2012 Doomsday Scenarios: Month Ten

Among the many well-known apocalyptic worries, the idea of supernatural creatures rising up and destroying our world, while hardly unlikely, captivates many people.

Doomsday Scenario No. 3: Vampires, Zombies & Monsters, Oh My!

Supernatural monsters have been a mainstay in many cultures going back centuries. They were convenient scapegoats for things that went wrong and filled in the dark void of the shadows. These monsters either won so that a moral could be learned or were vanquished by the forces of good. Lately, stories have appeared where the monsters have triumphed and defeated humanity en masse. Certain monsters are more popular than others and fit into a doomsday scenario more easily than others. Of course, these supernatural monsters are impossible, right? Well science fiction has found ways to make them plausible.

Vampires In The Blood

The stylish and grotesque vampires have populated many blood curdling tales for centuries. As true creatures of the night, vampires arose from their coffins after sunset to prey on the living. The way to become a vampire isn’t to just die but to be bitten by one. That suggests that these creatures probably transmit a virus that transforms a living person into a vampire.

Richard Matheson’s classic novel I Am Legend has a vampiric virus decimating humanity and resurrecting them as vampires and taking over the world. The book and the films based on it (The Last Man On Earth, The Omega Man and most recently I Am Legend) presented us with an empty, decimated world with a sole human survivor and his desperate fight not just against countless vampires but to develop a cure.  There are other works about viruses that turns people into vampires and imperils the world. Two books that come to mind are The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan and The Passage by Justin Cronin. The Passage is set in the near future where a virus quickly transforms most of humanity into vampire-like creatures who take over the world. The anthology novel Under The Fang features several short stories about humanity conquered by vampires.

As for films about vampires ruling the world, in addition to I Am Legend, there was Daybreakers, which took place a few years after a virus turned most of humanity into bloodsucking creatures. Daybreakers showed a world literally turned upside down as the vampire denizens populated major cities, but lived underground away from the sun and basically carried on with their lives. They just needed to farm the few remaining humans for nourishment. A variant of the vampire virus is the sci-fi film Lifeforce, which was based on the book The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson. This time vampire-like aliens were brought back to Earth by astronauts and it wasn’t blood that the aliens fed on. It was the titular lifeforce of people. As an added bonus, many of their victims also became vampiric and hunted humans for their lifeforce.

Zombie Apocalypse

The undead flesh eaters are undeniably the most popular monsters to use for post-apocalyptic tales. Look no further than the hit AMC series The Walking Dead. It wasn’t always so, until the late 1960s zombies were relegated to stale horror yarns usually dealing with voodoo. Then George Romero came along and changed the sub-genre forever. His classic film Night Of The Living Dead gave us a world on the brink of a societal breakdown as undead corpses roamed the countryside and feasted on the living.

Romero directed sequels that were very popular but the zombie apocalypse genre didn’t reach maturation until around the millennium, which coincided nicely with all the jitters about the coming apocalypse. Video games like Resident Evil, comic books like The Walking Dead, books like World War Z and films like 28 Days Later (not technically about zombies but it follows the same route) reinvigorated and amped up the zombie genre. The zombie apocalypse is so prevalent in pop culture that even the CDC put out  a comic book detailing how they would deal with such an event. Zombies are perfect metaphors for the chaos and decay that will follow the fall of civilization as humans are displaced as the apex predators. Also these stories are useful for illustrating how we would behave during the downfall of society. Will we return to our savage ways? Will we use our pluck and ingenuity to survive? How much stress can we withstand before we break down completely? And how will we find that perfect Twinkie? (Note: see Zombieland for more on that last question.)

Monsters, Etc.

Humanity has always feared monsters as seen in various mythologies. This morbid fascination continued well into modern times with countless books, stories and movies about monsters both large and small terrorizing the world. An often used motif is that of an ancient, slumbering giant that is awoken by modern humans and then wrecks destruction across the world. Godzilla is an excellent example and best personifies the Japanese kaiju films. But Godzilla had predecessors that need to be mentioned. One of the earliest modern imprisoned monsters is the famous Cthulhu first written about in H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Call Of The Cthulhu”.  An ancient entity described as part human, part dragon and part octopus, the Cthulhu had a cult that wanted to unleash the giant monster onto our world. This entity has been alluded to in other works by Lovecraft.

