Heroes Never Rust #94: Endings

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Heroes Never Rust #94 by Sean Ironman

Watchmen: Endings

Endings are difficult. Do you leave the story open-ended? Do you lead into another story? Do you connect the story back to the beginning? Do you have an epilogue? There are a lot of questions and no answers. Ambiguous endings work from time to time, but so do endings that give a definite end to the characters. There is no one right way to tell a story, and there is no one right way to end a story. Watchmen’s final issue opens with six splash pages showing the destruction that Ozymandias has caused in New York city. There is a bit of a scuffle back at Ozymandias’ secret base as Silk Spectre and Doctor Manhattan get in on the fight. But, for the most part, the superheroics of typical superhero comics are not found here. Watchmen’s ending works well because the last third of the issue deals with Ozymandias potentially being right.

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The problem with many endings is that they become too simple. This is especially true with superhero stories, which usually end with the hero and the villain punching each other until the villain either dies or gives up. The writer tries to wrap up the story, so the story gets stripped down. But, Watchmen goes in the opposite direction—it gets more complicated in the final chapter. There’s a light scuffle in the first half, but then news stories come in on Ozymandias’ many TVs. People are scared that there is an alien presence threatening Earth. The United States and Russia begin to talk about peace. What’s the point of countries waging war only to be destroyed by aliens? Russia and the United States come together, and nuclear Armageddon is averted. Ozymandias’ plan worked. Instead of going with the easier ending of Doctor Manhattan coming in and crushing Ozymandias and the world finding out about Ozymandias’ actions, the comic pushes into unknown territory. Was Ozymandias right? Are the heroes still heroes for lying to the world? And who does watch the watchmen? It seems that in many superhero stories, if not many action/adventure stories, once the climax occurs, the story simplifies. Watchmen succeeds because the final issue furthers the themes and leaves the reader with something to think about.

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There seems to be a lot of focus on happy or sad endings. But, to me, a good ending is neither. To me, the ending is the lost shot at making your story memorable. Some readers might prefer a happy ending, and other readers might prefer a sad one, but if the ending is complex and leaves the reader not knowing how he or she feels, then the story will be one the reader needs to think about. If the ending is totally satisfying, then the reader just continues on with his or her life. In Watchmen, Rorschach is killed, Doctor Manhattan leaves Earth, Ozymandias continues on, and Night Owl and Silk Spectre are in a relationship and talk about continuing adventuring. There are a lot of questions and what ifs to play with the ending, allowing readers to continue the story in their own heads. The final sequence involves Rorschach’s journal, which he mailed before confronting Ozymandias, possibly being chosen by the young newspaper intern, Seymour, for some filler. The beauty of this sequence is that Moore and Gibbons do not show Seymour picking up the journal, nevertheless publishing it. The journal is in a pile of papers—it stands out because we as readers recognize it, but Seymour’s hand is just shown hovering about the pile. It leaves the reader questioning whether the journal will be published or not. And, if it is published, will anyone believe it? If it is published, will Night Owl and Silk Spectre tell the truth, or will they lie to protect the world Ozymandias has created? There’s a world after the story we as readers are given. There is a world before the story, and after the story.

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Watchmen’s ending is not truly ambiguous, however. Readers can play what if, but what occurs at the end is clear. Ambiguous endings can fail because events can be taken multiple ways or the story’s ending is unclear. With Watchmen, there are possibilities, but the ending that occurs is very clear. Questions are left for the reader to consider—questions about Ozymandias’ plan, about what Night Owl and Silk Spectre will do now, about whether the newspaper employees will publish Rorschach’s journal, and if so, will the world take it seriously. Any answers to these questions are valid. One reader may walk away knowing that Rorschach’s journal is published, that Ozymandias’ plan ultimately failed. Another reader, like me, believes the journal will change nothing, published or not. But both readers are correct. There’s nothing to really read between the lines—the writer isn’t trying to hide the true ending from the reader. Lives continue on, situations may change, but there s clarity in the ending. It seems to me that the most difficult aspect of writing an ending is to be clear, yet leave certain story elements still up in the air. Will the character’s actions produce lasting change?

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Photo by John King

Photo by John King

Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.

