On Extraordinary Men

“John Coultre sat alone in his room on Christmas. He believed in sacrifice, but sometimes he longed for a second chance.”

–CSM, “The Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.” The X:Files Season 4 Episode 7.

Actor William B Davis played Cigarette Smoking Man in both the original television series and the new episodes of the X: Files. Here he stands at the X:Files premier for season 11 in 2016.
William B. Davis as Cancer Man in the FOX television series, The X: Files.

Yesterday I watched a particular episode of The X:Files for the second time, mostly because I didn’t know what to make of it the first time I sat through it. The plot is thus: Frohike, a member of The Lone Gunmen, invites Mulder and Scully over to discuss a serious lead he’s been following regarding an American citizen whose made his life entirely alone, who has been driven to protect his country by any means necessary, and what this has done to him. That man listened in from the third story of a warehouse across the street, puffing on a Marlborough, setting up a sniper rifle, aimed at the Gunmen’s front door. He listened to his life laid out before him for all to examine, including his partner’s son, Fox Mulder.

First, his parents, his father an ex-pat traitor and Communist defector who died in the electric chair; his mother was a chain smoker who died of lung cancer before our Citizen was ten months old. Then, his teenage years. He spent his time reading, with no friends. Next, his military career, in which it is revealed that he has committed a number of assassinations, off the record. He is recruited for the assassination of JFK in 1962, successfully setting up Lee Harvey Oswald to take the fall. Next, at a gathering of all of his Right People, he assigns himself the task of assassinating Martin Luther King Jr. in an attempt to curtail King’s call for African Americans to abandon the war in Vietnam. Then, in 1991, Fox Mulder opens the X:Files. Dana Scully is assigned to reign him in, and the CSM goes home alone on Christmas to write. Deep Throat contacts him that night to inform him of an extraterrestrial making first contact, crash landing on American soil, leaving its withered body in critical condition. Deep Throat and the CSM flip a coin to see who will assassinate the alien in the best interests of national security. Deep Throat shoots the alien in its containment field, and the CSM goes home to write. As the episode comes to a close, the CSM receives his first ever offer to publish, which he takes. He writes his letter of resignation and picks up a copy of his finished work, serialized for the first time, only to discover the publisher had changed his ending. By the end of the episode, he doesn’t have the stomach to kill Frohike.

William B. Davis as the CSM sits back from the scope of a sniper rifle.
William B. Davis as Cancer Man readies a sniper rifle, prepared to kill Melvin Frohike, a member of the Lone Gunmen newspaper.

What Prompted All This?

“A dream is the answer to a question that we don’t know how to ask,” Dana Scully, “Paper Hearts”.

Indeed. Why go to the trouble to analyze the man who has caused my favorite of all fictional characters so much pain and misery? Why bother at all with the man who is responsible for Agent Scully’s cancer (later), Agent Mulder’s infection with the Black Oil alien life form, the deaths of two American heroes and many others? I might have been able to hate Cancer Man before this. I might have been able to lay all of the world’s suffering readily at his feet, and admittedly he deserves credit for that as well. His and Bill Mulder’s program goes on at the expense of others, in the name of national security. So much of what Cancer Man is responsible for warrants our hatred and lack of respect. However, it is entirely impossible for me to write him off as a monster. He and I have a great deal in common, and it is this disturbing common ground that has given me pause.

Last night, I had a dream about Cancer Man. Yes, yes, say what you will, “Ashley, you be trippin’ again.” “Why would you dream about Cancer Man?” I dunno. Beats Grendel after watching Beowulf. In any case, while I can’t remember exactly what happened, or why I seemed to be in a strange, educational setting, I dreamed that Cancer Man was looking out for me, and had only my best interests in mind. He helped me with my chemistry homework–a nod to my roommate’s frustration with a cruel, ironic twist that I can’t remember his advice. I thanked him, and I thanked him for being so kind. He burst into tears for reasons I can’t fathom, and I calmed him down. I knew, in my dream state, that I had a friend in this man. We had common ground, similar feelings, though I’m quite sure I’ll never have the weight of JFK on my shoulders, or Martin Luther King Jr. The first time I watched “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” I was struck with the enormity of the task Cancer Man and I had set ourselves to. In that moment, I realized I shared a profound kinship with Cancer Man.

Cancer Man was a writer.

One Man’s Success is Still My Failure.

Cancer Man made an attempt to build an identity for himself in lieu of the one he gave up to pursue the life of an “extraordinary man”. He wrote in his considerable spare time. When he was not watching empires rise and fall, he wrote the story of John Coultre, a man who spent his life protecting the world from alien invasion, a glorified, romanticized version of himself. From what I can gather, he wrote at least three novels, each of them turned down for publication. Really, for a plot element set in 1991, even I have trouble imagining how that could be possible. Genre fiction was gaining momentum. Like Brian Lumley and Stephen King before him, Cancer Man– or Raul Bloodworth–should have been snatched up. I can only imagine that he was sending his stories to all the wrong people. He had to have been doing something wrong. I suppose it doesn’t matter how interesting your life is if you can’t articulate it.

His lack of success was unfathomable to him. How could a who could order the death of anyone in the world with a word not figure out how to publish his work? Only now, sitting here writing this, did I realize that all of his power was meaningless in the face of his one dream. His dream to publish his work on his own merit never allowed him to use his considerable political power to strong-arm his way into fame, to build a life for himself. He could not use his power. His writing was his way out of the Game. In many ways, Cancer Man has succeeded where I have failed. In my darkest hours, I have stopped writing. When my life chances seem to dwindle, I put my writing down and wonder why I bothered in the first place. A failed artist himself, it is not hard for me to see Cancer Man smacking me upside the head, preferably with hand and not the side of a .38.

He received a rejection letter from a publisher, who told him bald-face his work was crap. His face fell, anguish written plain as the letters on the page. It was short-lived, though. A man as strong-willed as Cancer Man knew his work was not crap. How could it be? It was his life. Whether it went nowhere or was successful was immaterial. What mattered what that he kept going. He never stopped, even after receiving a heinous rejection letter as his only Christmas present. Cancer Man succeeded because he never stopped trying. He put away his rejection letter in a drawer, like so many others before it, and sat down to write. This is where I have failed. I have stopped trying. I have not had the heart to submit anything of my own, and in many ways Cancer Man represents everything I should be embracing. When that box of chocolates is empty, and the meaningless brown paper is all that’s left, we have only ourselves and our wasted life. The problem is, I don’t feel his life was wasted. The better part of it was, but the part of him that was so human, so full of self-loathing despite all the power in his hands, the part of him that kept pounding out one rejected story after another is where Cancer Man shines.

CSM sits by a dockside transient, disgusted with himself upon seeing that the magazine publisher changed the ending to his story.
“Life is like a box of chocolates: a cheap, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for.”

John Coultre sat alone in his room on Christmas, he wrote. Did Cancer Man know he was John Coultre? Was that his real name? Why did he sit alone? Had he nowhere to go? As Frohike pointed out, it’s plain that he did not, and even if he did in reality, in his mind he has been alone his entire life. He believed in sacrifice, but sometimes he longed for a second chance.

When the publisher of the smut magazine contacts him to publish one of his John Coultre novels, Cancer Man becomes an entirely different man. His face, alight with excitement, is handsome in its own way. His movements are erratic, and all of his careful cunning is swept away. The man who witnessed the execution of an alien being, who shot his own partner in his home, suddenly is incredibly naive. He’s laughing, though near tears. His hands shake. He commits every sin known to the writing world. He accepted publication without reading the fine print; he agrees to the terms of the publisher’s payment without a contract. He relinquishes every ounce of control over his story, essentially writing this shady publisher a blank check to do whatever they want with his work. Just listening to the voice over the phone as it lied to him, telling him “many aspiring authors get discovered in his publication” made me sick; there was so much sleaze coming out of that phone that I nearly busted my face when it spilled out of my roommates’ large flat screen television. I wanted to weep for him. I wanted to try to stop him. I wanted to protect a killer, a monster from making a serious mistake that would cost him what was left of his integrity. I have not published, but I came pretty close in high school, and that experience taught me a lot. I would never have talked to a smut publisher in the first place, and I would never have committed to anything without a contract. In the end, they altered Cancer Man’s story’s ending, crushing his dream once and for all. At last, the world that he had worked so hard to shape had finally proven itself to be as unmovable and cruel to him as it was to everyone else.

Cancer Man’s writing, whether he realized it or not, was his second chance at a life of meaning, a life that enriched instead of mocked, a life where he was known and praised, not hated, feared and shrouded in shadow, the lines of his face deepened by darkness, aged before his time through muted misery and chain smoking. I believe that Cancer Man’s salvation laid in his writing, and like any man, he could only take so much. Should he have been expected to continue after finally having his dream realized, only to watch it crumble into someone else’s waiting hands to profit from? Should we have expected his forgiveness? Did we expect him to roll over and die? No, we did not, on either count, but he did. He hardened his heart, rolled over and took what the world offered him as his only reward for a lifetime of misery and wasted time. When the world bit the hand that fed it, his hand, the one that held back the flood, he bit back. He tore up his letter of resignation and went back to his peers. He would never make this mistake again. He would never again give in to his fantasies for a better life. He would never relinquish control.

Conclusion: An Extraordinary Man

What makes Cancer Man different from any of us? The heinous crimes he is responsible for–chiefly the one in which he is a key player in the alien colonization of our planet–set him apart from his fellow man, so much so that in the show he is never given a name. We have no idea who he is, only the barest of details crammed into an hour of showtime, that he had a brief love affair with Mulder’s mother, that he is both Mulder’s enemy and his savior. What makes Cancer Man extraordinary is the underlying facet of the human condition, the desire to be remembered, that drives him. What makes Cancer Man extraordinary is the fact that the same man who shot JFK without hesitation also grinned like a fool when he knew he’d written a good, frighteningly accurate line, “I can kill you anytime I want. But not tonight,” as he listened to an MLK speech in his room, when he knew King would have to go.

