The Royal Nothing

Posted in Fiction, Poem with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

The court is dead
It lies to itself as well as us
Says that it is merely dying
Few things are as pathetic
As unaccepting corpses
The court is dead
And we accept its lies

Yearning is childish fancy
A wish is a desolate prayer to illusion
Hopes are for the broken
While you sleep, dreams are the poison-drip into your ear

Orgies swirl in the town square of abberation
For there is comfort in letting go
Of all responsibility to the future
And laying blame on The Other

“Their fault, never mine. Never mind”

As an outlier, I only hear the moans
Catch the scent on the wind
I have wanted neither to glimpse or participate
Yet that does not mean
The bacchanalia has no sway

I have my distractions
Staying me from my rusted crown
Though I approach it head held high
My eyes are my great betrayer
Yet I need them, lest I walk in bigger circles

Trinkets my almost-kingdom could afford by the moundful
I desperately clamor for enough to barely fit in my palm
A junkie to its fix
Out of space, out of taste
Ardor that will flow like the treacherous hurricane
I look for in swamps
The drought-stricken lovefool
In an unworthy place for either them or their intended

They aren’t enough to destroy me
But they do make the crowned road longer
And corrosion loves time
Still, one could wipe the grime away
If they quicken their pace
Or, let the deceitful, rotting court
Take it all, kingdom and square

Varnish or vanish
Such is life

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Pity and the Bottle

Posted in Dialogue, Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 1, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

POLLY
Why don’t you put the bottle down?

FRANCESCA
No point, didn’t you know? I’m worthless.

POLLY
No one’s worthless, Francesca.

FRANCESCA
Tell that to the dead.

POLLY
But you’re not.

FRANCESCA
Sure as fuck seems like it.

POLLY
You’re talking to me right now, and drinking more than you should. The dead don’t do much else besides bloat and rot.

FRANCESCA
Once a month, I get bloated and feel rotten. Same diff.

POLLY
That has nothing to do with being dead and you know it. What’s with this pity parade?

FRANCESCA
A gal can’t feel fucking sorry for herself sometimes?

POLLY
Not when it leads to being self-destructive.

FRANCESCA
I don’t see any broken windows.

POLLY
I see empty bottles.

FRANCESCA
Ah, shut–

POLLY
They weren’t here last week when I was here. Which means they were bought recently. You’re the only one who lives here. Which means that your liver and bladder are at least 70-proof.

FRANCESCA
Maybe I wanted to pretend I’m in college again.

POLLY
You hated college.

FRANCESCA
Then my behavior isn’t so outstanding, is it?

POLLY
Yes, Francesca, yes, it fucking is. You’re better than this. You’re so much better than this. We used to make fun of people who did what you’re doing.

FRANCESCA
And what, my captain, am I doing that’s bait for our mocking eyes?

POLLY
You’re trying to burn whatever problem you’re going through with fire water, but it’s never the answer. Not in college. Not now. Not when you’re dead. Talk to me.

FRANCESCA
I am talking to you. See? “Hi, Polly! Sunny day, eh? Want a cracker?”

POLLY
Is it because of something I did?

FRANCESCA
“I bet you think this song is about you…”

POLLY
You’re trying to make me angry and you’re scaring me.

FRANCESCA
You want scary, you should look at what I left in the bathroom. It gets really hard to find the toilet sometimes.

POLLY
What? What the fuck is it?

FRANCESCA
I’ve got you swearing.

POLLY
Yes, Francesca, damnit. You’ve got me fucking swearing. Are you fucking happy now?

FRANCESCA
If I was happy, would I be surrounded by all these dead soldiers?

POLLY
I know what you’re trying to do.

FRANCESCA
Oh? Share your feelings with the group.

POLLY
You’re trying to push me away. You’re trying to make yourself the victim so that you can feel better about this bullshit you’re putting your body through.

FRANCESCA
Actually, this is high-end tequila.

POLLY
I don’t care, give it to me.

FRANCESCA
No. And if you try to take it from me, I will beat you to death with it, bitch, I don’t care how long we’ve been friends.

POLLY
You’d break the bottle.

FRANCESCA
And I would sip whatever I could off your corpse. You’ve had body shots done off of you, you know what that’s like.

POLLY
Did something happen with your family?

FRANCESCA
No, nothing happened with my family. Nothing ever happens with my family. Nothing never-ever happens with my fucking family. Fuck, I thought you were my friend.

POLLY
Stop being condescending.

FRANCESCA
I’ll be what I want, I’m grown.

POLLY
Yes, you are, so stop acting like a brat.

FRANCESCA
Ooo, “brat”! I thought I had you swearing. You should’ve said something more along the lines of “bitch”. Or are you going back to schoolyard swears, doody-head?

POLLY
I don’t get you right now.

FRANCESCA
You’re not supposed to.

POLLY
Did someone turn you down?

