29 December 2009

Tuesday Gridiron: Game over, dude

How bad was the Minnesota Viking defense last night?  The 36 points it conceded last night wouldn't be so embarrassing if the Chicago Bears offense hadn't scored them.  Yes, those Chicago Bears.

If the Vikings couldn't stop the Bears last night, then what offense could they stop?  Get 11 fluffy kittens like these two, hand them a playbook, and you'd have an idea.  If nine of them were declawed, last night's Minnesota defense might even keep them out of the end zone.

And that's why Team Venture lost its final game of the season.  Needing only an average performance from the Minnesota defense against the NFL's weakest offense, we got last night's travesty instead.  Final score:  WRs Aren't Our Forte 85, Team Venture 72.

I spent all year with no top-flight receiver no top-shelf tight end and no great running back.  I finished the year with only four of my original 14 draft choices.  Under those circumstances, I should've probably finished 4-9 and out of the playoffs.  But Tom Brady and Brett Favre held up their end, one after the other, midseason pickups Danny Amendola and Justin Forsett kicked ass, Nate Kaeding kept kicking the ball through the uprights, and the Minnesota defense dominated for most of the year.  That core, and more than a bit of luck, got me into the playoffs.  All thing's considered, I'd call 7-9 a solid, positive accomplishment.

Now if only I could get a legitimate WR1... .

22 December 2009

Tuesday Gridiron (14/2009)

See these two clowns?  On the left, Jay Culter is doing as much for the Chicago Bears as he's done since late September.  As of this typing, his interception count for the season has drifted past the 25 mark.  The guy on the right, Bears coach Lovie Smith, has lately become better known for botching replay challenges than more trivial matters such as, I don't know, coaching.

Pick either man, and you'll have an idea of how badly my fantasy-football week went.  Here's the correct way to look at the final score for last week's consolation semifinal:
  • Team Venture starters:  1 touchdown, 58.61 points
  • Team Venture reserves:  8 touchdowns, 72.94 points
It gets worse:
  • The only starter who scored was Danny Amendola, the one nominal wide receiver who isn't supposed to score.  (He's in for his return yardage.)
  • My actual score included San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding and the fading Minnesota defense.  The bench's score didn't, because neither Kaeding nor the Viking defense had backups.  (Kaeding doesn't need a backup, but the Vikings sure do.)
The phrase you may be looking for is "career low."  It's hard to worry about beating the guy running the other team (101 points) when you've just gotten your ass kicked by your own bench.  I literally could not dump my two worst starters -- Bears tight end Greg Olsen (23 total yards in the last 3 weeks) and Houston RB Arlan Foster (0 points) -- quickly enough.  Yahoo! made me wait until Monday morning.

Actually, things could be worse.  In next week's seventh-place game, my opponent is WRs Aren't Our Forte.  That team started the playoffs seeded first, but now it's trying to avoid the playoff cellar.  That must really suck, because I'm unlikely to ever have a week this bad again.

At 7-8, my big decisions rest on the question of just how low Cutler, Smith and the rest of the Bears have sunken.  Specifically, I have to decide whether the Bears could provide a tonic for a Viking squad that's been struggling.  If so, then Brett Favre and the Viking defense keep their starting spots.  If not, Vince Young (at San Diego) and the Cleveland defense (at Oakland) might be better choices to start.

The Victory Weighted standings this week give virtually the same playoff results as the official NFL version.  The only difference involves officially eliminated Atlanta.  Their Strength of 29 leaves them within a game and a half of sixth-seeded Dallas (Strength 35), and so still in contention.  Even under Victory Weighting, the Falcons would need "help" from the Cowboys and the Giants.

21 December 2009

The Ghost-Grey Cat Presents: (4) Pull!