What makes Cancer Man extraordinary? His humanity. The fact that he has been ground under the heels of society no less than any other struggling artist makes Cancer Man not just a man to be pitied, but a man that can inspire confidence and persuade his fellow writer that despite whatever he may believe, life is not like a box of chocolates; we can be what we want to be, that we don’t have to pick and choose from the crap that surrounds us, and that what we choose will invariably shape the way we are remembered. Cancer Man might have been successful in his youth; he might have never touched a gun, but that is not who he was. The same zeal that shaped his political career–for lack of a better term–also shaped him as a writer. What he could not have known was that his refusal to relinquish control made him a better writer than he ever could have imagined.

The X:Files continues to be my source of inspiration. From Brad Dourif’s character in “Beyond the Sea”, whose story comprises exactly half of my own novel, to the various themes presented in episodes like “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”, The X:Files has no shortage of material for me to peruse, no lack of excellent writers whose own footsteps I one day hope to follow in. Cancer Man’s character reminds me that I have a chance to carve a place for myself, that I will be remembered even if he is not. Most pitiable of all is the fact that my chances are more likely to become a reality than Cancer Man’s. For Cancer Man, there is only one way of life: to be perpetually, endlessly alone, a reality that I am fortunate enough to not occupy. I owe so much of my inspiration as a writer to The X:Files. I remember trying my hand at my first story, almost eighty pages from beginning to end. Losing that story to a mere technical problem was the first time I realized that nothing is fair, and nothing is sacred. Tonight, Cancer Man has rekindled my refusal to give up. Tonight I remember the Friday nights I spent alone in a darkened garage, watching The X:Files, and writing. Tonight I pay homage to one of science fiction’s great villains, a most extraordinary man.

Edit December 27, 2017

You can find out more about Cancer Man and his origins here, just in time for new episodes of The X:Files on FOX coming January 3, 2018.

I still want to believe.

Growing Up David…Bowie That Is!

This is a promotional picture for Labyrinth, a Jim Henson film staring David Bowie (pictured) and Jennifer Connelly. Here, David Bowie gives us his most charming smile and offers us our dreams, crystal balls, of course.
David Bowie played Jareth, the Romantic Goblin King, ruler of the Labyrinth in 1985.

My manager at Papouli’s, Derrick Hutchinson, was always fond of playing the classic rock station in the morning as we opened the store. Invariably, one would hear a David Bowie song, and then you’d hear me screaming along to the lyrics as I made tea over at the beverage station in the dining room. Usually, it was “Young Americans” or “TVC15”, or “Suffragette City”. Sometimes it was “Rebel Rebel” or “Heroes”. Always the same five or six songs on that station anyway. My love for David Bowie has inspired some people to speculate that I was born (1985) 20 years-too-late to truly appreciate his work. Two days ago, January 8, was the anniversary of the day David Bowie–the king of Glam Rock, the Plastic Soulman, The Thin White Duke–was brought into this unsuspecting world. After nearly fifteen years of David Bowie fandom, it is time for me to give the Thin White Duke his due.

My Introduction to Bowie

I am of an age where the people of my parents’ generation were teenagers when David Bowie began recording (well my mom anyway–my dad and David Bowie are the same age). So how does a fourteen-year-old come across Bowie in the late nineties? Well, it wasn’t Earthling, Outside, or Scary Monsters, though that followed quickly. As any teen of my generation did, it was Labyrinth. I first saw Labyrinth in 1991. I was six years old. My little sister had only just been born, and all I could think of was that between David Bowie’s teeth and the baby crying, he must be the devil. Years later, when I was fourteen, Labyrinth turned up again, and suddenly I was thrust into the world of Glam Rock, because from that point on if it had David Bowie on it, I had to have it. David Bowie was many things before Jareth, but to me, he will always be Jareth.

Labyrinth is a huge part of my life.I  still wear my Labyrinth t-shirts and buy new ones when I find them. I’ve seen every single interview of David Bowie for Labyrinth and even had a chance to purchase a Labyrinth poster with Toby Froud, Jennifer Connolly, and Frank Oz’ signatures on it at Horror Con in 2010. And let us not forget how I began my own adventures on Ebay when I was a teenager, buying Labyrinth lunch boxes, lobby cards, eight-by-tens and posters. The lobby cards and eight-by-tens are currently being framed. That’s right. I still have them!

The Labyrinth revival came when I was about sixteen or so, and Hot Topic began running Labyrinth t-shirts, backpacks, and pins. And let’s not forget the fanfiction! I wrote and read so many Labyrinth fanfictions that their names are now lost to memory. One of my favorites was a story called “Crystal Moon”, but the best is a story whose title I can’t remember. This girl wrote the accepted and definitive trilogy that was so well inspired by Labyrinth that she self-published it, and held a cover-art contest (the winner of which won the set). She laid out the geography of the Underground, gave Jareth a past, a family and a voice of his own. Her Jareth, like Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula, was not a despotic king of goblins, but a misrepresented hero, a man driven to desperate measures during desperate times, who finally made Sarah his queen and raised her to the pedestal that he always thought she deserved. The Underground was one part of a huge fantastic world, bordered by the Eastern Fae and the Western Fae, where Jareth’s brothers, Stefan and Oberon, ruled justly and wisely.

This was the impact that David Bowie had on my generation, and that impact has stayed with me well into adulthood.

hours

New David Bowie cradles old David Bowie in yet another beautiful design meant to convey the ever-constant transition of David Bowie from one incarnation to the next. David Bowie was a dynamic artist and it showed on his album covers. This is the cover art for his album, hours.
Cover art for David Bowie’s album, hours.

hours came out when I was in eighth grade. My mom took us to Best Buy to get it, then we carved pumpkins for Halloween while we listened to “Thursday’s Child” and “Sons of the Silent Age”. The build up to hours, for me, was intense. The only person outside of my sister I could talk to about the album was my chemistry teacher, who probably had a bigger crush on Bowie than I did. I distinctly remember watching an episode of SNL where Jerry Seinfeld was the host, and David Bowie performed “Thursday’s Child” and “The Pretty Things are Going to Hell”. He did the same set for David Letterman the next weekend. I still think that was the funniest episode of SNL I’ve ever seen.

I do not hear hours mentioned very often. I cannot image why, though, as I feel it was one of his most memorable albums. However, “Something in the Air” and “Thursday’s Child” remained largely out of my league, emotionally and intellectually, until I was much older.

hours was haunting and distant, as if there was something always hanging over my head as I listened to it. There are a great many questions asked on hours. If there’s nothing to say, nothing in our eyes, then there “must be something in the air,” but it is, and remains unclear. “Survive” is full of vague wonderings, “I should have kept you, I should have tried. I should have been a wiser kind of guy…” are all what-ifs, the same with “Dreaming All My Life”: “Was she ever here? Was she ever? Was it air she breathed, at the wrong time, on the wrong day?” Perhaps what I lacked in understanding as a kid was that the entire album was a question, an existential question, and an album name like hours, and titles like “Something in the Air” and “Dreaming All My Life” speaks to a question that has an answer, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. There is definitely an air of having lost something or losing something. The music video for “Thursday’s Child” seems to depict a couple growing apart. David Bowie’s character and the woman (his wife apparently) obviously have a disparate age difference, but it is not physical. David Bowie, in the video, feels older than he is. He is peering at himself as a young man next to his young wife, while standing next to him is the same woman, only older. He describes himself, as he stares at himself in the mirror as “All of my life, I’ve tried so hard, doing the best with what I had. Nothing much happened all the same…Something about me stood apart, a whisper of hope that seemed to fail. Maybe I’m born right out of my time…” He is aware that he is losing what he had, his physical youth, which is poignantly represented as he and his partner kiss hesitantly, and he moves in for another before thinking better of it, like he just realized he was kissing a stranger. His memories of youth clash with his current age, and no wonder the character feels helpless. His mental and physical age vie with an elegiac memory of a past that he can never reclaim.

I relate, perhaps more now than when I was a kid, to those people who say that I was born 20 years to late, “born right out of my time”, and that this is something David Bowie and I have in common. In many ways, David Bowie was well before his time, and despite what he said in “Changes” time has changed him, but he never adapted to the times, rather the times have seemed to always be trying to keep up with Bowie. I think this is why hours slows down so much. I once read an interview with Bowie in Rolling Stone where he told the interviewer, “See, you’re getting older as you listen to it.” The album is fraught with lost dreams, lost relationships and unanswered questions, and I believe that this album is an attempt to answer questions we as people have about the way we move through life, always questioning what we might have done, and wondering who we would be if we had made different decisions in life.

All The Wonderful Places David Has Been

I realized that the Alan Moore introduction to Elric: The Stealer of Souls omnibus is titled “The Return of the Thin White Duke”, from “Station to Station” a reference to both David Bowie’s return to sanity and Elric’s return to popular culture. Elric is David Bowie, as are many other characters in Fantasy fiction. Both were fueled by a sustaining object (for Bowie, cocaine; for Elric, Stormbringer), and both have made tremendous come-backs–Bowie in the 1980s, and Elric in the present, as the novels have been re-released by Ballantine Books and the Prince of Ruins is remade in the Saga of the White Wolf (where Elric speaks in first person). I read today over at Tor.com that Neil Gaiman was adamant that Lucifer from Sandman resemble David Bowie in every respect, “You must draw David Bowie. Find David Bowie, or I’ll send you David Bowie. Because if it isn’t David Bowie, you’re going to have to redo it until it is David Bowie,” the author told his artist (Bridget McGovern, “The Cult of Bowie: Cracked Actor, Fictional Character, Supervillain”, Tor.com).