FRANCESCA
“Want a cracker?”

POLLY
That’s it? You’re destroying your life because of a piece of ass?

FRANCESCA
Would that make me the stereotype? Would my pain be less valid if I was a trope?

POLLY
Nothing about you is less valid, Francesca, it’s just that…

FRANCESCA
Just what? A woman can’t have her heart broken and be a mess? I’m sorry if I’m not evolved enough to match your critique on modern femininity.

POLLY
Was it a man?

FRANCESCA
Why would it matter? Heartache is heartache. I didn’t know agony depended on gender. It was a hermaphrodite. There. Now the feminists won’t know what to make of me.

POLLY
I don’t… I don’t get…

FRANCESCA
What? Just because you have thoughts different from mine about relationships doesn’t make my problems enigmatic. I never felt that your issues were weird. Your jumping from person to person because you got what you needed from them… that sort of thing made you you and those you dated knew what they were getting into.

POLLY
But you’re killing yourself over someone.

FRANCESCA
I’m mourning what could’ve been. If that’s too romantic for you, there’s the door. I didn’t ask you to be a part of this. Fuck, I didn’t even ask you to be here. Why did you come here in the first fucking place?

POLLY
I wanted to… I wanted to know if… if…

FRANCESCA
Speak, bitch.

POLLY
I wanted to know if you’d be my fucking wingman, ok? But I know how fucking ridiculously absurd that is now, with the state of you.

FRANCESCA
Yeah, I think it’d be a bad idea to bring the relapsed alcoholic into a situation that made her slip up in the first place.

POLLY
…you were an alcoholic?

FRANCESCA
Wanna see my chips? Or what’s left of them. I cut ’em all up last night.

POLLY
I didn’t know.

FRANCESCA
That’s the thing about drunks: they’re very clever about hiding their problems. At least, until they throw up on a cop after they bust you for a DUI.

POLLY
But you can’t let yourself go, I don’t care who hurt you.

FRANCESCA
That’s the thing about romantics: they can.

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Death is for Losers! And What It Takes to Make a Short Film

Posted in Blog, Making-Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

It’s been four Summers since my first attempt at making a film. For reasons mostly involving me, it turned into a short film that wasn’t close to what I wanted it to be. I didn’t mean for the gap twixt one directing gig and the other to be so long. I’ve tried many times to get another film off the ground, but it’s damn hard to convince people to give you money if you have nothing to show (but I had nothing to show because I didn’t have money [oh, you vicious cycle…]). I did get a chance to direct again last year, but that was more of a sketch than a drawing. I’m still proud of it, though.

I decided to back away from being a writer-director, for a while, and became just a writer. Almost immediately, things started happening. I wrote a feature film that led me to being part of a production company, Artigianale Films. I made a few industry connections. I got two IMDB credits by way of shorts I wrote. I wrote a dark comedy web series that’ll premiere in September.

I got to write and direct DEATH IS FOR LOSERS!

Here’s the script, too: Death is for Losers!

And the IMDB entry.

The story behind it, like most things, is interesting. The web series has one director and I thought that I could direct an episode. To ease the burden and to get behind the camera. But he said, and I agreed, that things are better with one voice. There was a brief period twixt auditions and filming for the web series where, if I really wanted to, I could squeeze in a short film. And I really wanted to. So I started thinking about what to make.

I knew that it had to have one location, two actors, and very few camera set-ups to comfortably do it in the time I had. Three weeks, from conception to final edit. I wanted to make a comedy (or what passes for a comedy) because I wanted a pallet-cleanser from my usual brand of Sturm und Drang. I quickly latched onto the idea of two women plotting to kill a man, which led to the original title: HOW TO FAIL THE BECHDEL TEST (AND HAVE FUN DOING IT). Because a way to fail the Bechdel Test is to have the female characters do nothing but talk about men. The women were gonna gripe about a man in their lives and settle on killing them. Then it became one woman killing hers and the other killing him in a song. Because of that, one became a martial artist (Ileana) and the other became a musician (Freya). Then I changed the title to DEATH IS FOR LOSERS!, because they were gonna kill/”kill” the losers in their lives. Then Ileana became a lesbian and a musician.

I thought about why they’d kill, and quickly latched onto Freya having a terrible father. With Ileana, I didn’t wanna fall into the trope of a psychotic lover. But I wanted her to have, from her perspective, a strong reason for murder. That’s when I thought of objectophilia. To be left for an inanimate object is grounds to at least entertain the thought of murder, methinks. Then I changed it so they both kill with a song. If I kept the original idea, Ileana was gonna slip more and more into derangement, Freya takes her outside for a smoke, and they pretend like everything’s ok. But since they’re “killers”, it felt better to leave them on the stairs.

