Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween, Phantom Stranger

Picture the scene: having just returned from the very depths of the dimensional abyss after weeks of unpleasantness, ugliness and passive-aggressive bitching from a certain golden helmet who will remain nameless, up to his eyeballs in debt to some kind of Native American Mafioso from beyond time and space, your humble narrator decides to sit down with a couple of beers and relax for once in his goddamned life. Little does he realise that the Phantom Stranger is about to come crashing through his brand-new window and get glass all over his rug. For no reason.

It's unbelievable. I've barely sat down and suddenly this caped bastard with terrible shoes hurls himself into my living room. Does he apologise? Does he my ass. He just rolls around on the carpet in front of me like some sort of flapping fish, shouting "I'm appearing from nowhere! From nowhere!" over and over again, and then says that if I don't tell everyone that he appeared from nowhere in a puff of phantasmic smoke then I'm really gay. Just as I'm explaining the fine points of suing a guy for smashing a window while claiming that he's coming out of nowhere in a puff of smoke, he starts staring off into the middle distance - he just keeps looking away at one of the sofa cushions until I tail off - and then he turns around and starts bellowing at me in this big, deep, booming voice.

"Your bizarre story reminds me of a strange tale that happened to me ten years ago. I call it... The Window That Was Not Broken!"

Then he goes off on this huge tangent about when he appeared out of a puff of smoke to talk to this billionaire occult antiques dealer who had a magic window that kept breaking and then magically repairing itself, expect it turned out to be the work of a sinister double glazing salesman who was his half-brother who wanted to claim a million dollars by saying the window was haunted or some ridiculous crap like that, and this story went on for two and a half hours. I went to go fix myself a microwave meal halfway through. Anyway, at the end, he's all like "That window magically repaired itself... perhaps this window will as well... for I am the Phantom Stranger!"

I know who you are, dingus. You're the asshat who broke my window in frigging October at the dead of night and now expects the bits of it to magically reform themselves. You gigantic bitch.

Anyway. I'm about to ring the police when somebody kicks my door down. As if the smashed window wasn't enough. And who should it be but Dr Terry Thirteen, who I'd hoped was finally dead after he'd allegedly spontaneously combusted in some kind of snottiness-related accident, but who had evidently punched his way out of the afterlife while claiming that the entire vale of Heaven was just a mass hallucination or a mirage because that's how he rolls.

Terry being Terry, he doesn't once apologise for smashing my new lock to pieces and causing another couple of hundred bucks' worth of damage. No, he starts in on the Phantom Stranger as usual. "Pah! You might be able to fool Dibny with your phony 'magic', Phantom Stranger, but you can't fool me! That window was already broken - and you only appeared to smash it by projecting a movie camera onto a sheet! The rest was merely our minds filling in the blanks, in the same way that a primitive caveman would believe lightning was crafted by Zeus or that a deer nailed to a log was in fact the risen Lord Jesus! But I've devoted my life to the twin goals of foiling superstition everywhere and looking exactly like Rip Kirby and so I have no option but to expose your scheme!"

The Phantom Stranger isn't going to take this kind of crap lying down, mostly because he's a world-class prick. "Mortal man," he intones patronisingly, "once again you attempt to use your pathetic 'science' to deal with that which you do not understand. I appeared from thin air in a puff of eerie smoke, and as you can see, Ralph Dibny is at this very instant going all goggle-eyed and saying 'Why, he appeared just like a g-g-ghost!'... Ralph? Ralph! What are you doing with that whisky? Get out here and say I appeared just like a g-g-ghost. Or you're gay."

Terry chuckled dryly, as though he were about to open up a secret panel in the wall of my apartment and reveal a tape recorder that had been cunningly set to make spooky noises. "Ha ha ha, you blind fool. Why, this reminds me of something that happened to me in darkest Haiti, where a voodoo Bocor thought that he'd smashed a window kicking a football, but it was all a scheme by an unscrupulous glazier... a story I like to call... It Was All A Scheme By An Unscrupulous Glazier."

At that point I decided to cut my losses and head out to the nearest bar to enjoy a couple of beers in peace. When I got back, Terry's appalling story was still going on - he'd just got to the bit where he explained to his wife for the seventeenth time that all his ancestors had been famous debunkers of the supernatural, apart from all the ones who were burned at the stake for being incredibly supernatural - and it looked likely to keep going all night. Why these two assholes think that the way you solve a mystery is to tell a long rambling story about how great you are, I have no idea. The way to solve a mystery, geniuses, is to elongate your body to tremendous lengths as any student of the form could tell you.

