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Archive for January, 2012


This may be the ultimate blast from the past.

Over the past three years there was talk about Stretch Armstrong, the movie.  Universal Studios signed a deal with Hasbro to create a film about Armstrong based on a screenplay written by Nicholas Stoller, the writer who co-wrote The Muppets film from last year, in addition to Get Him to the Greek, which starred current Oscar nominee Jonah Hill.  In February 2010, Universal Studios announced Taylor Lautner would star as Armstrong and that the film would be made in 3-D.   Blockbuster producer Brian Grazer even said he’d signed on to make the film.  Over time, this was believed to be part of a handful of films pitched for Kenner and ex-Milton Bradley toys and games, to include Clue, Ouija, Magic, the Gathering, Candy Land and Battleship, which actually is a sci-fi movie making it to the screens this May.

Yesterday, Relativity Media bought the rights to the Stretch Armstrong live-action film, after Universal Studios backed out on the project.  And they announced even better news: Taylor Lautner will now NOT be in the movie.

You don’t know Stretch Armstrong?  Stretch Armstrong was an action figure that kids played with alongside their Six Million Dollar Man, Atomic Man, and 12-inch scale G.I. Joes in the mid to late 1970s.  Only where G.I. Joe had life-like hair, Stretch had life-like skin.  And he had weight and mass, as he was filled with… corn syrup.  And he stretched–stretched from 15 inches long to 5 feet.  Of the 40,000 or so original Stretches made, it is expected that most didn’t make it very far beyond Christmas 1976.  Although I witnessed my cousins stretch theirs until he snapped and oozed goo all over their refrigerator, it is estimated by some Stretch experts that roughly 200 remain intact, preserved in their styrofoam “preservation chamber”–in their original boxes.

You couldn’t really play with Stretch outside if you wanted him to live to see another day.  You couldn’t parachute him from the tree like G.I. Joe.  And you couldn’t put him in covert combat gear, as the Joe clothes wouldn’t fit him.  Stretch only wore his wrestling shorts.  And compared to any other figure, he was badass–he was taller and bigger than his counterpart fighting men.  Oh… and he stretched.

In fact stretching was the point.  He came with a plastic sheet to guide you and a friend in how far you could stretch him without snapping.   Could you get a lot of play out of such a fragile toy?  You bet!  As long as he stomped around like the Hulk or the Thing, he did just fine.  But invite the crappy neighbor kid over who didn’t take care of his toys and it was goodbye, Stretch!

So now, 36 years later.  A movie is in its initial stages of production.  So what the heck could it be about?  Between 2008 and 2010 it was rumored that Jackie Chan had made a play for the film, with Chan as the star.  Then Lautner replaced that idea.

The fact is there are tons of places the story could go, and you need only look to a few cousins who also were made into Stretch versions similar to Stretch Armstrong: Elastic Plasticman and Stretch Mr. Fantastic.  Plasticman is of course the DC Comics humorous, sunglasses-wearing, stretchy superhero from the Justice League, and Mr. Fantastic, the serious scientist leader of Marvel Comics’  Fantastic Four.  DC Comics’ other stretching superhero, Elongated Man, never was made into the Stretch series.  But certainly these guys could inspire some ideas for Stretch Armstrong.

   

One of the rare concepts of Stretch Armstrong was that he was at his heyday in the years of these first action figure properties, yet Stretch had no backstory.  So there really are no limits to what you could do with a Stretch storyline.  Ideally the actor to play Stretch would be built like Lou Ferrigno (who played The Incredible Hulk, which was made into a Stretch Hulk).  Is Lou the guy to play the role?  Probably not now, but maybe, if you’re looking for similar looks, someone who looks more like Sam J. Jones, who played Flash in Flash Gordon.  Or better yet, how about someone who could fit the size of a Stretch Armstrong and who has played several light-hearted and mega action roles, and is currently still a big draw in theaters?  Who?  Dwayne Johnson, of course.  Formerly “The Rock.”  Johnson has had roles that have spanned all types of genres, stuff for kids like Race to Witch Mountain, to cool roles in the remake of Walking Tall, Get Smart, and Be Cool, to megahits like Scorpion King.  And better yet, he has a new film coming called Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and the can’t-wait-for-it-to-get-here G.I. Joe: Retaliation.

With yesterday’s announcement by Relativity Media, hopefully we’ll start to hear more about their plans for this character soon, and no doubt we’ll see some re-releases of the stretchy action man himself.

Stretch Armstrong is now scheduled to appear in theaters in April 2014.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

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Review by C.J. Bunce

(spoilers!)

DC Comics has released a hardcover compilation of both the Green Arrow and Black Canary Wedding Special one-shot plus the first five issues of the “Dead Again/Child Support” storyline from Green Arrow/Black Canary Issues #1-5.  Judd Winick wrote the story with Amanda Conner illustrating the Wedding Special and Cliff Chiang pencilling GA/BC Issues #1-4 and Andre Coelho pencilling Issue #5.

On paper, the first chapter, the Wedding Special, is what you would expect.  Put together the two superheroes who have had an off-again/on-again relationship for pretty much decades, and after years of talking about it we get the first big superhero wedding since Clark Kent and Lois Lane.  Of course, they couldn’t just put the two characters together and give us a storyline of what it would be like to have a superhero couple, like “the early years of The Incredibles,” or something close to that.  Instead, they cram together some backstory, bachelor party, etc. and a wedding into a few short pages.  Only Batman is smart enough to return a negative on the RSVP.  As expected, the marriage is doomed from the start.  Someone gets wind of all the superheroes being in the same place at the same time for the wedding, nukes are launched, and it becomes another Justice League fight scene.

Worst yet, once the dust settles and Oliver and Dinah get home, we learn that a big element was missing from the wedding, as Ollie is an imposter and tries to murder Dinah on her wedding night, and she must kill him to defend herself.

Among all of this is plenty silliness and cartoony characterizations that amount to a light-hearted romp up just to the last scene.  It is difficult to expect anything else from a one-shot about a superhero wedding, so you either go with it or stop reading.  Flashing back to other incarnations of Green Arrow and Black Canary, such as those documented in the For Better For Worse compilation (to be reviewed here later), it becomes clear that this really is more of a superhero wedding–focusing on the costumed personas–more than a wedding of Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance.  And in chapter one you are left to hope for seeing that wedding someday.  Back in the prior volume of the Green Arrow series, as well as the volume before that, we did get a fair bit of family life, and the stories seemed pretty good at the time, with son Conner (Green Arrow 2) as well as Mia (the new Speedy) rounding out the family.  The past run at the trials of a superhero family was the closest thing we have seen to the clever The Incredibles film by Pixar.

I am not a fan of Amanda Conner’s renderings of Black Canary.  She draws her looking ditsy, and combining the fact that Ollie and Dinah spend the first chapter swearing at each other in asterisks, etc., Green Arrow and Black Canary are caricatures of a reality show bridezilla-fest.  In start contrast is Chiang’s excellent covers, which seems to nicely peg a great looking superhero team.  The colorist work is also well done–the entire book is finished in vibrant colors.