The Global Barfly’s Companion #8: Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto

The Global Barfly’s Companion #8 by John King

Bar: Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto (and Tiki Terrace)

Location: The Polynesian Village Resort at Walt Disney World

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Walt Disney World can be an absolute phantasmagoria of whimsy and adventure, but it can also be a great vomitus of humid immolation claustrophobically mashed by psychotic tantrums and impaling selfie-sticks and rogue baby strollers pushed by texting zombies whose neurons have been zapped by unending days of sublime, infinitesimal stimuli and infinite queues and unconscionable price gouging on all of the necessities of life, should one have come to the parks unprepared.

Experienced Disneyphiles, such as myself, know how to escape these harsh realities. Avoid spring breaks and summers. Use sunscreen. Drink lots of liquids, like booze.

Brand new amongst the drinking establishments in Walt Disney World is Trader Sam’s, a bona fide tiki bar located on the harbor-end of the Polynesian Resort’s Great Ceremonial House. I brought my brother along, to serve as my drinking proxy (Doctor’s orders).

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We arrived around 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. The entrance to Trader Sam’s is a nondescript door with a little sign along a stretch of wall covered in volcanic rock.

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Inside the door, a cheery greeter informed us that the wait would be about half-an-hour.

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One hesitates to imagine what the delay will be like on a weekend night. We availed ourselves of the fast food location, Captain Cook’s. Despite my reservations about eating at a place named after someone who may have been cannibalized, the aloha pork sandwiches were actually tasty, and took just enough time to eat for us to be allowed admission inside Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

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I thought that we would be presented with a table or bar space when admitted into the dark, cool interior, but instead we were encouraged to join another party. The room is relatively snug, and dark enough, but with so many themed accessories, that the eye feels a bit disoriented at first.

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There is a long table made out of a surfboard. There were a few smaller tables, a few lounge chairs, and a not particularly long bar.

James and I loitered by the server’s station and ordered a mai tai, or what in this place is called a hippopotomai-tai. When the drink arrived in a googly-eyed tiki mug, my brother took a long drag and said, “They didn’t skimp on the rum.”

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After a second sip, he said, “This is the second-best mai tai I’ve ever had.” High praise indeed.

I myself stole a sip, and found the elixir tart and deep, a jolt to the nervous system that I imagine becomes wonderful halfway down the glass.

A few minutes later, five people left the low chairs behind us, and we swooped in to rest ourselves and watch the room and let my brother finish his rum-fueled libation.

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From this vantage point, Trader Sam’s is wonderful camp. The room looks like a wing of the hut structure seen in The Tiki Room in Adventureland, and there are even two bamboo windows with views of simulated outdoors scenes, of a volcanic island and moving clouds and undulating water.

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Intermittently, atmospheric disturbances affect the lighting, and interrupt the exotica and surf rock music playing on the loudspeakers. Above and behind the bar are the multifold details one expects of a Disney production, including an octopus’s tentacle curving out of a porthole window, and gripping a raft-beam.

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While the space is small, the insistence on populating it sparsely is important, since the details and the fun of the place are allowed to breathe.

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From time to time, the cast members working at Trader Sam’s yowl with verbal outbursts meant to enforce the levity and the theme, and mostly I didn’t know what all that noise was about. Maybe on future trips I will find that more welcome.

Before we left the Polynesian, we went outside the Great Ceremonial House to take in Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace, which featured a lot more tables under umbrellas to protect one from the sun, which burned about a hundred yards overhead.

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There is a long wall of volcanic rock perpetually overrun with water. A man was breaking down his music set-up for the ukulele.

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His departure disappointed my brother more than I could have anticipated.

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The bar and food menu are the same outside and in. I asked a waiter about the Nautilus drink, served in a ceramic mug in the shape of Captain Nemo’s submarine, but we were told that “the fleet is currently out to sea.”

Sigh.

This outdoors location has almost no theming for a tiki bar, which seems odd for its sharing a name with Trader Sam’s, but seems like a relaxed spot when we were there, and might be a lovely waiting room for the interior of Trader Sam’s, if the afternoon or evening is not too sweltering.