Them talking about the worst things in their lives came about because I wanted to make a 20-minute short and needed a way to fill the time. I also wanted to build up to Ileana’s dramatic reveal. Another thing I wanted to do throughout the short was to show sex in a positive as well as a negative light. Usually, sex is A Very Bad Thing, and I wanted it to be A Thing. Freya masturbates and doesn’t feel guilty, Ileana loves burlesque shows, Freya had a bout of incest when she was wee, Ileana’s lover left her for a roller coaster… Oh, and even though Ileana (rightfully) has bad feelings about her ex, I didn’t wanna make fun of objectophilia. It’s an easy joke, and I didn’t think that mocking a fetish was funny. If it’s not child-endangerment or snuff, I don’t see the problem with kink.

Albert Brooks once said that he’s funny in the way people are funny and not the way comedians are funny. That always stuck with me. A comedian has to make everything funny: it’s their job. People don’t have to be funny all the time. That’s the kind of “humor” I was going for twixt Freya and Ileana. If something makes you laugh, great, but I wanted them to keep your attention rather than make you chuckle. Now, sometimes I go for the funny, but I’m content with you not cracking a smile while you watch.

I wrote the camera angles in the script because I was directing and I wanted everyone to know what I wanted.

After writing (and reading aloud what I wrote to make sure that it’s easy for the actresses to say), I put out an ad on Craigslist. I hear the site gets lots of flack, but it’s been nothing but good to me, so far. I put out character descriptions, what I was able to pay (nothing, but I’d make lunch and give IMDB credits), and when auditions would be. I got a few replies… then I sent parts of the script and got fewer re-replies. I knew that was gonna be the case, though. Freya and Ileana weren’t traditional women, so I was prepared to see a nice drop-off in interested actresses. I wanna point out, though, that I wrote in the ad that I was looking for any race, and that the age range was 20s-40s. I don’t write with anyone in mind, though I do have traits tucked away. It’s a matter of finding the right person for the role, to me, not the right name.

Over a Saturday or a Sunday, I saw a few actresses. One stood out to me as a great Ileana, though she came in for Freya. Lexi had an energy that I thought counterbalanced Ileana’s gloom. Imagine if Fairuza Balk played Lydia, and you have an idea of my mindset. Freya was a character who WAS the spotlight, so having a high-energy actress play her could’ve tipped the scales. Luckily, Lexi understood and latched onto Ileana. Later, she thanked me because, after reading the script, she felt that Freya would’ve been harder for her to pull off. Freya came by way of an actress who almost couldn’t be at the audition. The day that I was gonna reserve the rehearsal room for x amount of hours, I got a reply from Nadia asking if there was space left. She wasn’t sure which character was right, then settled on Freya. Her audition was interesting because she almost talked herself out of it before she started. As a director, you have to be the calm in front of any storm that comes your way, so I just had to be reassuring and patient.

Soon after auditions, I had rehearsals. Part of casting is finding the right performers for one another along with finding the right performers, so I was glad that Lexi and Nadia were friendly as soon as they met. The first day of rehearsals was in a big room with three chairs. I didn’t want them to get too used to acting in the space because the location was a living room. They might plan their routine with chairs in a big room when they’re supposed to be on couches and stairs in a living room. The point of that day was to get them to know their characters and lines so that when they got to the location, they were ready.

I had specific ideas of what I wanted, but casting the right way meant that I didn’t have much to say. It might’ve been weird for the actresses, me not giving lots of direction (especially during filming), but they were doing most of the things I wanted already so all I had to say was “Yeah, that’s fine.” I’m not at all one of those dictatorial directors or asshole directors who feel the only way to get what they want is to scream or treat people like shit. I’ve learned from the best that the best way for actors and actresses to give a great performance (a director doesn’t get great performances) is to make them comfortable. That doesn’t mean be a pushover or let them do whatever the fuck they want, it means to let them feel that they can do anything and be safe doing it. Martin Scorsese and David Lynch don’t get people wanting to work with them again unless they create safe environments, because their films are so intense and demanding.

What surprised me most about Lexi and Nadia was what happened after rehearsals. We only had about a week left before shooting, and they took it upon themselves to rehearse with each other, with no provocation from me. They went to a place that had two couches and rehearsed for a night, then called each other to rehearse throughout the week. They wouldn’t have done that unless they thought the script was good, so I had to make more than sure that I wouldn’t let them down when it came time to direct.

We had a day and a half to shoot, which was whittled down from three days due to life getting in the way. I would’ve preferred to have shot in sequence, but because the first day was the half-day, we had to shoot the stair stuff first. We rehearsed that a few times, but it was hard for them because, y’know, it was the end. They made it through, though, and we finished up on time. The second day was everything else, and we shot that pretty much in sequence. Instead of moving the camera back and forth, we shot all the stuff with one angle, then moved to another one, and on and on. The ladies rocked it so well that we ended up finishing three hours earlier.