The rest of the Wedding Album consists next of Winick’s “Dead Again” storyline and there we begin to see some family taking shape.  The highlight is Cliff Chiang, the artist currently getting high praise for the New 52 Wonder Woman series.  Going back now and viewing his earlier work is great fun, as he definitely has his own, recognizable style.  And in the first chapter of the “Dead Again” story, we learn that the man who married Dinah, and who was killed by Dinah, was a shapeshifter called Everyman, and Ollie is held prisoner by a doppleganger for Athena, and the Amazons.  No doubt that Chiang’s work on Green Arrow/Black Canary and this Amazon storyline propelled him into the artist role for the current Wonder Woman series.

Chiang original cover art for GA BC issue 1

But you can’t knock Winick’s writing for the rest of the Wedding Album.  The story is great, beginning with Dinah and Mia arriving at the island of the Amazons to figure out why they took Ollie and Connor springing Ollie from their jail, including having to loan Ollie his underwear since Ollie was, of course, imprisoned naked by the Amazons.  The Amazons want Dinah (not Diana aka Wonder Woman) to lead and train the new Amazon warriors.  But in their escape Connor is shot and near death.  In the aftermath, the family comes together and in the last chapter “Child Support,” Oliver and Dinah actually get married.  The last chapter was illustrated ably by Andre Coelho.  Only once in the last few chapters does the story falter a bit, when we learn the reason Everyman finally made himself known to Dinah on their wedding night.

For the most part, the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding Album is worth checking out, if not for a good Judd Winick story, then to see more of Cliff Chiang’s nice artwork.

Review by C.J. Bunce

(with spoilers!)

A slick hardcover version of the 2011 restarted series, Green Arrow, has been published, collecting Issues #1-7.  This is not to be confused with the New 52 reboot starting in the Fall of 2011.  Called Green Arrow: Into the Woods, it is a “Brightest Day” sequence storyline that conjures some good bits of Oliver Queen’s past, and includes some of the best cover art and interior art of any recent Green Arrow series.  The story was written by J.T. Krul, with art by illustrators Diogenes Neves and Mike Mayhew.  Some of the best covers ever done featuring Green Arrow are found in this collection, all painted by the great cover artist Mauro Cascioli.

In part 1 (originally Issue #1), Ollie has truly reverted to his roots, inspired by his hero Robin Hood.  After the destruction of Star City and Ollie killing Prometheus in Justice League: Cry for Justice, Ollie is living in the mysterious forest that has sprouted in the aftermath of Star City’s destruction. This is the classic Green Arrow of Mike Grell’s influence.  His former company, Queen Enterprises is taken over by a mysterious woman referred to only as the Queen.  And Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern shows up to find Ollie.

In part 2 (originally Issue #2) we learn more about the secret identity of the Queen.  Hal loses his power in the woods, and he and Ollie must defeat some goons sent by the Queen to destroy Ollie.  The entire issue consists of battle scenes, but we do learn that the creation of the forest is somehow related to the powerful White Lantern.  Krul also introduces a new character, a medieval looking fellow, who has no dialogue, but appears from nowhere.  This part ends in a bizarre cliffhanger, with seemingly the death of Ollie for the umpteenth time, via an arrow shot through his forehead.

But there are five more parts to get through, right?  So no dead Ollie.  Part 3 (originally Issue #3) is a strange, ethereal story, and we cannot be sure what is happening.  A medieval dressed fellow claims to be the one and only Galahad, knight of the Round Table.  Only viewing this meeting as a dream sequence makes sense, yet it appears the story is moving forward with this odd new partner to Oliver.  This is never fully explained in this entire volume.  The forest comes alive with the White Lantern’s light, but not before several flashbacks for Ollie, where we meet his father and mother, and Ollie revisits the mistakes of his past.  Is this something real or imagined, for Oliver Queen?  Impossible to tell.

In part 4 (originally Issue #4) Ollie encounters the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onnz, originally thought dead, but re-created out of the White Lantern’s power.  Like Green Lantern, the Manhunter’s power is also zapped by the power of the woods.  And Mary, a woman he saved from modern day bandits in the woods, manages to keep Ollie busy, as she, too, sees herself as a leader destined to protect the citizens that remain in the aftermath of Star City.

As Ollie begins to believe a murderer of several high ranking citizens could be Mary, he goes to confront her but instead discovers a strange villainess in part 5 (Issue #5).  Named Nix, she murders an innocent to escape from Ollie.  For those that can keep up with the events of Into the Woods, it is at this point that the story falters.  The woods come alive, and (too) quick decision-making by Ollie and Galahad is required to fend off a band of demon-like creatures, summoned by the Black Lantern.  Again, we cannot be sure whether this is a reality for Ollie, or whether he is still part of some dream.  The low-point of the book is here, where Ollie must face off against an image of his father, which ends up not as his father at all.  But you get the odd feeling he is Luke visiting the forbidden tree to confront Vader in Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.

All of the attacks on Ollie, and on Hal and J’onn in the woods, were caused by the Queen, and so, in part 6 (Issue #6) Oliver attacks Queen Industries to take on the Queen, where he also confronts her minion, the assassin he met earlier in the story.  The Queen reveals herself as a character from the family’s distant past.  Confused, Oliver (not us) manages to return to the forest.  Before that, this part becomes a story of a bitter past for Ollie’s parents, ultimately lacking some necessary emotion and the point of it all… never really comes together.

Although this isn‘t the worst of Green Arrow stories, it is missing something.  Oliver is alone, and yet you wonder if we needed a seven issue story arc to illustrate that aloneness.  The character Galahad comes with no explanation.  Why Galahad?  We see pieces of a story and as readers we try to make them fit together, but I’m not sure it is all meant to be coherent.

Out of the chaos comes the high point of Into the Woods.  And that is Mike Mayhew’s art in part 7 (Issue #7).  It may be that this is one of the best renderings of Green Arrow in years.  I have shared emails with Mike in the past, and he explained that he was influenced by Mike Grell in this issue.  The look of Oliver was based on a friend of Mayhew, who looks a bit like actor Cary Elwes.  I have seen the original pencil work of Issue #7, and the issue is an example of ink work that mutes the power of the underlying spectacular art.  Even so, the visuals in this issue surpass the rest of the book, and for this reason Green Arrow fans who missed the original Issue #7 will be wise to check out Into the Woods.  As for the story in part 7, it amounts to a vision of Oliver meeting his mother in the woods, and a too-sappy effort at Oliver being forced to revisit his past and forgive himself.  If you’re expecting an ending, there is none offered here, as the story is continued and concluded in a to-be released second volume called Green Arrow: Salvation.  Look for some good images of alternate covers at the end of the book.

Despite the meandering story, there are bits of good to be found here.  But the less-than stellar story is pretty much made up for by the impressive look of the book.  Diogenes’s work is well done, if not the best Green Arrow in the history of the character it at least shows a familiar Green Arrow readers can enjoy.  However, Mike Mayhew’s work in the last chapter, plus some great covers by Mauro Cascioli, are a pretty stunning collection of images.  If the cover is not the best of the Mike Grell inspired Green Arrow covers on record, it comes pretty close.  Strangely enough, neither Mayhew nor Cascioli get any cover credit for their work on this book.

Green Arrow: Into the Woods lists for $22.99, but can be found cheaper online.

Led by guest conductor Jack Everly, the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra performed to a sold out theater Friday night in the new 1,600 Helzberg Hall of the inaugural season of Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.  The concert featured actor George Takei, known for portraying Mr. Sulu in the original Star Trek, greeting the crowd and reciting the opening lines to the original Star Trek theme, as well as Klaatu’s speech from The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The concert featured the musical scores of numerous science fiction movies and TV shows, with on ongoing light show across the top of the giant theater.