You are standing in the doorway of the diabolic, the dangerous, the deadly.  -- Host E.G. Marshall

One of the goofier reactions to Nazi Germany is to imagine that Adolf Hitler somehow survived the fall of Berlin.  According to the cliché, he either hid for the rest of his life, waited to be recreated via genetics, or had his soul hidden somewhere.  In the 1970s, it provided the basis for both campy radio shows (such as one of the subjects of this post) and more serious science-fiction movies.  It survives to this day, having most recently appeared in a Venture Bros. episode several weeks ago.

In that Venture Bros. episode, the characters recognize the convention.  Doc Venture mocks the uniformed Nazis who've ordered him to build a new body for Hitler.  Hank claims that his video-game expertise qualifies him to fight them for real.  When I watched that happen, it occurred to me to take another look at one of the campiest episodes ever run on the CBS Radio Mystery Theater, one that assumed that Hitler still lived in 1975.

My research for that proposed post turned up another interesting fact.  With 1399 episodes under its purview, it shouldn't be surprising that CBS Radio Mystery Theater had a few pairs of episodes that are almost exactly alike.  The most obvious example is 1976's "Afterward" (Episode 441) and 1979's "The Man in the Black Cap" (1010), which both descended from the same Edith Wharton story.  And some pairs are even worse than that.

The best such pair of such episodes aired just two months apart in 1975.  The first one, "The Rise and Fall of the Fourth Reich," is the one that I had planned on reviewing alone.  As it turns out, however, its plot follows the same outline as "Goodbye, Carl Erich."  Both stories carry the same three elements:
  1. The broken man:  Act 1 introduces us to a German man who, whether through childhood abuse or decades of self-neglect,  has withered into a barely functioning person.
  2. The rescuers:  For whatever reasons, two other Germans come to their broken countryman's aid.  Whether their role in his recovery is direct or not, the result is the same.  Over the course of Act 2, the broken man begins to heal in spirit and/or body.  He becomes not merely competent but also powerful in his own right.
  3. The betrayal:  Just as the newly empowered man is about to lavishly reward his benefactors, they utter a secret about themselves.  In minutes -- not incidentally, the last ones of Act 3 -- their revelation undoes all their progress.
In short, the victim's life takes a trajectory like a clay pigeon, one that's launched into the air then shot just as it reaches its maximum height.   Pull!

Episode 275:  The Rise and Fall of the Fourth Reich
First aired:  16 May 1975
Author:  Henry Slesar

Play the teaser
But I thought you were a good German, a loyal German. -- Adolf Hitler
In "Rise and Fall," the Hitler-still-lives meme combines with weird science to produce CBS Radio Mystery Theater's second campiest episode.  (1974's "The Breaking Point," which revolves around a surgically enhanced chimp, may be the campiest episode ever.)
  • The broken man:  Adolf Hitler lives, all right -- in squalor.  His flight from the fires of 1945 Berlin went on and on, ending in México, D.F.*, only because he ran out of energy and hope.  As voiced by Robert Dryden, languishes in the Mexican capital's worst slum, exhausted, virtually blind, and at the edge of senility.  He has forgotten his past so completely that he now calls himself Marcos.
  • The rescuers:  Aside from his impoverished landlady, the only people who care about him anymore apparently work for East Germany's infamous Stasi.  One of its agents (Paul Hecht), representing himself only as "Günther," has found Hitler, and now plans to restore him.  Dr. Bundeschaf (Joe Silver), a one-time Nazi scientist, joins Günther in Mexico.  Having perfected a rejuvenation serum on apes during World War II, Bundeschaf applies his expertise to Hitler himself.  Within ten days, "Marcos" begins to benefit from Bundeschaf's work: he realizes that he is really Adolf Hitler.
  • The betrayal:  When a jubilant Hitler tries to give Günther his own Iron Cross, he discovers the truth about his rescuers.  Günther reveals that he is a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust.  Bundeschaf's past provides no comfort, as can be heard in the clip below.  Günther stabs Hitler, Bundeschaf allows him to bleed to death, and Hitler can only ask about the point of all this.  Here is the end of Act 3, including RMT host E.G. Marshal's remarks:
    Episode 275's last 106 seconds

"And so, Adolf Hitler dies," declares Marshall at the final curtain.  As a twist, it wasn't worthy of The Twilight Zone (whose music you hear at the end), the later Outer Limits or even a M. Night Shyamalan movie.

