Sunday, May 1, 2016

Point-Counterpoint: How Would You Fix SAVAGE?

When it comes to fictional terrorist organizations, you've got your Cobras, you've got your Spectres, you've got your V.E.N.O.M.s, and you've got your Syndicates. What do they all have in common? Not a high success rate, true; but you can't deny that each of them has a coherent—if twisted—vision at its core that is put into action in ways that offer a reasonable chance at success.

Then you've got SAVAGE. Led by General Warhawk alongside Sergeant Havoc, Gripper, Nomad, and others, SAVAGE has never even come close to succeeding in any of their operations and, if we're being honest, has never even had one plot that makes the tiniest lick of sense. Sure, the level of competition they're facing is a lot higher than that of their contemporaries. John Rambo is an unstoppable juggernaut of martial competence and down-home, redwhiteandblue-blooded American common sense. But SAVAGE's schemes could be foiled by the Scooby Doo gang.

In this Point-Counterpoint, we will explore the most sensible solutions for bailing out the sinking ship that is SAVAGE and getting things back on track from an organizational perspective.

Ross: Point. There are a lot of problems with SAVAGE, but the most prominent, in my opinion, is that the economics of their schemes make absolutely no sense. Why dig a hole beneath the Washington Monument to threaten to hide it unless your $10 million ransom demand is met? The underground excavation had to have cost at least that much already. The entire project is going to be in the red even if it's successful! Also: Why threaten international landmarks with the goal of raising $50 million to get an International School for Terrorism off the ground? That's not long-term thinking, that's spending on a personal vanity project that's not going to pay any dividends to shareholders for at least four years (if it's a classic university-style institution) or even longer (if they're taking it in more of a post-graduate direction). Examples like these are why I'm going to have to say that the quickest way to clean up this organization is to hire an experienced financial planner. Make a budget and follow it to the decimal.

Dusty: Counterpoint. Agree the schemes make no economic sense but I feel that the fix is more complex than a mere budgeting exercise. SAVAGE needs to invest in some personal development for its employees. Perhaps SAVAGE should spend some money on getting General Warhawk an MBA and he can then focus on financial leadership. Perhaps Gripper, Nomad and the others should at least get associate's degrees. An educated workforce is a more productive workforce! Hell, even some project management certifications would go a long way in SAVAGE. First step for General Warhawk after gaining his MBA: write a mission statement for SAVAGE and stick to it. If the mission is to inject chaos into the world then so be it, but don't go making schemes to collect paltry ransoms if your end goal is pure chaos. Get that mission statement straight, Warhawk, and use it to guide the leadership of your organization.

Ross: Point. Sure, investing in your workforce is important, we can't deny that. But there also have to be consequences for failure. Gripper has bungled everything he's ever touched with his flesh hand and everything he's ever clutched in his claw hand. This is a man who inexplicably tipped over a forklift he was driving when he was just feet away from escaping with printing plates for American currency. At some point, he simply must be put on a Performance Improvement Plan if not outright fired or reassigned to non-mission-critical duties. Yes, a claw hand is a gnarly accoutrement for any evildoer. But this is—or should be—a results-driven endeavor, and while he's got the look, he's just not producing. Is SAVAGE even organized enough from a human resources perspective to make this happen?

Dusty: Counterpoint. You place an employee with a disability on a PIP for failing a task due to his disability and you are signing up for a lawsuit. Let's face facts: Gripper is employed because SAVAGE needs to retain employees with disabilities. Moving on. Perhaps SAVAGE should consider de-centralizing its management and instead of a top down command style place more of the creative plan hatching on the lower level employees. Maybe, just maybe, if the lower-level grunts had more of a hand in the forming of the schemes they would feel a greater sense of ownership and pride therefore be more conscious of their actions and do less bungling. 

Ross: Point. I can see that you're coming at this from a very populist, labor-centric viewpoint, and I respect that.

Dusty: Counterpoint. I just want to know what SAVAGE wants more. Do they want to kill Rambo, make money, rule a country/world, or just cause general chaos? It's not clear and that is very frustrating. If they can just settle on one of the objectives and focus all resources on that I think they will start to see some positive results.