Nationally known soprano from numerous opera companies Kristin Plumley sang beautiful renditions of the original Star Trek theme as well as When You Wish Upon a Star and she appeared dressed as both a science officer from the original Star Trek and Princess Leia.

Both Everly and Takei praised the futuristic design and state of the art acoustics at the Kauffman Center, now one of the leading performing arts facilities in the nation, and Takei said he wouldn’t be surprised to see such a cutting-edge facility in the 23rd century predicted from Star Trek’s future.

Highlights of Friday’s concert, which will be performed again Saturday night at a second performance at the Kauffman Center, included selections from John Williams’ scores to Superman, main themes from Star Wars: A New Hope, and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, and the theme from Lost in Space as part of a TV theme song medley.  Other highlights included a stunning trio of excerpts from Bernard Herrmann’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the theme to Somewhere in Time, the themes from Star Trek series VoyagerThe Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine and the selections from the score to Star Trek (2009).   The medley of TV tunes included the theme to the X-Files, the Jetsons, and Twilight Zone, among others.

Maestro Jack Everly has served as Principal Pops Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Principal Pops Conductor with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, Canada, and Pops Conductor of the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra. Originally appointed by Mikhail Baryshnikov, he was the Music Director of the American Ballet Theatre for 14 years. On Broadway, he teamed with Marvin Hamlisch to conduct The Goodbye Girl and A Chorus Line and he has conducted concerts for the 2010 National Memorial Day Concert and A Capitol Fourth, two of PBS’ highest-rated programs.

In addition to the original Star Trek series and six Star Trek movies, George Takei’s past work includes guest star roles in episodes of series such as Psych, Perry Mason, I Spy, Twilight Zone, Mission: Impossible, The Six Million Dollar Man, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Miami Vice, and Hawaii Five-O as well as film credits including Ice Palace with Richard Burton and The Green Berets with John Wayne.

Soprano Kristin Plumley’s credits include work with New York City Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Virginia Opera and L’Opéra Francais de New York, and she has starred in productions of West Side Story, Carousel, Brigadoon, and Oklahoma! as well as performing at Carnegie Hall.

C.J. Bunce

Editor

borg.com

Chuck Bartowski, Morgan Grimes, Sarah Walker, John Casey, Jeff, Lester, Big Mike, Ellie, Awesome, and General Beckman say goodbye tonight in the series finale of Chuck.  The show that fans kept going and going ended up running five seasons, each with some memorable moments.  So what will we see in tonight’s show?  With two hours there is a lot to wrap up and likely a lot that won’t get wrapped up.

After last week’s episode we were left with Sarah with the defective Intersect in her head.  Will we get more king fu work from Sarah?

How involved will Jeff and Lester get with the spy business?

Will Ellie and Awesome’s baby show signs of having the Intersect?

How many references to Subway sandwiches can you cram into two hours?

How many times will Chuck mention quitting the spy business?

Are Morgan and John Casey’s daughter back together for good?

Does John end up with Gertrude Verbanski?

Does Chuck’s mom end up with Alexei Volkoff?

Does General Beckman end up with Roan Montgomery?

Will Jeffster get back together?

Will we ever get to see Morgan’s mom?

Here’s who would we like to see one more time in the finale from Chuck’s past:

  • Linda Hamilton as Mrs. Bartowski
  • Scott Bakula as Mr. Bartowski
  • Matt Bomer as Bryce Larkin
  • Timothy Dalton as Alexei Volkoff
  • Bruce Boxleitner as Dr. Woodcomb
  • Chevy Chase as Ted Roark
  • Mark Sheppard as Director of the Ring
  • John Larroquette as Roan Montgomery
  • Brandon Routh as Daniel Shaw

No other recent pop culture show packed in more pop culture references and genre actors from the past.  We even got to see Mark Hamill in a cameo this season.  No doubt it will be a fun ride, and no doubt fans will miss the show when the final label maker punches out the words Chuck for the last time.

By Elizabeth C. Bunce

When I set about to pull together my Fantasy Casting Dream Team, I knew right away what it would look like: The characters I selected had to be drawn from various storytelling forms (film, TV, literature, etc). They had to stand the test of time–be true, perennial favorites (vs more recent character crushes).  And they had to be female.

That part was easy.  Actually picking the roster, however, took some deep thought.  It was far easier to say who wouldn’t make the list–no matter how much I may love, say, Charlie Crews (Life), Eliot Spencer (Leverage), or John Casey (Chuck), they were all missing one important trait (that second X chromosome).  Coming up with great female characters wasn’t a problem, either–it was narrowing down my choices (and worse, committing to them, as if I’m going to be quizzed on this later in life, possibly by St. Peter.  Ok, I guess that technically doesn’t happen in life… never mind.).  So.  How to choose among beloved characters from favorite childhood books (Anne Shirley or Mary Lennox? Sophie or Princess Aerin?  Sweet Hattie or dastardly Cruella de Vil?)?  Or narrow down iconic TV characters (I could name Buffy or Faith… but my actual favorite was Anya)?  Or plumb the depths of classical literature and the oral tradition to select among greats like Penelope or Guenevere?

Ultimately, though, with enough shaking, five I’m proud to commit to rose to the top.  There was a tiny glitch with my #1 spot; astute readers may notice that it missed my #1 requirement by rather a long margin.  But he really is so marvelous he makes up for it, and he was, after all, created by a woman (if you don’t know many Emmuskas yourself, the “Baroness” part probably gave that away).

So, like choosing sides for a playground game of kickball, from first pick to last, we have:

Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the Scarlet Pimpernel
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

We seek him here, we seek him there/Those Frenchies seek him everywhere….

When asked to come up with my five favorite characters, the only one to come instantly to mind was Percy Blakeney/The Scarlet Pimpernel.  Genre fans already recognize the drama inherent in dual identities, and in the early days of the 20th century, Orczy gave us one of the best.  He is, without a doubt, my personal favorite superhero, and my favorite incarnation is the one pictured above, as played by Richard Grant in the 1990s A&E miniseries.  By day, he’s Sir Percy Blakeney, foppish and outrageous and shockingly clueless–a charming idiot obsessed with tying the perfect cravat.  By night, he risks everything to perform incredible acts of heroism as the Scarlet Pimpernel–rescuing beleaguered French aristocrats from the Reign of Terror.  Had she stopped there, Orczy’s hero would probably still have endured.  But she added depth to Sir Percy’s character in his troubled relationship with his wife, French-born Marguerite, who bears the guilt of having once unwittingly betrayed a privileged family to the revolutionaries.  Orczy showed us this story through Marguerite’s eyes, but Grant (and others before him, including the great Leslie Howard) gives us Percy’s side, and the pain of his love for her, tainted by her treachery, informs every one of their nuanced interactions.  He is a complex and layered character, deeply wounded yet no less driven, and able to sustain the most brilliant of aliases.  It takes a genius to play an idiot so convincingly, and so Sir Percy Blakeney, aka the Scarlet Pimpernel, swashbuckles his way to #1 among my all-time favorite characters.