It was too good for any of those.

As a kid hearing that for the first time, I shouted in joy, pumped my fist triumphantly in the air and even made woofing noises.  I wouldn't do that again until a decade later, when the Chicago Bears made their legendary Super Bowl run.  The thought of Hitler suffering a punishment that even remotely fit his crime brought joy my heart.  It fell to my parents to explain that maybe I shouldn't celebrate anyone's death that much.

Grade:  96/100.  If it weren't so intentionally campy, it would get a much lower grade.  As camp, though, it beautifully executed.

A few final notes:
  • The episode does feature some of the worst Spanish ever spoken on English-language radio.  Yo, Henry Slesar, it isn't el este muerto.  "He this dead?"  Really?  The proper sentence is el está muerto.  Even in 1975, writer Slesar should have known better.
  • Just how did Hilter manage to keep his Iron Cross?  Shouldn't he have lost it after 30 years on the run?
  • Bundeschaf is German for "national sheep," or, more exactly, "federal sheep."  Ooooooo-kay.
  • Although neither East Germany nor the Stasi are mentioned in the script, Günther's nationality and occupation can easily be inferred from the background he sketches of himself.  He might be a West German counterspy, but why would he then hide this operation?

    Episode 309:  Goodbye, Carl Erich
    First aired:  16 July 1975
    Author:  Sam Dann
    Play an excerpt

    What's so funny about a human being in distress? -- Karl-Erich Müller**
    In tone and genre, "Goodbye, Carl Erich" could not be any more different from "The Rise and Fall of the Fourth Reich."  The genre shifts from pulp-fiction to straight drama; the setting, from post-Nixon México, D.F, to Weimar-era Hamburg; the twist, from the triumphant to the tragic.
    • The broken man:  When 7-year-old Karl-Erich Müller (Hecht, in a completely different role) lost his father in World War I, he withdrew so completely that he lost the ability to even speak.  He has reached adulthood with a strapping body but a feeble mind.  Desperate for some way to help him, his impoverished mother (Bryna Raeburn) pesters our protagonist until he finally agrees to visit him at his home in late January, 1928.
    • The rescuer:  Psychologist Heinrich Stammler (Kevin McCarthy) doesn't begin treating Karl-Erich until Act 2 begins.  15 weeks later, in a poignant moment featured in the Except above, Karl-Erich manages to order a loaf of bread on his own.  By February 1929, Karl-Erich has gained independence.  By 1931 (and deep into Act 3), he has gone much further, having risen high into the ranks of the ascendant Nazi party, and won the heart of one of Germany's most popular actresses.  All along, Karl-Erich keeps reporting his progress to Stammler, whose otherwise rightful pride blinds him to the Nazi threat.
    • The betrayal:  This one isn't as intentional as the one in "Rise and Fall," but it's almost as twisty.  When Stammler announces his intention to emigrate to America, Karl-Erich tries to bribe him into staying.  Stammler responds by telling him that he has "committed a crime:" he was born a Jew.  He leaves his protégé sitting on a chair, shocked back into perpetual silence.  Stammler has given, he's taken away, and when the final curtain falls, he's gone off to the safety of America.
    Karl-Erich may have taken a bad path once he won his independence, but I keep wondering why Stammler waited until the end to tell Karl-Erich about himself.  Did he have such little faith in Karl-Erich's stability, or his ability to accept the truth?  Maybe writer Dann -- by far the most prolific scribe of RMT episodes -- addressed that issue when he expanded "Goodbye, Carl Erich" into a full-length novel.

    Grade:  94/100.  Dann isn't my favorite RMT writer, but this one works pretty well.
      * D.F. = Distrito Federal, or Federal District.  México, D.F., is the local name for Mexico City.
      ** I'm assuming that writer Dann has Americanized Karl-Erich's name.  Could a German speaker please straighten me out?

