Fan-Cast: Black Widow

“Hawkeye, your mouth flies faster than your arrows.” — Black Widow

Last November, a somewhat vague comment by Stan Lee hinted that a Black Widow solo film might be in the offing. Then in January, reports started coming out that confirmed this, with Jac Schaeffer attached as screenwriter and a tentative release date — well, year — of 2020. Presumably, Scarlett Johannson will star. She is a big reason for the character’s popularity in the Avengers and related movies, after all.

But, it got me thinking it was time for me to fan-cast our favorite Russian femme fatale. I mean, if Johannson wasn’t necessarily attached to the film — maybe they were looking to reboot the character after Avengers 4 –, who would I give the tight black costume and “Widow’s bite” bracelets to?

First, though, a brief review of the character…

Black Widow

The “origins” of Natalia Alianovna Romanova (aka Natasha ‘Tasha’ Romanoff) are a bit confusing, as there have been conflicting tales. What we know for sure is that she is decades older than she looks, she has enhanced human strength/stamina/reflexes and other abilities (perhaps due to a variation of the Super-Soldier Serum), she was married to a distinguished Soviet test pilot (Alexi Shostakov, who became Red Guardian), and she eventually went to work for the U.S.S.R.’s KJB during the Cold War.

With her gifted intellect and athletic regimen, Romanova mastered multiple forms of martial arts and many blades and firearms, became fluent in several languages, and she is exceptionally skilled in information-gathering and other spy-related talents. In addition to traditional weapons, she has been known to employ an electric “Widow’s bite” via special wrist-devices, which hurt like heck and can stun even a very large opponent. In short, she is a top-level spy and one of the deadliest assassins in the world, making her nom de guerre, “Black Widow”, quite appropriate.

Romanova clashed with both Iron Man and Hawkeye early in their careers, even pitting them against one another, which helped to label Hawkeye a criminal. Shortly afterward, she was seriously injured when trying to defect, and she convinced her then-paramour Hawkeye to turn to the Avengers. Black Widow has had a long, mostly friendly, association with the Avengers ever since, having led at least one team. She has worked with S.H.I.E.L.D. a lot, too. She had a long relationship/partnership with Daredevil and has been romantically linked with Bucky Barnes (aka Winter Soldier). She even co-founded the Champions of Los Angeles, though the team disbanded not long after. Despite these associations with many superheroes and the U.S. intelligence community, Black Widow has spent a lot of time as a solo operator, as well. She even retired for awhile, but that didn’t last.

Since her defection from the Soviet Union, Romanova’s foes have ranged from underworld thugs and costumed criminals to super-spies, super-soldiers, and foreign governments. As a trained spy and assassin, she learned to be very cold, calculating, practical, and it serves her well in her line of work. But, she has softened a bit over the years. Certainly, she has demonstrated compassion and loyalty to her friends, lovers, and toward the victims of her enemies. Still, she is not the easiest person to get to know, and she can be quite hard and brutal. She’s a complicated woman with decades of violence and death — often at her own hands — behind her, and that tends to take a toll on anyone. (Anyone who isn’t a sociopath, that is.)

On to the casting…

Scarlett Johansson (5’3″,b.1984) has done a decent job with the role, but she never quite felt right to me. She didn’t have quite the right look, she’s too short, and I always thought Natasha should retain at least a mild Russian accent. (I know, a good spy would probably learn to speak English without the accent. Still,…) The Marvel wiki lists Black Widow as 5’7″, so I think a range of 5’5″ to 5’9″ is fair. I’d like to cast a natural redhead and/or someone from Russia, but hair-coloring and a good voice coach could make sure those bases are covered, I suppose. She should, of course, be very attractive, able to perform “action moves”, and probably ranging from mid-20s to early-30s (though I might have to settle for mid-30s).

I considered several actresses for the role, mostly from Russia or Eastern Europe: 1) Slovak-born actress/opera singer Apollonia Vanova (b.1966), known for various genre roles, including ‘Silhouette’ in Watchmen and the leading Wraith Queen in “Stargate: Atlantis”; but, she’s too old. 2) Ana Alexander (5’10”,b.1976), a Serbian-born model/actress, has appeared in Glass Trap, a couple CSI series, “Bones”, et al. Great look, but still too old and too tall. 3) Ukrainian-born actress/model Olga Kurlenko (5’8.5″,b.1979), known for roles in Hitman, Quantum of Solace, Oblivion, Momentum. She’s a little too old, as well. 4) I have long thought that French actress/model Eva Green (5’6″,b.1980) (Casino Royale, The Golden Compass, 300: Rise of an Empire, “Penny Dreadful”) would make a great Black Widow, but she’s a tad older than I’m looking for, now.

I eventually narrowed it down to four other talented ladies, whose ages (at the time of writing) range from 32 to 35. They are…

Olga Fonda

Russian-born Olga Fonda (5’6.5″,b.1982) came to my attention a couple years ago while watching the short-lived “Agent X” TV series, in which Fonda played supporting player and enemy agent ‘Olga Petrovka’. Others might recognize her from Real Steel, “The Vampire Diaries”, or appearances in “Nikita”, “Hawaii Five-0”, or “Altered Carbon”. She’s pretty, a native Russian, almost the exact height of the comic character, and has genre experience — even to playing a Russian spy. She’s also trained in martial arts (both armed and unarmed), extreme sports, and likes to do her own stunts Works for me!


Yuliya Snigir

The only thing I’ve seen Yuliya Snigir (5’5.75″,b.1983) in is A Good Day to Die Hard (see pic), which I just re-watched a few weeks ago. I immediately thought that this Russian beauty would be perfect to play Natasha Romanoff. She also starred in the Dark Planet movies, Delirium, and Blockbuster. As with Fonda, Snigir is very attractive, Russian-born, and has genre credits. Looks good riding a motorcycle or firing a gun, too, both of which Black Widow has an affinity for. She’d be great!


Tereza Srbova

Tereza Srbova (5’8″,b.1983) is a model/actress/singer from the Czech Republic, who I noticed when she guest-starred in a few episodes of “Strike Back” as ‘Major Nina Pirogova’. She has also appeared in “Eastern Promises”, Inkheart, Siren, and The Inside. I’ve only ever seen pics of her as a blonde, but that shouldn’t be a problem. She holds a masters degree and speaks four languages (none of them Russian, though) and has a bit of familiarity with guns (thanks to “Strike Back”). Another wonderful choice to play ‘Tasha!

Emily Beecham

In “Into the Badlands”, British actress Emily Beecham (5’5.25″,b.1985) plays a deadly, red-headed warrior woman, who wears black and calls herself “The Widow”. Too on the nose? Sure, but she has both the looks and the skills, thanks to the martial arts training she and others go through for the show. She has appeared in “Afterlife”, 28 Weeks Later, “Merlin”, Basement, “The Fear”, “The Musketeers”. She also did a little voice work for the “Mirror’s Edge” video game. As long as she can do a decent Russian accent, she’d make a great Black Widow for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

There you have ’em. Four lovely and talented candidates to play the lethal assassin/spy/superhero, Black Widow. Choose one, if you dare….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.


A New Era for Valiant Entertainment

Valiant Comics were cool.

Solar, Man of the Atom. X-O Manowar. Bloodshot. Harbinger. Rai. Shadowman. Eternal Warrior. Archer & Armstrong. Etc. Lots of great art and great stories, all in a cohesive universe! They even had a different look and “feel” that set them apart from other comic universes.

“The mainstream titles were becoming overwhelmingly art-driven. We wanted to offer the public something that had been lost, namely well-written, character-driven stories.” — Bob Layton, writer/artist and former Senior V.P. of the original Valiant

Solar #3 (1991)

I remember when Jim Shooter and Steve Massarsky launched the new company in the early 1990s, following a failed attempt to buy Marvel Entertainment. (Well, technically, Voyager Communications was founded in 1989, but the first books under the Valiant Comics imprint came out in 1991.) They began by licensing a couple older characters — Solar, Man of the Atom, and Magnus, Robot Fighter — that were originally published by Gold Key Comics in the 1960s. I never really got into Magnus much, but I loved the god-like Doctor Solar. And the artwork by Barry Windsor-Smith and Bob Layton? Awesome!

The company attracted some talented creators, both new and veteran, and the stable of characters and titles grew. Diamond Comics Distributors named it Publisher of the Year in 1993 and, at some point, Valiant became the third largest comic book company in the world. Shooter was forced out in 1992 and Acclaim Entertainment bought the company in 1994. Of course, Acclaim cancelled a few titles in 1996. Acclaim went bankrupt in 2004, and that’s about when I lost track.

I heard about the new Valiant Entertainment which started up in 2005, but I didn’t realize that it was formed by two mega-fans who bought the old company’s assets. (However, the licensed characters Solar, Magnus, and Turok were not part of the deal.) Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari weren’t even out of college when they put together the winning bid. (Actually, they came in 2nd, but the winner pulled out shortly afterward.) They built up a senior advisory board consisting of several former Marvel people and chaired by former Marvel CEO Peter Cuneo. They enticed Marvel’s Warren Simons to join as Executive Editor and eventually put together a stable of enthusiastic and award-winning creative talent, publishing their first comics — reboots of four of the original characters — in “The Summer of Valiant” in 2012.