I must have dozed off in my chair, because the next thing I remember the story was over and Thirteen was moving right along to the next part of his modus operandi - the punching. He'd grabbed the Phantom Stranger's hat off his head and was waving it around, screaming "This isn't even a real hat, you phony! You've cunningly projected the image of a hat onto the empty air using a sophisticated movie camera! I'll expose you if it's the last thing I do!" And then he hurls the hat on the ground and starts leaping up and down on it, which kind of disproved his movie-camera theory because the thing flattened like a pancake. Anyway, that's when the Phantom Stranger grabbed hold of one of my empties and smashed it over Thirteen's head. He was shouting something about using the mystic power of the Tetragrammaton to restore his friend's sanity, but it looked more like assault with a deadly weapon to me.

Maybe it was the drinking, or the severe depression, or maybe I just wanted to see Terry's head beaten in by a large man pretending to be a ghost, but I found myself unable to muster the will to stop the terrible scenes of violence that followed, as the Phantom Stranger pummelled Dr Thirteen about the head and face, the latter howling that he was sustaining no damage at all as the entire fight was being faked by hypnotism - and he could prove it! Finally the Phantom Stranger ran through the remains of the doorway, screaming "Look the other way! If you don't look the other way I can't vanish!" as Terry bounded after him with a new hammer I'd bought to put up some shelves, shrieking "Your hidden projector will be smashed! Smashed! Smashed!". It seemed to provide a coda not only to the scary night of the 27th of October but also to my entire wretched life. Unfortunately I'd run out of Chupa Chups to stick in the gun barrel so instead I let myself sink into an uneasy sleep.

But the most eerie thing of all was that when I woke the next morning, there was no sign that any of the activities of these two strange undead spectres had occurred... apart from the broken window... and the door was still off its hinges. And the coffee table was broken from when Dr Thirteen had punched the Phantom Stranger onto it. And I was missing my hammer, although it later turned up in an abandoned pram.

But apart from my completely destroyed apartment, it was as though none of it had ever happened... or had it? Or... had... it?

According to my solicitor, it had, and if I can convince a court of law of that then I can probably walk away with every penny the Thirteen family owns, and that expensive-looking hippy pendant the Phantom Stranger always seems to be wearing. We'll see.

Friday, October 27, 2006

I Have To Do A Faustian Bargain For The Magic Mafia Or They'll Cut Off My Johnson

It's been roughly half a year since I began this whole journal thing, and in that time I haven't had a week so unbearably horrific that I wasn't able to get it all down in one go.

Until now. I'm going to hurl myself at this one as a tribute to my ex-shrink and hated enemy Dr Robert Amersham Willis, who's still in the lowest pit of Hades attempting to get jiggy with Emily Dickinson's eternally-wandering spirit, but the events of the past 168 hours have been so horrible that I'm going to make a Halloween Special out of it and spread it over a couple of days.

As regular readers will know, I started the week in hospital after being worked over with baseball bats by a bunch of ghostly Native American mobsters from somewhere beyond the grave, which was kind of unusual. Anyway, that unpleasant debacle left me with fractured ribs, arms, legs and head and no pancreas worth mentioning, so I was pretty sure that my seemingly-endless quest to get myself beaten to a bloody pulp by magic goombahs was over and I could now look forward to spending the rest of the year, and quite possibly the rest of my life, taking it easy in the luxurious confines of the Star City Extreme Physical Trauma Unit.

Oh, how untroubled that world seems to me now! How pleasant the friendly banter with the chummy, laugh-a-minute Doctor Grimsilence as he told me how I would never walk again! How soothing the gentle trickle of my bodily wastes into the colostomy bag that was now my companion for eternity. If only I could once again return to that world! Perhaps at the time I might have said unkind things about the staff at the hospital - I may even have begged them to shoot me - but I didn't realise I had it so good! Yes, I was crippled for life and unable to even crap myself without help, yes I was trapped in a state of unending agony, misery and despair, but say what you will - Doctor Fate was not in that building.

Whereas now he's hovering right next to me reading every single word over my shoulder. Well, I hope you like what you see, you golden gimp.