      16 December 2009

      Tuesday Gridiron: A Very Special Wednesday Edition

      Another week, another fantasy-football game where every player on both teams struggle but two or three.  I made it into the playoffs partly because two of those exceptions were always some combination of Brett Favre, Justin Forsett and the Minnesota defense.  This week, they were running backs Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles.  Unfortunately, those two men were playing for the other team.

      Desperate for the two or three touchdowns that would've saved me, I sat reliable return man Danny Amendola (223 return yards) in favor of Dallas wideout Roy Williams.  It was a gamble, as lately, Williams has had almost as many touchdowns as receiving yards.  Williams didn't score, so Team Venture ended up on the low end of an 86-65 grinder.  The six-game winning streak that saw me this far is by the boards, and I'm now 7-7.

      The first round confirmed what the league had suspected:  my division was the weaker one, sending only three teams into the playoffs.  My division mates also fell, by worse margins than mine, so it's on to the consolation bracket for all three of us.  Those teams meet in one game, while I draw a rematch with Anything But Last, whom I beat 69-43 in early November.  Both of have improved since then, so it's a tossup.

      The Victory Weighted NFL standings at the bottom of this page show a couple of deviations from the official NFL playoff race:
      1. In the VW system, New Orleans has clinched its division title, and Arizona's loss at San Francisco secured the Saints' first-round bye.  The Saints haven't quite secured home-field advantage, because their overtime win at Washington cost them a Strength point.
      2. Victory Weighting sends the Jets through to the #6 seed ahead of the Jaguars.  Both New York and Jacksonville own 7-6 records, as do Baltimore and Miami.  As the only team with a Strength as high as 29, the Jets advance without a tiebreaker.

      08 December 2009

      Tuesday football (13/2009)

      The FIFA World Cup isn't gridiron, but it is football, so I've changed the title for this week. Last Friday saw the draw for South Africa 2010, so I'll briefly comment on the three finalists I follow most closely.

      Don't cry for me, Argentina Brazil: The Seleçao ended up in the latest version of the Group of Death. They're in Group G with Portugal, Cote d'Ivoire and North Korea. Portugal has to be ticked after needing a playoff to make the field. Korea DPR probably isn't much good, but that was also true in 1966, when it beat Italy and nearly eliminated Portugal. Save your pity for Ivory Coast, which also fell into one of the two 2006 Groups of Death.

      Group of Cake: The other 2006 Group of Death included the United States, which promptly fell flat, managing only a bloody draw with Italy. This time, the Stars and Stripes could have hardly wished for an easier group. There's no telling how well Algeria and Slovenia will perform, as neither side has met any of its Group C opponents. That's about the only excuse either the US or England can offer for not advancing, though.

      ¿Viva Aguirre?  When Mexico brought back coach Javier Aguirre to revive its flagging qualifying campaign, I thought it was a gimmick.  Surely the Tricolores would be stuck at home, and Mexican fans would spend South Africa 2010 complaining about this latest Yankee imperialist plot.

      It was close, but El Tri rallied its way into the field of 32.  Like their northern neighbors, the Mexicans are struggling.  If they weren't playing the opener against South Africa itself, I'd fancy their chances of getting through easily.  As it is, France should be a light favorite to advance, with Uruguay completing a competitive group A.

      Speaking of advancing to the next round:  In fantasy football, the object is to make fewer mistakes than your opponent.  Failing that, winning requires that your mistakes be less serious than his/hers.  For the second time in as many weeks, I faced an opponent who left his quarterback spot open.

      This time, it mattered.

      Wooden Shoes kept injured Matt Ryan in despite the facts that (a) the Falcons had declared him out all week and (b) he had two solid backups.  With Anquan Boldin, Maurice Jones-Drew and Cedric Benson, I'm sure he felt he didn't need a quarterback.