Ross: Point. Couldn't agree more with you there, and I'm going to go one step further and say that until they accomplish it, their sole focus should be the destruction of Rambo. Rambo is the lynchpin of all their failures. Without Rambo in the picture, there's a lot more leeway for absurd schemes and under-qualified employees. 

Dusty: Counterpoint. I can't argue against your logic on the previous point. That's right, the forces behind Point-Counterpoint are in complete agreement on this one. Therefore, General Warhawk should hold an organization-wide town hall meeting to deliver the new mission statement. The SAVAGE mission statement reads: Murder Rambo. That's it. Simple and direct. With focused and relentless pursuit I have no doubt they will wear Rambo down and it won't be long before he makes a mistake, allowing SAVAGE to fulfill the mission.  

Beware, John Rambo, once General Warhawk graduates with his M.B.A., your days are numbered.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

Let's Talk About Rambo: Episode 26: Death Merchant

Rambo, KAT and Turbo are driving the attack jeep, hurtling toward the gates of the Death Merchant's sizable, booby-trap-filled palatial rural estate. This is possibly the best way to open any episode of any TV show, and also the second booby-trap-filled palatial rural estate that the Force of Freedom has stormed in the last three episodes. They soon encounter their first booby trap when the wrought-iron gates to the mansion grounds rotate 90 degrees toward them and fire the spikes off the top of their bars. "Now I know why he's called the Death Merchant!" KAT exclaims, indicating that maybe they were planning to attack this guy for no reason.

The second booby trap, another round of spikes shot from an underground launcher, takes out the attack jeep (NO!), leaving Rambo and company charging the mansion on foot alongside a previously unseen ninja clad entirely in white. This appears to be the inauspicious debut of White Dragon, my most-anticipated new Force of Freedom member.

Check out that robotic sword-delivery system.
He quickly makes his presence felt by joining in on a cooperative team strike to explode the door to the Death Merchant's mansion: Rambo throws a grenade, Turbo launches helmet rockets, KAT shoots her uzis, and White Dragon shoots one single-hand crossbow bolt. Thanks for contributing, White Dragon!

Inside the mansion, the team is soon set upon by some very non-threatening-looking robots.

Seen here in Turbo's helmet vision.
Rambo melts them with a flamethrower, then uses it to heat up the door knobs to an unbearable temperature in the Death Merchant's control room so he can't escape. The Death Merchant turns out to be an old skinny bald guy with glasses and jacket with poofy shoulders like Snow White's dress. Not very threatening.

The Force of Freedom chooses to bring him into custody by riding a commuter train back to civilization.

Everybody act casual!
SAVAGE is on a nearby ledge, Sgt. Havoc leveling a rocket launcher toward the slowly moving train. "Kill the Force of Freedom!" Warhawk exhorts him. "But don't hurt the Death Merchant!" They're sitting right next to each other! General Warhawk has unreasonable expectations. And also—AGAIN—stunningly misplaced priorities. Maybe they could just blow up everyone and find another Death Merchant someday. If you're in charge of SAVAGE, your number-one goal should always be to kill Rambo, full stop. Nuke that train from orbit. Drop one of your many stolen submarines on it. I don't care, just don't handcuff your mildly competent subordinates by asking them to make an impossible rocket launcher shot.

Luckily, Havoc improvises with the classic villain tactic of getting what you want by putting innocents at risk. He uncouples some of the train cars—which inexplicably go hurtling in the other direction on flat ground—allowing him to rescue D.M. while Rambo uses a convenient nearby jetpack to save the commuters.

Rambo and company then track SAVAGE to Egypt, where they wander around town trying to find them by showing civilians posed studio photos of all the bad guys!

Did they get this out of the SAVAGE press kit?
Sure enough, one of the citizens is a secret traitor, and the battle is on. SAVAGE is more dangerous and encumbered than ever, with each team member wearing enormous, bulky backpacks created by the Death Merchant, which give them access to one extra weapon apiece.