In film, the very first giant monster to be unleashed was the fictional rhedosaurus in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Loosely based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn”, the rhedosaurus was a dinosaur woken up by a nuclear blast and thus threatened the world not just with its destructive path but by its radioactive emissions. Destructive monsters have since plagued the silver screen with the Japanese kaiju films and American works like Q, Gremlins, John Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness, Reign Of Fire, Cloverfield, The Cabin In the Woods and the upcoming Pacific Rim. In these films, the giants were mysterious and awakened inadvertently by humanity. Once unleashed they outmatched our military might and upended civilization as they destroyed cities and killed many people. Often entire cities and famous landscapes are decimated as seen in Cloverfield. And sometimes it was shown that the monsters won as the misshapen horrors from In The Mouth Of Madness  or the dragons in Reign Of Fire overran the world.

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Disney Buys Lucasfilm! Star Wars Episode VII On Its Way!

In a surprise move that rivals their acquisition of Marvel Entertainment a few years ago, Disney announced today that they bought Lucasfilm for $4.05 billion. Obviously, the sale includes the rights to the Star Wars franchise.

Kathleen Kennedy, who was the co-chair of Lucasfilm with George Lucas before the sale, has been named as president of Lucasfilm. Disney CEO Robert Iger announced that a new Star Wars film will be released in 2015 to be followed with more films coming out every two or three years.

At the moment, it wasn’t clear what would be the fate of the current Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series or the attempt to bring about a live-action Star Wars TV series. For all we know, The Clone Wars may cease production much in the same way that popular Marvel animated shows were canned following Disney’s purchase of Marvel. In the same way that Disney then launched new Marvel animated shows, they could produce a new Star Wars animated series. Additionally, Disney now has the rights to the Indiana Jones franchise, though no information was available on the production of future films of that franchise.

In a prepared statement, George Lucas said, “For the past 35 years, one of my greatest pleasures has been to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next.” In some ways this news isn’t that surprising given his announcement earlier this year that he was retiring from popular filmmaking. In the same statement Lucas added, “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers.” This most likely means that he won’t be directing the new films, which should cheer some fans. But it’s hard to imagine that the future films won’t have some kind of input from him, at least on an advisory basis.

For Star Wars fans this is undeniably shocking and exciting news. As some suspected after Star Wars: Episode III was released, we haven’t seen the last of Star Wars on the big screen. Like it or not Star Wars: Episode VII is coming.

José Soto

Spider-Man’s Greatest Moments, Part II

Continuing a look at Spider-Man’s highlight in the past 50 years, there are more aspects of Spider-Man that has made him one of the most endearing and popular superheroes ever created.

Unlikely Savior

Though Spider-Man isn’t the most powerful superhero, his pluck and penchant for being in the wrong place at the right time make for captivating stories. Many times these out-of-his-element tales often took place in the pages of Marvel Team-Up. Other times he was a critical element in some wide-reaching storylines and comic books. For instance, it can be said that he was the heart of the Civil War mini-series. While that story dealt with Captain America and his forces squaring off against Iron Man and his side, Spider-Man was trapped in the middle of the war and both sides. At first, he supported Iron Man’s side about registering superhumans and revealed his secret identity to the world (Civil War # 2). But by the time the mini-series ended, Spidey switched sides and paid a terrible price as he was ostracized and his aunt nearly lost her life.

In other storylines, Spider-Man turned out to be instrumental in taking out an overly powerful enemy. Marvel Two-In-One Annual # 2 had him and the Thing taking on Thanos, who wanted to destroy our sun, and was holding the Avengers prisoner. After the Thing was defeated by Thanos, Spider-Man, as usual, was plagued with self doubt that he was out of his league. However, he overcame his inhibitiosn and freed the Avengers to fight Thanos. That wasn’t all, he alone freed the spirit of Adam Warlock to defeat Thanos, which turned the tide of the battle. Throughout this story, the metaphysical entities Master Order and Lord Chaos claimed that Spider-Man was chosen by them to fulfill his destiny by doing these actions.

Recent stories have shown Spider-Man taking on a larger role in saving the entire world and more. Who can forget the time that he was endowed with the cosmic powers of Captain Universe? Possessing fantastic powers, he even punched the Hulk into orbit, Spider-Man was given the powers to fight the menace of the Tri-Sentinel (The Amazing Spider-Man # 329). The most recent one occurred in the “Ends Of The Earth” story arc in The Amazing Spider-Man # 682-687, but more memorable stories include those featured in The Amazing Spider-Man # 678-679 (“I Killed Tomorrow”) where Spider-Man time travels in a desperate attempt to prevent New York City’s destruction and in The Amazing Spider-Man # 48, 49 (Volume 2) and The Amazing Spider-Man # 500. That story (“Happy Birthday To Me”) had Spider-Man squaring off against the mystical foe Dormammu.