Then came editing. I was really up against the clock (two days, in all) because the web series was starting soon and the computer I was editing on was gonna need the space. It wouldn’t have been so bad if my hard drive didn’t make all the footage skip during playback. You can imagine how I felt when I was cutting together Freya talking about Rusty and her half-brother. Luckily, the skipping didn’t mean the rendering was gonna skip, too. What also sucked was that the clips didn’t snap together, so I had to zoom in a lot to make sure they were connected in the work area. There were a few slight hiccups during filming that I knew I could fix in editing, that’s why there are black cards with words during certain shots (to hide the two takes). Then I noticed there was a gap towards the beginning, so I had to slide EVERYTHING incrementally. Then the footage was shorter after that point, so I had to stretch EVERYTHING incrementally. There was a little vignetting added and I wanted to add some grain, but the rendering would’ve taken too long. Then it was just a matter of putting in the credits and the songs I made. Then gloating while feeling geekily proud because I finished editing the same day that SUICIDE SQUAD did.

I burned the short to a DVD and was ready to show it to the world… then I saw that the DVD split the file so that there was an 18-minute clip and a two-minute clip. I fixed it soon after, and released it. It’s submitted to one festival, and I’ll submit it to another at the end of the month. I’m so proud of it because of what I did, and also because of the people involved. Hope you enjoy it and whatever else I do in the future.

Death is for Losers! - Poster

The Sullen Doll

Posted in Fiction, Poem with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

It dangles
From the ceiling, the sky… from underneath
Its strings sing nervously
From flesh, sanguine-stained
Memories of red gave way to caked blackness
The once-turgid strings are brittle due to the arid nature of neglect
Yet they still hold, yet they still sing
The body is still warm, you see

Agony and despair… that is their melody
Played in time with the distant clock
Fading more with each titillated breath
A melody she taught herself to play

Her clock has almost forgotten how to chime
Though it is almost midnight
She does not lament, no
This has all been her choice
Each nick, bruise, and lash
If she has one regret
In her life abruptly lush with ecstasy and torment
It is that she never learned moderation
Lucretia, the patron saint of overindulgence

I believe it began with a kiss
As all worthwhile things should
His fingers were lost, entangled in my hair
And I liked it
They pulled, his strength made the gesture a dull ache
And I liked it
The familiar roughness made its way to every part of me
And I Loved It
My adamantine heart was melted by an exceptional sensuality
He warned me to nurse my endeavor, lest it became my addiction
“Watch it close, let it brew.”
But I yearned too hastily for so much more
The path to sainthood begins with death
Though I had no interest in piety
My hurried lust brought me to the Reaper, just the same

Lucretia eventually found
That there is a place in this world for everyone
No matter how deranged their desire
Even if it is to become the dangling woman
A gruesome plaything to her impatient appetite
A puppet… a doll

One last tickling shiver
And her fallow clock wafts finally into entropy

The dead are breathless
Yet there is an intimate truth on the wind
From their rictus grin
To your unwilling ear
“I’ll see you soon. Bound and able.”

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“I Could-a Plotzed!” A Critical Convo About Harley Quinn

Posted in Blog, Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

A little history. For a few years, I’ve wanted to write critical essays on some of the geeky things I love. Examining them and finding new and interesting tangents to take them to that might not be obvious. But every time I thought I was ready, I couldn’t follow through. It wasn’t until a week or two ago, after watching the amazing critical examination of METAL GEAR SOLID 2, that I figured out how I should go about things. The video plays like an essay in motion, but that’s not how it inspired me. For some reason, I saw that my way into writing a critical essay was by not writing it like an essay. Rather, like a conversation. Once that clicked, everything ZIPPED into place. The only thing for me to decide was my first subject.

After thinking for a while, I made a sliding scale. There are some subjects that I have A LOT to say about, but I might be overwhelmed by if I started now. They ended up on the far end, waiting for me to level-up and handle their boss battles. So I made my first battle against Harley Quinn. You’ll find it hard to believe after seeing how long this is (and this is LONG), but I have the least to say about her compared to the others. Once I had Harley, the next step was to create people to talk about her. Willa and Lucy fit the bill, but strongly coming at this as a writer, I couldn’t have them start off waxing poetic. I spent years training myself to put characters first, so much so that it’s second nature to me. Because of that, I had to find a reason for them to ramble about her for as long as they do, and make them interesting enough for me to care. Why fuck all night if you can’t stand the other person? And, like all characters, I’m in Willa and Lucy, but it’s not a one-to-one ratio sorta thing. For one, I’m a guy, but I would rock the pigtails if I was bored and hopeless enough. I can safely say that there’s none of me in Michelle, though. My intention with writing this was to create a celebration and examination of Harley, but also an introduction and a refresher. This is my first juggling act, so I apologize if I drop a chainsaw or two. With that said, this , along with my Bowie memorial poem, is my proudest written work this year, so far. There are some scripts, but they’re meant to be acted, and I’ll feel just as proud when they’re shot over the course of the rest of the year.