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Trader Sam’s offers thirteen cocktails, a sipping rum shot sampler, three different nonalcoholic concoctions, and a selection of Hawaiian beers and wines. Eight different appetizers are available on the menu. While the prices aren’t cheap, they don’t seem extravagant if compared to other tiki bars. My brother’s mai tai cost about fifteen dollars with the glass, or around eleven if we didn’t want to take the mug home.

But how could I not take that psychotic mug home?

Trader Sams MugLike many Disney experiences, Trader Sam’s promises to have impediments to appreciating its wonders, but if you time your visit just right, and plan to enjoy the terrace before the grog grotto, then this tiki bar should be delightful, and is an absolute must-stop for tikiphile completists.

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John King (Episode, well, all of them) is a podcaster, writer, and ferret wrangler.

Shakespearing #34: Pericles

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Shakespearing #34 by David Foley

Pericles

34 Pericles lighter

Last week I mentioned a tug-of-war I’d felt in college between the Shakespeare-as-literature and the Shakespeare-as-drama camps, but now I wonder if I just don’t get academics in general. In his introduction to the Pelican edition of Pericles, Stephen Orgel of Stanford calls the play “a masterpiece—which is to say that by the standards of the Renaissance stage, it was very good theater.” At the same time, he says, Pericles “excites whatever interest it does today only because Shakespeare’s name is attached to it.” And even as I try to get my head around an understanding of “masterpiece” as “very good for its time” (or even of Pericles as “very good”), it occurs to me that if anything is keeping Pericles alive today it’s not Shakespeare’s name but Shakespeare.

Orgel makes his claims while wrestling with the authorship question. The second half of Pericles is understood these days to have been written by Shakespeare and the first by someone named George Wilkins. In making his case for Pericles as a whole masterpiece, Orgel cites the play’s choral figure, John Gower, as its “most striking element.” But Gower changes in both form and intent halfway through the play. The change is pronounced enough to make you feel that Shakespeare has seized the reins of the play from Wilkins with a certain irritable impatience.

Gower, a contemporary of Chaucer, wrote the narrative poem on which the play is based, and in the first half of the play, he narrates the story in a fusty tetrameter sprinkled with archaisms (“iwis,” “speken”). This is the kind of slightly academic conceit that can seem, to the amateur playwright, like a good idea, but in Wilkins’ hands it adds to the static, novelistic development of the early scenes. Shakespeare’s Gower moves; he sweeps the audience along with him, urging them to “think [Pericles’] pilot thought” as he “[thwarts] the wayward seas.”

Perhaps because the division of labor is so marked in Pericles, it’s easier here to see the difference not just between Shakespeare and his co-author but between a dramatist and someone just writing a play. The difference you feel when Shakespeare takes over is a sense of being lifted up into a livable world, a world of motion, of lives both animated and animating. You feel it in the reply of the villainous Dionyza when Leonine, charged with murdering Marina, objects that “she is a goodly creature”: “The fitter then the gods should have her.” You feel it in the intractable reality of the Bawd, who, like the Nurse, can’t leave a room when she’s dismissed. You feel it in Marina who, like many of Shakespeare’s women, anneals deep feeling to sharp intellect, whether she’s arguing with Leonides for her life or with Lysimachus and Boult for her chastity. “Do anything but this thou doest,” she tells the panderer Boult. “Empty/Old receptacles, or common shores of filth,” and you understand that the key to Shakespeare’s drama is the mind and heart in fierce motion.

It’s insane how moving Marina and Pericles’ recognition scene is, given the often clunky path that got us there (and the improbable set-up; it depends on no one actually mentioning Pericles’ name to Marina). It’s as if, in taking over from the clumsier playwright, Shakespeare reconnected with his own powers and at the same time began to imagine, after the bitterness of Coriolanus and Timon, a new dramatic world of clemency and reconciliation. “Did you not name a tempest,/A birth, and death?” Thais asks her rediscovered husband in the final scene. Well, yeah.

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David Foley

David Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the GreeksParadiseNance O’NeilThe Murders at ArgosA Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.

Episode 153: Leonard Kinsey!

Episode 153 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I interview the iconoclastic Disney author Leonard Kinsey,

Leonard Kinsey

plus Terry Barr writes about leaning not to teach The Catcher in the Rye.