Anyway, Dr Fate obviously decided that I didn't owe enough favours to the Magic Mafia, so, having watched me spend a couple of painful and unnecessary days learning how to pee again, he breezed in superciliously and healed all my wounds before conjuring me a particularly horrible blue polyester shirt. Dr Fate doesnt have expressions as such, but he was smirking like a little bitch, believe you me. Especially when the hospital refused to remove my catheter in case I had a sudden relapse. I still have a bag of my own piss strapped to my leg and I can't get them to take it off of me no matter what I do. I called Dr Mid-Nite but he said that urinology wasn't his field, which frankly sounds like some sort of pee-avoiding cop-out to me.

So anyway - Dr Fate whisked me off to yet another hellish zone of infernal torment, to teach me yet another lesson about not disrespecting the Godfather, and frankly by this point I'd had enough. Mustering my most witheringly sarcastic voice, I asked Dr Fate how long I'd been traipsing about after him. I should have known better - passive-agressive behaviour like that is meat and drink to the little turd. That was his cue to launch into a giant speech about all the interesting people that he knew in Hell, and how the only person there that I remembered was completely rubbish and crap and couldn't even sell his soul to Satan because it was made entirely of plastic like a toy out of a Kinder Egg. And at the end of this hugely long speech he managed to make me even more indebted to the mob than I was last week, which is ridiculous.

Apparently someday - and this day may never come - I'm going to make a bargain. Almost a Faustian bargain, if you will. And if I welsh on that bargain like I'm some kinda rat, Mickey No-Nose is gonna fit me up wit' a concrete overcoat. A Faustian concrete overcoat. And then he's gonna send me for a swim inna river. The river of Goethe. And if I turn it down, they'll cut off my Johnson. Dr Fate was all "If you end up here, nobody will mourn you. Ever. And nobody will mourn your Johnston if you even think about crossing me. Ever ever." It would have been pretty creepy if he didn't look kind of like the end of a Johnson himself.

So I get home and I wait for the opportunity to make an ill-conceived and bitterly ironic transaction with my soul as currency. And that's when the Phantom Stranger bursts through the window.

More on that tomorrow.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Magic Mafia Are Going To Make Me Sleep With The Fishes

So I caught Studio 60 on Monday and it seemed to be all about Sting playing a magic lute that made people deal with their love issues, and I started wondering whether I was actually in Star City at all and not in some even more ironic suburb of Hell. I mean, Sting. Playing a lute. Jesus Christ.

So I figured the best thing to do would be to head back to Hell and rejoin Dr Fate on his stupid pilgrimage. I figured I'd be okay if I just nodded my head and said 'yes' and 'no' in the right places when he went on one of his interminable three-hour rants about his credit card debts and how much he hates Dr Willis (apparently Dr Willis often needs to pee after midnight, which is apparently the rudest behaviour a human being can possibly display and doesn't he know Dr Fate needs at least eight hours of sleep every night and if it isn't him it's the inhuman keening coming from the pit of slime-coated demons in the next room and don't they have any consideration for other people, it's because they're Polish you know over there they live in mud huts etc etc etc etc) and then once he'd done his thing and I'd maybe seen my wife, like he's been dangling in front of my face FOR A MONTH, I'd head back home and watch something decent on television for once.

And that's how I found myself in a sit-down with the Magic Mafia.

I mean, after I've had a huge lecture from Dr Fate's big fat golden face about how dare I go off and enjoy some decent burritos and a sleep in a proper bed, he decides it's time to head onto the next stage of the Pilgrimage - the Happy Hunting Grounds of Native American lore! Which is a big giant field with some trees and a couple of rocks, and an assload of wolves, who presumably hunt humans as there's nothing else around. Also, apparently this is only accessable by crawling through a gigantic urethra.

Now, I've never been as knowledgable on the folklore of the Native American tribes as I could have been, but I did read a few books on the subject at school and I don't remember a gigantic urethra being mentioned. You'd have thought it might have deserved a chapter of its own, or at least a mention in the index. Anyway. Moving on.

We got to the Hunting Grounds and I was immediately attacked by the aforementioned assload of wolves, while Dr Fate did absolutely nothing to help out. Apparently I was embarrassing him in front of Flying Stag, who's this big, big guy in the world of Magic. Huge guy. A made man, if you will.

Dr Fate said I was 'a friend of his', and Flying Stag asked if I was 'a friend of ours', and Dr Fate said no, just a friend of his, except I wasn't a friend because I was an utter, utter bitch. Thanks Dr Fate. I've seen The Godfather, I know what all this 'friend' stuff is about. Flying Stag didn't want to be my friend at all. He wanted to know if I've ever whacked a guy. Or something.