      That Bill Belichick-like mistake cost Wooden Shoes his postseason.  I spent Sunday watching helplessly as first LeSean McCoy, then Greg Olson, then Brett Favre, then (finally) the Minnesota defense all crapped out.  Meanwhile, Boldin went for 98 receiving yards and two touchdowns.  Had he filled his QB spot, Wooden Shoes would have advanced, while at 6-7, my season point total would have been too low to qualify.

      As it was, I led all day, though the Vikings' blunders reduced my lead to just 1.18 points at the two-minute warning.  Favre's last-minute touchdown drive didn't help the Vikings, but it did secure me a 70.1-60.7 win, a playoff spot and a final regular-season record of 7-6.  As for the Shoes, they're done, with too many losses and not enough points.

      Are you listening, Smoking Popes, my quarterfinal foe?  Make sure you actually start a quarterback, because you're going to need one.  Actually, I'm not worried about this guy.  He showed good judgment last July when he married my niece; and not surprisingly, he's been the best decision maker in the league.  I'm going to have to match that just to stay with him.

      07 December 2009

      I have scorched the snake: A Venture Bros. Review

      Now I'm all out of dreams.  -- Action Johnny

      It's back to the mundane as The Venture Bros. returns its focus to Rusty himself.  "Self-Medication" doesn't question the idea of the boy adventurer.  With help from first-time guest stars John Hodgman, Seth Green and Patton Oswalt, it positively trashes the notion, and embraces the implications.  A parallel story-line centers on Sgt. Hatred's struggle; and for once, I didn't mind. 

      Rusty Venture didn't really want the therapy session he has to attend.  In a flashback, we see 12-year-old Rusty in therapy, complaining about his treatment by his father... to his father.  Of course, that turned Rusty off to the idea of therapy.  But when a new Guild regulation lets Rusty stop The Monarch's latest attack on him, he goes happily.

      Joining Rusty at the group-therapy session are other one-time boy adventurers:
      • Drug-addled Action Johnny (reprised by Brendon Small's voice) is attending on a court order.  Although Rusty is often compared to the 1960s cartoon adventurer Jonny Quest, it's Action Johnny who's the explicit analog.
      • An earlier version of Wonderboy (voiced by Oswalt) is fighting a losing battle with bulimia.
      • Cute lil' ol' Ro-Boy (series regular Christopher McCulloch) plays on Osamu Tezuka's classic Astro Boy, who just had an American-made movie released.  Ro-Boy has lost control over his obsession with giant robots.
      • Last, but not least, are boy detectives Dale and Lance Hale (Hodgman and Green).  The Hales, puns on the Hardy Boys, are still dealing with the only case they failed to solve: their own father's murder.  Umm, there's a reason they haven't solved that case.
      Whatever benefits this group-therapy session might have had vanish when the unnamed psychiatrist running it falls victim to a snake bite.  Soon enough, these patients find themselves in the middle of a new adventure, complete with a barroom brawl, a visit to retired villain Dr. Z, and (in between) hilarious "sound" effects like Groin! and Cower!  Although the adventurers don't solve the crime, but the episode's coda does reveal the culprits to us.

      Meanwhile, a trip to the cinema turns catastrophic for Sgt. Hatred.  Well-meaning Dean convinces him to watch the last movie he should ever want to.  Unfortunately, Hatred's OSI-prescribed medication has run out, and so is his hope, period.  It's Dean who has to clean up the mess, and with Henchman 21's help, he executes a brilliant plan just to get Hatred through the day.

      The main line is full of gags, the best of which involve the Hales.  They're revealed to resemble the Hardy Boys far less than the Menendez boys of true-crime fame.  Ro-Boy reminds us of the dangers of taking children's-show heroes too seriously, and writer Jackson Publick appears to be making fun of himself with some of the Ro-Boy jokes.  Action Johnny is his own goofy self, while the older Wonderboy is intentionally pathetic.  A step back and a few days worth of reflection told me that, funny as these men are, they're also just plain sad.