To Reign In Hell: Wrapping Up The Summer of Khan

“Have you ever read Milton, Captain?”

–Khan to Kirk, “Space Seed”.

(Warning: Very long blog post ahead)


There are so many reasons why I chose this summer to be Summer of Khan. I believe it started with acquiring a new book…That’s how it usually happens any way.


In fact, that is how I shall choose to end The Summer of Khan.


One excruciatingly hot day in the sleepy little cold-call-sales capitol of the world (San Antonio) I picked up a copy of The Eugencis Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh. It took significantly longer than planned to finish the series, considering I had to wait two weeks for the third volume to arrive, then read it, and–unhappily–it took even longer to blog about it, as I sent the trilogy south for my co-worker and good friend to borrow, attached to an address for him to return them. My policy has always been to spread the nerd around.


The series ended in tragedy, as it happens. Not only did I already know how the story would end, the fact that Khan proved to be the megalomaniacal tyrant he was portrayed to be in Wrath of Khan did not exactly give me any hope for the future, nor did knowing that his entire race was doomed from the beginning. What did give me cause to hope was that Captain Kirk, despite whatever Khan might have believed, would have been unable to prevent the disaster on Ceti Alpha V even if he had known about it, which was an impossibility, since you can’t see black holes. Allow me to explain.


To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Sing

Khan Noonien Singh as he was portrayed in Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban. The novel is set during the events following Khan's abandonment on Ceti Alpha V and the discovery of him and the survivors during Wrath of Khan. Khan was fond of the poem "Paradise Lost" by John Milton. To Reign in Hell is a play on the lines spoken by Satan in book 2 of Paradise Lost, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
Cover art for Greg Cox’ Star Trek novel, To Reign In Hell.

I have to admit being slightly disappointed that the story did not pick up en medias res, before the events of Wrath of Khan. I had hoped that Khan’s potential as a character would not be colored by the events of the film, nor did the story benefit from being told in a sort of pseudo-epistolary (from journals and records kept by the individuals who’s story it is). As such, a great deal of time is spent focusing on Kirk, Spock, and Bones getting trapped on Ceti Alpha V by the remaining genetic outcasts, and not just outcasts, the outcasts of the outcasts. The genetic offspring of several renegade colonists who felt that Khan had worn out his time as their leader had kidnapped Kirk and his men and demanded without mercy that they turn over Khan and the rest of his clan to them to be dealt with. First of all, their captor was about fifteen and hardly any match for Khan, even at a very haggard and weary forty years old (Ricardo Montalban was 61 when the film was made. I somehow doubt a shirt-tailed kid was going to take Khan at any age). Second, I don’t know that any of this is important to the story other than to re-enforce the overall theme that genetic tampering with human beings has the potential to be more harmful than good.


The story is told from the third-person limited perspective of Marla McGivers and Khan Noonien Singh. I don’t know why so many authors forego the very not-cliched first person for villains. Several amazing authors have proven already that the villain is the most convincing in his own voice (Brian Lumley, Anne Rice, Mary Anne Mitchell, Fred Saberhagen and Gregory McGuire to name a few). I would have paid way more than $20 for that book if Khan had told the story in his own voice. Of course, his private thoughts, were closer to the mark. Also, though I have expounded on the merits of McGiver’s character before (See “All the Women that Went Before Part 2” in the July archives), I feel that if we are ultimately going to explore Khan’s character in this novel, why we were given both perspectives? If the idea was to watch Khan slowly descend into madness, why was Marla so fundamental? Her character had been given very little attention before (sadly, I would say). She saved Khan, to be sure, but he was doomed anyway, and she died (no real spoiler, that), which only makes the tragedy of the story ten times worse. I can’t get over that, witnessed through Khan’s eyes, her death would have struck me as tearful and heart-rending, rather than half-assed (since Kirk was sitting on Marla’s tomb reading about it) and transparent. Sorry, Greg Cox, but it made me mad.


Well, we know how the story ends, and Greg Cox does an amazing job of filling in the blanks of what transpired on the sands of Ceti Alpha V that drove Khan to ultimately destroy himself to avenge his people. I’m not saying I could have done it better, but I was very much disappointed with the novel. There were, however, some very distinctly tragic aspects, and causes for hope, that I want to expound upon.


The Demise of Ceti Alpha V

Unbeknownst to the captain of the starship Enterprise, the Ceti Alpha system had been  unstable for probably all of its lifetime. It was not until almost 20 years after Kirk had marooned Khan and his race of genetically enhanced humans on Ceti Alpha V, after the horrible events that had transpired, that a full-scale, or even a small-scale analysis of what happened to the planet could be conducted. Even then it was open to speculation. Spock reasoned–after his resurrection on the Genesis planet and rescue from the Klingons–that Ceti Alpha VI had not just exploded, as Khan had suggested, but rather was pulled apart by the gravitational shift caused by a black hole emerging in the system. If the black hole was large enough to consume the whole planet, it could very easily have caused the earthquakes, atomic winter, drought and death of every living thing on the planet that did not have the human capacity (not to mention several evolutionary jumps forward) of Khan and his cohorts to survive it. Of course, such a hypothesis comes on the coat-tails of slightly more scientific science-fiction in 2005, rather than the necessary but short explanation in 1982.


It makes little difference, however, how exactly the planet had devolved. By the time Kirk was discussing this with Spock, Khan had been dead a year, his atomic particles spread out over the Plutara Nebula where he had activated the Genesis device while trying to kill Kirk, subsequently resulting in Spock’s tragic demise, resurrection and rebirth. What made my heart so heavy was that Kirk never got the chance to explain it to Khan, not that that was Kirk’s fault (not all of it anyway).


Khan had always been hot-headed, self-serving and arrogant. He was vastly intelligent, an excellent leader and strategist, but he had his mother’s maniacal thirst for vengeance, cultivated first by her death at hands of a desperate Gary Seven, then by Kirk’s seemingly “childish” unwillingness to give up his ship and his crew to the service of the despot who had fled earth during the Eugenics wars, then simmered on the desert wasteland of Ceti Alpha V. None of this makes for a very reasonable person.


“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”


Even more tragic–though exciting to some scholars–is the fact that Khan identifies himself with Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost. The novel’s title, To Reign in Hell is a dead give-away…well for me it was. Khan’s character is a superior being expelled by inferior beings. However, no matter what his genetic make-up, Satan and Khan both felt that they were better than those they were brought up around, even if it wasn’t true. Gary Seven, Roberta Williams, and James Kirk all proved themselves Khan’s betters despite their “inferiority”. Satan, though fancying himself God’s equal in the epic poem that nearly got Milton killed, was really no better than any of his kind. The angel Abdiel commented in book vi of the poem, during the insurrection, that Satan was misguided, for he could not hope to be higher than  his kind, even when God had personally placed him so high in his esteem (you will recall that Satan’s name in Heaven was Lucifer, “The Light-Bearer”, which seemed to be an important role). Khan repeatedly quotes Milton, especially Satan. The title of the novel is taken from a quote from Satan in book I of the poem, “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” The quote has lead many to believe that Satan is in fact the hero of Paradise Lost, but I once had a professor that said, “Any critic that says Satan was the hero never got past book II.” I have to agree. Neither Khan nor Satan are the heroes of their respective story. Khan and Satan’s expulsions were the results of their own depraved actions. The school of thought that defines Satan as a hero is that Hell was essentially what you make of it. Satan and Khan both built palaces in their prisons (Pandamonium in Hell and New Chandigar on Ceti Alpha V). Both found ways to survive their exiles, but the fact that both characters created their prisons and then decorated it to make it nicer only solidifies the notion that they rule in delusion. Khan was no more in control of his prison than Satan was. Khan’s fight for survival, though valiant and well-intended, really meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. The story would have carried more weight, if, like Paradise Lost, it had begun en medias res, with Khan waking up in his camp on Ceti Alpha V the way Satan woke up in Hell, flashing back to how they fell and when.


Tragedy followed Khan wherever he went. Khan is not the first, nor the last, neutrally bad or good character that has ever just needed a hug. Drizzt Do’Urden, Joey Garza (Streets of Laredo), Nephran Malinari (Necroscope, though being sexy had something to do with that), Radu Vladislas and Saberhagen’s Dracula are several I can name off the top of my head that I might have said to them, “Awww, what you really need is a hug…if you could just put down that sword/knife/gun/gauntlet…” Marla tried to protect his sanity, and even succeeded for a time, but by the time we meet Khan in WoK, he is beyond help, and though attempts were made to reason with him (poor Chekov), I do not feel that every possible attempt to restrain and reason with Khan was made. Kirk told lies and deceived Khan even when it wasn’t necessary. People feared Khan, and rightly so, but that fear and mutual hatred only fueled an even greater blindness to Khan’s very much justified anger. Kirk was ultimately responsible for keeping tabs on Khan. Kirk failed. In the novel, Kirk even admits it. Good. Carry that with you for the rest of your life. Absolving Kirk of that failure would only cheapen Khan’s anger, which Cox is careful not to do.


Hope in a Sea of Despair

What gave me further cause for hope was the fact that the colonists of Ceti Alpha V were able to produce children, though those children were the products of genetic tampering. Each and every one of the children produced, no matter the genetic nationality of the parents, were blond-haired and blue-eyed, a fact that did not fail to impress itself on Khan and his historian wife, Marla McGivers. It did not surprise them that what was meant to be a superior race of humans had become essentially “Aryan”. As part of the sub-plot of the second Eugenics Wars novel, the children, after Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are stranded on Ceti Alpha V are convinced of Khan’s death–through more deceit–and return with the curtailed crew of Enterprise to the colony of genetically enhanced humans on the planet Sycorax, which has just been denied admittance into the Federation. There, the universe could go on blissfully unaware of Kirk’s mistake (to put it bluntly), and the colonist children would be monitored and raised by others who understood them. A happy ending, the fact that Kirk gets to forget, yet again, that he might have prevented all of it had he not been so hot-headed and arrogant himself twenty years past.