Spidey’s Deadliest Foes

One of the most remarkable qualities about Spider-Man is his large and colorful rogues gallery. Many villains have been introduced over the years and most of them are quite memorable. They include the Lizard, Mysterio, the Sandman, Electro, the Chameleon, the Shocker and the Kingpin. But two villains vying for the dubious honor as his deadliest foe are Doctor Octopus and the Green Goblin. Introduced waaay back in the early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man (issues # 3 and 14 respectively), these characters were instantly popular. While Doctor Octopus continuously plagues the Wall-Crawler (and has a major role in the upcoming 700th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man) the Green Goblin took the mantle fairly early as his greatest enemy. That was because he discovered Spider-Man’s secret identity (The Amazing Spider-Man # 39, 40). Those two issues revealed that he was Norman Osborn, the wealthy father of Peter’s best friend Harry. Afterwards, Osborn would use that knowledge of Peter’s secret identity to deadly affect over the years. This culminated in his killing Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man # 121. Continue reading

Seed Of The Walking Dead

AMC’s The Walking Dead, now in its third season, centers on Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), a former deputy sheriff from Georgia leading a small band of survivors to safety in the aftermath of devastating zombie apocalypse. Called walkers (they roam endlessly and never tire), the moaning, decaying, zombies are a deadly lot, as they shuffle in wandering herds, seeking live flesh. The first two seasons, a ratings and critical smash, showed Rick and a diverse band of survivors seeking safe refuge while fighting walkers, other survivors, and each other. The Walking Dead is loosely based on the comics of the same name, and uses it as a springboard rather than adhere to it faithfully; this approach enables plenty of twists, surprises, new characters, and red herrings.

Law-and-order man Rick Grimes has the heart of a lion, a classic good guy so pure in his outlook and valiant in his mission he’s more like a knight from a medieval tale or a hero from a Greek myth. Joining Rick are his pretty wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), his pre-teen son Carl (Chandler Riggs); Daryl (Norman Reedus), a redneck archer/tracker/outdoorsman and Rick’s wingman; Glenn (Steven Yeun), a Korean delivery boy turned resourceful street rat; T-Dog (Irone Singleton), a tough, stocky black guy; Carol (Melissa McBride), a gentle widow, having lost her husband and daughter in seasons one and two; elderly Hershel (Scott Wilson), an upright, religious country vet in whose farm the survivors sought refuge; Hershel’s two daughters Maggie (Lauren Cohan), romantically linked with Glenn, and the emotionally-troubled Beth (Emily Kinney); Andrea (Laurie Holden), a former lawyer, whose character developed over the first two seasons from a jangled bundle of nerves to a straight shooter; and the newest addition, the mysterious katana-wielding Michonne (Danai Gurira).

In last season’s exciting finale, “Beside The Dying Fire”, the walkers overran Hershel’s farm, killing his daughter and son-in law, and exiling the hapless survivors. Separated from the group, Andrea is saved by the laconic Michonne, while Rick asserted his indisputable leadership (or “Rick-tatorship”, as fans are calling it).

In season three’s premiere, “Seed”, the slam-bang pre-credits sequence opens with a twisted mockup of Lost, where the camera spirals away from a walker’s eye – cold, reptilian, lifeless. Seeking refuge, Rick and the survivors burst into a simple country house. Fanning out like a well-oiled SWAT unit (including Carl), they secure the house by killing that walker and other undead inhabitants. Just as they settle in, T-Dog spots a herd of walkers converging on the house. The survivors grab their gear and flee…

Later on, while hunting food, Rick and Daryl spy the prison shown in last season’s “Besides The Dying Fire”. Realizing its potential for refuge, Rick devises a plan with the group to clear the yard of walkers and break into the prison (the second time this episode where we see the survivors work brilliantly as a team). Reveling in the safety of the prison yard, they whoop and holler with joy at the open space. In the morning, they clear out a ravaged, overturned cell block and settle in.

Meanwhile, we get our first glimpse of Michonne since her brief introduction last season. Entering a dilapidated pharmacy in a small town, she coolly beheads walkers while finding aspirin for Andrea, who is sick and resting safely in a nearby meat locker. Andrea urges Michonne to abandon her, but Michonne refuses. Then the two women along with Michonne’s two chained, pet-like, armless and jawless walkers set out.