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The Dark Side of DisneyOur Kingdom of DustHabst and the Disney SaboteursIt's kind of a cute storyThe Catcher in the RyeNOTE

The music accompanying Terry Barr’s essay is “Wingspan” by Carlton Melton, from their album “Photos of Photos.”

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Episode 153 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #88: Mildred Pierce

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The Curator of Schlock #88 by Jeff Shuster

Mildred Pierce, or All’s Well That Ends Well?

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I covered a movie about Joan Crawford last week, so I thought it would fitting to cover a movie actually starring Joan Crawford this week. So I’ll review the one she won Best Actress for, Mildred Pierce. I have to admit, these black and white features from Hollywood’s Golden Age certainly hold up well in the visual department. They do have a timelessness to them that really can’t be matched by modern movies about hobbits, super heroes, vampires, Transformers, or Liam Neeson..

What is Mildred Pierce about? Mildred Pierce is anti-redemption story about a working class mother who wants her daughters to enjoy the finer things in life. Her husband is a working class Joe who resents Mildred for spending money on fancy dresses for their eldest daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth). They have another daughter named Kay who is content enough to play football with the neighborhood boys, mucking it up in the muck. Veda doesn’t like the fancy dress her mother bought for her, saying it’s cheap and smelly.

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Mildred and her husband separate, leaving poor Mildred to go on a job hunt that eventually rewards her with a waitressing position.

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She actually gets rather good at waitressing, earning enough from tips and pie-baking to afford a maid along with ballet lessons for Kay and a singing teacher for Veda. Mildred is afraid of Veda learning that her mother is a waitress, but Veda finds out anyway and chides her mother for disgracing their broken family. I’d also be ashamed if my mother was a waitress…no, hash slinger…no, a…a…a chum scrubber! I wouldn’t care how many fancy dresses or manservants or singing teachers she bought me.

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Remember kids, being part of the upper class is a state of mind. If you berate your parents for their position in life, they might just decide to start their own chain of restaurants named Mildred’s, make bags of money, and buy even fancier houses and fancier dresses and more maids! The reason they call it the high life is because there are no limits. Some would say there’s no satisfaction either, but satisfaction is for people content to be losers.

Eventually, Veda grows tired of being a rich fish in a small pond. She marries Ted Forester, a young gentleman from a wealthy, respected family, but she doesn’t love him.

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They get a divorce, but since Veda is pregnant, she insists on $10,000 or there’s going to be trouble. The joke is on the Foresters since it turns out Veda was lying about being pregnant. Ha! She wants to get away from her mother and her “chickens, pies and kitchens. Everything that smells of grease.” She calls her mother a “common frump.”

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I remember reading a Mary Worth comic strip a few years back. Mary had a friend who decided she needed to get ahead at the company she worked at so she accused the vice-president of sexual harassment, got him fired, and took his position. The accusation was a lie, but she got what she wanted and couldn’t understand why Mary didn’t approve. It sure blew my mind.

5 Things I Learned from Mildred Pierce

  1. Police inspectors won’t play along with your frame job.
  2. Don’t leave your waitressing uniform tucked away in the back of your closet. Your daughter will find it!
  3. Pneumonia kills real fast!
  4. Cash the check before you tell your mother of your little pregnancy scam.
  5. Don’t scorn a woman who is holding a loaded pistol.

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Jeffrey Shuster 4

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA candidate at the University of Central Florida.

Aesthetic Drift #2: On Motherhood: Rethinking Hurston’s Most Famous Novel

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 Aesthetic Drift #2 by Rochelle Spencer

On Motherhood: Rethinking Hurston’s Most Famous Novel

Zora Neale Hurston.

Zora Neale Hurston.

Though I hadn’t read Their Eyes Were Watching God in more than fifteen years, when I returned to graduate school a couple of years ago to complete a doctorate, I was assigned Zora Neale Hurston’s famous novel three separate times within seven months.

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I read Their Eyes for a class on the global south that examined southern identity in the Caribbean and in southern, central, and northern America. I reread the book for a class on multicultural women writers, and I most recently read it in my American South class, a class which examined race in the southern literature of the United States.