      Which brings me to Sgt. Hatred.  I can imagine that some viewers were laughing at his scenes, but once again, I wasn't among them.  If the end of "The Revenge Society" didn't make Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer's point clear, Hatred's plight here does:  His pedophilia isn't supposed to be funny. 
      I was, for once, rooting for Sgt. Hatred.  That's a lot of progress from the beginning of the season.  Here's hoping the writers let him actually find the road to redemption.

      And how about Dean?  For the first time in perhaps the entire series, he gets the chance to be the hero.  I'll expect him to fail again in some future episode, but for once, a Venture scores an unqualified success.

      Score:  96/100.  Hooray, Dean!

      03 December 2009

      Swear not by the coffee mug: A Venture Bros. Review

      I already know that you used to be a pedestrian. -- Hank, to Sgt. Hatred

      A single, short sentence can describe "The Revenge Society": Two powerful Venture Bros. antagonists meet in a spectacular rematch. This episode has enough jokes and pop-culture references to stand on its own, but following the plot really requires background knowledge from past seasons. The two enemies, Phantom Limb and the Guild of Calamitous Intent, figure prominently in Seasons 2 and 3. (Viewers who haven't seen either the Guild or Phantom Limb should pause and click here, where I've delineated their intertwining histories.)

      The years since his failed attempt to control the Guild have been unkind to Phantom Limb. Haggard, underweight and perhaps insane, the Limb has renamed himself Revenge. More to the point, he's lauched another attack against the Guild, kidnapping two members of its Council of 13. With Red Mantle and Dragoon under his control, Revenge and his "Society" -- Chuck the toaster, Lady Nightshade the single high-heeled pump, and Wisdom the coffee mug -- go after the Orb.

      The Orb, you'll recall, is a softball-sized doomsday device that the Guild and the OSI built decades ago, when they were still a single organization. Since late in Season 3, its has sat quietly in Rusty Venture's personal safe. Alerted to Phantom Limb's intentions, the Guild sends entire military units to the Venture compound, ostensibly to protect the Orb.

      For the first time, the Guild has directly attacked Rusty Venture.

      In the end, of course, Phantom Limb reaches the compound, gets possession of the Orb and tries to use it. It fails, of course; and anyway, the Guild is ready for Phantom Limb's move.

      That's pretty much the plot. Fortunately, "The Revenge Society" relies more on its complications to work.
      • Our beleaguered friend Billy Quizboy returns, this time forced to do Phantom Limb's bidding. After surgically turning Red Mantle and Dragoon into a two-headed man, Billy spends most of his time in a sack, helplessly hoping for his release.
      • Red Mantle and Dragoon don't take the surgery well, constantly bickering even though they have to share the same body. Their inevitable pun takes us to the closing credits.
      Red Mantle: Two heads are better than one.
      Dragoon: What does that have to do with anything?
      Red Mantle: Nothing. I've been wanting to say that all day. I got sick of waiting for an opportunity.
      • Sgt. Hatred tries to build his relationship with the Venture Boys, with middling success. Dean has become his Alcoholics Anonymous-type "sponsor" in his struggle to overcome his pedophilia. Meanwhile, Hank slowly gains respect for Hatred as the two of them eventually lead the compound's (ahem) defense against the Guild attack.
      • The Sovereign, leader of the Guild, turns out to actually be David Bowie. As a hilarious conversation with his lead henchmen, Watch and Ward, reveals, Bowie's secret identity is well known within the Guild. To defeat Phantom Limb, the Sovereign uses Rusty and Dean Venture in a ruse that might contain a bit of truth (as well as background music from Richard Wagner).
      • Watch and Ward, ever the Guild's amusing analogues to the Monarch's 21 and 24, contribute their usual wit.

      There's a nasty note in the coda. I was initially angered to see Billy waking up in Sgt. Hatred's bed. It looks as though something very bad has happened to him. On the other hand, "The Revenge Society" exposed an implicit scene from last season's "ORB" -- the apparent murder of Rusty's great-grandfather by his bodyguard --as a lie. Billy may yet prove to be wrong. Either way, the coda should serve as a clear signal that Sgt. Hatred's pedophilia isn't a joke anymore -- if it ever was.