“It was abundantly clear to me that these guys had a tremendous love for both the medium and Valiant’s characters. They wanted to build the company with a commitment to compelling stories above all else. As an editor who strives to put out great comics on a monthly basis, this was music to my ears.” — Warren Simons

Of course, remember that I said that Valiant Comics were cool? That’s because I haven’t read any from the last few years, so I can’t judge them from personal experience to say if they still are cool. (I am aware that Quantum & Woody, unfortunately, has become politically-charged, insulting to certain groups, with disappointing art and humor. I don’t know about the other titles.) However, they must be doing something right. The new Valiant proceeded to win Publisher of the Year, set sales records, and was the most nominated publisher in comics at the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Harvey Awards.

When Valiant re-launched in 2012, it was also announced that big-screen films were in development for the Bloodshot and Harbinger properties, with names like director Brett Ratner and producer Neal Moritz attached. Other film projects were announced in the ensuing months. Then, in March 2015, Valiant Entertainment got “an undisclosed nine-figure investment from Chinese entertainment company DMG, the co-producers and co-financiers of Iron Man 3.” The money was earmarked for TV and film development, “which one assumes includes the currently-in-development Shadowman, Bloodshot and Archer & Armstrong.”

“[T]aking a stake in the last independent massive comic universe is a strategic investment for DMG that will produce movies and TV that are both appealing and relevant to a global audience.” — Dan Mintz, CEO of DMG

Bloodshot #2 (2012)

As per’s Russ Burlingame,

“The deal likely means that DMG will co-finance all of the projects and assist with international distribution and exhibition[, including in the huge Chinese market]. DMG and Valiant will also be pursuing Chinese licensing for Valiant properties beyond film in publishing, animation and theme parks, as well as toys and apparel.”

That was three years ago. Now, we come to the latest bit of major news on the Valiant front….

In January of this year, DMG Entertainment went from owning 57% of Valiant Entertainment to owning it all, thereby providing Mintz’s “filmmaker-run studio with a treasure trove of world-class intellectual properties and establish[ing] DMG as one of the most valuable and innovative media companies in Hollywood…. The Valiant acquisition is the latest in a string of high-profile strategic moves from Mintz and DMG, the global entertainment powerhouse valued at more than $6 billion. In addition, the company has continued to expand its purview with new initiatives in intellectual property, virtual reality, e-sports and live attractions based on top-tier global franchises, including Hasbro’s “Transformers.””

“Our priority is to build upon Valiant’s vast universe of characters from a filmmaker’s perspective. I’m excited to immerse Valiant’s fans well beyond the stories we tell cinematically — from publishing to gaming to theme parks and beyond.” — Dan Mintz

According to the Wikipedia summary of the deal, Valiant CEO/CCO Dinesh Shamdasani, COO/CFO Gavin Cuneo, and Chairman Peter Cuneo will transition out of the company, though the first two will continue to serve as consultants. No word, yet, on new management, but presumably Mintz will serve in at least a couple of the top spots. Valiant’s publishing team, however, will remain in place, including Publisher Fred Pierce and Editor-in-Chief Warren Simons.

I have no idea what kind of a reputation Mintz/DMG have as filmmakers or businesspersons. (Iron Man 3 and Looper were good and fairly successful, but not great.) I have to say, though, that this sounds like a fantastic development for the Valiant properties to get the stable financial and creative backing they need to proceed with the TV and film productions — probably more. Mintz sure sounds enthusiastic, and I hope he is as driven to make quality, story-driven productions with these characters as everyone from Shooter & Layton to  Shamdasani et al. have been. I hope-n-pray that the film/TV adaptations stay faithful to the comic sources, so that longtime fans can enjoy the original characters they… we… grew to love. And, of course, it would be nice if the comics themselves continue to be well-written and entertaining (and hopefully not objectionable) for all.

Pokemon Battle Tree Strategy

It’s Pokemon stuff, so it must be an Evan Minton guest-post. What more do you need to know? Read, gamers, read!

Pokemon Battle Tree Strategy

by Evan Minton

Ever since Pokemon Crystal, the Pokemon mainstream games have always had a battle facility that you could take on after getting all the gym badges and becoming Pokemon League Champion. Crystal had the Battle Tower, Emerald had the Battle Frontier, Platinum also had a Battle Frontier, Black/White had the Battle Subway, Black2/White2 had the Pokemon World Championships, and X/Y had The Battle Maison. Each of these facilities is designed to be extremely difficult and require you to play competitively (i.e., breed for perfect IVs, EV train, and focus heavily on strategies). Casual Players have no chance of succeeding in these facilities.

In Sun and Moon and in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, the facility is called The Battle Tree. My goal in The Battle Maison was to get 50 wins in the four battle formats available, Super Singles, Super Doubles, Super Triples, and Super Rotations. My goal was to beat 49 trainers and defeat each of the Chatelaine sisters. My Goal in the Battle Tree was to get 50 wins in the 3 formats available; Super Singles, Super Doubles, and Super Multis. Doing this would introduce a special stamp on my Trainer Passport for beating that portion of The Battle Tree. Unfortunately, I haven’t succeeded yet. That said, I have come closer than I ever have before. I got 39 straight wins in The Battle Tree in Pokemon Sun using a specific team that others have used and have gotten all the way to 50 with. I believe that this team is probably my best chance and your best chance of getting 50 wins in the Battle Tree’s Super Singles format.

The Pokemon

First things first. In order to get 50 wins in The Battle Tree, you’re going to need the best team possible. Now, this isn’t to say that this is the only team you can use. After all, if you scower YouTube Battle Tree videos, others have had immense success with teams different from this one. However, this is the team that I have found works best for me, and it’s the one that got me the closest to my goals. Why didn’t I go all the way to 50, then, you might ask? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Mega Salamence is the first Pokemon you’ll want to get. This guy is a massively powerful sweeper. You’ll want your Salamence to have a Jolly Nature because that’s the nature that boosts the Speed stat, and you want your Salamence to be as fast as possible. My Salamence outspeeds the majority of Pokemon in the Battle Tree. As I’ll say below, there are some Pokemon that outspeed Mega Salamence such as Mega Gengar and Mega Alakazam, but 9 out of 10 times, you’ll be going first. So, for maximum speed, make sure the Salamence you breed or Pokegen is a Jolly Nature and has 252 Speed EVs. Mega Salamence is a physical attacker, so you’ll want to EV train it to 252 speed EVs. When it mega evolves, its ability is Aerilate, which changes all Normal type moves into flying type moves. Double Edge hits super hard because it has a base power of 120, plus it gets a STAB boost. As iStarlyTV put it, it’s equivalent to Brave Bird. The downside is that Mega Salamence takes a lot of recoil damage, so you can only use this move two to three times before Mega Salamence faints. Of course, that’s not TOO bad as this move hits so hard that you’ll be getting one hit KOs most of the time. Usually by the second Double Edge, my opponent has been down to their last Pokemon.

Earthquake is on this moveset because it’s really powerful, and it can deal with Pokemon that resist Double Edge. Flamethrower is important for this set because there are Pokemon that you’ll encounter in The Battle Tree such as Skarmory and Bronzong who (1) resist damage from Double Edge and (2) take no damage at all from Earthquake. Flamethrower will do super effective damage on those Pokemon and you’ll be able to take them out. Of course, you’re free to replace it with Fire Fang or any other damaging Fire Type move. The important thing is that you have a fire type move in the slot that can deal with those pesky Skarmory and Bronzongs.

Dragon Claw and Flamethrower are backup moves used when you encounter dragons and floating/flying Steel types, but the primary and most important moves on this set are Double Edge and Earthquake.

Now, some have put Dragon Dance and Return in this slot, which is pretty good too. Return is a pretty strong move in general if your Pokemon has maximum friendship with you, and given the Aerilate ability, you get a STAB boost, but unfortunately, if you don’t run Dragon Dance, Return won’t do as much damage as Double Edge. I prefer not to set up if I can avoid it, as you give your opponent a free turn to hit you and do only The Lord knows what.

You can lead with this Pokemon if you want to, however, I have found that Kartana (who I’ll introduce in a moment) isn’t a very good Pokemon to switch into because you could get hit by a special attack that it can’t handle, so I have typically found it more beneficial to have Makani as my backup sweeper.

Kartana is an Ultra Beast that you can catch in the postgame of Pokemon Sun. You’ll need a Jolly Nature, and maximize its Attack and Speed EVs. Make sure it has 31 IVs in the Attack, Speed, and Defense stats. Pokemon Sun is programmed to ensure that at least 3 of the Ultra Beasts’ stats are up to 31. These are the ones that count. So you’ll need to soft-reset your game until you get one with this nature and EVs. If you don’t get the right IVs, you can level it up to 100 and Hyper Train those stats at Hau’oli City’s mall, however, grinding to level 100 takes a LOOOOONG time. You’d be better off simply soft-resetting.

This Pokemon sweeps so well because of 4 things. First of all, it has a high base attack stat anyway, and secondly, you’ve EV trained it. Thirdly, it has the hold item: Life Orb. Life Orb boosts the attack power of a Pokemon but takes a tiny bit of its HP each turn. Finally, every time Kartana knocks an opponent out, it’s ability Beast Boost activates and raises its attack stat. So if you take an opponent out, Beast Boost activates and that makes it all the more likely that you’ll be able to one-shot the next Pokemon to come out. Take out that Pokemon, and the third Pokemon is going to take EVEN MORE damage!