The flexibility of this novel—its ability to help us uncover truths about cosmopolitanism, gender, race, and so much more—is one of the reasons it’s so often taught. But, personally, what the novel has helped me to discover about myself as an individual is just as important as what it has taught me about the world. Today, as a black woman in her mid-thirties, I realize Their Eyes has given me a model for being in the world, for making difficult and individualized choices and dealing with the gossip and isolation that comes along with them.

For me, at thirty-six, the most curious thing about Their Eyes isn’t Janie, the protagonist’s, sensual dreamlike beauty or the near-magical love she develops for Tea Cake—Janie’s younger, poorer soul-mate who sees the intelligence Janie’s beauty sometimes obscures—it’s the novel’s complex, contradictory, and near-revolutionary relationship with African-American motherhood.

Mothers are revered everywhere, but perhaps especially so in the black community where single mothers are common and playing the dozens—making jokes about say, how someone’s mama is so dumb, she thought a quarterback was refund—can lead to violence. To this day, I have friends who are wholly indifferent to their fathers, but make just one small, seemingly innocuous comment about their mothers, and they will pull the hair from your skull.

Complicating the black community’s relationship with motherhood is how, historically, thousands of black women became mothers not by choice, but by force. Hurston isn’t afraid to demonstrate this painful truth either: Leafy, Janie’s mother, is both a product of rape (Leafy’s mother is raped by her master) and its survivor (Leafy is raped by a schoolmaster; this rape then produces Janie).

Janie’s relationship with her mother, whose early life is nearly as troubled as Leafy’s, is nebulous. In chapter two, Janie tells her friend Pheoby that she had “never seen mah papa…mah mama neither,” but in chapter 9, Janie’s “seldom “ seen mother becomes one who has “never” been present. Janie’s contradictory statements could be an oversight from Hurston, but Janie’s words also suggest her ability to look towards a future that looks and feels different from anything her mother or grandmother could conceive. For it’s also in chapter 9 that Janie, recently freed from an abusive relationship, decides against conventional choices: going off in search of her mother, returning home to tend to her grandmother’s grave. Janie, opts, instead to spend some time alone, just getting to know herself.

Janie’s initial longing for privacy and solitude, when coupled with Janie’s unapologetic attitude about not becoming a mother, is what allows me, finally, to read Their Eyes as a revolutionary text. When I first encountered Their Eyes in high school, I didn’t understand why so many people saw Janie as a feminist character. To me, then, Janie was weak—a woman defined, realized, and ultimately resurrected by romantic love.

But now that I have a better understanding of Janie’s willingness to simply make choices that will make her happy, I see her as courageous. Because, even today, we’re told women have to make certain choices, that we must be a certain kind of woman to be worthy of love. Just a year or so ago, one of my Facebook friends wrote on his wall that all educated black women—regardless of whether they were in a committed relationship or not, regardless of whether they were well-off or not—had a responsibility to have children. My friend’s post received several “likes,” and I wondered just how much harder it must have been for a woman in Janie’s era to not have children. The reasons for Janie’s childlessness aren’t fully clear, but Hurston implies that Janie’s decision to ditch respectability politics (marry a nice middle-classed man, raise children, maintain a spotless home) is exactly what allows her to move freely in this world.

Their Eyes has made me both a better writer and a better person. Janie is a pretty, middle-classed black woman, whose life, at least superficially, seems more comfortable than many of her counterparts. But by writing about Janie’s path towards self-love and discovery, Hurston shows the turmoil, the quiet everyday tragedies underlying Janie’s decisions. Writers are told that we should write about big subjects like war, that if our language isn’t violent and loud, then we’ve somehow failed. Hurston reminds us that women’s lives are important enough, rich enough, to be explored.

And the next time a friend or relative accuses me of being selfish for not having children, I hope I’ll have the kind of courage and self-possession Janie did, the same sort of spirit that allows her to snatch life “from around the waist of the world” and wrap life’s possibilities—the horizon—around her “like a great fish-net.“ I hope that my soul, like Janie’s, is ready “to come and see.”

Note: This essay first appeared on episode 151 of The Drunken Odyssey podcast.

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Rochelle Spencer

Rochelle Spencer (Episode 151) is co-editor of the anthology All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2014), a member of the National Book Critics Circle, and a recipient of fellowships to the Vermont Studio Center and the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. She’s currently working on a dissertation on Afro-Surrealist literature at the University of Indiana at Pennsylvania.