      Score: 93/100. It's nice to see old friends, and old enemies, too.

      02 December 2009

      Paging Drs. Bowie and Fantomas: A Venture Bros. Note

      New VB review schedule (now in glorious Scootervision™):  I was supposed to post a review of "The Revenge Society" a week ago Monday, but a surprisingly busy Thanksgiving week delayed that.  Fortunately, Adult Swim used the holiday weekend to again re-air the Season 4 opener, "Blood of the Father, Heart of Steel."  The extra time has let me comfortably reschedule the remaining reviews for the first half of the season:
      • Thursday, 3 December: "The Revenge Society" (first aired 15 November)
      • Monday, 7 December: "Self-Medication" (first aired 22 November)
      • Monday, 14 December: "The Better Man" (first airs this Sunday)
      • Wednesday, 16 December:  "Pinstripes and Poltergeists" (first airs next Sunday)
      • Wednesday, 23 December:  Season 4 Halftime Roundup
      The other excuse I have for being late in reviewing "The Revenge Society" actually has some validity. The episode plays well enough on its own, but a working knowledge of both Phantom Limb the Guild of Calamitous Intent would help. Providing that, however, was dominating the review I was trying to write. It finally occurred to me that explaining Phantom Limb and the Guild, and how they've functioned in the series, deserves its own post.

      In the world of The Venture Bros., supervillains belong to agencies that provide arch-enemies to would-be superheroes. Each member receives an arch-enemy, whose defeat becomes the member's top priority. The most powerful such agency is the Guild of Calamitous Intent, which, besides heavily regulating its member villains' behavior, exercises considerable influence on the outside world. In exchange for following Guild rules, members can receive generous benefits, up to and including opulent housing in tony suburbs. Repeated violation of Guild rules, however, can get members jailed, killed or even worse.

      So, we discovered near the end of Season 1, does crossing Phantom Limb. The Limb first appears in "Trial of the Monarch" as one of the Guild's highest ranking members. The trial itself, which ends in The Monarch's conviction, turns out to be a ruse that Phantom Limb engineered. The Limb's real target was Tiny Attorney, who committed a yet-unspecified wrong against the Guild.

      By then, Phantom Limb had stolen Dr. Girlfriend's affections away from the Monarch. The Monarch's disastrous efforts to win Girlfriend back provided Phantom Limb the inspiration for his scheme and, not incidentally, a patsy. With The Monarch in jail, Phantom Limb could have Dr. Girlfriend, now reverted to an older identity as Queen Aetheria, all to himself.

      Imprisonment doesn't stop The Monarch's love for Dr. Girlfriend, which drives the story arc that underlies Season 2. "Hate Floats" chronicles another failed attempt to get Girlfriend. It isn't until "Victor. Echo. November." -- when a negotiation among Phantom Limb, The Monarch and the Guild backfires -- that Dr. Girlfriend even considers returning to The Monarch. By the time the hour-long "Showdown at Cremation Creek" starts, though, the two of them are having an affair. Eventually, they decide to marry, with the Guild's approval. As Part I of the Season 2 finale progresses, however, it's clear that Phantom Limb doesn't approve.

      Enter the Guild. For real.

      However genuine his feelings for Aetheria/Dr. Girlfriend were, Part II of "Showdown" exposes them as yet another cover for Phantom Limb's true intentions. It turns out that what he really wanted was control of the Guild itself -- and the death of its Sovereign, who appears to be David Bowie. The ensuing battle, in which Brock and the Ventures play decisive roles as neutrals, ends with Phantom Limb defeated, and possibly dead.

      If Season 2 centered on The Monarch's attempt to win Dr. Girlfriend back, Season 3 revolves partly around his quest to win Rusty Venture back as an arch-enemy. In the season opener, "Shadowman 9: In the Cradle of Destiny,", the Guild validates his marriage to Dr. Girlfriend, but at a cost: The Monarch must leave Dr. Venture alone, and find a new hero to "arch." Episode by episode, plot by plot, The Monarch eventually convinces the Guild to finally reassign him to Dr. Venture.