Dona St. Columb
Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

The great Daphne du Maurier left us a legacy of unforgettable characters: the sinister seductress Rebecca and her creepy handmaid Mrs. Danvers; the ruthless smugglers of Jamaica Inn; The Birds that stormed the Cornish coast and went on to terrorize Hitchcock’s Bodega Bay.  But among that august company, my personal favorite is Dona St. Columb, the heroine of du Maurier’s brilliant Restoration-era pirate romp, Frenchman’s Creek.  Dona is a bored aristocrat whose first act in the novel is to steal her husband’s best friend’s clothes and rob a stagecoach.  Purely for the novelty of it.  Bored to death by herself, her husband, and her shallow life at court in London, Dona takes her young children and flees to Navron, her family’s seaside estate in Cornwall.  There she discovers that the home is being used as the base for French pirates.  Lured by adventure and romance, Dona falls in with the pirates and in love with their captain, whom she always refers to as the Frenchman.  This is the setup for dozens, nay hundreds, of insipid romance novels since–but du Maurier’s great skill and talent elevate both the novel and its delightful heroine well above the average.  Dona is smart, funny, sly, impatient, gloriously larger than life, and soberly self-reflective.  Her journey of languid awakening and swashbuckling adventure is tempered by a self-awareness and maturity that copycat romances lack, and the bittersweet conclusion to her affair with the Frenchman adds a sophistication and respect to our enjoyment and understanding of her character.  But it’s through her bright, delightful voice and her witty observations of life around her that we get caught up in her tale.  I adored Dona from the first, and felt bereft when her story was complete.  And that is exactly the sort of character we all want to create.  (It is a good thing that Dona and Percy never met, for the world might well have imploded.)

The Terminatrix (Sarah Connor, Terminator 2)

Long before Kristanna Loken appropriated (appropriately) the name, fans of Linda Hamilton’s kickass performance in T2 had dubbed her The Terminatrix.  Sure, she’s not an evil cyborg killing machine, but she doesn’t let that stop her.  Evincing one of the most dramatic (if unseen) character arcs in film history, Sarah Connor goes from scared suburbanite to one-woman army, giving us a whole new breed of action hero: a female one.  We had Ripley before and Xena, et al, since, but the mold was forever reshaped around Hamilton’s chiseled biceps and steely glare.  When an aging Ahnold is not sufficient to stop a next-generation Terminator, who can we turn to but… a really pissed-off mom?  Sounds about right.

Scheherazade
The Thousand and One Nights

Her tales have been captivating us for nearly a thousand years, and it was her amazing imagination that gave us Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Sinbad.  But it is Shahrazad’s own story of selfless and unusually daring heroism that makes her one of the best characters of world literature.  When ruthless sultan Shahriyar is betrayed by his wife (and his brother, it ought to be noted), he exacts a terrible, mad revenge: each night he marries a virgin, then slays her in the morning, so he can never again be wounded the same way.  For over three years this horror continues, unstopped by all the men of the kingdom–until the vizier’s young daughter steps forward and volunteers.  Shahrazad alone has the courage and conviction to end this mindless slaying of women–and a plan that is both audacious and baffling.  She’ll do it with bedtime stories.  Shahrazad is a natural storyteller who understands better than anyone the power of the cliffhanger–and the redemptive power of story.  Each night she spins her husband a new tale–but refuses to reveal the ending until tomorrow.  Thus is she spared her predecessors’ fate.  But more than that, Shahrazad’s tales are full of moral lessons and the wisdom and virtue of women, and gradually her stories cure Shahriyar of his madness.  For her courage to stand up where no one–no man–would, and declare the slaying of women unacceptable; for her brazen plan to stop a mass murderer in his tracks with nothing but half a fairy tale; and for her enduring legacy of literary skill and feminism, Shahrazad easily earns a spot on my roster.

Veronica Mars
Veronica Mars

I can say with total honesty that Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) was the heroine I’d been waiting for all my life.  She came about 15 years late for me, but the smart, sassy teen (girl) PI was exactly the kind of character I craved as a kid.  She appeared on the scene in 2004, in the genre gap left behind by Buffy, but Kristen Bell did far more than just fill big sister’s shoes.  Veronica Mars not only gave us a YA heroine for the digital age, but created an entirely new genre: teen noir.  Daughter of the town’s disgraced former sheriff-turned-private investigator, the once-popular party girl now earns extra income by spying on her fellow students at Neptune High, in a community sharply divided along class lines.  Recovering stolen homework and restoring tarnished reputations is only her day job, however, for Veronica’s hardboiled exterior conceals a wounded past, and her driving passion is solving the murder of her best friend Lily.  It’s a brilliant genre mashup that gave rise to one of the very best YA heroines ever put on-screen.  Complex, smart, independent, and vulnerable–with a kickass cool job–characters don’t come much better than Veronica Mars.

By Art Schmidt

What a simple question.

Borgeditor: Hey, I’m asking all of the staff to write something about their five characters?  Are you in?

Me a Week Ago: Sure, that sounds great!  What could be easier and more fun?

Then, fast forward to Me Last Night:  Wow, this is hard as hell.  Who are my favorites?  Today?  Yesterday?  When I was a kid?  Why are they my favorite?  What makes them tick?  What makes me tick?

Needless to say, it’s been a struggle.  I normally think about something a long time before I ever write one word.  A story, an article, a review, whatever it is.  I dream about it and cogitate on it and mull it over in my head for days or weeks before I ever put a single word to paper.  I normally sit down in front of my portable imagination recording machine (otherwise known as a laptop) with most of what I want to say already outlined in my mind.

As of this writing, I am sitting here with next to nothing.  Well, that’s not entirely true, but I have a hell of a lot less than I normally do.  Every time I scan my bookshelves, my DVD/BD collection, or my DVR favorites list, I come up with a handful of great characters that I somehow missed during the previous evenings’ preview.  Hard, hard, hard.

But it’s time to fish or cut bait, and I ain’t about wasting bait.  And this is good bait, this ‘Five Character’ idea.  It’s certainly made me think a whole lot, about a whole lot, for a whole lot longer than I normally do.  And so without further procrastination, here’s my Top Five Favorite Characters.

5.  I’ll start with more of a character type (and sliding toward an actual actor), than a specific character.  And that’s Han Solo / Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford).   Yes, I know, that’s kind of breaking the rules.  But then, that’s what Han and Indy were all about, right?  Bend the rules, live by your own code of morality, and as long as you’re crusade is just, damn the torpedoes.  And no one could have played these guys with as much success as Harrison Ford.  Admit it, even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you liked Han.  Especially in the original Star Wars, where he shot Greedo first.  (Damn, I promised myself I wouldn’t go there, again.  Sorry.)  And Indiana is obviously one of the most well-known and beloved characters in film.  Other characters fit into this archetype: Batman, obviously, and John McClane being among the most popular.

But why?  The films were fun and amazingly entertaining, especially back before CGI and $100 million budgets.  The stories were engrossing, the action was breathtaking, you cared about the characters, and everyone came away smiling.  Han and Indy were a big part of that, perhaps more than people usually acknowledge.  One of my favorite quotes from an actor (and there are endless quotes from self-important actors clouding the ether out there) is from the normally down-to-earth, personable Harrison Ford:

“I think what a lot of action movies lose these days, especially the ones that deal with fantasy, is you stop caring at some point because you’ve lost human scale. With the CGI, suddenly there’s a thousand enemies instead of six – the army goes off into the horizon. You don’t need that. The audience loses its relationship with the threat on the screen. That’s something that’s consistently happening and it makes these movies like video games and that’s a soulless enterprise. It’s all kinetics without emotion. I don’t have time for that.”