Heroes Never Rust #93: Master Plans

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Heroes Never Rust #93 by Sean Ironman

Watchmen: Master Plans

So we have come to this. The penultimate issue of Watchmen. The issue when the villain is truly revealed and his master plan is set. Although a few pages are given over to some of the residents of New York City, most of the issue is set aside for Night Owl and Rorschach’s confrontation with Ozymandias, the comic’s villain. There is some action, with Ozymandias easily taking care of the two heroes. (I must say, on a side note, how interesting it is to make Ozymandias so much more powerful that the heroes in this issue. At no point, do the heroes really even stand a chance at stopping Ozymandias. I like it.) The problem that many stories have, not just superhero stories, is that the villain ends up explaining the whole plot to the heroes. A lot happens in Watchmen, and readers do need to understand how each piece fits, but usually, there is no actual story-based reason for a character to lay out the plot. Yet, here in the penultimate issue, Ozymandias tells Rorschach and Night Owl everything. And it works! The issue is one of the best of Watchmen.

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The comic sidesteps the exposition aspect of revealing Ozymandias’ master plan by making the revelation less about revelation and more of a persuasive argument. Ozymandias, for all his power, does not show aggression toward his old teammates. When Rorschach and Night Owl first approach, Ozymandias is eating. He only strikes Rorschach and Night Owl in defense. Once the heroes are on the floor, Ozymandias asks, “Now…what can I do for you?” Ozymandias isn’t looking for a fight. He truly believes that what he is doing is the best thing for the world, and instead of beating Rorschach and Night Owl, he is trying to convince them. He wants his old teammates on his side. When Night Owl asks Ozymandias what he’s trying to do, Ozymandias responds, “What we all tried to do after our initial struggle to find our feet. I’m trying to improve the world.”

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Ozymandias doesn’t just reveal what he’s trying to do, but what he has done. He goes back to his beginnings as a masked vigilante. He talks about meeting The Comedian, about meeting his old teammates. Ozymandias is building an argument. The physical fights that occur between his words are because Rorschach attacks him while he is speaking. Ozymandias wants to help the world, just in a different way than Rorschach and Night Owl. The death of a few to save the many. Ozymandias only got Doctor Manhattan off world because Doctor Manhattan is too powerful, and The Comedian was killed because he discovered Ozymandias’ plan. Rorschach asks, “Blake’s murder. You confess?” and Ozymandias responds with “Confession implies penitence. I merely regret his accidental involvement.” Ozymandias, in a way, is right in distancing himself from emotion. A doctor cannot get emotionally involved with his or her patients. Perhaps a superhero must be objective. Ozymandias does not revel in what he has done, but he believes that by destroying the present system in place then the future will be secured.

At the end of the day, the issue works when Rorschach and Night Owl refuse to let Adrian succeed. They have listened to his pitch, but they won’t let him do it. And, in response, Ozymandias utters one of the best lines of Watchmen, “Dan, I’m not a republic serial villain. Do you seriously think I’d explain my master stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty-five minutes ago.” The heroes are too late. Ozymandias isn’t trying to convince Rorschach and Night Owl to help him. He’s trying to convince them to understand why he did what he did. Being far from New York City, the location of the attack, the heroes don’t realize it’s too late to stop the attack.

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The problem with the villain explaining the whole master plan is that, of course, the hero is going to get free and stop the villain. The villain is really just telling the hero how to stop the plan. But, here, the trope is turned on its head. As Ozymandias is laying out what he has done and why, readers will rely on what they have learned from stories so far, that the heroes will win. The villain’s plan will not succeed. But, the reader is proved wrong in Watchmen. It makes the comic more memorable and more shocking, not by the murder of the residents of New York City, but by making the reader feel comfortable and then pulling the rug out from underneath. Without Ozymandias revealing his master plan, even if the same attack was set and went off without the heroes standing a chance, the issue would fall flat. A surprise only works if readers are led to believe one thing first. By relying on the cliché of the overly talkative villain, Watchmen brings something new to the table.