Leaf Blade gets the STAB boost since Kartana is a grass type. So with everything I mentioned above, you can do some major damage with this guy. Think of this: A STAB boosted, Life Orb boosted, 2X Beast Boosted Leaf Blade! MAJOR DAMAGE! And if the Pokemon is weak to grass type moves, it does even more damage.

Sacred Sword is good for taking out Steel, Rock, and Normal type Pokemon.

Smart Strike is a move that never misses. You will find that some Pokemon will spam evasion moves like Double Team and Minimize. If this happens, you can just spam Smart Strike. No matter how high the evasiveness of your opponent’s Pokemon is, Smart Strike will always hit.

Night Slash is on here because it rounds out the coverage very well. Also, this move has a high critical hit ratio. This means you can do major damage, especially if you’ve gotten a couple of Beast Boosts up.

Toxapex is your defensive wall. Baneful Bunker is Toxapex’s exclusive move. It does the same thing as protect, except that if the opponent physically strikes Toxapex while it’s using it, they’ll get poisoned, so it’s a nice added effect.

Toxic is extremely important because Toxapex isn’t very strong. It’s extremely bulky though. That’s its strength; it’s a defensive wall. The purpose of having this Pokemon on your team is to have one that can take hits insanely well. The strategy is to use Toxic, and then use Baneful Bunker and Recover every other turn. Toxic’s damage increases with each and every turn. Using Baneful Bunker every other turn, you can keep your opponent from doing any damage to you, and any damage that they DO inflict, you can get rid of with Recover.

Recover helps stall out the effects of Toxic for even longer.

Toxic won’t work on Poison type Pokemon like Tentacruel, however. In that case, you’ll want to burn it with Scald. The BURN status will chip a little bit of the opponent’s HP away every turn. The damage won’t increase with every turn unlike Toxic, though. This is what I call Burn stalling. Additionally, the Burn status cuts the Attack power in half, meaning that Toxapex will take even less damage provided that the opponent relies on that stat.

Know Your Enemy

I think the reason I couldn’t get all the way to 50 is that I was focusing solely on MY Pokemon and whether we were at a type disadvantage. Having the right Pokemon is only part of the equation, however. You also need to focus heavily on your opponent’s Pokemon and what strategies they intend on using.

Austin John, on his YouTube Video about The Battle Tree, said that the Battle Tree trainers have specific and set strategies that they intend on using. Unlike real human beings, they won’t be anticipating your every move. For example, if one is running a Gengar with Hypnosis and Dream Eater, the chances are that the strategy this Trainer is going to use is (1) put your Pokemon to sleep with Hypnosis, and (2) spam Dream Eater for damage. John said that he saw a video where the Pokemon had the Insomnia ability (an ability that prevents the Pokemon from being put to sleep), and yet the opponent kept using Hypnosis over and over and over, even though it clearly wasn’t going to work. So if you can analyze The Battle Tree’s trainers, their Pokemon, and the strategies they’re likely to use, your chances of beating them will be higher.

How can you do this? Hackers have data mined the Pokemon Sun and Moon and Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon games and made an online database that shows you all of the trainers you will encounter, what Pokemon they will be using, what items those Pokemon will be holding, and what attacks they will have in their movesets. When you run into, say, “Backpacker Julia” or whoever, just lookup that Trainer’s name in the moveset and their team will be exposed to you. The strategies themselves aren’t listed in the database, you’ll have to use your own discernment for that. What I mean by that is that, if you see that the trainer has an Alolan Muk and this Muk has Minimize, Rest, and Snarl in its movepool, then you can infer that this Muk is very likely meant to be a defensive wall. It’s meant to use Minimize a bunch of times to keep any of your attacks from hitting, and Rest in order to undo any damage you DO happen to inflict on it. Just knowing what moves your opponent’s Pokemon has can give you some idea of how they plan on using them.

Analyze the Pokemon and their movesets, get familiar with the strategies, and battle accordingly. has the database for UltraSun and UltraMoon’s Battle Tree trainers here:

Biggest Threats To This Team

Weaviles with Taunt

You cannot Toxic Stall a Weavile that knows Taunt. For one thing, Weavile is faster than Toxapex and will always move first. Weaviles that know Taunt will use Taunt most likely on the first turn. Why is this bad? Because Taunt prevents a Pokemon from using any moves that don’t deal out damage. This means you can only use Scald, nothing else. You can’t use Toxic. You can’t use Baneful Bunker. You can’t use Recover. You can only use Scald. This wouldn’t be too bad if Toxapex’s Special Attack wasn’t so insanely low. Scald isn’t a sucky move when you run it on Pokemon like Araquanid or Pelliper, who have decent Special Attack stats. But with Toxapex, it does puny damage. This means you’ll only be chipping away at Weavile’s HP slowly, and if Weavile has any HP recovering items like Leftovers, you’re pretty much done for. You’re done for if Toxapex is your last Pokemon, but you might be able to beat it with Mega Salamence or Kartana. Unfortunately, Mega Salamence is 4X weak to ice type moves and faints to them nearly every time, so switching into it could be very risky. If you can get Kartana onto the field and have it use a super effective Sacred Sword once or twice, that would be better.

Milotics With Rest

Some of the Battle Tree trainers (particularly Cynthia) have Milotics. Milotics are a big threat to this team because Mega Salamence is 4 times weak to ice type moves, and most Milotics know either Blizzard or Ice Beam. Secondly, Cynthia’s Milotic in particular could have Rest in its moveset or Recover. If it’s got Recover, that’s better than Rest. Why? Because if Milotic has Recover in its moveset, you can switch into Toxapex and Toxic Stall it. It’ll take longer than most Toxic Stall battles because Recover will recover a good bit of Milotic’s HP, but you’ll get there eventually. However, if it has Rest, you can’t Toxic Stall it. Rest not only restores lost HP, but it also gets rid of the Poison status. Meaning that you’ll have to use Toxic and poison it again. Unfortunately, as soon as Milotic’s HP is down, it’ll use Rest, get rid of the Toxic, and you’ll be back to square one. Additionally, since Toxic’s gradual damage increases every turn, when the Poison status is cured, if you manage to Toxic it again, it’ll take off a very tiny amount of HP. Your best bet is to Leaf Blade Milotic with Kartana, but your best bet is to just wait for your current Pokemon to faint before switching into Kartana. Kartana has a VERY low Special Defense stat, and therefore any special attacking moves (e.g., Hydro Pump, Blizzard, Ice Beam) will likely take it out in one hit. Kartana can outspeed Milotic, so it will move first, but you don’t want to give Milotic the chance to attack at all. You want Kartana on the field, and you want to hopefully land a one hit KO Leaf Blade.

Mega Gengar

This team has served me well. When I played through Super Singles on Pokemon Sun version, I got a 39 win streak. Unfortunately, it ended when I faced Plumeria on Battle Number 40. Plumeria’s first Pokemon was Gengar, whom she Mega Evolved on the first turn. Mega Gengar’s Sludge Bomb did a lot of damage to my Mega Salamence and Kartana. What’s worse is that each turn, Plumeria’s Mega Gengar would always attack first because it had a higher speed stat then my entire team! If I recall, the Pokemon Battle Tree’s database (see below) said that her Mega Gengar’s speed stat was 200! Now, Toxapex could have handled Mega Gengar, I think. I had just switched out Toxapex for Tapu Fini (BIG mistake!). Toxapex, being a poison type herself, could have resisted Sludge Bomb and any other poison type moves thrown at it. Additionally, since it was designed to be a defensive wall, it wouldn’t have taken much damage from physical or special attacks anyway, and any damage it did take could have been recovered with both Leftovers and the move Recover. Given that Gengar is a Ghost/Poison type Pokemon, it cannot be poisoned. You cannot poison a poison type Pokemon. That said, I could have Burn Stalled it. I could have burned it with Scald, then spammed Baneful Bunker and Recover until Mega Gengar finally fainted.

However, while Toxapex could have triumphed over Plumeria’s Mega Gengar, other Gengars that you’ll encounter in The Battle Tree won’t be the same way. Many Gengars run a Hypnosis/Dream Eater combo strategy. Dream Eater is a psychic type move and is super effective on poison types like Toxapex. If you face these types of Gengars, then you’ll want to take them out quickly with a super effective Life Orb boosted Night Slash from Kartana. Don’t count on a super effective Earthquake from Mega Salamence as Gengar’s ability is Levitate which makes all Ground type moves useless against it. However, you can still Double Edge/Return it, given that Mega Salamence’s Aerilate ability turns Normal type moves into flying type moves.


I hope you use this team and succeed in Super Singles. Others have and have gotten 50 wins. Hopefully you and I will, too.

Well, all I can say is that I’ve been Super Single waaay too long….