So, after a week of planning, here’s me at my geekiest(?).

-1st pic- Harley Quinn - By Bruce Timm

The woman of the hour – By Bruce Timm

Ding-dong!

A woman stands on the doorstep of her best friend. In one hand, she clutches a bag full of empty calories. Chocolate, donuts, chocolate, soda, chocolate, and ice cream. She can hate herself in the morning, they’re called “comfort foods” for a reason. As we’ll find out soon, Willa has a reason for each and every figure-destroying morsel crinkling in the plastic bag.

The locks begin to undo themselves on the other side of the door, and Willa tucks a wisp of hair behind an ear as she puts on her best face. The door swings open with a warm creak.

“Ahoy-hoy.”

“Hey, Lucy.”

Lucy’s spectacled eyes glance to the goodies hung in plastic. “I hope you know that I’m claiming all that butter pecan,” she says with a false queen’s authority and a grin.

Willa retorts, “After my week?” She enters and Lucy smells a new smell. Despair is a foreign concept to her, so she dismisses it as something her friend might’ve stepped in. Closing the door behind her, Lucy mourns, “Woe to the republic. And take off your Doc Martens.”

The early-afternoon sun passes through the curtained windows of the living room as welcome a guest as Willa. The room, like Lucy, is proud of the geeky accoutrements scattered, piled, pinned, and posed within its four walls. Lucy is a fan of symbols, so, to the casual eye, she seems to have a touch of hoarder in her. “Casual,” like “normal,” is a bad word here, and the time-traveler geek will appreciate the blue box with an old travelogue tucked inside. The open-minded sci-fi geek will get a chuckle out of the viral outbreak poster with “Smith” splattered on it in green paint. And on and on.

Willa sits on the couch next to Lucy’s cat, Michelle… or rather, Michelle allows Willa to sit there. Lucy takes her bag and arranges everything on a coffee table within leg’s reach in a buffet fashion. Willa reaches her hand out and is allowed to pet Michelle. While Lucy arranges, she hums to herself.

“Ah,” she mutters.

She hops to one of her two CD towers, then pops The Cure’s GALORE into the stereo. The first few notes of the first song, “Why Can’t I Be You?”, matches the bit she hummed. She looks at the table o’ diabetes and is about to settle next to her two pals when she remembers the final ingredient.

Lucy hops again to a cabinet near the CDs, lousy with stickers from pretty much any pop culture thing you could think of. She takes out two glasses and a partially finished bottle of apple Puckers.

“Michelle thought the little baggie was catnip, so…” Lucy admits with a certain sadness. Willa looks by her striped feet, at the gnawed plastic and hash, then at the mellow feline. “I was wondering why the little bitch was letting me pet her,” Willa says. Lucy shrugs apologetically, then gestures with the glass. Willa nods, “Three fingers,” then gives Michelle the death glare. Yet still, she strokes the fur…

As she pours triple-shots for both on the coffee table, Lucy straightens her red frames and asks, “Are we ready for an afternoon of toxicity?”

“The only reason why I bought so much junk food is because I thought I’d be earning my munchies,” Willa mutters.

“I said, ‘Are we r–‘”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m ready.”

Lucy makes sure that their hands have glasses full of sweet emerald.

“For duty and humanity,” they say together with a tink and a sip.

Lucy flips her hair behind her (“To get the spirits buzzing.”) and sets her glass on the arm of the couch behind her. She lies with her knees up, to not get in the way of her pals, and uses the arm as a pillow. A pose she’s perfected since her slumber party days at Willa’s. Willa considers setting her glass on the stoned kitty, then sees that it’s not worth the trouble of cleaning up if it spills. She settles on keeping it handy.

Lucy pokes Willa with a painted toenail and says, “I’m glad that you decided to come out today. I was worried about you.”

“Yeah, radio silence could be spooky. I had a reason, y’know.”

“I know. I’m not saying that you didn’t. I’m just glad you’re here, you know?”

“Heh,” Willa says with a smirk, “I know.”

“Do you wanna talk about him?

“Yeah, but I’ll only end up crying over how much he ruined my fucking life. So I’m gonna let you talk for a change.”

Lucy sits up with slight surprise, like Michelle after hearing a can opener if she wasn’t busy feeling a little THC. “Wow, you get to be Silent Bob for a change? How do I cope with the pressure? What am I supposed to talk about that’ll take your mind off of–“

“Don’t.”

“…He Who Shall Not Be Named?”

Willa sips approvingly and says, “I think you know. Something you’ve wanted to yak my ear off about for years.” She gestures with her glass to a place behind Lucy. Lucy, dripping with hope, slowly turns around and perches like a cat ready to pounce. As the back of her yellow thong peeks over her charcoal sweatpants, her eyes lock onto a red and black marionette in a doctor’s coat.