Anyway, Dr Fate said that I was the guy who'd come about thing, you know, the thing about the thing, and then Flying Stag leant forward and pinched my cheeks and said I looked like a good Italian boy. By this point I was seriously creeped out, especially when Dr Fate said that I wanted to be part of this thing of theirs, but I wasn't going to roll over on them like Fredo. I asked who Fredo was. Flying Stag gave me this long look and said that Fredo had to have an accident because he wasn't paying Flying Stag the proper respect.

I had this incredibly patronising look all over my face, so Flying Stag says "I got a little lesson for you here, Mister Dibny" except he's got this Marlon brando voice on so it's all like "I guhdda liddhl lessuhn fuh yuh heah Mistuh Dhbneh" and then right on cue this poor guy falls out of the sky! And he's all like 'what did I do wrong Godfather' and Flying Stag's all like "Yuh huhv nuh wun tuh blemm buht yuhsuhlf... did yuh think tuh wuhd buh POWUH w'thuht OBLUHGUHSHN..." and then he totally sends the guy into some Hell vortex! It's like Al Capone is breaking a guy's skull with a baseball bat in front of me.

Anyway, then Flying Stag's all like "This is thuh buhddum luhn... thuz no fruh luhnch..." which I assumed meant that someday, and that day may never come, he would call upon me to do a service for him. But until then I should accept this big-ass glowing rock that fell off a dead guy as a gift on his daughter's wedding day.

Anyway, I completely didn't care and I must have had that written all over my face because Flying Stag grabs me by the beard and shouts "What huv uh uhver duhn tuh yuh tuh muhk yuh suh duhsruhspuhtfuhl... yuh duhn't uhvuhn cuhll muh Guhdfuhthuh!" and then a bunch of Native Americans in pinstripe suits pop out of nowhere and work me over with baseball bats.

Which is why I'm writing this from a hospital bed back on good old Earth. Thank you, Dr Fate, and if I ever see you again, I'm going to pee in you.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Hell Is Other People If Those People Are Named Dr Robert Amersham Willis

So anyway, no progress has been made on the Pilgrimage, unless you count Dr Fate progressing from a full-on screaming fit on Sunday to making sarcastic comments just out of my earshot yesterday and generally refusing to budge a single inch until I apologise for what I did. Whatever that was. He won't tell me, he just says "Oh, you know" and then floats away to glare at me from a distance.

So I've been mostly hanging around in the coffee shops of Ironic Hell, which are just like regular coffee shops. I mean exactly like. The prices are the same, the staff are the same and the coffee tastes the same - I think the afterlife has possibly become too ironic at this point. I mean, sure, coffee shops are expensive and the staff are often very sullen, and sometimes the coffee is bad and they're part of a nebulous chain and occasionally you have beat poetry, but just changing the name to 'Hellbucks' and then putting tiny little horns on the sulky coffee girl is just so... so utterly lame. I mean, where exactly is the punishment here? Am I supposed to be agonised for the rest of time by the sheer Mad Magazine-ness of it all? Is the reminder of a jillion terrible stand-up comedy routines that totally had this joke in them supposed to drive me mad with ennui or what? They do hazelnut coffee, so maybe this is all a set-up for somebody who's allergic to hazelnuts and they'll keep accidentally getting his order wrong for all eternity or something.

Anyway, I was just wondering about the punishment factor when Dr Willis showed up. So under the circumstances I don't think anybody can blame me for screaming "Get thee behind me, changeling of Satan!" and attacking him with a chair. It's what Jesus would have done. That and be crucified or something.

Bizarrely, it turned out that this was the real Dr Willis. Since I haven't been replying to my comments lately (and that is a Hell thing, the computers here mostly don't let me so I can be more easily enraged and frustrated by the parade of idiocy) he'd come to check on me and see if I was okay and still taking my meds.

In Hell.

He's obsessed. Let it go, Dr Willis. I'm taking my pink pills, I'm dealing with the death of my wife in a perfectly reasonable and legitimate fashion i.e. journeying into the depths of the realms beyond life to have a chat and possibly get some coffee together, I'm not attacking people randomly any more unless they're you. Your job is done, Dr Willis. These are not billable hours and even if they were I wouldn't pay you.