      Phantom Limb, who proves to have unintentionally introduced the eventual newlyweds, is revealed to have survived the battle, but appears in only one other Season 3 episode. "The Invisible Hand of Fate" explains both how he gained his powers and how Brock Sampson became the Ventures' bodyguard.

      To this point, and well into Season 4, the Guild has never targeted the Ventures directly. When the Guild has become the Ventures' concern, it's been a side effect: some conflict with either The Monarch or Phantom Limb caught the Ventures in the crossfire.

      Brock Sampson, however, is another matter. His connections to the Guild and its rival, the OSI, form the other axis around which Season 3 revolves. In "ORB," the Guild and the OSI (Brock's employer all along) are revealed to have once been the same world-spanning secret society. Over centuries, this society's members, who included the world's most brilliant minds, built an Orb, a softball-sized device capable of destroying the world. When the society split up over the Orb in the late 19th Century, ancestors of Rusty Venture and Phantom Limb ended up on opposite sides. One faction became the OSI; the other, the Guild.

      That's the last time we saw either the Guild or Phantom Limb, until now. Both of them return, along with the Orb (now in Rusty's indifferent hands), in "The Revenge Society."

      01 December 2009

      Tuesday Gridiron (12/2009)

      For months, if not years, college football fans saw two things marching down the nearest downtown street.  Yesterday, that parade of failing head-coaching regimes finally ended.

      Notre Dame dismissed Charlie Weis after his team finished 6-6.  Weis's fate was probably sealed the moment the Irish lost at home to Connecticut, but even a 9-3 mark might not have saved him.  In any event, Notre Dame is now tripping over itself as it looks for a new coach.

      Only hours after Weis's dismissal, Florida State allowed Bobby Bowden to retire gracefully.  Like the Irish, the Seminoles finished the regular season at 6-6.  Unlike Notre Dame, FSU had anticipated the 80-year-old Bowden's departure for so long that it had time to plan for his replacement.  As a result, Jimbo Fisher will be able to take the reigns once Bowden coaches his last game, probably late this month.

      Which team will recover faster?  Sports columnists think it's Florida State, because the weather is warmer and the girls are prettier.  (In another hour, I could probably grab audio of Colin Cowherd saying almost exactly that.)  By that logic, Boise State, Penn State and Ohio State should all struggle to 5-7, while Texas A&M and UCLA march towards the BCS championship.  Give me a break.

      Notre Dame's fans have already proven themselves to be cool and patient customers, especially in their handling of Weis's troubles.  Yes, they've complained, loudly, but they haven't actively interfered with the program.  That Dan Snyder-esque activity happened at Texas in the 1980s, Alabama a decade ago, and Michigan last year -- all with disastrous results.  If it hasn't happened at Notre Dame by now, it may never happen.  The Fighting Irish may not return to prominence with their next coach, but they will return while most of us are still alive.

      Florida State?  Dunno.  Whatever happens to the Seminoles on the gridiron, we will all find out more about their fan base than anyone wanted to know.

      Over on the fantasy side, Team Venture was good and lucky this week, but mostly good.  Brett Favre, the Viking defense, Nate Kaeding and my three running backs -- starters Justin Forsett and LeSean McCoy, and reserve Chester Taylor -- all posted double-digit scores.  With those kinds of numbers, it didn't matter which three of my seven receivers I started.  I could have sat all of them out, along with my tight end, and still won by at least 20 points.  The lineup I actually used won by 77 -- and it could have been 90.

      At 6-6, I am currently the projected 7 seed, but it's going to be a scramble to make the playoffs.  If I win, I'm in, but my opponent will have Maurice Jones-Drew, Reggie Wayne, Anquan Boldin, Carson Palmer and Cedric Benson (the last two play Detroit).  Here's hoping Matt Leinart starts for Arizona again.