Wrapping it Up

Though I have harsh criticism, I nevertheless enjoyed the final chapter in Khan’s life. There was, as was the case with the other two novels, a sense of enlightenment and, after the events of WoK, a sense of closure. Marla McGivers Singh’s ashes were scattered in the wake of the Genesis planet, finally laid to rest with her husband. Now that got me choked up. If Kirk did one good thing in all of this, it was admit that two people had come together in all of this and that their union was stronger than any Kirk had known. The end of the novel was bittersweet: Khan’s reign of terror was dead, but he was at peace–at least we hope so. Spock, though lost to Khan’s wrath briefly, had been restored. Khan’s followers and their children had been placed under careful diligence. All was right with the universe, and though there were wrongs committed on both sides that could never be taken back, at least they had been accounted for and reckoned with. Khan and Kirk were even, at least on the score of what had been lost (as you will recall, Khan died creating the Genesis planet, which in turn claimed Kirk’s son David on a Klingon blade). Over all, I feel like my summer was complete having read these novels, and though the events Khan and Kirk set in motion had ended, the book I just bought brings the past back into clear focus as Captain Picard must deal with the aftermath in Star Trek The Next Generation: Genesis Wave.


Franchises that never die…for the win.

All The Women Who Went Before: Marla McGivers

Marl McGivers gives in to Khan's seduction. Khan may have seduced the weak-minded McGivers for access to the Enterprise, but he ended up madly in love with her.
I might be a terrible feminist but whose to say she really was wrong? Khan was amazing. Should she have folded so quickly? Probably not.

In light of the stronger than average “inferior” women in Khan’s own time, it’s startling to imagine jumping back in time to the 1960s (which is actually the future?) with “Space Seed” and seeing, what I consider, and probably Roberta and Sarina Kaur too, a truly inferior woman, the only “superior woman” of Khan’s acquaintance simply because she’s shining example of what Starfleet is not doing for the female character.


Unlike communications officer Lieutenant Uhura, Lieutenant Marla McGivers is everything the ideal woman should be: young, resplendent in her skimpy Starfleet uniform, a specialist in one of Starfleet’s most “essential” subjects (Ancient Terran History) completely unreliable in a high-stress situation, smitten with the enemy, and white. It is easily noticed, from McGiver’s first scene, that she is somewhat obsessed with the ancient warriors of Earth. If you ask me, there’s nothing wrong with that. I have a thing for strikingly handsome, powerful warriors as well, but let’s just face it, her entire character was set up for this. McGivers didn’t even have a chance to prove that a Starfleet officer can be stronger than the machinations of a superman, nor did she get the second chance offered to so many characters on Star Trek to prove herself worthy of working aboard the Enterprise again. I’m still a little confused as to why she was forced to choose between exile with Khan or martial punishment. Had she been male, or under some kind of psychological influence (which I think was the case at least to an extent) her betrayal might have been written off and she could have spent some time under investigation, or she might have been killed outright. I think that Marla’s feminine character–and a weak feminine character at that–gets treated very badly.

Marla and Khan stand trial aboard the Enterprise. Kirk has no jurisdiction to punish Khan, nor does he have the authority to court martial McGivers, so he offers them a deal. Khan he intends to deposit on Ceti Alpha V, and Marla can either join Khan, or stay aboard and return to starbase for court martial.
Marla and Khan stand trial aboard the Enterprise. Kirk has no jurisdiction to punish Khan, nor does he have the authority to court martial McGivers, so he offers them a deal.

The original Star Trek series was indeed quite sexist. Of course, we’re also talking about the sixties, at a time when women, and women of color, were objectified on and off the screen (and little has changed since then). However, Star Trek as a whole has often been lauded as “progressive”. Lt. Uhura was a female of color on national television. Later, Star Trek would dabble in mixed-race female characters with half-Betazed and half human Deeana Troi, then mixed race women of color with half-Klingon-half-Hispanic Belana Torez. However, Lt. McGivers seems to take one step forward and two steps back. Khan easily overpowers her, a Starfleet officer (do you think Tasha Yar or Beverly Crusher would have been so easily subjugated?), and even goes so far as to subjugate her sexually, forming a bond with her that appeals to her greatest weakness–her obsession with Terran warriors. Did Khan truly feel attracted to her? I think so, but he was also aware of her character flaws, and he exploits them. He refers to her as a “superior woman”. He has to know she is anything but, which is what leads me to believe he is truly attracted to her (as we see in Wrath of Khan) or he had some very low standards. 


Khan, of course, never admits that he might have made a mistake pitting Marla against Kirk and the rest of the crew, and Kirk casually omits the fact that Marla betrayed Khan and the rest of his company in order to save Kirk from certain death in the decompression chamber, though this might possibly play a role in her light punishment. What we focus on is Kirk beating the crap out of Khan in Engineering while the starship goes into self-destruct sequence. Never mind that Kirk never would have gotten that chance if Marla had not set him free. Then, when it came down to the hearing to decide the fate of Khan and the rest of his kind, Marla was lumped in with him despite her previous actions and her attempt to correct her error. Khan had, by now, been given several chances to turn his life around. Marla received not one ounce of that sympathy. However, in the end McGivers does not seem perturbed by this turn of events. She willingly goes with Khan (it was either that or take court marshal), but she is obviously enamored of him. She admits her mistake, and takes the consequences, which are mitigated through her “marriage” to Khan and his followers. What follows appears to be a sort of exchange of vows. Khan says, “I will take her.” In a way, this sort of foreshadows the coming events of Wrath of Khan (in which Khan admits to having a wife) and, alternatively, To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh. 

Flash forward to 1995. The science fiction scene has changed.

The main cast of Voyager from left to right, top to bottom: Harry Kim, the Doctor, Commander Tuvok, Nelix, Seven of Nine, Chakotay, Captain Janeway, Tim Paris, Belana Torez.
From left to right, top to bottom: Harry Kim, the Doctor, Commander Tuvok, Nelix, Seven of Nine, Chakotay, Captain Janeway, Tim Paris, Belana Torez.

Characters like Belana Torez, Seven-of-Nine and Katheryn Janeway have come to represent the women of Star Trek. Strength became the new sexy. These women balance vulnerability (Seven-of-Nine, Belana Torez), power (Captain Janeway) and sex appeal. This does not mean the double-standard has been abolished, but it means author Greg Cox can give Marla McGivers a second chance. 

Ten years later: 2005

Khan Noonien Singh as he was portrayed in Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan, played by Ricardo Montalban. The novel is set during the events following Khan's abandonment on Ceti Alpha V and the discovery of him and the survivors during Wrath of Khan. Khan was fond of the poem "Paradise Lost" by John Milton. To Reign in Hell is a play on the lines spoken by Satan in book 2 of Paradise Lost, "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven."
Cover art for Greg Cox’ Star Trek novel, To Reign In Hell.


The Marla McGiver’s of To Reign in Hell, Greg Cox’s final novel in Khan Noonien Singh’s alternate story, is a more dynamic character than TOS Star Trek. Marla is a cross between the powerful women closely associated with Cox’s novels and the new trend in Star Trek and the admittedly deficient Starfleet officer. She realizes she is flawed. There are scenes where she tries, really tries, to defend herself, but she knows she lacks to the training, the power. However, despite her obvious character flaws, Marla considers herself, still, a woman of merit, and she decides to make whatever she can out of the life she has chosen. What she must contend with now is the fact that she is outcast among her own people and Khan’s. She betrayed both parties aboard the Enterprise. After an encounter with superwoman Zuleika Walker–ex-assassin (real world supermodel and star of the X: Files spin-off series The Lone Gunmen)–Khan has to place Marla under his protection, which still cannot forestall several more attempts on her life. The greatest test of Marla’s resolve is in Zuleika Walker’s trial, in which she is accused of trying to burn Marla alive in a storage shed. Marla, no where  near convinced that Zuleika was at fault, joins her fellow Ceti Alpha V colonist in exile from Khan’s new capitol. Khan’s desire to rule absolutely is not tempered by his lover’s exile. His decision is final, though he will regret it later, as Marla’s true assassin is revealed and he must then go in search of his colonists. Their union during the mass-wedding in the following chapters seals Khan’s bond to Marla and he vows to protect her.


After the cataclysm of Ceti Alpha VI and the destruction of Ceti Alpha V’s ecosystem, Khan faces more and more resistance as his survival tactics take a more Draconian turn. In the end, it is Marla McGivers who must protect Khan from the machinations of his superhuman foes. The introduction of a Ceti eel seals her fate, as a rival faction attempts to use Marla as the weapon against her husband and leader of the Ceti Alpha V colony. Whatever Marla might have been capable of at Starfleet, whatever she might have lacked as a female character all came to naught as she made the ultimate sacrifice. Her death, only alluded to in Wrath of Khan (which may have only involved her succumbing to Ceti eel–just another casualty) came to light as one of the most noble of human acts. Instead of killing Khan, Marla–infected with an eel and marked for madness and death–plunges a knife into her own heart. Khan would spend the rest of his time on Ceti Alpha V commemorating her actions and immortalizing her in a catafalque, with a  lot of blaming Kirk thrown in for good measure. We’ll discuss more of Khan’s hatred for Kirk in the next installment.