In the midst of battle, Rambo unleashes a special move he calls "the old melon trick": opening the back gate of a melon cart, releasing a tidal wave of melons onto the ground that causes his enemies slip and fall.


Friday, March 11, 2016

Let's Talk About Rambo: Episode 25: The Halley Microbe

Rambo and company are hanging out with KAT's brother, David, at a secluded science base on a tiny island in the ocean. They're watching David as he operates the jumbo refrigerator-sized guidance computer that's bringing a probe back to Earth after it's gathered some space dust left in the wake of Halley's Comet (which actually did pass the Earth in February 1986, well within in this show's timeframe).

Little do they know that they're about to be infiltrated by Black Dragon, who's set on cementing his position as SAVAGE's most successful operative. It's a low threshold to surpass. BD's choice of approach? Underwater! Having tied cinder blocks to his feet, he's walking on the ocean floor. 
He's wearing a giant clay pot on his back that's presumably full of air. Upon reaching the island, Black Dragon scales the wall with handheld magnets and makes his entrance through a ceiling vent. In a reversal of traditional ninja tactics, he uses a smoke bomb to herald his arrival, throwing it into the control room and appearing when the smoke dissipates.

Black Dragon then does that classic anime move where you swing your sword once and cause a giant flash of light, then, a few seconds later, the thing you chopped falls apart, cut cleanly in half. His target: the guidance computer. Half of it falls on David and we get a deep close-up of Rambo's bulging muscles as he lifts it, which gives BD enough time to escape. This might be the most effective operation SAVAGE has ever attempted.

The computer being destroyed means that SAVAGE now has guidance control of the Halley probe. To stop them, Rambo and team try to fix the computer by push its two severed halves back together. When this for some reason doesn't work, Rambo lays his trademark knife across the keyboard and the computer springs back to life! 
The squiggly technological energy lines prove it's working.
They've reestablished control, but it's too late: the probe crashes onto a small-town church somewhere in the middle of America, and the race is on to see who can retrieve it first. Meanwhile, in the town, the probe has sprung a leak, releasing the Halley space dust into the air. The microbe in the dust turns all the adults of the village into raging maniacs, which the Force of Freedom is tipped off to by all the Molotov cocktails the townsfolk start throwing at them when they arrive.

Rambo ends up getting chased through a cornfield on a motorcycle. Knowing he can't attack the innocent people, he lures them into a barn, drives his motorcycle up a ladder to the loft, jumps it out a window into a stack of hay bales, and then shuts the door, safely trapping all the people within. Because one of them touched him, he allows himself to be tied up for the trip back to base, knowing that an enraged Rambo would be a threat to the world. "Whatever you do," he tells David and Turbo, "don't untie me."

In the next scene, Rambo and company are walking around the base trying to figure out how the microbe works. 

Rambo then goes off into the woods to look for some kids who ran away from town, leaving an opening for SAVAGE to attack the base and steal the probe. When Rambo turns the tables and invades their base to steal it back, he learns that the reason they were after it was to steal its guidance system so they could more accurately fire their missiles, which seems like a stunning case of misplaced priorities if you ask me.

Rambo proves he's not above biological warfare when he unleashes the microbe upon the SAVAGE forces and steals the probe back during the ensuing chaos. Upon returning to the States, David reveals that the microbe can't affect anyone whose adrenaline is pumping, then demands that those kids from earlier try to hit his inside curveball.


Friday, February 26, 2016

How Popular is Bo Jackson in Japan?

As the most overpowered video game character of all time, you might think that Bo Jackson, the purest distillation of the running back, would have a huge following in Japan, the homeland of video games. Sadly, a recent interview with Tecmo Super Bowl's director, Shinichiro Tomie, revealed that this is not the case.
“Unfortunately, he is not well known in Japan. But he is always someone of high popularity to me!” Tomie said. “When I first saw him play on television, it was quite a big impact. This raised the question, ‘How do I represent that big impact through a game?’ Specifically, how could I show his uniqueness in the game? In the end, we struggled with how to calibrate his max speed. We wanted to show how “unstoppable” he was in the game.
Read more about Bo, the inception of Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl, how hard it is to find people in Japan, and more in the full feature—"The Fathers of Tecmo Super Bowl"—over at!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Let's Talk About Rambo: Episode 24: Mephisto's Magic