An action hero that understands the power and necessity of the emotional connection between a character and the audience.  I love it.  And no characters bring that to bear on the big screen like Doctor Jones and Captain Solo.

4.  Othyisar Du’Morde – Who?  I know, probably no one reading this knows who this character is or what piece of fiction he is from.  Well, this is a bit self-serving, and you’ll have to forgive me for that.  Othyisar is a character I created myself, and who has only seen print one time.  If you have no interest in reading a short bit about this arch-mage from the Forgotten Realms, by all means skip ahead to #3 and forget I even listed this guy.  If you forgive me for listing him, I’ll forgive you for skipping him.  We’re square.

Othyisar is my favorite ‘character’ from the days of my youth, playing RPGs (read: Dungeons and Dragons) and computer games endlessly, before marriage and kids and profession all took priority over my free time.  If I created a character who was a wizard of any kind, he was named Othyisar.   If you ever encountered an ‘Othyisar’ in Norrath or Azeroth, or in The Old Republic, it was me.   :)

So it’s no surprise that my first published article featured Othyisar Du’Morde.  It was for the ‘Arcane Lore’ feature of Dragon Magazine issue #203, and it was my first paid gig as a writer.  The following year at Gen Con, I got my copy autographed by the three guys who did the cover for the issue, artists Tim Bradstreet and Fred Fields, as well as the model who posed for the cover (hey, he was standing there at the booth with the artists, and I didn’t want to be rude).  And in that same issue, the folks at publisher TSR reviewed a little video game that had just came out and was taking the world by storm, called Doom, which is one of my favorite games of all time.  All reason enough for Othy to be one of my favorite characters.  But it got better.

Years later, in a different State and a different place in life, I was chatting with a new co-worker and, after much hesitation, he asked me ‘Is this you?’ and showed me issue #203 online.  In quiet “we shouldn’t be talking about this at work” tones, I admitted that it was me, and he proceeded to gush to me how his gaming group ran a long adventure based not only on the contents of my article, but also with the Othyisar character and the little background piece I had written.  He said it was one of his favorite adventures (I know, he was probably just being nice, but indulge me).  Wow, that was one of the coolest moments ever.

It’s amazing to find that you can view PDFs of this (and other) back issues of Dragon Magazine here.  If you’re curious and want to check it out.  But no pressure.  Just sayin’.  And no, I don’t get a nickel if you click on the link.  :)

3.  Mr. White – At the time, Quentin Tarantino was unknown, Sundance was a quaint little film festival where artsy films made by non-European directors were showcased, and Hollywood’s ‘independent’ film-makers hobnobbed in the snow and sun.  Then came Reservoir Dogs and in a blaze of unapologetic gunfire and stylish F-bombs the place was turned upside-down.  The movie centers on four main characters, all members of a criminal gang brought together to pull off a major heist.  Given anonymous names by their leader to maintain secrecy and minimize his liability, the story follows the lives of the four main members of the gang: Mr. White, the unacknowledged leader played with brilliant ruthlessness by Harvey Keitel; Mr. Orange, the in-over-his-head undercover cop played by Tim Roth; Mr. Blonde, the unhinged crazy killer given life with gleeful abandon by Michael Madsen; and the skinny, twitchy Mr. Pink, played by the always scene-stealing Steve Buscemi.

Mr. White is a master criminal, a bad guy, and a cop killer.  No argument there, and no apologies; he’s not one of my favorite characters because I admire or even like him.  He’s my favorite ‘Love to Hate’ character, more so than Darth Vader or Elric of Melnibone, because the performance by Keitel is so top-notch, and the character so likable when he needs to be, but ruthless and evil when he wants to be.  Mr. White is the epitome of the gun-toting thief, loyal one moment, then sticking a gun in his comrade’s face the next.  He alternately hefts drinks and guns with the same zeal.  You can argue that the glue in this story is Mr. Orange, but for me, Keitel’s character holds Reservoir Dogs together and makes it just as much a thrill ride today as when it came out.

And you have to admit, he’s got a cool-sounding name.

2.  Dream of the Endless – Otherwise known as The Sandman, Dream is the central character in Neil Giaman’s award-winning and world-renowned comic book series of the 90s.  He is one of The Endless, who control the destinies and lives of all mortal creatures in the universe.  His realm is The Dreaming, and he is alternately the benign King of Dreams or Morpheus, the bringer of nightmares.

Gaiman’s character is an endless conundrum, never really a clear-cut hero or villain.  And the stories are as deep and intellectually satisfying as anything in print.  Dream confronts his adversaries the same way we approach life; uncertain, unsure, with imagination and help from friends, at times alone and in the best way he knows how.  Part of the character’s allure is that he’s both a mystery and an open book.  The Dreaming gives him the ability to create things out of thin air, partially illusion but at times also very real, things that can directly affect the lives (and deaths) of mortals in the real world.

Amidst his Endless brothers and sisters, Dream is the introvert, the thinker, the recluse.  He’s hesitant to interfere in the lives of people, despite his stations’ often demand of it.  His dream powers are the super power everyone wants, even if they don’t know it: the ability to create something out of nothing, to weave dreams into reality, and to travel anywhere, at any time, he chooses.

The series ran in the early to mid-nineties, and has been collected in multiple editions of paperback graphic novels ever since.  My two favorite collections, or story arcs as the author Neil Gaiman refers to them, are ‘A Game of You’ and ‘The Kindly Ones’, both of which reflect both the breadth of Gaiman’s story-telling ability and the best (and worst), of the Sandman character.  In short, his humanity.

1.  Prince Corwin of Amber – My favorite character of fiction is Prince Corwin, hands down.  Why, you ask?  Well, I could give you a bunch of reasons (and I will in a bit), I could go into a mini-review of the books themselves (the five original brilliant novels, followed by five less-worthy ‘sequels’), and wax poetic about how Roger Zelazny created what could be perhaps one of the very few real contenders against The Lord of the Rings for best fantasy series of all-time.  I could go on and on, but really, it boils down to one thing.

Prince Corwin kicks ass.  Plain and simple.

Zelazny’s masterpiece The Chronicles of Amber is the saga of the ruling family of Amber, the magical kingdom of which all other worlds are but shadows, including Earth.  In by far the best use of amnesia as a plot device, the story opens as Corwin awakes in a mental institution and subsequently escapes, lying, fighting, and sneaking his way through a dangerous landscape of monsters and villainous relatives, where he doesn’t really know who anyone is but his instincts tell him enough to be wary.  He’s clever, he’s strong, and he’s decisive.  He knows what he wants, and he works hard to get it.  He gives others a fair shake, but if they cross him he doesn’t hesitate to let them know it, with words or steel.  Corwin is a modern-day update to the Conan archetype (one of my favorite characters who didn’t make the ‘Final Five’ cut), but unlike Conan, Corwin is a little more down-to-earth, a little more accessible, a little more human.  He’s fallible and can be beaten; he eventually comes out on top, but at times only after years of torture and toil.