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2018, part 2 of 3

This week, we continue the list I began last month, celebrating anniversaries of some of the more significant genre works. Care to share in some nostalgia?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968): 50 years

This sci-fi/”philosophical fiction” novel was by the legendary Philip K. Dick. I never actually read it, but years ago I did watch the 1982 movie adaptation, Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford. (I have not seen the 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049.) The character of Rick Deckard is probably Ford’s third-most famous role, after Han Solo and Indiana Jones. I enjoyed the dirty, dystopic look of the movie, the dangerous, fugitive androids, and the action scenes. (Couldn’t tell you how faithful the movie depictions were to those in the book.) For some reason, though, the ethical and philosophical questions just never appealed to me, so I’m not a big fan of Blade Runner. However, I realize that a lot of people are, and the film has become somewhat of a cult classic within sci-fi fandom. The novel was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1968 and thirty years later won a Locus Poll Award, placing 51st among “All-Time Best SF Novel(s) before 1990”. Interestingly, the novel has also been adapted for radio, audiobook, theater, and comics; there are three book sequels, as well, written by K.W. Jeter.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1948, 1953, 1968): 70, 65, & 50 years

This one is a bit unusual, in that there are actually three connected anniversaries. Seventy years ago (1948), 30-year-old Arthur C. Clarke wrote a short story titled “The Sentinel” for a BBC competition. He lost, but the story “introduced a more cosmic element to Clarke’s work.” (It was eventually published in 1951 with the title “Sentinel of Eternity”.) Five years later, Clarke had a short story titled “Encounter in the Dawn” (aka “Expedition to Earth”) published in the magazine Amazing Stories. These two stories are considered the primary bases for much of 2001: A Space Odyssey, though elements were also borrowed from several of Clarke’s other writings.

2001 was a concurrently-developed, joint project with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick. Kubrick and Clarke collaborated on the screenplay, and (at the same time) they originally worked on the novel together, too. But, for a number of reasons, Kubrick ended up focusing on the film, while Clarke focused on the book (and retained sole author credit). Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece was released in May 1968 to mixed reviews, but it developed “a cult following and slowly became the highest-grossing North American film” of the year. Since then, it has become widely recognized as one of the top films of all time. As per Wikipedia, the film “deals with themes of existentialism, human evolution, technology, artificial intelligence, and the existence of extraterrestrial life. It is noted for its scientifically accurate depiction of spaceflight, pioneering special effects, and ambiguous imagery.” And who can forget that theme music, eh?!

Clarke’s novel was published in June/July that same year. There are many differences with the film, since Kubrick deviated in places from the early drafts that the novel is based on. Some were due to creative/stylistic differences, while others were more practical (i.e., because of the difference in media). Naturally, the novel has more emphasis on narrative and is able to flesh out some things that are left somewhat vague or mysterious in the film, which “is a mainly visual experience where much remains ‘symbolic’.” Three sequel novels were written, but only the first of them, 2010: Odyssey Two, has so far been made into a film (1984).

Planet of the Apes (1963, 1968): 55 & 50 years

Only a pair of anniversaries this time. Pierre Boulle’s original La Planète des singes novel was published in 1963, with an English language version close on its heels. Within a few years, the book was adapted for the silver screen, and the first Planet of the Apes movie debuted in April 1968. It spawned four sequels, then a short-lived TV series, followed by a short-lived animated series based on the original movie. I don’t think I ever watched the animated show, but I loved the movies and the live-action series as a kid/teen. Wonderful performances by movie & TV stars like Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell (who returned for the live-action show), Kim Hunter, James Franciscus, Maurice Evans, and James Whitmore, all lent an air of respectability to what could have been considered goofy kids’ stuff. Plus, the writing was pretty good, and the action and adult themes (e.g., slavery, bigotry, nuclear war) made the content pretty grown up.

I finally read Boulle’s novel about 10 or 12 years ago and enjoyed it. You might, too. But, don’t expect it to be the same as the films. Many of the same elements are there, and anyone familiar with the films and/or TV series will quickly identify versions of the characters and events they know. But, there are also many serious differences. It makes me wish that a new and more faithful adaptation of the novel might be made. Maybe one day. Meanwhile, not only can we still enjoy the old films and TV series, but we have the terrific new series of PotA films — three, as of this writing. (We won’t talk about the 2001 movie by Burton and Wahlberg, though it had some positive points.) I think it might also be time for me to read Boulle’s novel again….

Avengers (1963): 55 years

Confession time: Originally, I was going to celebrate Spider-Man’s debut here. But, then I remembered that The Amazing Spider-Man #1 (1963) wasn’t the first time Spider-Man appeared. That was in Amazing Fantasy #15 the previous year.

But, the Avengers, “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, did debut with the first issue of their own title in 1963 (cover date Sept.). They might not be quite as iconic as ol’ Webhead, but given the team’s popularity these days, they certainly merit the attention. I was a “Marvel Zombie” from my pre-teen days, and the Avengers was one of the earliest books I collected and one of my favorites. I mean, how could you not love a team that included Iron Man, Captain America (as of issue #4), and Thor, among others? Even the Hulk was a founding member, though he quit at the end of issue #2 and would go on to fight against them on occasion. The team’s ever-changing lineup meant readers got to see many superheroes (including the occasional rehabilitated villain), new and old, work and fight together. They also had some of the most fearsome arch-foes, like the Masters of Evil, Kang the Conqueror, and the Kree. I haven’t kept up with the Avengers in recent years, but I do have a lot of great memories of roughly 3 decades’ worth of stories. Plus, of course, we get to see them live-in-action in the theaters these days. Avengers Assemble!

Iron Man (1963): 55 years

While Iron Man #1 didn’t premiere until 1968 (directly following the Iron Man and Sub-Mariner one-shot), the character of Anthony Stark and his armored alter ego actually made their debuts in Tales of Suspense #39 (1963). I’ve written about the character briefly before. Tony was equal parts brilliant and screw-up, playboy and warrior, arrogant jerk and kindhearted philanthropist. He had the rugged good looks and engineering genius, with all the money and toys a guy could ever want, yet he was insecure and battled his own “demons”. In other words, he was very “real” — a flawed hero, but not an anti-hero — and that’s part of what made him so interesting. I don’t think Robert Downey Jr. quite captures the character I remember from the comics, but I do enjoy finally getting to see him on the big-screen. If only they would see fit to add Mrs. Arbogast to the cast…. (In fact, I have a story idea that could do that, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.)

X-Men (1963): 55 years

As with the last two entries, I was a huge fan of the Uncanny X-Men waaay before the first movie (2000). I wasn’t around for their 1963 debut, but I did start collecting them back in the ’70s. Again, they were one of my favorites, possibly even edging out both Avengers and Fantastic Four for favorite team title. I started reading it shortly after the best X-Men lineup debuted — Cyclops, Storm, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Banshee, Phoenix, and, of course, Professor X. Those were some classic stories with classic art, by creators like Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, John Byrne, Terry Austin. Ah, those were the days…. There was just something about Marvel’s (not so) Merry Mutants, the “outcasts” of the Marvel universe, that appealed to me. They had some of the coolest powers and costumes, and the stories were well-written, with characters that became increasingly complex — sometimes for the better, sometimes not — over the years. Good times!

Alright, folks! I’ve rambled on long enough. Hope you enjoyed Part 2. I’ll talk about some really old stuff in Part 3 next month….

Review of Star Trek: Discovery

“We come in peace, that’s why we’re here. Isn’t that the whole idea of Starfleet?” — Comm. Michael Burnham

With all the heated rhetoric and division within fandom over “Star Trek: Discovery”, I wasn’t sure I wanted to weigh in. Plus, I’m sort of torn about it myself. But, ultimately, I thought I might find it cathartic to force myself to put my thoughts down. Besides, it’s just my opinion, and it isn’t worth any less than anyone else’s, so why not?


I did an earlier review of the pilot episodes, essentially the prologue to the rest of the season. If you haven’t already read it, you might want to jump over and do that now, since this is sort of a “sequel” review, and there are a couple things addressed there that I won’t touch on here.

USS Discovery

I have to admit, they pulled off a couple of twists that I didn’t see coming. Take Captain Lorca, for instance. He definitely had an independent streak, and I wasn’t entirely surprised to see him dodge, if not outright disobey, his orders in order to carry out his agenda. I chalked this up to “realism” (in his mind, at least) and a bit more aggressive nature. But, of course, I had no idea what that agenda truly entailed until towards the end. I remember some fans commenting about him being mean, evil, even speculating that he was from the “Mirror” universe. Even after that scene when he held a phaser on Cornwell, I was more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, since he was overstressed and suffering from a form of PTSD. (She still should have thrown him in the brig.) Maybe I’m obtuse, or maybe I just didn’t want to see it, but I didn’t. And they — i.e., those other viewers — were right. (I was suspicious re the eye-sensitivity thing, though.) Still, I’m a bit disappointed to see Mirror Lorca go, ‘cuz he was an interesting character.

I was a little surprised that they went to the “Mirror” universe so soon, though. Were they — i.e., the writers/producers — so nervous about the show being able to establish itself on its own that they felt they needed to (re-)introduce a fan-favorite place/situation? Have to say, I enjoyed it, and it may indeed have helped. Also, bringing back Georgiou the way they did was very intriguing. I assume she will pop up on occasion in subsequent seasons, and I’m fine with that.