No days off this time—we start in media res with Rambo and company flying a biplane through the skies above Philadephia. It seems Col. Trautman got a hot tip that SAVAGE was trying to steal the Liberty Bell, and indeed! The Force of Freedom spots the bell being towed away through the sky by a SAVAGE plane. Rambo does the only logical thing: he jumps onto the bell, shoots the rope, then, while plummeting toward the ground, he attaches an American flag parachute to the bell with suction cups and deploys it, gliding slowly to freedom. Excuse me: to liberty.

The life this man leads!
But this is only the tip of the iceberg! Trautman gets a multi-page, single-spaced letter from General Warhawk claiming that SAVAGE is going to destroy ALL of America's symbols of freedom unless they receive a payoff of $10 million, which feels like a super reasonable ransom amount.

Before the team can do anything to stop this plot, they run into thorny mess of jurisdictional red tape when a U.S. general demands that the Force of Freedom be replaced by military personnel. What is Rambo, I ask you, if not military personnel. Even worse, that cocky-ass bastard refuses to cancel today's magic show at the Washington Monument!

The magician in question is none other than Mephisto,
whose voice is literally identical to Freddie's from Scooby Doo, and
whose Egyptian-themed show is the perfect cover for smuggling the turbaned Nomad into the area. Eh, close enough. For his first trick, Mephisto somehow conjures Rambo and a leopard into a cage together. (Hilariously, the general sees this as Rambo interfering with his orders to stay away.) Shockingly, despite the fact that wrestling jungle cats is one of Rambo's favorite hobbies, he chooses to escape rather than fight the beast. But he's not in time to stop Mephisto from straight-up vanishing the Washington Monument, which I definitely did not think he had in him.

Rambo gives pursuit in the attack jeep, even driving straight through that famous reflecting pond by the monument. When that's not enough, he commandeers a police scooter under the pretense of a "Pentagon Priority!" He promptly drives it straight into the subway (that famous DC subway!) almost gets run down by a train, and then pops out at the exact part of town where Mephisto and Nomad have driven their jeep. Rambo's internal compass and urban tracking abilities are unimpeachable.

Mephisto only has one option left. He drives to the pier, and he and Nomad hop in a barrel, which has a false bottom and is sitting over a trap door on the dock, underneath which they get into a speedboat and drive away. Couldn't have just left the speedboat by the side of the dock, mmmmmmnope.

But it was worth it to fool this corncob pipe bystander!
It all leads up to a one-man assault on a freighter, which I swear to god Rambo ends up doing at least once or twice a week. But in another twist of fate, Mephisto swaps the Washington Monument in the ship's hold(!) for a bunch of dirt, leading that U.S. general to call for the Force of Freedom's disbandment.

Trautman buys the team one more day by waiting until his secretary has gone home for the day to try to file the paperwork, and then clumsily putting the order into his paper shredder instead of his fax machine because he's extremely unused to having to handle routine office tasks by himself. Perfect deniability.

It all comes to a head at Mephisto's palatial 20-acre estate in Virginia, which is described at times as a fun house, a haunted house, and a magical mansion. Its booby traps include:

  • Machine gun-wielding skeletons that pop out of coffins
  • A trap door that turns into a massive wooden slide populated by ventriloquist dummies created in the visages of famous SAVAGE members that throw huge knives at whoever's on the slide
Sleep when you're dead
Sadly, Rambo busts into Mephisto's computerized control room and captures him before we get to see any more of his frankly outstanding home, then reveals that he didn't even steal the Washington Monument after all—he just somehow built another goddamn trap door underneath it, hiding it from view.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Murder She Wrote Recaps: S2E21: The Perfect Foil

Jessica, while searching for her distant cousin Cal (played by an actor named Peter Bonerz), finds herself in the midst of a raucous Mardi Gras party in New Orleans. Using her finely tuned senses, she's able to determine the identity of every costumed party-goer, which comes in handy when one of them murders notorious gambler Johnny Blaze with a sabre.