Corwin cemented the blueprint that was used for DC Comics The Warlord (another favorite I had to cut out of my list) and countless other fantasy heros who had access to both guns and swords, heroes thrown into bad circumstances and had to make the best of it.  The latest incarnation, in the movies anyway, will be Edgar Rice Burrough’s second-most-popular hero John Carter of Mars, from the Barsoom series, thanks to Disney’s upcoming epic adventure based on the character.  But even then, Corwin is still the epitome of that archetype.

One of thirteen siblings, all scheming to hold their father Oberon’s abandoned throne, Corwin is not the best at anything; his brother Eric is older and smarter, his brother Benedict is a better swordsman, his brother Gerard is stronger, sister Fiona is an unmatched sorceress, and on and on.  But Corwin is perhaps the amalgam of all of them, the ‘Jack of All Trades’, good at everything and more well-balanced than the others.

And did I mention that he kicks ass?  :)

Come back tomorrow for Elizabeth C.  Bunce’s five favorite characters.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

Ok, here I am looking at a list of twenty characters that I have to cut to a quarter of that for this list.  I didn’t even go crazy thinking about everything I’ve watched or read to find that one person that stood out above the rest.  I just really looked at my bookshelf, which should contain most, if not all, of my favorites.  But, is it everything?  Do I have everything I want to own in pop culture circles?  (No! I don’t own Firefly or Stalag 17 or every appearance of the Legion of Substitute Super Heroes!)

That problem aside, at least I had an idea from the beginning to focus the list.  When thinking of my favorite characters, I chose good friends.  I chose characters that support their friends and family, though sometimes it takes a little personal growth to do so.

To help narrow down the list, I made a choice not to include any of the characters from a previous borg.com essay on characters to make it more of a challenge.*

* Side note, the list I made then had three characters not on the list I made now.  I bet I could make this list every day and find five new favorites. Eliminating Sam Gamgee and Hermione Granger though, those were tough blows to a list about supportive friends.

I then eliminated childhood favorite comic book characters since I know I’ll probably mine that idea for future essays just devoted to them.

That eliminated ten names.  I still have to eliminate five more.  Well, one actor played two parts so I’ll eliminate one of his.  Nine.  Picking one character from Doctor Who (or from Buffy, I can’t believe I forgot Buffy) seems unfair, so I have to lop them off.  Eight.  Ditto for Community** and The Simpsons.  Six.  Lastly, I have to get rid of Supes from Kingdom Come because as much as I love the friendship between him, Wonder Woman and Batman, it’s not about any one of them, it’s about how they approach things differently and yet work well together (eventually).

** Though I will say that I have to write a little about eliminated choice Britta Perry.  She’s a hippie, she mispronounces things and she can be a bit awkward (though can’t they all be a bit awkward.)  So, in those small ways, I can see a female me.  The similarities start to fail once you realize that I don’t want to sleep with Jeff Winger.  Now, if there were a Jennifer Winger…

So, without further ado, here are my top five characters*** in no particular order:

*** As of January 2012.  It could change by February and I may put back in some of the eliminated ones.  A good list is just a product of its specific moment in time.

Frank Cross – Scrooged****

Niagara Falls.  Every time I watch Scrooged I always know I’m going to cry at the end.  I can just think of little Calvin Cooley tugging on Frank’s sleeve and I start to get a little misty.  Yes, it probably has everything to do with Bill Murray’s portrayal as he makes every scoundrel he plays lovable.  But, for this role, you get to see his choices that led to being a scoundrel.  It’s not like they are bad choices, just everyday choices that he doesn’t want to admit were wrong.  As a friend, well, he’s not much of one until the end, but I think it was always there as a possibility.  He just didn’t have an outlet for it until the ghosts showed him what was out there for him like Claire, the folks he meets at the shelter, the Cooley family and last, but not least, his own family.  The S.S. Minnow, James, the S.S. Minnow.

**** He was the actor with two characters, though about any of his characters would probably qualify for a part on a list. The one I eliminated was Bob Harris from Lost in Translation as temporary friends we meet when we travel can be very powerful in our memories.  I almost think I should go back and include Bob.  Maybe summer camp and travel friends are a separate list. It would give me a chance to go back and look at Meatballs and Wet Hot American Summer for great characters.  As an additional aside, I also think that credit should be given to Charles Dickens for his original creation of Scrooge that I feel Murray was born to play.

Jaye Tyler – Wonderfalls

Jaye.  Hmmm.  A good friend?  Maybe?  Well definitely, but not intentionally, which I think may be one of the points of the show.  You can do all the things that a good friend should do and still not be a good friend.  On the other hand, if you think you’re crazy and toys, stuffed animals and coins speak to you and you just do things to get them off your back, you can be a good friend by accident.  You stop thinking of yourself and how it works for you and instead you put yourself at risk for embarrassment just long enough to do something good for someone else.  The fact that it’s unintentional, does it mean it is any less good?

The Sundance Kid – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

I think Sundance embodies the evolution of friendship.  At the beginning of the movie, Sundance defers to Butch because Butch is the smart one coming up with plans.  By the end, Sundance realizes that he’s the smart one that knows Spanish and Butch is helpless and he wonders why he ever believed anything different. Still, they’re friends and have been for many a year.  You don’t abandon something like that and at the end, as they hide, injured and desperate, Sundance has to have regrets, but I don’t think that their friendship is one of them.  Not going to Australia on the other hand looms large in the pantheon of regrets.

Rorschach – Watchmen

He’s crazy, but there’s one person that mitigates that crazy and that’s Nite Owl and I think that Rorschach knows that.  He’s at his best when he is with Nite Owl and he goes as far as to admit it, in a way.  He talks of the days that they used to patrol together as a team and he misses those days.  If Butch and Sundance would have made it to Australia, I think Butch would be like Rorschach and longing for the time that they were a team.  Without the tempering influence of Sundance, Butch’s plans would be left unsaid, festering into crazy at their unrealized potential to make his world better in his mind.  The friendship for Rorschach and Butch might be gone at that point, but it never really leaves, it just becomes a different form.  You can’t go back to going out night after night and fighting crime, the body and mind is not built like that.  Eventually the friendship matures and you find new ways to enjoy it.

Vladimir – Waiting for Godot

This one is personal.  Yes, the existentialist play is about two friends trying to pass the time and on that level it’s a fantastic look at all the aspects of friendship.  What elevates it to top five status for me is that I can’t think of the play without thinking of my good friend Jason Vivone.  We did an excerpt from it for a duet scene in high school. We saw a touring company version of it performed in Lawrence, Kansas.  We performed the whole thing as adults in Kansas City. It’s about friends and I will always associate it with a good friend.  I’ve known Jason for over thirty years and no matter what, when I talk to him it’s like we’ve seen each other every day over that time.

The reluctant friend, the unintentional friend, the friend who knows your faults and still hangs out with you, old friends that you may not ever be as close to again and the mature friendship that will never go away are all different ways to express friendship.  Believe me, there are many other ways out there as well and the good characters find ways to make that universal feeling we have with our fellow humans feel fresh again.  Like writing about characters and friends with the characters and great friends that contribute to borg.com.  See you next time.

Next up tomorrow–Art Schmidt’s favorite characters.

By Jason McClain (@JTorreyMcClain)

I love to rank the movies that I’ve seen every year.  I also love to have caveats like this list doesn’t include Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Martha Marcy may Marlene, or Hugo as I haven’t seen them yet and I want to do so.