On the other hand, the changes to the Terran Empire’s fashion choices was a bit irritating. I commented on the Klingon and Starfleet uniforms in my earlier review. Regarding Starfleet, this article made some valid points about changes in uniform styles both in previous ST series and in real life military, so I suppose it makes sense that even the vaunted Terran Empire can fall victim to fashion trends.

Btw, my favorite Mirror version of the Discovery crew was young Captain “Killy”. I have to assume the real “Killy” is as deadly as she is ambitious, so she killed her way up the hierarchy very quickly. The TE uniform and straight blonde hair were quite flattering for “our” Cadet Tilly. I enjoy watching the brilliant-but-unsure “prime” Tilly — sweet girl — and appreciated seeing her grow a bit this season.

The other twist that both amazed and frustrated me was the fact that Ash Tyler was, in fact, Klingon. Not only that, he was Voq, the albino follower of T’Kuvma seen back in the pilot 2-parter. Some fans predicted this, but I refused to accept it. And, in a sense, I still refuse. I don’t care how they explained it, it’s too far a stretch for me to believe that Klingons would be capable of this level of sophisticated surgery and genetic manipulation. (Actually, I don’t buy the entire procedure being possible for any race, but, hey, this is science fiction, after all.) The explanations by L’Rell and Dr. Culber seemed to conflict somewhat. But, near as I can figure, L’Rell not only made Voq anatomically human (and a match for the captured Lt. Tyler) but somehow transformed his DNA, too. (That’s the kicker for me.) Then, she essentially copied Tyler’s consciousness and overlaid it onto Voq/new-Tyler’s mind, while programming the Voq personality to take control at the proper time. (Except, it didn’t quite go as planned.) This new body somehow showed no signs of the physical trauma of being remade, even at the genetic level? C’mon!! Frankly, it would have been more believable for L’Rell to have simply cloned Tyler and “inserted” a copy of Voq’s mind/memories to stay in the background and take control when required. Heck, if Voq was hellbent on punishing himself, he could’ve had his brain transplanted into a Tyler clone.

Voq / “Tyler”

That said, the Tyler/Voq character not only gave us an idea how fanatical his faction was, but it also had a lasting impact on Burnham and her own growth as a character. (Plus, although Tyler/Voq is no longer part of Starfleet, they left it open for him to appear in later episodes, which could prove interesting.) I was glad to see Burnham evolve as a character. How could she not from all that she experienced personally and professionally? We even got to see a little more emotion from her. (Not much, though. Not sure if that is due to the writing/character or the acting.) In the end, it appeared that she was able to forgive herself, or at least come to terms with what happened in the past, and accept reinstatement into Starfleet with rank returned.

Saru seems to have grown as a character, too. He is more confident in himself, less ready to run, which must take great willpower. His friendship with and trust in Burnham seems to have been restored, as well. This development also pleases me. (Did that sound slightly imperious?)

I didn’t like Stamets from the get-go. He was arrogant and abrasive. But,… as the season progressed, I became a bit more sympathetic to his situation — i.e., frustrations with his pet project and the fact it was co-opted by Starfleet. Stamets himself even seemed to soften just a bit through the various events, not least of which was the tragic loss of his partner, Dr. Culber. Hopefully, the character will continue to be more likable in the future.

I also hope we get to spend more time with and learn more about Detmer, Airiam, Owosekun, Rees, and Bryce — i.e., the rest of Discovery‘s recurring bridge crew — next season. That would be in line with the way the show was advertised as not focusing on senior officers, after all.

Of those major characters who were killed off (or, at least, one version of them was) in season 1, I am most disappointed about Rekha Sharma’s Commander Landry. Sharma has an impressive genre resume, including stints on “Smallville”, “Battlestar Galactica”, “V”, and “The 100”. I was looking forward to getting to know Discovery‘s small-but-dangerous (and somewhat abrasive) Security Chief, seeing what makes her tick, watching her interactions with the rest of the crew, etc. Alas, ’twas not to be.

I have mixed feelings about Harry Mudd. I liked that we got to see him, but I’m not sure I care for this harder-edged, vengeful, even bloodthirsty version of him. Gotta love a good time-loop story, though.

My comments on the writing will be fairly brief. It was a somewhat mixed bag, perhaps, but nothing near as bad as some critics claim. (In fact, the story improved as the season progressed.) I think some people just look for things to complain about. Were there predictable or confusing plot points? Occasionally. Did characters do or say dumb things? Undoubtedly. Were there better ways to develop and/or resolve some things. Perhaps. None of this is unique to “Star Trek: Discovery” or to any Star Trek series or to any series, period. Give the creators and crew time to find their footing, as it were. Besides, just think how much room for improvement there is! 😉

Of course, though I addressed them in my earlier review, I need to make a few additional comments about the primary canon issues….

The Klingons. What more can be said about the Disco-Klingons? There are elements of the old, familiar Klingons, but so much has changed. From their physical appearance to their fashion sense, these Klingons may as well be a whole new species. Some fans think people like me are complaining too much about this. They say, “Look at the previous changes in Klingon appearance. You accepted those!” Yes, but the distance (so to speak) between the Klingons that debuted in the original “Star Trek” and those that debuted in Star Trek III (1984) (and then used in subsequent TV series) was much shorter than between either of them and the Disco-Klingons. Plus, the prior changes have been explained satisfactorily (in DS9 and ENT, I believe), with the most human-looking version being a brief aberration, so it is series canon. And, while we must admit there are a few inconsistencies from previous series, it is best to stick to established canon whenever possible.

I have played with a few ideas of how to get either of the earlier versions of the Klingons to replace the current Disco-Klingons.

1) Perhaps the Klingon houses we’ve seen represented are one Klingon race, while the STIII/TNG version make up the other houses. Wipe out the former, and the latter can take over.

2) Some sort of DNA-rewriting drug or disease could infect the Disco-Klingons, changing them all over a few years to the STIII/TNG version. But, that wouldn’t explain why the one encountered by the NX-01 crew in the ENT pilot had the STIII/TNG look.

3) L’Rell and Tyler/Voq could go back in time several thousands of years, inadvertently cause the annihilation of the Disco-Klingons, and become the “Adam and Eve” of the new Klingon race, which looks like those in STIII/TNG. (I’ll leave it to Klingon historians to figure out how far back they’d have to go. Probably pre-Kahless.)

If nothing like any of these scenarios happens, then the sudden “re-imagining” of the Klingon race was, in my book, not only unnecessary but inexcusable.

In regards to the more advanced look of the ships and other technology, I can understand and accept a certain amount. For example, if they made the Starfleet ships look just a bit updated — say, something like the old Enterprise 1701 refit or 1701-A — and without the low-budget look of the original series, that would probably be acceptable. Keep the general designs and colors, so that everything is recognizable as belonging to the Prime universe. But, making everything look generations more advanced was a mistake, IMO, even if we’re pretty sure tech would actually look closer to that than to something clearly designed in the 1960s.

Similarly, it was a mistake to introduce cloaking technology and hologram communications at a time far earlier than they were introduced in established canon. (I talked about this more in my review of the pilot episodes.) These technologies aren’t limited to just one, experimental ship (see below), since we’ve seen multiple Klingon vessels now use the cloak and both Klingons and Starfleet using the holograms, rather than the (mostly) flatscreen viewers that were standard in all previous ST series. It might be possible to write out further use of cloaking technology (for a few years, anyway), but I don’t think that is feasible with regards to the holograms. If the new series’ creators were so set on using “new” tech, they probably should have set the show further in the future.

Stamets x 2 in mycelial network

As for the paradox of the spore-drive’s existence, I think there is still time to resolve it — if not in Season 2, then in a later one. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Discovery is an experimental ship using an experimental drive technology. There is no need to assume that it will get any further than that. When they were still using the giant tardigrade to navigate, I thought they might abandon the spore tech for ethical reasons. (I.e., “we can’t use it if it means having to effectively enslave these creatures.”) Once Stamets realized he could be the navigator, the situation changed. But, it obviously still has its dangers, not only to Stamets (or whoever else might be hooked into it) but there’s the possibility of damaging the mycelial network and unraveling hyperspace (or something like that). I suspect this will tie into whatever decision is made to cancel use of the spore-drive, especially after Burnham’s rousing speech about the Federation needing to stick to its principles.

About that speech… The “darker” nature of the season’s story arc and a certain amount of ethical ambiguity expressed by the words and actions of certain high-ranking Starfleet officers were among the turn-offs to many long-time Trek fans. I admit, it bothered me, too. But, it appears that that was all part of the writers’ plan, as the characters were brought to a situation of existential threat that forced them — thanks to Burnham’s actions — to take a hard look at what they stood for and what they were willing to do to “win”. In other words, this was a turning point in Federation and Starfleet history that led to the (hopefully) more consistent, honorable, shining example that we know from other ST series.

Of course, as this article reminds us, the people and events of the Star Trek universe — even Federation and Starfleet — have never been flawless or reached the ideals they strive for. Even our heroes are “human”.

Ultimately, I think it would have been fraught with many fewer problems — both in terms of canon violations and audience acceptance — if the producers had opted to go with a non-prequel series. Something concurrent with TNG/DS9/VOY might’ve worked, but I think fans (including me) are/were more than ready to boldly go into the 25th century or beyond. (See a few suggestions here.) The war aspect was another negative point for many (though it wasn’t the first time Star Trek did that), and I think longtime fans would prefer a return to focusing on exploration and first-contact situations. Maybe someday we’ll get it.