Despite the cruel punishment and shoddy characterization (not to mention the sheer neglect in Wrath of Khan), Marla McGiver’s ended up being the hero she never thought she was, and that no one really took her for. In the end, I really have to thank Greg Cox for taking Marla’s much-abused character and giving her the second chance Kirk was never going to give her. Cox’s novel is told in the limited perspective of Khan and Marla, and we witness Marla’s death firsthand, followed by Khan’s grief. The tragedy of Marla’s character does not lie in her death, but in the cruelty of the time in which she was written, when Star Trek was dominated by men. I believe that both Marla and Khan were written well before their time. Khan’s return in WoK does much to strengthen his character and cement him in the lore, but Marla’s character  fell by the wayside, until Cox came along and gave her a character even Kirk would commend, and the voice that all of us wanted to hear.

All the Women Who Went Before: The Rise of Khan Cont.

Cover art for The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh volume 2 by Greg Cox, featuring Ricardo Montalban as a young Khan.
Cover art for The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh volume 2 by Greg Cox, featuring Ricardo Montalban as a young Khan.

Though I was not surprised with the outcome of Greg Cox’s second installment of the Eugenics Wars, I was emotionally unequipped for the end of the novel. The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh vol 2, also known as Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars, foreshadows, very well in fact, all of the events of “Space Seed”, and to a certain extent, The Wrath of Khan. Several arguments can be made in terms of both stories that reflect both the times of the novel and the episode when they were written and the times they were meant to portray. What I want to know, and hopefully will attempt to answer is: why the hell do we keep giving Khan “second chances”, and why is it that the women of Cox’s novels could have kicked Lieutenant McGiver’s ass at any given time despite all of her Star Fleet training? The answer to those questions lay, as always, in the writing. We’ll cover the women that came before now, and move on to Marla McGivers in “Space Seed” and To Reign in Hell in part two.


Khan: His Second and Third Chance

The character of Khan leaves very little to like. At the end of The Eugenics Wars second installment, Khan is a megalomanic bent on revenge. Unable even to attain the superior world he desperately sought, and in the face of sheer annihilation, Khan fires up his coup de grace, Morning Star, a satellite capable of wiping out Earth’s slowly receding o-zone layer. However, thanks to Gary Seven’s timely intervention, Khan takes a different route, choosing instead to take the cream of his genetic equals aboard the sleeper ship, DY-100 class, the SS Botany Bay (ah ah, don’t say it yet). Khan’s second chance at a different life on another planet is not exactly dashed, but definitely derailed once the ship was lost in space and drifted into “Federation Territory” two hundred years later. Of course, Khan does not take being rescued easily, nor does he humbly acknowledge the course set before him two hundred years previous. After trying to kill Kirk and take the Enterprise, he is eventually defeated, and instead of jettisoning him from the air lock, Kirk sticks him back on his original punishment, placing him under “house arrest”, so to speak, on Ceti Alpha V. Khan goes along with it. He’s off the hook (again) and Kirk gives him a woman to boot. We’ll discuss Khan’s fourth chance at a new life at a later date.

Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) aboard the Starship Enterprise in the Star Trek Episode, "Space Seed". Here is talks to Lieutenant McGivers in her quarters.
Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban) aboard the Starship Enterprise in the Star Trek Episode, “Space Seed”.

Why does Khan keep getting let off with a slap on the wrist? Why, after all the things he’s been able to do, does he walk on every count? Khan escapes annihilation with his mother at the Chrysalis Project as a little boy. Gary Seven lets him walk again after his defeat in the Eugenics Wars, for which Khan was the primary instigator. Instead of sending him back to Earth with the traitorous McGivers and the rest of his crew, Kirk lets him off almost scott-free on a class M planet devoid of anything he might be able to use against anyone, including sharp objects. No jail time. No torture. Just him, his cronies, his girlfriend and a planet all to themselves.

It could be argued that no one is really willing to punish Khan because, ultimately, Khan is a product of something we have not yet been able to fully grasp, much less constitute a crime. Khan falls under Eddie Izzard’s classification as a “Pol Pot”. He killed so many of his own people that we actually had to reward him, “Well done, very well done. We’ve been trying to kill your people for years.” Essentially we stick people like Napoleon, Pol Pot and Khan behind glass and watch them until they die, trying to figure out what makes them tick. Thanks to Greg Cox, we don’t have to do that with Khan. Khan is cut and dry by “Space Seed”. We may have been sorry for him when his mother died, and even when he started taking over the countries he conquered we might have hoped for the best. By “Space Seed” Khan is deplorable wreck of a despot whose desperation leads him to even more deplorable acts, like pitting the woman who loves him against her own captain and fellow crew members. Even as he is committing what could possibly termed acts of terrorism on the Enterprise, Kirk is still willing to let him go, provided he go far away, where no one could actually be affected by his influence. There is also the problem of containment. Short of plasma beams and lasers, no prison could have held him. Better to put him in a position where he can’t hurt anyone than try and imprison or kill him.


The Women of Khan’s Life

I suppose we should start with the woman who started it all: Dr.Sarina Kaur, head doctor and director of scientific research at the Chrysalis Project. In secret laboratories beneath the Great Thar Dessert in Northern India, Kaur first began her genetic experiments by splicing chromosomes in order to weed out genetic defects. She did not stop there, though. By combining these new gnomes with DNA constructed to be stronger, healthier and more intelligent human beings, she created the first race of super-humans. They were test tube babies to be sure, birthed by women within the project who volunteered their bodies for science. Kaur also participated. Khan Noonien Singh was the issue of Kaur’s experiments. Unlike Sephiroth, whose only mother was Jenova and Shinra, Khan actually had a mother who could influence his early conscious development, as well as a slew of governesses and instructors filling his mind with “superior” ideology. In addition to the genetic experiments giving birth to a new race of improved man, Kaur had a lethal ace in the hole: a stockpile of warheads designed to spread a deadly strain of streptococcus fractiis–a flesh eating virus–to entire populations of the world. Fortunately, she also made the children of Chrysalis immune to the virus. The strength of Kaur’s convictions and the height of her vengeance carried her to destruction, pregnant with Khan’s genetic brother or sister. She was killed in a nuclear explosion.


Roberta Lincoln was another of the women in Khan’s life who was neither weak nor inferior by any means. Roberta and Gary Seven were responsible for the nuclear explosion that killed Khan’s mother. As Supervisor #368, it was Roberta’s job to assist Gary Seven in the growth of human development that did not involve world war three, which would ultimately mean the deployment of nuclear bombs. No matter where Khan turned, Roberta was always there to stop him, especially as Gary Seven grew older, leaving most of the work of saving the world to his second in command. Khan’s respect for Roberta lessened as she became more tiresome.


Ament, albeit an agent of Gary Seven’s (the light-footed under cover cat, Isis) was another powerful woman with great influence over Khan. Once one of his most trusted advisers, Ament’s conscience and her interpretation of events often led Khan down a more noble path…until that noble path no longer served his needs. For obvious reasons, Gary Seven never revealed Ament’s real identity even though it cost him one of his best agents. Khan killed Isis in one of his many acts of vengeance. Her betrayal was unforgivable even if she was never allied with him to begin with.


In part two of this discussion, we’ll review and compare the character of Marla McGivers to her twentieth century counterparts.

The Who’s Who of San Antonio Tattoos: Alamo City Tattoo Expo

Like the Slingin’ Ink Tattoo Festival, The Alamo City Tattoo Expo is a great place for tattoo shops in San Antonio to get some exposure. Its also great for San Antonio patrons, since, if you ask me, good artists are hard to find in this town. I had to go to Austin to find an artist that seemed even halfway interested in designing my piece. Of course, the thing to remember with any tattoo artist is that its definitely a seller’s market. An artist will immediately pick up on your discomfort. Finding the right artist takes time and conversation. You test the waters with an artist as much as they test you. After all, they pen their reputation on you, in a manner of speaking. Its important, especially if you are getting a complicated or large piece, to find the right artist. This is where the tattoo festivals come in handy. In addition to the perks for the artists’ exposure, patrons get to collect cards and stickers from potential artists, look at portfolios and talk to people while they have the most gratifying experience: getting tattooed. Here are some of the best shops in San Antonio to look into, as well as other shops of interest in Texas.

But first, I digress…

I was lucky to have made it to the tattoo expo at all. As chance would have it, we blew a tire in my sister’s car and spent an hour on the side of the road. The digital sign across Highway 1604 said that it was ninety-two degrees, and there was not a single speck of shade. My little sister had just had her tattoo worked on. She tried to stand in such a way as to keep her skin out of the sun, which only made dudes driving by honk at us.

A nice touch, but seriously, no one wanted to help two sexy tattooed chicks stuck on the side of the road. I had neither a shirt or sunscreen to put over my left arm, and had to stand in a bar ditch in full sun. Sun kills tattoos, as anyone with a tattoo will tell you. I will likely have to wait until the winter, when my tan fades, to have the green and yellow on my outer forearm touched up. Frustrating and expensive, but fixable.

When we finally got to the tattoo expo, the wondrous, most beautiful sound in the world reached my ears: the sound of the tattoo gun. My tattoo artist, Rachel, has a special silent gun. Its the most disturbing thing I’ve ever experienced. I get tattooed with two conditions: that I can see everything within reason and I want to hear the gun. Fortunately, we were not lacking in either.

In addition to the greatest shops in SA, including Tattoo National, Calavares, Mr. Lucky and Absolute, here are some of the best shops to see if you’re looking to get tatted up in San Antonio.

Element Tattoo:

Jedi at Element tattoo working on a Japanese back piece.
Jedi at Element tattoo working on a Japanese back piece.

Anyone not familiar with Jedi and his band at Element haven’t been on the tattoo scene in San Antonio for very long. I was first acquainted with Jedi’s bright colors and inspired art on my friends Haley and Jake, most notably the “Haley’s Comet” on Haley’s shoulder. Bright greens, blues, purples, yellows and reds dominate Jedi’s masterful portfolio. While sitting in line for Pirates 4, I met a girl who had gone to Jedi for her Nightmare Before Christmas tattoo. Stark black and deep blues coalesced on her skin, making the little shading done to my inner arm look sad and pathetic. Jedi worked for three hours on a Japanese horimono, and had almost completed it by the time we left. Element Tattoo is a regular fixture in SA and can be reached at 210-979-9877.