I rank the movies as I see them and try to figure out where they fit in the whole spectrum of the movies that I’ve seen over the year.  I toyed with showing the top five, then the top ten, then the top sixteen, and then I said, screw it, I’ll just give you the whole list so that you can see it in its full context.  You can see what I see and how they rank against each other in my mind.  One slight mathematical type note – don’t think of this list as a normal distribution.  It could be skewed left or right depending on your vantage point, and in this case has more movies toward the quality side and that have definite cool moments.

So, without further ado, here is my list of movies in the order that I enjoyed them and that I saw released in 2011.

  • Midnight in Paris
  • Melancholia
  • Thor
  • Attack the Block
  • Captain America
  • The Guard
  • Young Adult
  • Shame
  • The Artist
  • Insidious
  • Cedar Rapids
  • Rango
  • Bridesmaids
  • Tree of Life
  • Hanna
  • Submarine
  • 13 Assassins
  • Paranormal Activity 3
  • Win Win
  • Drive
  • The Descendants
  • The Trip
  • X-Men: First Class
  • Everything Must Go
  • The Adjustment Bureau
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
  • Source Code
  • Cave of Forgotten Dreams
  • Paul
  • Unknown
  • Moneyball
  • Contagion
  • Super 8
  • Sucker Punch
  • Hall Pass
  • Cowboys and Aliens
  • I Saw the Devil
  • Horrible Bosses

If I were making a list of the top ten movies of the year to nominate for the Best Picture Oscars (announced Tuesday, January 24th at 5:30 am PT) I’d take the first ten movies. 

However, knowing that superhero movies, action movies, comedies, animated films and horror movies rarely, if ever, get nominated, here is the list of what I would say are the ten best films of 2011 that I think deserve a best picture Academy Award nomination and would have a realistic chance at earning one.

  • Midnight in Paris
  • Melancholia
  • The Guard
  • Young Adult
  • Shame
  • The Artist
  • Tree of Life
  • Hanna
  • Submarine
  • Win Win

(Yes, I know that Hanna is pretty much an action movie and Submarine is a darn funny comedy, but they seem like nominated films more than Attack the Block and Bridesmaids.  Also, I’m not paying attention to release date and box office gross, which means it may be even less realistic than just eliminating certain genres of films.)

So, that’s it?  That’s all that I have to say?  It wouldn’t be much of an essay then as it is mainly just two lists.  I think you can find out just about anything you want to find out about the movies by just looking for them online.  You can also find better prognostications as far as the movies most likely to be nominated.  (Hint: The Descendants and Moneyball.)  So, what I’ll give you instead to wrap up the year 2011 in movies is a list of the great moments of these films.  I’ll avoid spoilers and just give you hints of the awesome in no particular order.

Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson meeting for the first time in The Guard.  At the beginning of this movie, Don Cheadle’s character holds a meeting for the police force of a small Irish town to give them more information of a drug-smuggling ring.  The interaction between these two great actors had to have been one of the funniest things I saw all year.

Dancing in The Artist.  I went to see this movie with my good friend Kelvin and we agreed that though we didn’t laugh much, when we left the theater we knew that we had been smiling to ourselves in the dark for the past two hours.  The scenes where Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo danced were the ones that made me smile the most.

The meeting in the garage between Bryan Cranston and Albert Brooks in Drive.  I’m a big fan of Breaking Bad.  I’m also a big fan of Albert Brooks, going all the way back to Real Life and Modern Romance.  When these two are in a scene together, you know both have the chops for comic acting and now you can add Brooks to Cranston as far as dramatic acting as well.

Charlize Theron sitting down to write at her computer in Young Adult.  Every time Charlize sat down to write in this film, it struck home.  The struggle to sometimes find inspiration and to reward yourself with a distraction for limited reasons I think parallel anyone that has ever sat and tried to do something creative.

The invention of a meteor distance device by the son in Melancholia.  Picking a moment from this movie is tough, there are cool visuals, there are moments that break your heart and there are parts that are darkly funny.  However, seeing Keifer Sutherland exude so much pride over his son’s invention and the knowledge that we have as an audience makes that moment just about perfect.

The Wire references in Cedar Rapids.  Isiah Whitlock Jr. played Senator Clay Davis in The Wire, you know, that show that all your friends tell you to watch once they’ve seen it.  Well, that show exists in Cedar Rapids and the references they make to it using Isiah made me smile as a fan of both this movie and that awesome TV show.

The meetings between the young kids and the nurse in Attack the Block.  It’s been a bit since I saw the movie, but one thing I liked was the relationship that developed between the kids on the block and the nurse that they accost at the beginning of the movie.  The moviemakers gave it time to develop and because of that, the relationship worked instead of being a cliché.

The battle in 13 Assassins.  It’s a battle for a town with samurais. It may be sacrilege for me to say it, but I think it may top the same scene from Seven Samurai.

The scene about Jeremy Brown in Moneyball.  They use real minor league footage for this scene and it is the one that truly moved me from this whole movie. It was at this point that the characters played by Jonah Hill and Brad Pitt (as Peter Brand and Billy Beane) finally connected with me.

Any scene with the rotating camera in Paranormal Activity 3.  I don’t care what people think of the Paranormal Activity movies.  They spook me out.  The addition of the camera that rotates so that you lose sight of parts of the house heightened my scared anticipation every time they cut to it.

Those are my ten.  Let me know if you have any that you’d add to my list.

By C.J. Bunce

Yesterday we started in on what makes a great character, and who and how we determine our favorites, mentioning dozens of  favorites from different genres and different media.  The challenge?  Come up with your top 5 favorite fictional characters from anything.  When I was finished selecting them, I was surprised what they all have in common: a desire to protect others and defend the good against the bad.  I went through a ton of characters to whittle it down to five.  Most of my favorites I see as having some trait I want for myself, or guys I want to be like.  Along the way I carved away Boba Fett, the obscure but coolest of the “men with no name” anti-hero Western archetypes, and opted instead for another Star Wars character.  I lost Steve McQueen’s too cool cop Lieutenant Frank Bullitt for another cop that made the list and had to cut the other coolest guy (other than The Fonz), the no-named drifter from They Live.  I lost Thomas Magnum, the TV show private investigator, that, along with Batman, is up there at the top of my Sherlock Holmes influenced characters.  I cut big life-long heroes like the Six Million Dollar Man, Luke Skywalker, Tron, and even the awesome A.A. Milne creation Eeyore, who I loved as a kid.  Will Riker and Captain Dathon from Star Trek.  I love Dana Andrews’ noir detective Mark McPherson in Otto Preminger’s Laura.  Fred Gailey, who defended Santa Claus (successfully!) in court in Miracle on 34th Street, hung to the list almost to the end.  A top 10 list would have been far easier!

After a lot of soul searching–and this is not an easy exercise (try it for yourself!)–here is where I finally ended up.

