothing words. His father sums up the situation when he mutters, "This is going to take a little getting used to." Families and society constantly demand that we change our viewpoints, and adapt to new situations. That's why I want to be in Monroe's family...provided I can still enjoy a thick, juicy steak now and then.

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
What Kind of Animal are You?
Those Grimm Customer Service Reps 

Related Internet Links
Watch Grimm episodes at
Learn more about the wonderful world of "Grimm" at