Inception Tattoo

Miss Steph at Inception is a brilliant artist. Here is she is beginning Blake's right arm. His left arm is a thing of beauty with rich colors, also done at Inception.
Blake getting his arm attended to by Miss Steph at Inception Tattoo of San Antonio.

Some of the most amazing artwork could be seen at the booth for Inception Tattoos. I’m not sure if this is a new shop in San Antonio, but I am definitely getting ink from them on my body at some point. In fact the sight of their artwork made me completely rethink the direction I was taking with my right arm. Blake, the guy seen here, was getting his right arm done by Stephanie while I marveled at his left arm. Full of blues and purples, it was exactly where I had wanted to go with my left arm. He commented rather nicely on my Final Fantasy VII tattoo, easing some of the jealousy I was feeling. I was proud that he thought my arm was cool. However, I was once again reminded of the bright colors of my left arm, and I felt better about the whole thing. Inception does custom work. No cookie-cutter tattoos for Miss Stephanie, whose artwork is view-able at the shop. To get store hours, call 210-653-9118.

Ink Therapy and Tattoos by BoneDaddy

Chris Pearson, a.k.a BoneDaddy’s artwork falls neatly into the macabre. The guys had set up a bicycle covered in shrunken heads where Chris was doing his work. Traditional motifs covered the table (for $10 a pop), while Chris’ artwork came to life on the skin canvas before us. As the name of the shop implies, getting tattooed is one of the greatest sensations you will ever feel (except for poor Rachel Kolar, who hates getting tattooed). One thing that always happens to me while I’m getting tattooed, like when I’m getting my hair done, is that I get the irresistible urge to spill my guts to my tattoo artist. I’ve often considered just giving Rachel Kolar money to let me talk. Ink therapy, then, is probably the best way to describe my reaction to getting tattooed. The endorphins released during the inking truly relaxes and comforts me, despite the fact that I grip the chair on the elbow and inner arm parts. Chris Pearson owns and manages Ink Therapy. You can contact him on his cell at 210-710-0098.

Prick:

The artists at Prick are anything but. They are obliging and respectful. Prick specializes in custom work, though I would be prepared to shell out a healthy sum when it comes to designing and receiving a genuinely custom tattoo. When getting pricked by Prick, it would behoove you to look at the artwork and tattoos by Butter, one of the shops most popular artists. Butter does everything from portraits to aztecs, and can reasonably assure everyone that most of the work is hand drawn. Get in touch with the Butter down on Starcrest and at 210-545-3886.

Dandyland

Dandyland is looking much improved since last I was there to get my Dracula D tattooed on my back some time ago (2005). All in all the experience was unfabulous, and oddly enough, the reason I chose Dandyland was because I had seen a picture of the Necroscope skull off the front of the first Necroscope novel (the piece is called “Thibor Rising”). Not the greatest reason to chose a place. The guy that worked on me was a butcher. The red did not take to my satisfaction and the artist wasn’t even true to the picture I handed him. Of course, the piece was on my back, so I had little chance to look at it while it was being done. When it was finished, it was a far cry from running blood, and I’ve been unhappy with the piece ever since. My philosophy is that the D is more functional than cosmetic, showcasing my love for all things Dracula.

Dandyland has come a long way. I was truly proud of the portfolios available for perusal. Cheese Perales at the booth assured me that their custom tattoos were cheaper than most places, though how true that is remains to be seen. Hop on down to the little shop on Bandera road inside Loop 410 or call 210-432-5747. Cheese Perales has a his own blog at thesightofblood.blogspot.com.

Randolf Custom Tattoos and Matt Attack

Matt has finished stenciling Jericka's leg and is ready to begin tattooing.
Matt Attack of Randolf Custom Tattoos working on Jericka’s leg.

A little shop down on Pat Booker road, the closest store to the convention, has amazing custom work. Matt Attack was on hand at the shop’s booth working on Miss Jericka (that’s right, the most awesome female name ever). He had just stenciled the piece on to her leg when we walked up. Randolf Custom Tattoos specializes in custom work–as the name implies. Being as close to Randolf Brooks Air Force Base as it is, it is probably not going to come as much of a surprise to see a great deal of military artwork for your perusal. Get to know handsome Matt Attack at 210-778-9762.

Horimasa

Horimasa Tattoo is hand-done traditional Japanese horimono the way it was meant to be done. The artists at Horimasa employ the traditional Tedori tattoo technique, a four pronged needle on the end of a rod. Using upper body strength, the tattoo artist engraves the ink, following along with the stencil. This, understandably and statistically, the most painful tattoo technique on record. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the name of the artist and the guy getting tattooed, so I cannot place the picture I took here. If you’d like a picture of the Tedori in action, send me an email at ashley@btw-services.com.

The Costley Brothers and the Traveling Freak Show

The Dallas-based store owned and operated by the Costley Brothers (Clynt and Woody) has some exciting artwork, including the artwork done by Jazz (Tattoos by Jazz). Jazz Ashley is a specialty tattoo artist, working in the only medium available to tattoo artists under the age of 18: markers. Jazz’s marker tattoos are adorable and incredibly affordable. At a dollar a pop, Jazz is probably my number one artist to date. As always guys, remember to tip your tattoo artist. If you are in the Dallas/Arlington/Wyilie areas, feel free to check them out.

The Best Shops in Texas

Of course, my first choice in shops is always going to be True Blue Tattoo at Red River and 7th in historic Austin, Texas. But True Blue isn’t the only shop. Dovetail Tattoo is also fabulous, as well as this glorious shop.

That’s all for this year’s Alamo City Tattoo Expo. As I continue to debate my next big tattoo, what, dear readers, are some of the best shops you have been too?

Why I Put Down The Last Storm Lord

Cover art for The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke.
Cover art for The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke.

My goal this last Christmas was no different than any of my long-running goals, which is to procure more books. Having acquired more than nine this year, it was my honor to peruse them at my leisure. After rapidly consuming Cathrynne Valente’s Deathless and Gail Z. Martin’s The Sworn, having moved onto Elric and Hawkmoon, it was finally time to pick up The Last Stormlord. In my haste and anticipation, I failed to heed some of the mixed reviews following the release of Glenda Larke’s first novel in the Stormlord series.

I am usually a good judge of character when it comes to books, but in this regard my instinct has failed me. Indeed, it seems my frustration began upon opening the book. One of the main characters, Terrell, had almost a sixty page stint before moving onto the next character, someone I thought could have used less exposition. For me, the true beginning of the book came almost seventy pages in, when we finally meet Shale, a boy with what we suspect could be some kind of water sensitivity, which seemed important, since the allure of Larke’s novels is the basic structure of the dessert economy and magic. I felt like this was what I like to call “the natural beginning” of a story. Basically, Larke could have taken the first seventy pages of the novel and cut them, moving pertinent information into dialogue and action rather than through narration and pointless characterization. Sorry, but to me villains get fleshed out later, since their psyches tend to be somewhat complex. You cannot sum up an entire character’s motivations in one chapter in a single conversation with childhood friends and parents. Action and introspection often define a villain, as for all characters.

Since I had no further intention of finishing the novel at the time, I took the liberty of skipping ahead in the novel and scoping out how long it would take to get to the main plot. Sadly, in a book of 800 pages and counting, the main plot does not appear until halfway through the novel. I read incredibly long books (the book I’m currently reading 520 pages. Gail Z. Martin’s novels are longer than that.), but the task of having to read so much extemporaneous plot and sub-plot, in addition to weak characters, made my head hurt a little. I should probably back off a little. After all, its not like I’ve ever written a fantasy story that’s been critiqued by several groups of people or submitted a bad story that got rejected…oh wait, yes I have. Sorry, Ms. Larke. I have a strikingly different opinion about what an exposition should do, even in a long work. I am a technical writer by trade and a creative writer by choice. I strongly dislike novels of length that could easily have been shorter.

Ricardo Montalban graces the cover of Greg Cox' novel, The Eugenics Wars, in which Khan is featured as the young man he was in the Star Trek Episode, "Space Seed".
The cover art for Greg Cox’ Star Trek novel, The Eugenics Wars: The Rise of Khan Noonien Singh.

I chose next a slightly heartier dish, though still fundamentally bellow my reading level. Also, I traded fantasy this month for science fiction. *Gasp* Did she just say that? Yes, yes she did. The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh has proven to be an excellent read despite its slow start and paltry attempt at espionage fiction. I’ve read good espionage fiction: this just doesn’t qualify. Supernatural espionage fiction reads with a slightly more serious tone, though the character of Roberta Lincoln definitely takes the edge off of a what is, in reality, a dark future. Towards the end of the novel, not even her optimism for the future can stop the careening ball of chaos that is young Khan.

The story is essentially Khan’s (the Khan’s) origin story. Events of the story begin after he is born and include a strong portion of his mother. In fact the best part of volume one of this trilogy is the events at the Chrysalis genetic laboratory in India. We get a great idea of the mind and matter behind the tragically hostile personality of Khan. Turns out he came by the militant attitude legitimately. The genetically superior offspring of a certifiable megalomaniacal extremist knew without a doubt that he was meant for greatness, and the education at Chrysalis did nothing for his personality. Fundamentally good, Khan is–and has always been–lawfully evil in alignment. For anyone that plays D&D, essentially the end justifies the means. The willful torture and murder of anyone could easily justify Khan’s sense of honor, vengeance and righteousness. First presented to us by “Space Seed” and expounded upon in the film, The Wrath of Khan, the character of Khan has been enhanced and the horror of what he unleashes on the planet in order to turn Earth into a sparkling utopia for himself and his superior brethren is made real by juxtaposing Khan’s influence on real world events, including the fall of the Soviet Union.