“I GET TO TALK ABOUT HARLEY QUINN!!”

SMASH! Her alcohol abuse hits the hardwood and sends a sticky-sweet green mess everywhere. Not that Lucy cares. Willa almost spilled her drink on Michelle. Not that Lucy cares. Michelle might be so high that she thinks she’s the universe experiencing itself. Not that Lucy cares. Because she finally gets to talk about one of her favorite characters, in all the ways she’s thought about, to someone who wants to listen. Cats don’t count.

Lucy springs from her spot and tosses a pillow over her mess in one deft motion. Willa would applaud if she wasn’t worried about the monster she just unleashed. Still, she’s glad that Lucy’s happy because she’s infectious and she prefers the monster bounding before her to the monster of her memories. Waiting for her to bait it with thoughts of Nameless He.

Before she disappears down a corridor for a spell, Lucy puts GALORE on random.

“Where are you going?” Willa asks.

“Getting into character!”

“Oh…”

Willa prepares for whatever’s about to come by filling her glass and worrying with a smile. Lucy can be heard rustling and twice letting out a quiet “ow” from her bedroom. When she rejoins the party, her friend can’t help but laugh.

“You… you realize that those are uneven, right?” Willa manages to ask. Lucy, looking the same as before save for two very lopsided pigtails, replies, “They’re so boss, shut up.”

“I guess I better take this off,” Willa says as she gestures towards her biker jacket. “I was wondering when you were gonna,” Lucy says. Willa de-robes, revealing her sleevless, white Victorian blouse. She chucks her hide to a corner and straightens out her long, black pleated skirt before reconnecting with her Puckers.

Lucy, barely able to contain her excitement, paces back and forth in a small area of the living room. Lucy, barely able to contain her confusion, zips her red hoodie up and down a few inches, revealing and concealing the black and white ringer tee underneath.

“Performance anxiety?” Willa asks, smugly.

“No. Maybe,” Lucy admits, still pacing and zipping.

“Well, I don’t wanna throw up, so could you stay in one spot, please?”

Lucy does, then pushes up her sleeves and says, “There’re just SO many places to start. Do I talk about her and Poison Ivy? Or how she’s an addict? Or if she promotes victim culture?”

Willa holds up a hand as if to stop her and says, “Whoa, victim culture?”

“Yeah. You see–“

“How about you start by reintroducing me to her and going from there? I only really know her from those Arkham games and a few episodes of that old Batman cartoon.” Willa looks Lucy up and down, then says, “I can tell by your bug-eyes that she might be in other stuff… so I’m gonna continue my Silent Bob routine. Take it away, Brodie.”

Lucy takes a deep breath–

“And remember,” Willa adds, “my attention span is like your bladder.”

Lucy takes a more determined deep breath, like an agitated dream puff. As she breathes in, she searches for her smartphone. Willa points to the donuts, and Lucy frees it from under them. She inhaled a bit too much because a loud burp shoots out of her.

“To start at the beginning,” Lucy says, taking a professorial tone, “we must start at the very beginning. Paul Dini was a writer on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and thought it’d be funny if Joker had a one-off henchwoman in an episode.”

“Wait, Harley was only supposed to appear once?”

Lucy nods as she scrolls through her phone. “Dini went to Bruce Timm–“

“Who’s that?”

“The guy behind the show. A puppet master, you’d say. Dini told him about his Harley Quinn idea, as in ‘harlequin,’ and even drew a picture of her.”

“Wow, the writer drew the character? That doesn’t happen a lot,” Willa says.

“Well…” Lucy says as she holds up her phone’s screen.

Harley's First Design - By Paul Dini

Harley’s first design – By Paul Dini

“Wwwwhat?”

“Timm said the same thing,” Lucy says as she brings the phone back to her and scrolls. “Then he drew the Harley in the red-and-black onesie we know and love. It was also Dini who gave Harley her voice. His friend, Arleen Sorkin, was on a soap opera and he thought she’d make a great Harley. Then Ms. Quinn popped up on the square screen on September 11, 1992 in the episode JOKER’S FAVOR.”

“Did Bruce Timm direct it?”

“No, Boyd Kirkland did. And Dini wrote it.”

Willa sips her green and asks, “Would you consider Harley a villain?”

“Hmm… Not really,” Lucy explains, “I mean, she keeps some deadly company, but I think she’s the truest example of Chaotic Neutral. Like Captain Jack Sparrow or Tyler Durden.”

“Ugh, Chaotic Neutral…”

“What?”

“Remember the one time we tried role-playing at that game store,” Willa asks, “but no one got a chance to play because EVERYONE wanted to be Chaotic Neutral?”

“Heh, yeah…” Lucy replies. “But don’t let that memory taint Harley!”

“I’m not, I’m just pointing out a bad time,” Willa says with a sip. “So that was the only time she appeared on the show? I remember her getting thrown out of a window.”