There are those fans and other viewers who have little-to-no respect for the idea of canon and the need to maintain consistency across stories told within a larger framework of people, places, and things. Such people will write me off as perplexing at best, but more probably with some degree of condescension. At the other end of the spectrum are hard-core Trekkies/Trekkers. These are more likely to have, in addition to a healthy respect for established canon, certain parameters of tone and adventure in their mind within with a “real” Star Trek series must operate. I am much more sympathetic to these fans, but I suspect some of them will just shake their heads and wonder how I can call myself a Trekkie/Trekker.

But, I have to call it the way I see it. I for one will continue to watch “Star Trek: Discovery”, because, in my assessment and for my particular sensibilities, the positives still outweigh the negatives. It might not feel or look quite like other Star Trek series (would it be wrong to quote IDIC here?), but it’s still Star Trek, and I’m willing to stick with it — at least, for now.

P.S. I realize that there are other aspects of “Star Trek: Discovery” that were inconsistent with established canon, like the use of the familiar delta symbol, which was supposed to be limited to the Constellation-class ships (or, maybe just Enterprise?) until later adopted for all Starfleet. Much as I like James Frain in the Sarek role, there are a few inconsistencies in his character compared with the older version portrayed by Mark Lenard. There’re also all the questions about inserting another sibling for Spock, which somehow never got mentioned in any other series or movies. Etc. But, I didn’t have the time or energy. You can read more about these issues and others here.

Minecraft Religion

“Minecraft is so open any player can design a world, [a]nd whenever things are open, religious people tend to use it to express themselves.” — Vincent Gonzalez, creator of

Many moons ago, I went through a phase where I played a lot of Tetris — to the point where I dreamed about it — and Duke Nukem. I also played some Pong, Asteroids, Centipede, and maybe a little Frogger and a couple others, way back when. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I never really got into gaming — not even when the more sophisticated stuff came out. My brother was into it for several years, so I would occasionally watch him play and talk about avatars and MMORPGs, while he would occasionally let me jabber on about comics. (I did get him to read a few, I think.)

As a member of the “Geeks Under Grace Community” Facebook group, I also see posts from others talking about various games and platforms, new and old, asking for recommendations, etc. I wouldn’t exactly say I have my finger on the pulse of the industry, since I don’t really know what’s going on and couldn’t tell you the difference between a PlayStation and an Xbox. But, it is a reminder of how big that industry has become and the many, many different types of computer games there are out there. Plus, the GUG Community predominantly consists of Christians (as hinted at by the “Under Grace” phrase), so it’s interesting to “hear” how my fellow-geeks integrate their Christian faith with their various geeky fandoms.

I suppose that was why I was intrigued by an article I came across from the Religion News Service by Kimberly Winston, who normally writes about atheism and freethought. It was about Minecraft — yes, I knew what it was… sorta — and, in particular, how many players express their religious beliefs, or lack thereof, through the “skins” and things they build in the game. (Forgive me if this is old news to you.)

As many of my readers probably know, Minecraft allows players to use virtual bricks to build “buildings, plants, people, anything, in mostly primary colors.” Some versions allow people to go on adventures, too. Many players who hold to various religions also use the game to discuss and otherwise express their beliefs, including creating religious figures (e.g., priests, monks, imams, rabbis, angels, Jesus) and both real and imagined places of worship and contemplation (e.g., churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, cathedrals), some of them quite complex. They also build whole cities and “Bible lands”. It turns out that Christianity is by far the most represented.

But, why do they do it?

“No one’s pastor is telling them the best way to minister to people is to pretend to be Jesus in a Minecraft world. So the question of why people want to dress up as Jesus and go around in Minecraft is hard to say.” — Vincent Gonzalez

There are a few theories. Gregory Grieve, a religious studies professor at UNC-Greensboro, has studied the phenomenon for decades.

“For most people, their virtual lives are an extension of their real lives. Among Christians it was a place for proselytizing and a place for meeting people they would not otherwise meet. People who are religious just see these games as an extension of their religious practice.”


Professor Rachel Wagner from Ithaca College has her own hypothesis.

“Even if they are ‘open’ in the sense of allowing players to construct entire worlds for themselves, as Minecraft does, games always offer spaces in which things make sense, where players have purpose and control. For players who may feel that the real world is spinning out of control, games can offer a comforting sense of predictability. They can replace God for some in their ability to promise an ordered world.”

Some have created faith-based Minecraft “servers”, where likeminded people can build and adventure together with a more specific set of rules (e.g., “no profanity”). For example, ChurchMag created a Christian-oriented Minecraft server for its community. According to editor Eric Dye,

“We can build things in it, like themed cities, and there is actually a church. It is not like we have church services or anything but it seemed something fun to have. It seemed fitting. That is why you see religion manifested in Minecraft — it is just an extension of people’s interests in what they create.”

As Spock would say, “Fascinating…”

So, my questions to you readers are, “Have any of you experienced, or even participated in, this sort of religious expression in Minecraft or other ‘open’ games? If so, did it seem odd to you or “natural”? Did it cause any sort of awkwardness among players?” Anything else you want to share, feel free. Thanks.

Inhumans Mini-Review and Fan-Cast

Yep, I did it! I watched the “Inhumans” mini-series.

I have to say, it didn’t suck as badly as I’d expected, based on some comments I’d read. But, it was very disappointing. As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve liked the Inhumans, especially the Royal Family, since their early appearances in the Fantastic Four comics. So, although I realize they might not be the easiest to adapt to live-action, what with the supersized dog and the leader/king who can’t speak (without destroying stuff, that is), I was still hoping for a decent show. So much for that idea…


Now, there were positive points. For example, I thought Lockjaw looked great, and his teleportation effect was cool, too. Other visual F/X were good, and they got the general color schemes for the characters right. Triton was surprisingly bad@$$. (I don’t remember him being so deadly in the comics, but then I haven’t read any Inhumans stories in several years.) What else? Um,… the girls were cute, and, uh,… I’m sure there was something else I liked….

One annoying thing I noted early on was when otherwise-intelligent people kept doing stupid things or *not* doing sensible things. For example, I realize that Black Bolt’s sign language would not have been understood by Americans, but why didn’t he at least try to communicate with the police? He (and his family) obviously knew a lot about some Earth things, including how to read/speak/understand English. Couldn’t he have written stuff down? Also, how did he not realize that stealing would bring attention from law-enforcement? Then there’s Medusa, who didn’t think to take Auran’s comm unit. Also, since she must have known of Auran’s incredible healing ability, why didn’t she make sure Auran was dead after their battle, or at least shackle or tie her up?

There were inconsistencies, too, like Gorgon’s boots being shaped like hoofs (as they should be), and then later just looking like normal boots.

The writing and acting was generally bad or lackluster. I’ve seen some of the actors before, and they didn’t suck then. So,… do we blame the director? Black Bolt in particular was odd. For one thing, I kept thinking I was watching Jim Caviezel, ‘cuz Anson Mount looks so much like him. Something about the set of the jaw and the eyes, I think. But, while Mount was forced to do much of his acting via his eyes, I’m afraid it just didn’t work. His range of expression seemed to be stuck between alarmed, frustrated, and just plain bewildered. (I don’t remember his performances in anything else, so I can’t say if he has displayed much more depth or range.)

And Maximus? I was really looking forward to a raving madman. After all, they don’t call him “Maximus the Mad” for nothing. But, what we got was a better-behaved Ramsay Bolton who just wanted to be one of the cool kids. Sigh!

Another disappointing thing was the limited displays of Medusa’s and Karnak’s powers. I think I read a critique somewhere that said her prehensile hair wasn’t a good effect, but I thought it was decent. In my opinion, shaving her hair off in the beginning, while a dramatic plot point (and true to a comic storyline, I think), was a bad move. We fans want to see Medusa (and her hair) in action! (Also, Serinda Swan looks <much> better with hair.) As for Karnak, they made a point of injuring him to reduce his amazing analytical abilities, which then gave him a crisis of confidence. Related to this was his limited fighting. Was this intentionally done, because Ken Leung has little-to-no martial arts ability? Again, I wanted to see Karnak the Shatterer kick butt! He had a couple OK scenes (though one took place mostly in the dark) — and it was kinda cool the way they showed him calculating trajectories and probabilities and such — but he could/should have been <so> much better. (Props for giving him the facial tats, but why no enlarged cranium?) Wish we had seen more of Triton, too. He must’ve been reveling in having all that water to swim in! And we didn’t get to see Black Bolt fly, either, dangit!

In the end, I suppose I would have chosen a different story that allowed everyone to better showcase their powers.

Alright, I’ve said enough about that. Now, I’d like to present my choices for if I were to cast the Inhumans Royal Family. I won’t get into Inhumans history or powers/abilities or (for the most part) the actors’ resumes, this time. Let me say up front that, as usual, I tried to stick to the general height (within reason) and build of the characters as seen in the comics. Also, I think Black Bolt is one of the oldest of the royal siblings & cousins, so I put him at mid-30s to 40. Crystal would be the youngest at early- to mid-20s. Everyone else should probably be late-20s to late-30s.