I disagree with the press surrounding this novel: I don’t think this novel was so great as to make The X: Files look “unsophisticated”. However, there are more good qualities than bad to this book, which is why I’m ready to start the second volume and looking forward to the penultimate story, To Reign in Hell: The Exile of Khan. Anything that uses a line from Milton as the title can’t be all bad, and Greg Cox puts a great deal of research into his novels. Not as much, say, as Dan Simmons or Elizabeth Kostova, but enough to truly ground the work in a foreseeable reality, should eugenics be followed to its logical end. The truly frightening part of the story is not Khan himself, but the fact that fundamentalists and extremeists really do exist, and that major support for eugenics programs comes from people who truly believe that we can build a master race. Even without the use of molecular science, there has always been a society on this planet trying to build a better humanity. For some, the belief that the world will only truly be safe when it is occupied by an elite group of superior men and women is a true sentiment. The Third Reich tried and failed, but who will be next to try again? It just goes to show us, for some people, evolution simply isn’t enough.

The Doctor’s Wife: Neil Gaiman Writes Doctor Who

One Doctor, Furnished in Smarmy Gaiman

Neil Gaiman wrote "The Doctor's Wife" for season 6 of Doctor Who. Here is stands with Surrane Jones (Idris) and Matt Smith (The Doctor).
Neil Gaiman, Suranne Jones, and Matt Smith pose for the promo for “The Doctor’s Wife”.

“Fear me. I’ve killed dozens of Time Lords.”

“Fear me. I’ve killed them all.”

Just when we thought the Doctor couldn’t get himself any deeper into trouble, a proposal falls into the lap of fantasy writer, Neil Gaiman: write a script for Doctor Who. The result: “The Doctor’s Wife”, an episode as clever and inventive as befitting both novelist and Doctor. “The Doctor’s Wife” combined Gaiman’s story telling with a firm re-grounding in the past lore of the Doctor and his past. Upon closer examination, it is unclear where the Gaiman ends and the Doctor begins. In this tale of seamless writing and flawless wit, the two seem inextricably intertwined.

Basic Plot

The Doctor is lured outside the universe by an oh-so tempting bit of news: other Time Lords could still be alive. He takes the Tardis, Rory and Amy to a satellite outside the known universe (imagine a bubble on the side of a much larger bubble and it wouldn’t be anything like that all, or so it goes). There, they are greeted by Aunt, Uncle, Nephew (Ood), hogde-podged bits of people caught outside the universe in the catch-all that is The House. The House, looking for Time Lords to devour, lures the Doctor and the Tardis into its maw. Aunt and Uncle separate the Tardis matrix from the machine and implant it in the body of a young woman, Idris, who enjoys biting and kissing equally and not exactly in that order. The House traps Amy and Rory inside the Tardis and uses them for entertainment, recreating rooms, separating them, playing before them scenes of horror, especially for Amy. The Doctor must build another Tardis, with the help of The Tardis, to reach Amy and Rory before The House destroys them.

Gaiman’s Writing

I do not have to expound upon Gaiman’s writing style or his long bibliography. The man’s name speaks for itself. I will restrict my fan-girlish comments to myself regarding his hair and resist the urge to brag about having met the man on my honeymoon. So, onto the episode.

This episode smacks of a distinct difference in character that is all-too-Gaiman, but stands firmly grounded in the danger and madness that is the Doctor. My opinion is that the episode, where it not advertised at all that it had been written by Gaiman, would not stand out from the rest of the series. This is a good thing. Gaiman has successfully and seamlessly written an episode in true style while still inserting enough of his own style to mark this episode as unique, but does not break continuity for the sake of artistic licence. In the hands of another writer, this could have ended badly, like letting John de Lancie write a Star Trek novel. The most interesting aspect of Gaiman’s episode is the relationship or–dare I say it–marriage of the Doctor to the Tardis. One cannot travel without the other. The Doctor needs the Tardis to travel space and time. The Tardis is all time and space at once, but needs the Doctor or other Time Lord to traverse it. The analogy is further enriched by trapping the only married couple in the series inside the Tardis and putting them through the emotional wringer.

Rory and Amy, after some mild questioning regarding Amy’s loyalty, are inseparable, and inside the Tardis they are each other’s only hope for survival against The House. The House is especially fond of targeting Amy, who is easily upset at the thought of death, whether it is Rory’s or the Doctor’s, when she is powerless to stop it. Gaiman uses this as a reference to tie this episode to the others, especially episode three, when the Doctor reminds Amy that Rory is counting on her to save his life. The same could be said for the Doctor, if it were cosmically possible.

People are So Much Bigger on the Inside

Gaiman does a fantastic job of anthropomorphizing the Tardis in the form of Idris. Gaiman explores the relationship between Tardis and Doctor by giving the Tardis a voice and giving viewers some of the most touching scenes in the series. Before this episode, I do not recall the Doctor ever crying. Trust me, he wasn’t the only one in the room that was. Even my husband teared up a little when the Doctor and Idris/Tardis had to say good-bye. But it was not good-bye; it was “hello” for the first time in nine hundred years. In that time the Doctor had always been frustrated with the “unreliability” of the Tardis.

“I’ve always taken you where you needed to go,” the Tardis said. Realizing that a sentient matrix controlled the blue police box, the Doctor has a brand new idea of how to operate with the Tardis.

Gaiman also explores the nature of people’s emotions. When the Tardis is inside a human body, she comes tries to find a word, a big word to describe herself that is also so very sad. In the end “Alive” is sad because something that is alive must also die. In this case, the body holding the Tardis dies but the matrix lives on, voiceless but alive nonetheless. The subject of being dead and alive and its impact on those around us has been the central theme of this series, starting with the Doctor’s supposed death in “The Impossible Astronaut” and Amy’s fear regarding the potential for both Rory and the Doctor to die in their adventures. Emotions, in this series, are also continuing to run high. The Doctor continues to seek forgiveness for what he’s done to the other Time Lords. His desperation leads him into the trap set by The House. Amy is still guilty for what she cannot tell the Doctor about his death in 2011. Rory is still wary but has renewed his confidence in his wife.

All things considered, this episode, in terms of sheer emotional value, shines as a prime example of progression. As one travels through space and time, whether over the course of a life time or via a time machine, life must inevitably end, sparking new beginnings. This episode begins with marks the beginning of a new phase in the Doctor’s life with the Tardis.

Best Scene

Idris bites the heck out of the Doctor (Matt Smith) in "The Doctor's Wife" as she explores her human impulses, which are as erratic as the Doctor's. The Eleventh Doctor is not happy about receiving a dose of his own medicine.
Idris (Surrane Jones) explores the human experience of kissing, but then biting.

The best scene of this episode, aside from Idris alternating between kissing and biting the Doctor, is the scene where the two Tardises become one in an effort to override The House’s control. It is synonymous with Idris’ death. She releases the Tardis matrix back into the time machine, subsequently dying. She reappears to the Doctor a final time, not to say good-bye, but to say hello.

“It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Doctor,” she says. After nine hundred and more years of silence, the Tardis and the Doctor can cement their relationship grounded in true understanding of one another. This is the essence of marriage, which is presumably why this episode is called “The Doctor’s Wife”. It can be speculated, hopefully without presumption, that this episode, following closely on the heels of Gaiman’s re-entry into the married life, is not based entirely in fiction. This season has been closely analyzing the married couple’s relationship via Amy and Rory and all of their predictable attitudes. The only relationship yet to be explored was the Doctor’s hypothetical, and now totally believable, relationship to the Tardis, who he often refers to as “Old Girl” and “Sexy”, as if she were truly a real person. Leave it to Gaiman to open up the possibility that the Tardis really has a life of its own. We just never realized it until now.

The Doctor is a Time Lord of the planet formerly known as Gallifrey. He travels through space and time with his loyal friends and the fickle personality of the Tardis (who has only just recently had a new idea about kissing). For all of his cleverness and confidence, he can never truly shake the guilt of what he has done in the past. However, he is slowly coming to realize that the forgiveness he seeks can be found in those that love him.

World Horror Convention 2011 In Review

"Something Dark Awaits in the Lonestar State"
The official banner of the World Horror Convention in 2011.

The 2011 installment of the World Horror Convention wrapped up yesterday afternoon around 1:00 pm, but the day preceding the closing ceremonies was filled with the metaphorical sound of joyous screaming. Well, perhaps I was the only one doing the screaming (and perhaps a little squealing?). After all, one can hardly expect much better of me after having bought a signed copy of Elric At the End of Time. In addition to fascinating panel discussions and stimulating conversation about the genre as a whole, authors allowed their willing readers and avid patrons to line up in front of their tables. All around the convention goers, and myself, was the overall feeling of welcome and contentment. Understandably tired after this event, the Nerd is a little late in her report, but better late than never, no? So, in light of memories past, lets go back there, shall we?…

The Dealer’s Room and Artists Room

Getting a signed copy of Weston Ochse's novella in the Dealer's Room at WHC 2011.
I got a signed copy of Our Lady of Boogaloo novel by Sci-Fi/Horror writer Weston Ochse.