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Photo by John King

Photo by John King

Sean Ironman (Episode 102) earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.

The Global Barfly’s Companion #7: The Cloak Room

The Global Barfly’s Companion #7 by Scott Gilman

Bar: The Cloak Room

Location: 1300 Colorado St, Austin, TX 78701

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As I am walking north on Colorado on a humid but comfortable night, tall, expansive trees provide visual cover from what really shades The Cloak Room bar just past 13th Street: the Texas State Capitol. There is a Trail of Trees within the Capitol grounds; on this block you’d be nearest the Bur Oak and Redbud. The orange light emanating from the top of the Capitol dome indicates the legislature is in session; for four months every two years, representatives and senators from Killeen and El Paso to Tyler and Houston descend upon Austin to collectively determine the policies of one of the most successful, backwards, proud and largest states in the country.

I walk down a tight flight of white stairs to a white door that looks like the entrance to a storage facility. Stevie Ray Vaughan plays on the sound system. It would either be him or Willie, wouldn’t it?

Long past happy hour, The Cloak Room on a Friday evening is still full, the lights so dark you can barely make out people’s faces, several men, likely elected officials, wearing suits, younger men and women in their 20s and 30s, likely legislative aides (no one dresses this formally in Austin) are several drinks in, talking loudly about church-state separation as they scroll through their mobile phones.

It’s a smaller room than I remembered, the bar consisting of just five stools. I sit at one and see the bottles of whiskey lined up; I look to see what beer they have but don’t see any cans or bottles on display. I ask the bartender and it’s a particularly down-market selection, so I settle on a Shiner Bock. A TV is playing a basketball game.

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Looking around, what stands out most prominently is the wood paneling of the walls. If you took out the bar this space feels like it could function as an extension meeting room of the Capitol; with the bar, it probably is.

A woman comes up to the bar and strikes up a conversation with the bartender. Bev, it turns out, has a worn face and long, straggly blondish hair; she’s been the bartender here since 1989. The woman orders a double Bulleit rye for her boyfriend, a single Bulleit rye for herself, and a Shiner Bock for each of them.

Country music is now playing, and I moan. I go to the jukebox and it seems the most recent music might have been added by Bev herself when she started; besides some Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson and of course Stevie, everything else is old R&B (Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke) or country (Waylon Jennings, Boz Scaggs, Ray Price). I put on Etta James, Elvis and some more Stevie.

CloakRoom6

To use the restroom you go towards the back with the saloon-type swinging doors, then up the stairs (how often does that happen?) in a stairwell lined with photos from past visitors.

CloakRoom1

Have that many people really come here? It makes it seem like it’s a pilgrimage of some sort to visit the Cloak Room.

I’m nursing my beer when a couple comes in and sits next to me. He’s wearing a coat and tie and she has on a nice dress. They leave after one drink (she a glass of red wine, him a Maker’s Mark) and then after a few minutes another couple comes in.

Bev has disappeared so they wait patiently, smiling at each other, until the bartender returns. The woman drinks a Maker’s with amaretto while he orders a shot of tequila. As I nurse my second Shiner Bock, the three women and one man at the table behind me start singing to the Etta James. Then the large group who was sitting in the darkest part of the bar gets up and leaves; it appears the day’s governing business is done.

The music stops and the bar is silent. Bev arranges the paper slips with everyone’s orders in a row along the bar. She says, “They might be walkin’ but I’ve got their credit card. They’ll be back.”

I finish my beer and go back up the stairs to use the restroom before leaving. Before I swing through the saloon doors again, I notice a pay phone and phone book. When was the last time either were used?

CloakRoom3

Back up the stairs and outside, walking to my car, there is no traffic around the Capitol. It is quiet. The orange light is still on. Session, as it’s referred to, continues.

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Scott Gilman

Scott Gilman lives in Austin, Texas and enjoys exercise, reading, writing, eating and drinking. He is working on his first novel and a short story and essay collection. More of his writing can be found here.

Episode 152: Kattenstoet! A Roundtable Discussion of Cats

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Episode 152 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, we have a roundtable discussion of Kattenstoet, the Belgian cat holiday that may or may not be a retroactive apology for medieval atrocities against felines.