Philip Winchester

Nicole Steinwedell

I considered both Ryan McPartlin (6’4.5″,b.1975) and Eric Dane (6’1″,b.1972) for Black Bolt, but they’re both a little older than I preferred, and McPartlin’s a little too tall. So, I went back to someone I’ve recommended for other square-jawed hero roles: Philip Winchester (6’1″,b.1981). For Medusa, I wanted someone who could play both regal and compassionate queen, preferably redhead (though that’s going to be CGI, anyway), and (here’s the toughest part) tall. Either Eva Green (5’6″,b.1980) or Emily Beecham (5’5.25″,b.1984) would be great, except Marvel’s wiki puts Medusa at 5’11”. It is really tough to find good actresses in that height range. But,… though she is usually blonde, I think Nicole Steinwedell (5’11”,b.1981) fits the bill! (I even found a pic of her in a purple/violet dress!)

Roman Reigns

Nicholas Tse

The warrior Gorgon is tall (6’7″) and muscular, so I thought a wrestler might be a good choice. In fact, it didn’t take me long to realize that Joe Anoa’i (aka Roman Reigns) (6’3.25″,b.1985) is practically perfect. I mean, look at this guy! Put him in hoof-boots, and he might even reach 6’7″. Karnak, on the other hand, is a foot shorter and slimmer (though still muscular). It has never been clear to me if he is supposed to be Asian-looking. (Sometimes, he even looks French to me, for some reason.) But, that’s the way the series went with the character, and I agree. Jet Li (5’6.25″,b.1963) might’ve been a fair choice, but he’s too old and still has a thick accent. So, my vote is for Nicholas Tse (5’9″,b.1980), who is an actor & martial artist who happened to go bald for a recent part (see pic).

Andy On

Saoirse Ronan

Medusa’s baby sister, Crystal, is a pretty strawberry-blonde who clocks in at 5’6″. I decided to go with the talented Saoirse Ronan (5’6″,b.1994), known for her work in Atonement, The Lovely Bones, Hanna, all before she turned 17. She could certainly play young Crystal with some depth. (Coincidentally, in recent years Crystal was married to (and subsequently separated from) Ronan the Accuser, the Kree warrior/judge.) As for Karnak’s older brother, the water-breathing Triton, I opted for another martial artist/actor: Andy On (5’11”,b.1977). (I would’ve considered him for Karnak, but he’s too tall.) He is a little older than I’d like for the role, but he has the right build, and I think he can easily pass for 30-something.






Finally, we have Black Bolt’s younger brother and intermittent enemy, the evil and treacherous Maximus. I saw someone else fan-cast Joaquin Phoenix (5’8″,b.1974), who coincidentally played ‘Commodus’ to Russell Crowe’s ‘Maximus’ in Gladiator. While a little older and shorter than preferred, I agree that he could’ve been a great Maximus the Mad. While Maximus has had a number of different looks (i.e., costume, armor, hair, build), it was a more recent version (rightmost pic above) that made me think of Dominic Rains (6′,b.1982). If Rains looks familiar, it is because — and here’s another one of those interesting connections — he has been playing the evil (insane?) Kree overlord/station-commander, Kasius, on the current season of “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, who creates Inhumans for his own entertainment and profit. Perfect, no?

Rains as Kasius

Dominic Rains







Now that is an Inhumans movie/series I would love to see!

This concludes our review/fan-cast combo for the Inhumans Royal Family. Hope ya liked it! Don’t be afraid to leave a relevant comment below….

Notable Genre Anniversaries in 2018, part 1 of 3

My, how time flies!

It really is amazing to think back at all of the many books, comics, TV shows, and films from the sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure genres that I have enjoyed over the decades. And those are just the ones I liked! There are plenty more that I never knew of, didn’t have a chance to sample, or just never interested me, but others have enjoyed them. It is even more amazing to consider how far back these genres reach, especially when you include genres like Gothic horror, Victorian sleuths, “travellers’ tales”, and other early adventure novels. Even further, if you go back to the fantastic myths and legends of old, from the pagan pantheons and tales of “brave Ulysses” to those of King Arthur and Robin Hood.

Not long ago, I became aware of a few of the more “modern” stories & characters that were having notable anniversaries this year. (Well, really just some multiple of 5, to be honest.) I tracked down a few more and decided to present brief comments on each, spread out over three, non-consecutive posts. Beginning with the most recent and working our way backwards, we have…

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993): 25 years

Debuting Jan. 3, 1993, DS9 was the third live-action TV series — fourth series overall, including the animated one — of the über-successful Star Trek franchise. It was unusual for a number of reasons. For one, it took place primarily on a space station rather than a ship, which was a somewhat daring move for CBS/Paramount. Previous series (and movies) had always been centered on a ship named “Enterprise”. Could this new setting really work? Would fans accept it? Much of the general tone and many storylines were a bit “darker” than fans were used to with previous series. Flawed characters, along with recurring themes of war and moral ambiguity, were of particular concern. Some people are still turned off by that, while many others have come to embrace the differences. It was the first Star Trek series to air without the involvement of ST’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, and some claim it goes against his vision. Indeed, Roddenberry is on record as having expressed some reservations early on, but he eventually signed off on it before his death in 1991. The show also had a Black man as the senior officer, which was still a bit of a risk back then and all the more a triumph in the show’s success.

Me? I loved the show. I mean, it was more Star Trek, and it even started before The Next Generation was over! Like with any new show, it took a bit of getting used to, but the writers and cast all found their groove. (Not that every episode was a gem, of course.) I got used to the idea of most action taking place on a space station (and one with a nasty history at that), as opposed to a space-warping starship of exploration. It made for different types of stories, while maintaining the overall feel and shared history of Roddenberry’s universe with The Federation, Starfleet, and other familiar organizations and races. The characters grew on me and many other viewers, and they became just as beloved as those from earlier Star Trek series.

DS9 may not have been quite as popular as its predecessor series, but it was nominated for many awards and even won a few. It’s a little hard to believe it has been 25 years since it premiered, though!

Babylon 5 (1993): 25 years

The regular series actually premiered Jan. 26, 1994, but the property debuted with the TV movie Babylon 5: The Gathering on Feb. 22, 1993. Audiences were introduced to several of writer/creator J. Michael Straczynski’s beloved characters — i.e., Cmdr. Jeffrey Sinclair, Michael Garibaldi, Lyta Alexander, and ambassadors Delenn, Mollari, G’Kar, and the mysterious Kosh. Others — i.e., Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova, Vir, Talia Winters — first appeared in the series premiere, while still others — e.g., Dr. Stephen Franklin, Lennier, Na’Toth, Capt. John Sheridan, Zack Allan, Marcus Cole, Bester — would not show up until later episodes, even later seasons.

Although DS9 debuted first, Straczynski (aka JMS or “Joe” to the fans) had shopped his concept around in the ’80s, and there was some controversy over whether or not the Star Trek folks had ripped off the idea. Personally, I didn’t think the similarity went very far past centering on a strategically-located space station frequented by various star-faring races. That basic idea had been done many times before in sci-fi in various media. Plus, it just seemed like an unnecessary cause of strife between fans who thought they had to favor one over the other. I liked both.

Besides, there were other differences that set B5 apart, like the fact that it was the first series planned from the start to have an overarching, 5-year arc, with long-term narrative threads. The dramatic setting was an elaborately constructed, fictional future, implemented with great care for detail, diversity, and history. The grown-up, character-driven storylines were often deep and thought-provoking, while the aliens and their ships were some of the best-designed in the industry. The show garnered multiple awards over the years, mostly for the writing and the groundbreaking CGI effects. It is no wonder that many Babylon 5 fans rival those of Star Trek, Star Wars, or Doctor Who, in their “intensity” and loyalty.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983): 35 years

This second sequel to the original Star Wars (aka A New Hope), was actually declared to be Episode VI, since it completed the middle trilogy of an originally-envisioned trio of trilogies. (Though, I have also heard that creator George Lucas said, no, it was just the first two trilogies, and he didn’t expand his story ideas until later. Or, something like that.) Continuing the blockbuster Star Wars series, RotJ (aka simply “Jedi”) added to its menagerie of alien creatures, planets, technology, and lore. It showed us Han Solo’s fate (from the Empire Strikes Back cliffhanger), the blossoming romance of Solo and Princess Leia, the latest efforts of the Rebel Alliance and the Empire, and the continued Jedi training and maturing of the now cybernetically-enhanced Luke Skywalker, culminating in his confrontation with Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine.

While generally not rated as highly as the first two films of the franchise (especially among those who find Ewoks annoying), RotJ was nevertheless a fairly satisfying conclusion to that first three-part story arc. I, for one, look back on it fondly as an enjoyable part of my teen years.