Get signed in with patience and try not to dart glances around the door jamb. Concentrate on listening to the panel discussions, if you can. Don’t let the sound of laughter and conversation spill out of the room into your eager ears. Never mind the fact that there is a room full of discounted books, most of them one-in-a-lifetime finds, some of them even already signed, not a yard away from you in any direction. You have networking to do, important people to meet and hand out business cards to. …Ah what the hell! The Dealer’s Room at the WHC is an integral part of the convention experience. Small and large publishers alike gather in this room to exhibit their new authors, show off old favorites and make the most of the chance to liquidate old stock. For patrons or aspiring artists, meeting and mingling with potential publishers can open up opportunities that they did not have before. The folks at Edge Press are very interested in receiving new material for their anthologies, and have published such notables as Nancy Kilpatrick. The Dealer’s Room also hosts new authors and their publishers hoping to showcase their work. Returning authors also have a chance to promote themselves. Weston Ochse of Bad Moon Books featured his new piece, Lord of the Lash and Our Lady of  Boogaloo, and was only too happy to personalize a copy for the Nerd. The WHC has proven that the dealer’s room is full of hidden treasures, as well. One never knows what they will find at a table. Also, never underestimate the power a publisher bearing cookies. Also in the dealer’s room this year were Centepede Press (Stephen King, James Herbert) and Dark Continents Publishing.

The artist’s room this year featured numerous new artists as well as returning favorite, Albrecht Durer. Special guest Vincent Chong also had several large pieces on auction, as well as small prints for sale, signed of course. The art room offers inexpensive prints, usually signed or copies of signed prints, aspiring artists can use to spruce up their archives or inspirations. I was fortunate enough to happen upon a copy of Vlad the Impaler by Albrecht Durer, the font of which matches my back tattoo. One can also find large pieces on auction. Most of the sales go to the WHC.

Panel Discussions

The Nerd squealed indeed upon discovering she had missed the Vampire Mega-Panel Saturday morning. The panelists met to discuss our favorite villain, the vampire in all of its forms and speculated as to why the vampire continues to dominate the stage of horror fiction. Also on the list for Saturday was “Horror Without Stephen King”, another speculative panel that discussed Stephen King’s influence on horror writing and what the industry would have been like without his immense contributions. Peter Straub was present at “The End of Good Advice”, where panelists discussed the many pieces of advice writers–old and new–received and still receive, covering everything from writing workshops and groups to self-publication and promotion. “Genre Mash-Ups”, featuring Cathy Clamp of Tor Books, discussed the fear of genre mashing from the perspective of consumers, buyers and publishers. Genre mashing has been going on for at least as long as the industry has persisted, from weird noir to space westerns. Questions were raised regarding the validity of Seth Grahame-Smith’s mashing of old classics and monsters (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, etc.). One of the last panels of the day consisted of discussions about past horror tropes that can be forgotten. Despite the interesting topics, the panel was sadly short of people, adding John Skipp (writer/publisher) as a last minute speaker. Discussion did not lack, though, as the panel raised questions about publishing safely on the Internet, self publication, and the death of the Gross-Out competition at WHC, whose resurrection is set for 2012. Other panel discussions and various readings by emergent, guest and established artists took place throughout the day.

Mass Signing

A group picture with the editors of Dark Content Publications in the Mass Signing room at WHC 2011.
A group picture with the editors of Dark Content Publications in the Mass Signing room at WHC 2011.

The author’s mass signing began at 7:00 and lasted two hours. We, the convention goers and my husband, stared eagerly from the side of the room as the author’s took their seats, set up their wares and prepared their pens. I held my copy of Peter Straub’s non-fiction work, Sides, tightly in my hand. We could not, however, move on to Straub without first stopping by the table of Dark Continents Publishing writer Sylvia Shultz, where the Nerd acquired Taming of the Werewolf, a genre mash-up feature bits of William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. Cathy Clamp signed me up for the Zombie give-away. Straub enthusiastically signed my book and I thanked him for such an interesting panel. Then it was over to Adrian Chamberlin (and his Cadbury Chocolate), David Youngquist and John Prescott, some tables over and also with Dark Continents Publishing, undoubtedly one of the most interesting sets of people at the convention. Courteous and encouraging, they were eager to make friends, and so were we.

We left the mass signing with our treasures in tow. Those authors, Peter Straub and the guys at Dark Continents, did not sign books that day, though. They signed little bits of our memories. As Brian Lumley did in Brighton last year, those authors put pen to page that day to indelibly print their name, or the date or possibly a little encouragement on a part of our hearts that they in some ways already owned. We could not have been more honored or pleased.

Retrospection

The WHC has come and gone. As we look forward to 2012 in Salt Lake City, we look back on the group of authors and publishers who made 2011 so special, particularly Weston Ochse (who insists that I never call him ‘sir’), Peter Straub and Dark Continents Publishing, as well as the wonderful folks at Edge. In all my years as a writer, I have never felt so comfortable in a sea of strangers. The writers–famous and not so much–and publishers at WHC were cheerful and supportive. We entered the convention with some apprehension, and left with a profound sense of encouragement. We had a fabulous time and can’t wait for next year.

What Vincent Price Gave to Easter

Gorgeous portrait of Vincent Price, the Prince of Horror himself.
Photo portrait of Vincent Leonard Price, 1911-1993.

Easter. For my family, it is a time for coloring eggs, eating our candy and pining for the Easter Beagle. My family does not neglect even an ounce of Easter fun, nor do we lack tradition. However, one figure of Easter tradition seems to go rather far overlooked. Though this day be devoted to films in which he adds the richness of his character, he is often forgotten, passed over, swept to the wayside as we chow down on chocolate bunnies. The time has come, at last, to put this grave injustice right, and atone for past indiscretions. The time has come for the Nerd to rise up and give Vincent Price a place of honor at Easter.

That’s right. Vincent Price.

Known for his frightening voice and looming stage presence, Vincent Leonard Price Jr. has contributed to at least two major Easter past times. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, educated at Yale, discovered in 1938 and dead in 1993 from smoking too much, Vincent Price did everything from acting, writing, speaking, and teaching the art of fine gourmet from around the world. Of all of his major film contributions (such as House of Wax, The Fly, House on Haunted Hill to name a few), two stand out as lasting contributions to the Easter Holiday.

The Ten Commandments (1956)

In honor of the Passover weekend on the Jewish calendar that coincides with the unrelated resurrection of Christ that is the Easter holiday, San Antonio’s KMOL Channel 4 runs a syndicated version of Cecil B. DeMille’s three hour classic The Ten Commandments. Chronicling the life and times of Moses, leader of Exodus, DeMille’s film features a wide range of characters and generous amount of romantic subplot. The names most likely to stand out are the film’s leading male roles: Charlton Heston as noble Moses and Yul Brenner–the first love of a young Nerd’s life– as selfish Rameses. This Easter, however, we will try to look past Heston’s amazing acting and Rameses petty chauvinism and gaze upon the worthy part of a minor character: Baka, the Master Builder, played aptly–though briefly–by a young Vincent Price. Baka’s role is short, but by no means small. In an attempt to free a water girl and her lover, Moses enters Baka’s house, dressed as a Hebrew slave. Moses confronts Baka, who threatens to kill him. Moses counters with, “Kill me? Master Butcher?” Baka instantly recognizes the insult, and Moses for who he truly is. His cover blown, Moses has no choice but to ruthlessly strangle Baka. Killing Baka does no good, though, for another rat eavesdrops on the entire encounter and reports it to Rameses. With Baka’s body as proof of Moses’ deed, Rameses has Moses imprisoned and later exiled.

Baka the Master Builder was played to brilliant degeneracy and licentiousness by Vincent Price. In this scene, he and Baka's lieutenant, Dathan, harass Lilly, a Hebrew slave working as a water girl in the brick pits.
Baka the Master Builder and his right hand man, Dathan, harass Lilly, a Hebrew slave the love interest of both men.

Vincent Price plays Baka as insidiously as his character demands. Lecherous and excessive, the role of Baka was perfect for Price, who brought his already extensive experience in theater acting to the fore. Despite the film’s Academy Award, very few of my generation who bother with such classics are actually aware that Price was even in it. Vincent Price deserves credit for Baka’s short life and death in The Ten Commandments, and his contribution to a non-secular Easter tradition.

Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971)

Irontail, voice by Vincent Price, lays out the ground work for his plans to dismantle Easter.
Vincent Price voiced the unhappy bunny, Irontail, in the Bass/Rankin animated film, Here Comes Peter Cotton Tail

A Bass/Rankin (Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Christmas in July) clay-mation special, Peter Cottontail is a family favorite around this time of the year. It tells the tale of a young Easter Bunny in training, Peter Cottontail, who must defeat a rival bunny, January Q. Irontail, in delivering the most Easter eggs. Irontail is a rotten, mean bunny whose name is derived from a clanking, horrific, top-of-the-line iron prosthetic tail. Irontail’s motivation is that in defeating Peter, he will be made the official Easter Bunny, after which he will effectively dismantle the holiday and turn it into some disgusting villain’s clichéd anti-holiday. Of course, Irontail cheats, and succeeds in delivering the most eggs (just one). Peter has go back in time with his French caterpillar friend and try to give them to people throughout the year. To make matters worse, Irontail uses magic to turn all of Peter’s eggs green, making his task virtually impossible. Of course, Peter prevails against his adversary and takes back Easter for the secular upper middle class.

Irontail is an example of Vincent Price’s incredible voice acting. Even without his true face, his stage presence is enormous. His voiced characters are as heinous and insidious as his live roles, especially since he is notoriously cast as the villain. Price’s Irontail gives this Nerd chills. How many bunnies ride around on pet bats? Not many. Irontail is truly evil. His magic is malign and impractical; his motivation is selfish; he is bent on vengeance. If Voldemort had been born a rabbit, that would be his criminal profile at MI5. January Q. Irontail is Vincent Price’s contribution to my family’s–and many others–secular Easter tradition.

That’s a Wrap

Even as a child, I was a huge Price fan. I was eight years old upon his death in 1993, and it came as something of a shock to my small mind. This year, while the secular and non-secular alike keep Easter their own ways, I will keep Easter the Nerd way, by poking my nose down a rabbit hole for a green Easter egg and toasting Pharaoh’s new treasure city with a handful of Jelly-Belly’s.