“That’s MAD LOVE, but we’ll get to that soon. Let’s see… I remember her in HARLEY & IVY, when those two first joined forces. Another Dini/Kirkland collabo, and it came out in January ’93. Did you know that Diane Pershing played Ivy?”

Harley & Ivy - By Bruce Timm

Harley & Ivy – By Bruce Timm

“Stay on target…”

“Harley tries to go straight in HARLEY’S HOLIDAY, but that didn’t go so well.”

“Dini and Kirkland?”

“Dini and Kevin Alteri, back in October ’94.”

“I hope you’re cheating with that info,” Willa warns. “Those are some detailed details.”

“O-of course, I am. That’s why I have the phone,” Lucy says as she laughs nervously. “MAD LOVE, the episode, was the series finale of the show, in January ’99. Dini and Butch Lukic made that one.”

“The episode?”

“Yeah, it was a comic first, published in February ’94. Even won an Eisner for ‘Best Single Issue.'”

“I wanna win an Eisner…” Willa gripes. “So that’s the one with Harley getting pushed out the window?”

“Yes, it’s that one. More happens, though.” Lucy starts to get visibly excited as she explains. “You find out that her real name’s Harleen Quinzel and that she was a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum before things went bad, which gives her the rare distinction of a villain who starts off there as opposed to ends up there.”

“And Joker had something to do with that.”

“Uh-huh. Played poor Harleen like a fiddle, telling her what she wanted to hear so that she’d fall for him. Then she snapped and became Harley.”

Joker & Harley - By Alex Ross

Joker & Harley – By Alex Ross

“That’s new,” Willa quips. “Usually, villains get caught up in the murder or money machines. But she chose to be bad.”

“Ain’t she cool?” Lucy beams as she continues, “Harley does two big things to Batman in MAD LOVE: makes him laugh and almost kills him.”

“Then she gets pushed out the window.”

Lucy pouts. “Then she gets pushed out the window. There was also a web cartoon series, GOTHAM GIRLS. It was cute, but one of the things that stands out the most to me is when Ivy gave Harley a Joker sex doll.”

Willa almost chokes on her drink, almost getting a reaction from the still-stoned Michelle. “What?! On a kid’s show?!”

“Yup. You know about Real Dolls?”

“Sadly.”

“Well, Ivy’s present was a Joker doll in a big wooden crated labeled ‘Real Villains.'”

Willa can do nothing but finish her drink with a cough in disbelief. She then says, as Lucy refills her glass while trying not to get her very lopsided pigtails wet, “Time to take a break from the history lesson. What are some thoughts you’ve had of her over the years?”

Lucy starts bouncing, stops pouring, and says, “I’m so excited that I gotta pee!” She sets the bottle down and scurries to the bathroom. “Be right back!”

Even though it’s her house and they’ve known each other for most of their lives, Lucy turns the water on in the sink so that Willa can’t hear the obvious. As she sits alone, Willa slowly regrets finishing her drink so quickly. It’s gone to her head and, coupled with “Lovesong,” seems to bait her monster. The romantic confessional aspect of the song churns feelings that she thought she let go. That she wanted to let go. But how could you forget the love of your life in a week? She hopes the monster goes away with the toilet flush, and tries to feel better with a sandwich made of chocolate and donuts.

“Whew,” Lucy exclaims as she comes back, “I thought I wasn’t gonna make it! It’s a good thing I’m wearing a yellow thong, if you catch my…” She notices Willa’s change in mood. “What’s wrong?”

“Huh? Oh, I was just thinking about how this song’s kinda written for Harley.”

Lucy listens, then snaps as she agrees. “No shit. I didn’t notice that before. I guess you could say that about a lot of Cure’s songs.”

“You mean I figured out something before the nutty professor?” Willa puckishly asks. “Why am I here again?”

Lucy would be shooting daggers from her eyes if her glasses wouldn’t turn it into a suicide accidental. Instead, she settles for something more petty. “I’m taking the butter pecan.”

“Fair enough.”

The kitchen is practically a skip away from the couch, so it doesn’t take long for Lucy to get a spoon and dive into the slightly melted carton of ice cream. “Have you watched JESSICA JONES?”

“Watched, read, and loved,” Willa replies. “I still wish the show was named ALIAS, like the comic.”

Alias Issue 23 Cover - By David Mack

ALIAS #23 cover – By David Mack

“She and Harley have something in common,” Lucy says.

“Yeah, they’re both comic characters.”

“Besides that. They’re both survivors of asshole purple men.”

Willa wishes that she could raise an eyebrow. “How d’you figure?”

Lucy holds up her spoon and says, “Well, Harley has Joker–”

TDK Joker

She switches spoon hands. “–and Jessica has Kilgrave. Or Purple Man, as he was called in the comic.”

20-jessica-jones-014-w529-h352

Willa thinks about it and says, “That’s trippy.”