When we first meet Uncle Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, played by Sir Alec Guinness in the original Star Wars, he was an old man.  A miser living out beyond the Dune Sea.  Luke thought he was long dead.  Then he comes out of nowhere in the desert at just the right time to barely save our story’s hero.  Ben doesn’t remember the droids he supposedly owned a few decades ago.  Is he a bit absent minded?  Has the desert gotten to him?   Without Uncle Ben, Luke Skywalker would be dead, and he saves Luke’s life six times: first, from the Tusken Raiders in the desert, second, from an alien in the cantina’s hive of scum and villainy, third, from the Empire by getting Luke out of Mos Eisley, fourth, by releasing the Millenium Falcon in the Death Star, fifth, by guiding Luke from afar to destroy the Death Star in his X-Wing Fighter, and sixth, by keeping him alive after he is mugged by a snow beast on the frozen planet of Hoth.  Kenobi was part samurai warrior, part medieval wizard, part mystic, a monk, a veteran of the last battle of the Jedi.  And later we’d learn he was the reason Luke and his sister survived at all: he’d saved Luke as an infant by bringing him to the remote planet with twin suns.  He doesn’t have much time to mentor Luke, but what he does counts for a lot.  Kenobi proves nothing is more powerful than wisdom and experience.  Ultimately he sacrifices everything to save the galaxy by using his knowledge of the force to convert into a spirit, the only time this ever happens in the original Star Wars trilogy, so he can assist Luke along the rest of his journey.  Later on Ewan McGregor put a very nice spin on the character for the prequels, but the original played by Guinness can never be beaten and Guinness received the only acting nod from the Academy for all the great actors of the series.

DCI Gene Hunt was a cop, a cop played by actor Philip Glenister.  A good cop that blurred some of the rules of British law enforcement, but who was a product of his times, which was 1973 in the BBC TV series Life on Mars, and 1982 in the series Ashes to Ashes.  He is brash, rude, and mouthy.  He is kind.  He is crude and speaks in local colloquialisms that make non-natives have to rewind and view the closed captioning to understand what the heck he just said, and sometimes you still can’t tell.  He protects his team.  More than anything, this guy has angst.  Yet he wants to help others.  He wants to do the right thing.  He believes in justice.  He believes that sometimes a cop has to break the rules to get to the right result.  To find the criminal.  To protect the innocent.  He’s willing to stop and help a woman having an emergency birth.  He falls for a co-worker who herself is a mess and desperately lost.  He tolerates his bizarre group of subordinates, as he prefers them to everyone else, and he’ll join them for a drink at any time of day.  And he always drives a cool car.  He’s like a British version of Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, but with more layers and a lot more problems.  He becomes so involved in everyone else’s affairs that he ultimately forgets who he is.  I have seen Philip Glenister in little else, and wonder whether I like Gene, or I like Gene because Glenister played him.  Either way, nothing is as it seems in Manchester and Salford police departments.  And that leaves Gene to rise above it all and become the best cop in the best cop series ever made.

In the western movie Silverado, at the beginning of the film, Paden is dead.  At least he is left for dead, like real-life Beck Weathers in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air.  Paden is played by Kevin Kline.  You can’t start much worse off than Paden, prior to being rescued by Scott Glenn’s character, Emmett.  All Paden has to his name is his 1800s long underwear.  He was trusting, befriended some cowboys who turned on him, stole his horse, his saddle, his hat, his ivory-handled Colt.  The whole rig.  But he really missed the bay horse the most.  They were laughing when they left him.  Thought it was real funny.  He walked for a little while but there was no use, so he gave it up.  Figured it was just bad luck.  He lies down to die.  And he gets a second chance.  But he’s not so much about revenge as looking out for the little dog one of his fellow riders mistreats.  He’s trying to find his place in the world, which just so happens to be managing the affairs of a saloon.  And you never know what Paden will care about.  Even if that means he must stop looking the other way.  He is a hero so he must act.  If that means risking his footing in a new town to defend a man against a racist saloon operator, so be it.  And if that means killing the men who run Silverado and the sheriff himself, his old friend, well then so be it.  Kline plays Paden as funny, serious, smart.  Sometimes warm, as when he is taking care of new friends, sometimes cold, as when he has to shoot a man.  Sometimes puzzling, like when he flirts with a woman the night her husband is shot dead.  Sheriff Cobb is using Stella to get to Paden.  “I don’t want you to get hurt,” Paden says.  Stella responds: “He can’t hurt me… if he’s dead.”  Paden is a complex guy who changes his luck in a time when getting by was good enough.

I’ve read everything I could get my hands on related to Oliver Queen, aka Green Arrow, as re-developed in DC Comics’ silver age, from 1971 forward.  Queen was a billionaire who lost it all.  He became “everyman.”  He ended up fighting crime as a vigilante and donned the outfit of Errol Flynn’s Adventures of Robin Hood and took his bow and arrow as well to fight crime.  He’s a bit like Batman, a sleuth in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes.  He became a force for social change and fell in love with a beautiful woman, Dinah Lance, aka Black Canary, and they ended up together in Seattle running a floral shop.  They were members of the Justice League and rubbed elbows with the best superheroes around.  Oliver always was outspoken, sometimes offending everyone around him, yet everyone around him always respected what he had to say and they often took his lead.  He always fought for the underdog.  My favorite incarnation is my first revisit to comic books, Green Arrow written and drawn by Mike Grell, but O’Neil and Adams’ version is a close second.  In his first scene of the modern era, he must convince Green Lantern that he needs to stop protecting a slumlord and instead protect the tenants.  With his on-again/off-again, fiery relationship with Dinah, he became part of the only crime-fighting superhero couple, together ridding the streets from of every kind of baddie.

The only one of the five of my favorite characters listed here that never veered from my #1 spot is Captain Benjamin “Hawkeye” Pierce.  As the leading character in the TV series M*A*S*H over the course of eleven seasons, Alan Alda became the best actor on any TV series, and soldier/doctor Pierce became my favorite character.  He is defined by triage.  Triage in his job as he must discriminate between who has a chance to live and who won’t live.  Triage is his circumstance as he must decide to make the best or worst of being stuck in a place no one, even the local Korean refugees, wants to be.  His tools consist of scalpels, forceps, alcohol, and humor.  He takes the most depressing of dramatic situations and makes everyone laugh, and when the brilliant writing team gives us a serious story, he leaves us silent.  He gives us gut-wrenching performances, via a simple salute to Radar O’Reilly as he leaves for home to take care of the farm, to his reaction to the death of Colonel Henry Blake, to his interview responses for Movietone news.  He makes us laugh at his unending supply of practical jokes, against Hot Lips, Frank, Winchester, or B.J.  He is a hero, he’ll save the life of a North Korean soldier without flinching, and at his worst he freaks-out, asking those questions everyone wants to ask in the middle of a war, but doesn’t.  Why can’t we all just get along, as bunkmates, as co-workers, as Americans, as humans?  And he is calm when he needs to be.  Even when he is being bombed while trying to save lives after hours without rest.   With more than a dose of inspiration from Groucho Marx, Alan Alda conducted a one-man band of chaos in the middle of a stellar cast of characters.  It’s hard to believe M*A*S*H was a 30-minute show.  Never before or since has anyone come close to packing so much emotion, drama, comedy, and energy in such a small period of time, for so many years.  Although the writing of his character bottomed out in the last episode, what came before is what matters, and it explains why the series finale was the most-watched show ever.

Editor’s note: Tomorrow… we will take a day away from our favorite characters and Jason McClain will run down his recommendations to the Academy for the Ten Best Picture nominees, who will be announced by the Acafemy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Tuesday, January 24.  Come on back Tuesday bright an early for Jason McClain’s top five favorite characters, followed by Art Schmidt on Wednesday and Elizabeth C. Bunce on Thursday.

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