Battlestar Galactica (original series) (1978): 40 years

Creator/producer Glen A. Larson finally got financial backing for his Mormon-influenced sci-fi concept — originally called “Adam’s Rib” — thanks to the success of the original Star Wars. Yes, this was the ’70s, so some of the writing was a bit hokey, and the tech looks almost as laughable to our 21st-century eyes as that of the original Star Trek and others from the ’60s and prior. But, it was a big-budget science-fiction show that took place far from Earth, had spaceships, robots, a few alien creatures, cool F/X, and it was just a lot of fun for young genre fans like me. The series only lasted one full season, debuting Sep. 17, 1978, and ending on Apr. 29, 1979. If you’re “old” like me, you might remember that they then showed a condensed version of the 3-hour pilot as a movie at theaters starting May 18, 1979. (Technically, this was also how it premiered — in Canadian theaters — before the TV series began.)

I recently finished re-watching the whole original “Battlestar Galactica” series for the first time in, well, nearly 40 years! For its era, it actually holds up pretty well. (It even won “Best New TV Drama Series” at the 1979 People’s Choice Awards.) The writing and acting weren’t too bad, really, especially when compared to its ill-conceived spin-off, “Galactica 1980”. I’m working my way through that later one now, and while I enjoy seeing a few familiar faces and the flying motorcycles are cool, let’s just say I’m glad there were only 10 episodes. (I sure did love it as a kid, though!)

OK, that’s it for Part 1. I’ll continue some time next month with a few more anniversaries of note. ‘Til then…

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 13

File #: 2018Q1
Subject: new issue of quarterly ‘Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter’
Purpose: readers’ enjoyment/entertainment and (occasionally) education
Author: Mr. Zeus (aka <name unknown>; formerly known as Jacob Szymanski, aka “Hacksaw Jack”)

“Keepin’ Busy”

Hmmm, what have I been up to over the past few months that you might be interested in?

Well, I’ve been involved in a few rescue operations lately. Y’know those forest fires that were raging for several days in the Northwest a couple months ago? Well, I have a friend with connections in the firefighter community, and when they were looking for volunteers from around the country to go join the effort, my friend thought I might be able to contact some superheroes that could lend a hand. Unfortunately, none of my contacts with weather- or fire-based powers were available. (One was off-world, one went missing a couple weeks earlier (and still is), one was injured and in the hospital, and the other two were occupied on other missions around the world.) But, I grabbed my buddy Bravado (who doesn’t fly but he’s almost as strong as I am) and we flew up to help. I also called my Canadian friends WinterHawk and SummerHawk, and they met us there. Part of the time I worked with Bravado digging and clearing firebreaks and doing other dangerous work where our strength and fire-resistance were advantageous. The rest of the time I joined the Hawks in the air, doing aerial searches for stranded people, etc. I also dumped a few vats of water on some spots. We couldn’t stop the fires, but we were able to save people and property before the rain finally came and put them out.

Last month, I aided in the search-and-rescue efforts after terrorists blew up that office building in Tennessee. I’m sure you heard all about it on TV or other newsmedia. Some anarchist nutjobs decided to “make a statement”, and 73 innocent people lost their lives for it. I’m just glad we were able to find the other 16 in (and under) the rubble and dig them out. (Btw, that baby the cameras caught me flying with out of the crater and over to the EMTs? She and her mother both survived with minimal medical issues. (I don’t have permission to mention names or specify their injuries.) A couple weeks after that, I heard about a pair of 5-year-old twins who had gone missing, and I volunteered to aid in the hunt for them. Turns out they’d been kidnapped by some psychopath who was preparing them to be sacrificed to Molech (or maybe it was another one of those ancient pagan gods). Anyway, the FBI Behavioral Science team worked up a profile, then the local LEOs got a hot tip, and — long story short — I joined the FBI team in an assault on the freak’s lair. It was in an old wine cellar, and I got to bust the door down and shrug off some bullets, before the rest of the team took him down. We saved the kids, too, though they’re going to need some counseling.

Beyond that, I’ve been doing my usual mix of reading, writing, working out, and helping to train young superheroes. Yep, that’s right! The ILEAD Superhero Virtual Training Program is already underway, and we have our inaugural batch of (seven) students from across the U.S. taking courses in basic forensic sciences, physics, and human physiology, to be followed by military strategy, electronics, and macroeconomics. I’m the program’s co-administrator and serve as a sort of “guidance counselor” for the students. So far, so good!

“What’s up, Doc?”

Speaking of counseling, I may need some myself. Yes, I have a therapist, though I don’t see him much anymore. He is one of a handful who specialize in helping superheroes, though they help with more mundane stuff as well. (I tried to get Major Bad@$$ to see my doctor for anger management, but he wouldn’t go.) Lots of people go to therapy for a variety of reasons, not just “serious” mental issues. Sometimes, you just need someone who can help you think through stuff, process issues, give you constructive advice, etc., without being judgemental. (And, of course, the professionals are required to keep everything confidential.) I know for a fact that several superheroes go to counseling for regular and/or superhero-type issues. Believe me, some of the evil and suffering we see can be pretty traumatic (just like for those in the military, law enforcement, medicine, etc.), and sometimes it helps to have a therapist to confide in and keep you “sane”. That guy I mentioned above who was going to kill those kids in some ritual sacrifice? He had a lot of nasty stuff in his hidey-hole, and the whole incident was quite disturbing. Maybe I’ll give the doc a Skype-call….

“Q & A”

Ready for some Q&A? Okey-doke…

Q: Have you ever been really scared or freaked out when fighting someone? (Greg T. from Washington, DC):

A: Not often but, yeah. I mentioned the injuries I got while fighting the Gargantosaur. I mean, that thing is literally Godzilla-size, and I was getting pretty banged up before the other heroes arrived. I was afraid it might kill or seriously injure me before it was over, but I lucked out. Phobius and Hysteria once used their weird drugs to make a couple colleagues and I freak out, have hallucinations, etc. When I confronted some Satanic cult a few years back, their leader was one evil, creepy dude and his black magic was so oppressive that I could actually feel a demonic presence. (Don’t know how else to describe it.) Scared the crap outta me! There have also been a couple times when I was racing to beat the clock before a bomb blew up or some poison gas was released, and I was <real> scared I wouldn’t make it in time and people would die… but I somehow stopped them with seconds to spare both times.

Most of the time, though, I have enough confidence in my own knowledge and abilities, and those of my hero colleagues, that I don’t really fear much of anything. (Sorry if that sounds cocky.)

Q: How do you feel about animals? (Thea M. from Sandusky, MI):

A: Love ’em! I grew up with dogs and cats in the house. (Well, one of each at any one time.) I had cousins that lived on a working farm, which I visited some summers, with horses, cows, pigs, and goats. I had a golden lab named “Goober” back when I wrestled, but he got sick and had to be put to sleep shortly before I quit that biz. I like reptiles, too, and used to visit the reptile exhibits at the zoo. As a full-time superhero, I couldn’t be sure I’d be able to take care of a dog, especially since they are such social animals, and we have to be ready to leave for hours or even days at a time at short notice. (The staff at A.S.H.A.’s Atlantia Compound adopted a couple stray cats, though.) Even now, I hesitate to get another dog. But,… I have a very independent cat (“Samantha”) and an iguana (“Chumlee”) that are very low maintenance and keep me company.

Q: Do you ever go off-roading? (Jason K. from Oklahoma City, OK):

A: When I was still wrestling, I used to go off-roading with friends some weekends. I had a Ford Bronco that I customized a bit, and I’d take that baby over sand dunes and creek beds and all over tarnation, as they say. Loads of fun! Then various things took up more of my “off” time, and I didn’t get out to do that much anymore. When I was superheroing full time, I only managed to go off-roading with friends a few times, but it made me realize how much I missed it. (My Bronco was long gone, but my buddies had Jeeps, Land Rovers, and a Ford F-150.) Nowadays, I have a customized Humvee that I take out once in awhile, but I’d also like to try dune buggies and ATVs some time. Those things look like a lot of fun, too!

Q: What is your favorite kind of ice cream? (A.J. from Oshkosh, WI):

A: Just about anything with chocolate, peanut butter, and/or mint, as long as there are no nuts, raisins, etc. So, right now I’m on a Chocolate Moose Tracks kick; before that was Peanut Butter Cup/Swirl. Next I’ll probably start adding some Mint Chocolate Chip into the rotation. Yumm!

Great questions, everyone!

Stay strong, y’all! (Or, should that be “all y’all”?)

Anyone reading these Mr. Zeus posts? If so, is there something you’d like to know or want me to (have him) write about? Lemmeknow below….

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2018.

Top 20 TV Theme Songs from ’70s Action Shows, part 2 of 2

As promised, this week we continue our nostalgic countdown — or is it a countup? — of 1970s-premiering cops/detectives TV shows that had particularly cool, memorable theme songs. You ready to lay down some happenin’ tunes? Groovy!

Let’s get to it…


11) The Rockford Files (1974-1980)


12) Police Woman (1974-1978)


13) S.W.A.T. (1975-1976)


14) Baretta (1975-1978)


15) Starsky & Hutch (1975-1979)


16) Quincy, M.E. (spun off from “The NBC Mystery Movie”) (1976-1983)


17) Charlie’s Angels (1976-1981)


18) CHiPs (1977-1983)


19) Vega$ (1978-1981)


20) Return of the Saint (1978-1979)


So, whaddayathink? Feel like chillaxin’ with some ’70s cop-show goodness? Or, maybe in the mood to boogie at the local disco? (Good luck with that.) Anyways…

I gotta split, dudes ‘n dudettes. Peace out!