Back in the prison, the survivors find an ammunition stash and prepare to clear out the rest of the prison, in hopes of finding the cafeteria and infirmary. Armed and ready, they light the way through the unlit, ghoulish cell block by flashlight, stepping over bloody and decaying corpses while Glenn marks their trail with spray paint. At the far end of the block, they stumble into walkers; in the ensuing chaos, Glenn and Maggie separate from the others; Hershel backs up to locate them and is bitten in the leg by a walker. Reuniting, the group quickly finds safety, where Rick, in an attempt to halt the spreading infection, unsheathes a hatchet and amputates Hershel’s leg below the knee. Hearing noises, they look up, and realize they are not alone; they are being watched by live prisoners… Continue reading

A Revolution Comes To TV

In the new NBC series Revolution, viewers are presented a world fifteen years from now that is in a new Dark Age. In the opening scenes of Revolution’s pilot, the electricity throughout the world abruptly fails. Moments before this event happened Ben Matheson (Tim Guinee) races to his home and warns  his wife Rachel (Elizabeth Mitchell) and their two children about what will happen. He also manages to phone his brother Miles (Billy Burke) about it just as the lights go out everywhere in the world. Viewers got a quick glimpse of the immediate impact of this blackout as airplanes fell out of the sky and cities plunged into darkness. Revolution jumps ahead fifteen years later to a radically changed world. Without electricity, governments collapsed and militias took over as everyone struggled to survive with the bare necessities. Ben is now living in a small, rustic community in Illinois with his teenage children Charlie (Tracy Spiridakos) and Danny (Graham Rogers) and a new lover Maggie Foster (Anna Lise Phillips).

Their humble existence is interrupted with a visit by militia men, led by Captain Tom Neville (Giancarlo Esposito), belonging to a local tyrannical power called the Monroe Republic. Neville was sent by the Republic’s despot General Sebastian Monroe (David Lyons) to conscript Ben. During a melee Ben is killed and Danny is taken prisoner by the militia. Before Ben died he entrusted an amulet to Maggie and his friend Aaron Pittman (Zak Orth), which is capable of generating small amounts of electricity. What this means has not been revealed nor what caused the blackout. On Ben’s dying advice Charlie, Maggie and Aaron travel by foot to the decaying city of Chicago and recruit Miles for help in liberating Danny.

As the series progresses, viewers learn bits and pieces about the world and the characters. It was revealed that Miles was once friends with Monroe and was, in fact, a founder of the Monroe Republic. Now Miles has broken ties with Monroe and exists as a cynical Han Solo type until dragged into the limelight by Charlie and company. Monroe wants to have the power restored to spread his reign and he knows that Ben had knowledge about what caused the blackout. A plot development revealed that Rachel is still alive and Monroe’s prisoner. He intends to use her captured son as leverage to get her to reveal what she knows about the blackout. Also in reference to the show’s title, it turns out that there is a revolutionary movement among some people the main characters encounter to restore the United States. Peppered throughout the episodes are interesting flashbacks that show the immediate aftermath of the blackout, taking place days, even months after the event. The most touching one featured Maggie, who is British. In her story it’s revealed that she is cut off from her children in England and she tried for years to get back to England before giving up. Despondent and suicidal, she was found by Ben and his children sometime after Rachel was taken prisoner and Maggie became part of the family. At times, these flashbacks are the most interesting scenes in an episode.

Admittedly, Revolution has constant plot developments but the show is not overwhelming and things are kept at a fast pace that moves the overall story along. Many character have intriguing backgrounds and developments such as the revelation that Miles helped form the Monroe Republic and is hated and feared by many. The show took a daring step by unexpectedly killing off one of the main characters, a victim of a knife wound. This showed that the greatest dangers in this new Dark Age can come from fairly mundane and presently treatable ailments. The production design is very excellent and illustrates a world where nature is reclaiming the land as vegetation engulfs cities and towns. The credit for Revolution’s well presentation should go to series creator Eric Kripke (who created Supernatural), who serves as executive producer along with Iron Man’s director Jon Favreau and J. J. Abrams.

However, Revolution does have flaws. Sometimes Charlie is annoying, and how is it that Aaron (formerly a Google executive) is still overweight and seems to have no clue on how to survive in a post-apocalyptic environment? One would think that in the years since the blackout the characters would’ve been hardened and learned some survival skills. Drinking games can be made to how many times the roguish Miles threatens to leave the group or Danny’s many failed escape attempts. Why not keep that teenager shackled up in chains? But these seem to be the typical growing pains that every series goes through and the show seems to be getting stronger with each passing episode.

At first glance Revolution seems to borrow heavily from popular post-apocalyptic yarns like The Postman and obviously S. M. Stirling’s Emberverse books. But the series is setting its own fascinating mythology that hopefully the network will allow to play out to a satisfactory conclusion.

José Soto