Kattenstoet

Kattenstoet

Present for this discussion were Jared Silvia, Lisa Roney, and Teege Braune.

Kattenstoet 1

Not present, but honored were

Zoë Reads Hemingway

John’s cat Zoë Reads Hemingway.

Miroslav

Jared’s cat, Miroslav (on the right).

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Teege and Jenn’s lazy little beasties.

Kolwitz Reads A Farewell to Arms.

Mr Sundrop

The terrible Mr. Sundrop.

TEXTS DISCUSSED

archy and mehitabel

dream quest of unknown kadathsteadman_alice1Q84

Alicia Ostriker’s “The Orange Cat.”

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Episode 152 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

Shakespearing #33: Timon of Athens

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Shakespearing #33 by David Foley

Timon of Athens

33 Timon of Athens

Timon of Athens is supposed to be one of the plays Shakespeare collaborated on. The speculation is that Thomas Middleton (Women Beware Women) wrote about forty percent of it. To make matters worse, according to James Shapiro, “individual scenes [are] divided between the two, suggesting that the collaboration…was unusually close.” Which, I suppose, only matters if, like me, you keep pontificating airily on what “Shakespeare” is “doing” in his plays. The question of what Shakespeare is doing becomes vexed when you’re not sure who’s doing what.

Other than that, the idea of Shakespeare collaborating doesn’t bother me that much. Maybe it’s because I’m a playwright. When I was in college and double-majoring in English and Drama, I experienced a bit of a tug of war, pulled on one end by those who saw Shakespeare as literature and on the other by those who saw him as theatre. To literary types it might be unnerving to find out that Shakespeare didn’t always work alone, but theatre is a collaborative art, and it’s easy enough to imagine Shakespeare wanting to share the burden of a play, or another playwright wanting to avail himself of Shakespeare’s know-how. I suppose I’d be more troubled if it were revealed that Shakespeare had collaborated on one of the great, unified masterpieces, like Hamlet or Lear, but Timon is a mongrel kind of play, though like many a mongrel it packs some power in its yap.

Trying to track down the current thinking on the Timon collaboration, I found (in Wikipedia) this quote from Melville: “it is those deep far-away things in [Shakespeare]; those occasional flashings-forth of the intuitive Truth in him; those short, quick probings at the very axis of reality:—these are the things that make Shakespeare, Shakespeare. Through the mouths of the dark characters of Hamlet, Timon, Lear, and Iago, he craftily says, or sometimes insinuates the things, which we feel to be so terrifically true, that it were all but madness for any good man, in his own proper character, to utter, or even hint of them.”

The first thing you can say about that is that it’s really Melvillean, and then you can worry whether those “sharp, quick probings” in Timon are Shakespeare or Middleton. But then you think maybe he’s right. Aren’t there moments in Shakespeare when you feel suddenly, like Pip in Moby Dick, bobbing alone on that mind-breaking sea?

It’s Timon’s curses that first made critics want to give chunks of the play to Middleton, as when he cries to the earth:

Teem with new monsters, whom thy upward face

Hath to the marbled mansion all above

Never presented!…

Dry up thy marrows, vines, and plough-torn leas,

Whereof ingrateful man, with liquorish draughts

And morsels unctious, greases his pure mind

That from it all consideration slips—

 Maybe that’s Middleton, but he seems to have been studying Lear, another mind sent bobbing out on that sea.

And Timon’s generosity is as terrifying as his bitterness. The play may (for all I know) reflect Middleton’s sardonic view of friendship and advantage, but the dizzying speed with which Timon’s beneficence sails free of reality seems Shakespearean. It occurs to me that Lear’s cry, “O, let me not be mad!” rings through much of Shakespeare’s work. It’s not what Iago says or insinuates that seems “terrifically true,” but the ease with which he unmoors Othello’s mind from reason. And you can feel the terror of Melville and Shakespeare come together when Timon says to himself, “Lie where the light foam of the sea may beat/Thy gravestone daily.”

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David Foley

David Foley is a playwright and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His plays include Cressida Among the GreeksParadiseNance O’NeilThe Murders at ArgosA Hole in the Fence, and Sad Hotel, among others. His novel The Traveler’s Companion is available on Amazon. He teaches at New York University.

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