This may not fit into the normal purview of this site, but it regards something written by Lore Sjöberg who has been both a webcomic creator and webcomic character, as well as a MetaFilter member, a Brunching Shuttlecock and an all-around webizen back in the days when that was a word (he’s the one on the right, above). And there are comic book and cartoon characters involved, but for my taste, not nearly enough.
I’ve been a fan and envious of Lore’s writing for umpteen years, and am happy that Wired Magazine and its website still sees fit to publish his weekly column on nerd-y and geek-y topics, long after the ‘department’ he wrote for disappeared. I can recommend many of his “Alt Text” pieces for being simultaneously smart and funny without constantly telling you “hey, I’m smart and funny!” Each one of those highlighted words links to a different example. But his latest endeavor, not so much.
Starting with the current hot topic of Mars (where an American rover is currently roving around hoping not to get hit by a comet), he has assembled an article “Rating the Greatest Martians”, which is a good thing, because he’s an experienced and excellent Rater; after all, he wrote the book “The Book of Ratings: Opinions, Grades, and Assessments of Everything Worth Thinking About” more than a decade ago (well within the previously measured ‘umpteen years’). But maybe he’s gotten out of practice.
As almost anyone (including everyone who left a comment below his article) will tell you, no collection of fictional Martians is complete without the invaders in “Mars Attacks!” First of all, it’s a movie based on a series of bubblegum cards (Eat your heart out, Honus Wagner) created and drawn by comic book legend Wallace “Wally” Wood (famous for demonstrating the Panels That Always Work). Second, it was a Tim Burton movie from the period when he actually appeared to be having fun making movies. And the Martians themselves… their appearance with the heads that looked like external brainage and goo-goo-googly eyes were the perfect depiction of alien-ness in the 1960s – and still valid in the ’90s, if you had a sense of humor. Their language was a seemingly repetitive string of “Ack ack ack ack ack” that could be translated into anything, truthful or not (political analogies, anyone?). And some of the most gruesome things they did in the movie were pretty damn funny… I mean, transplanting Sarah Jessica Parker’s head onto the body of a chuhuahua? It’s the way millions of HBO viewers wished “Sex and the City” would end!
And then there was the way they were ultimately defeated. I must digress here, because Lore was totally unnecessarily coy about the ending of “War of the Worlds”, which hurt an otherwise solid analysis:
they were taken down by something very common that is of little threat to Earth’s native inhabitants, which was very clever and unexpected. Once. Over 200 years ago.
Does this really require a SPOILER ALERT? It was Bacteria! Germs! Cooties! Besides, the original book was written only 120 years ago, and H.G. Wells set it in his contemporary England, only to be re-set in whatever current time and place the latest movie, radio show or high school play occurred in. Of course, it’s going to be less clever and unexpected by now, just as the King Kong “twas Beauty killed the Beast” is getting old. But even if the general premise was aging disgracefully, the variation in “Mars Attacks” was brilliant. I mean, doesn’t Slim Whitman’s yodeling make YOUR head want to explode? These are A-level aliens and they are surely missed.
Other regrettable omissions include “Mars Needs Moms”, the cute children’s book with grotesque aliens written by Opus/Bloom County creator (and my email pen-pal) Berkeley Breathed that was turned into a grotesque movie with cute aliens by Robert “I OWN the Uncanny Valley” Zemeckis. Check out this side-by-side (depending on screen-width) comparison…
The book earned a C+, the movie an F.
And I don’t know how anything regarding Mars and Martians could be published on the web this week without a reference to Queen of the Kickstarters Victoria Mars (reported on by Wired.com just 5 days earlier). An obvious joke, but nearly mandatory, without which it looks like Lore wrote it weeks ago and put it in a Column-Queue. Besides, Veronica rates much higher than Laura Mars, who if she is remembered at all, it is for some seriously creepy eye makeup.
And what about the residents of Mars, Pennsylvania? Are we expected to just ignore 1746 American Martians? Okay, that was a totally unnecessary rhetorical question.
While Googling for Martians (don’t YOU wish that was part of YOUR job description?), I discovered the Martian Marathon, scheduled for April 13th in Dearborn, Michigan (one of those Detroit suburbs that desperately don’t want to be part of Detroit). Interestingly, it’s sponsored by the United Dairy Industry of Michigan, who remind runners to “Refuel With Chocolate Milk”. Does this mean the pitstops on this marathon will be providing Chocolate Milk instead of water? Are lactose-intolerant runners allowed on the course? Are long-distance runners in Michigan cuckoo for cocoa puffs? What does this have to do with Martians???
Okay, that’s enough for other possible Martians (and some IMpossible ones). As far as the Martians Lore did include are concerned, MOST of them were generally on target, as his Ratings usually are.
Martian Manhunter? He was DC Comics’ job of taking everything wrong with Superman’s “strange being from another planet” status and putting it right.
Marvin the Martian? A cartoon classic, but Lore forgot to mention that in his first appearance, he tried to blow up earth because it “blocked his view”, a concept Douglas Adams obviously lifted in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!
Valentine Michael Smith From “Stranger in a Strange Land”? The “Martian anchor baby” and Heinlein’s first big step into bat-guano insanity, of course. (And a lot easier to take than Lazarus Long).
The Man from Mars in Blondie’s “Rapture”? Best. Musical. Martian. Ever. And I speak as one whose head was eaten long before by “The Purple People Eater”. Or do I need to remind you of the alternatives? The Ran-Dells’ “Martian Hop”? Or “Pump Up the Volume” by M/A/R/R/S? I think not.
But my most serious problem with Lore’s list is how he rated My Favorite Martian. Maybe I’m just a little older than Lore, but Ray Walston WAS MY favorite Martian. Yes, “the plot from Mork & Mindy, and Alf,” but it predated both by decades and if Uncle Martin didn’t look particularly alien (when he kept his antennae down), it was to give “aliens on Earth” comedy a chance to be accepted. If the first sitcom alien had been from Ork or Melmac, the show would never have made it out of Pilot.
And Ray Walston is not just “that guy in that thing”, he was the Freaking Devil in the movie of “Damn Yankees” (back in the old days when we believed the Yankees and the Devil weren’t always in cahoots). And in his last ongoing TV role, he was Judge Henry Bone, the voice of sanity on “Picket Fences”, back in the day when even TV Producer David E. Kelley believed judicial propriety was possible. Still, in that one-hour drama, the decisions of Judge Bone usually set things right, making him kind of a Deus Ex Machina. So, from the Devil to God, by way of Mars, you gotta admire – and remember – Ray Walston.