As it turns out, it's not that bizarre after all, since there's a doorway to the heart of the inferno located in Star City - Pentagram City more like - and it's just behind the adult bookstore on 7th avenue. Actually, I guess that is bizarre when you think about it. Anyway, there's a doorway to Hell there. They don't advertise it in the guidebooks because... well, it's Hell. Not even a particularly good Hell, just this crappy ironic one where everything's pretty much the same. Anyway, I was fairly angry that I flew all the way to Egypt - twice - and then crawled through a cavern of sinister evil and descended an infinite stairway of dread and all that business with the demon tied up with its own naked body that I still don't want to think about and I've been in the afterlife for two or three weeks now doing absolutely nothing... and I could have just walked through a door behind a porno theatre? I tell you, I could have killed Dr Willis when he told me, but if I had he'd probably just turn up in exactly the same spot. So I didn't. I left him down there trying desperately to flirt with the damned spirit of Emily Dickinson. I'll probably head back in a couple of days if I can be bothered.

Right now, though, I'm back in my lovely, warm, non-Dr-Fate-inhabited apartment catching up on Studio 60. Disappointingly, that's another thing that was exactly the same in Hell as it is here. I figured the fact that this week's episode didn't have an ending was some kind of Hell thing, but it turns out it's not, and neither was the Gilbert and Sullivan business. Go figure.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Afterlife Sucks

First of all, I have to get on the damn plane to Egypt again, and put up with Dr Fate moaning and bitching and constantly asking the stewardess for extra peanuts because he thinks the bags are too small again, and then I have to crawl knee-deep in filth through all manner of caverns measureless to man again, and then when I finally cross the threshold of the infinite and reach the depths of perdition itself, who's the first person I end up meeting?

Barry Allen.

Jesus Christ, I was hoping I'd never have to run into him again, and of course the first words out of his mouth are "Has everybody on the satellite been keeping to the dishwashing rota I put up on the noticeboard?"

No "Hi, Ralph!" or "Hey, what brings you to the dismal regions of damned souls, Ralph?" or "Long time no see, Ralph, let's sink a few down by the Well Of Eternal Sorrow!" No, he's yammering away at me about who's washing the dishes. All right, Barry, one, the satellite got blown up so no dishes will be washed there in the forseeable future, and two, you're dead. I assume you have your own problems right now.

If that wasn't rude enough, then the asshole starts yammering on at me about interesting facts he's learned about the physics down here. That's another thing he did when he was alive - if you were draining the main vein and he walked in on you, he wouldn't think twice about going right up to you, leaning into your face, and telling all about how the Deer Mouse has no collarbone, which means that it can flatten its body so much that it can squeeze into an opening one quarter of an inch high. Imagine listening to that while you're trying to empty your bladder, or worse yet, your bowels. I'll never forget the time I was trying to crimp one out and he vibrates the molecules of his face through the door of the stall so he can let me know some ridiculous factoid about how long you can run a 100-watt lightbulb on chicken feces. Gee, thanks, Barry! I'm especially glad that you stared at my dangling junk while you told me that, with an expression on your face that lingered halfway between concern and open criticism. How can I thank you enough?

And he's late for everything. Not in a protecting-my-secret-identity way, or a sorry-didn't-notice-the-time way - he's late for everything because he thinks it's wonderfully amusing. He'll walk in fifteen minutes after the movie starts with this smug 'Isn't it funny that I'm the Flash and I'm always late' grin, make some pitiful excuse to any poor schmoe who isn't in on his stupid-assed secret identity, and then turn around and wink at you. Because yeah, he's totally disrupted everyone's plans and made a complete nuisance of himself, but heaven forbid that you don't find it hilariously ironic. I bet that's the main reason he's in Hell. That and the time he killed that dude.

Also he owes me $4.77 from a poker game. I firmly believe that the reason he went into the future and lived in the 30th century for a while was so he didn't have to pay me that back.

I hate him and I wish he was dead. Even more dead.

Anyway, him and Dr Fate are talking at each other now at tedious length about whether there's a scientific reason why I'm such an utter, utter bitch, so that gives me time to blog. I couldn't manage it yesterday, but now we seem to be in one of those Hells that mirror the real world, because that's really ironic that Hell should be just like the capitalist world that we have made for ourselves, do you see? So I've found an internet cafe, although it's ten dollars for half an hour which is ridiculous. That's Hell for you, I suppose.