Lucy continues, slowly digging a scoop like a drowsy woodpecker, “Harley and Jessica end up with their purple men by completely different ways. Like I said, Harley chose to be with Joker. He whispered in her ear, but it was her choice, in the long run. Oh, and I’m not saying that Harley made the right choice by going with Joker. As you know, Jessica didn’t have a choice. Kilgrave’s morbid charisma made everyone his slave.” She says with a sick grin, “Which kinda makes Harley more twisted. Humans aren’t known for always making good choices, though, which is why so many women get beaten by their men. Sometimes to death. What Harley and Jessica go through could be seen as Stockholm Syndrome, but we know better, don’t we?”

Willa nods.

“Jessica’s pretty much an open-and-shut case: she’s a rape victim.”

Willa interrupts, “Who took it easy on that asshole when she–”

Lucy repays the favor. “Drink your juice.” Willa obliges as Lucy eats her scoop, then sets the carton on the coffee table. Rubbing the chilly hand that held the ice cream on her thigh, she sits on the floor and continues, “Harley’s got a lot of problems. Being a doctor and Joker being her patient, there’s a touch of the Nightingale effect going on with her falling in love with him. Him looking like a clown makes her a coulrophiliac. I don’t wanna jump into her being an addict just yet, but I will say that she has a strong case of dependent personality disorder. She’s obviously a smart woman, so you gotta figure that a big reason she sticks with Mistah J is because turns off that part of her brain. She also might see him as a challenge.”

“A challenge?”

“It’s an open secret that Harleen cheated her way through school, mostly by seduction. I can’t remember Joker ever getting horny. Harley does. You know how you’re at a bar or something and a guy hits on you and doesn’t get the point that you’re not interested and hits on you harder? It’s kinda like that.”

“Harley seems like a very sad character… but she’s always so chipper.”

Giving her biggest genuine smile, Lucy says, “It’s usually the happiest people with the darkest side.” Not giving her friend a chance to process that fully… “Oh! Speaking of chipper, I see Harley as a chipper Hannibal Lecter mixed with Charlie Chaplin and Bettie Page. In fact, I consider her DC Comics’ Bettie.”

“Because she’s naughty and nice?”

“Hell yeah! Lookit!” Lucy holds up her phone and swipes twixt two pics.

Bettie Page

And…

To My Puddin' - By Nszerdy

To My Puddin’ – By Nszerdy

Willa admits, “They are adorably pleasing to the eye. And her thigh-highs match mine in that drawing.”

Lucy peeks under the coffee table and says, “So they do!”

“Wait, Hannibal Lecter? How?”

“I’ve only seen this aspect of Harley used in a grand way towards the end of the comic series she had with Poison Ivy and Catwoman, GOTHAM CITY SIRENS, but it’s strange how everyone forgets that she’s a psychiatrist. Which means she knows how to get into peoples’ minds and manipulate them. At one point, she breaks into Arkham and plays mind games with a few guards with a rusty nail, some marbles, a plant, and a crowbar.”

“And those things worked?”

Lucy nods. “Because she spent time working those guards, finding out what their weaknesses were, and found out that they were a rusty nail, some marbles, a plant, and a crowbar.”

Willa stands up and announces, “Pee break.”

“But I was gonna–”

“When I get back,” Willa says on her way to the bathroom. Just before she closes the door on the disappointed Lucy, she adds, “You’re helping me a lot, y’know. Taking my mind off of… him. Think of how you’re gonna explain Harley as an addict, and that whole victim culture thing. Sounds really interesting.”

Something Willa can’t help but notice is how the room suddenly smells like apple as she relieves herself. The tiles on the walls have random designs on them, and to distract herself from her monster, she imagines things that they look like. A goat, a mountain range, an explosion, power lines, Japan. She finishes up while trying to figure out whether a particular design is a potato or a politician.

As she dries her hands on her skirt, she sees that Lucy’s taken her spot on the couch and that she’s playing with the limp paws of her stoned kitty. She takes her glass and asks, “Did you think about the stuff?”

“Yess’m,” Lucy replies. “But before I do, I should show you her conquering her addiction.” She holds up her phone.

Harley Quinn Issue 25 Page - By Chad Hardin

Page from HARLEY QUINN #25 – By Chad Hardin

“I have to show you,” she adds, “that my girl does get better. But this was a long time after she got pushed outta that window.”

“What happened to her skin?” Willa asks.

“DC rebooted the universe and changed Harley. The same basic things happen, except Joker throws her into the chemicals that made him look the way he does.”

“Where’s her onesie? I mean, I know it’s a little impractical, but it covered more.”

Lucy sighs. “This version, I don’t mind because she moonlights as a roller derby girl.”

“Heh, that’s actually a great idea,” Willa says.

“Yeah! Wait ’til you read the Skate Club issues. It’s like Fight Club, but on skates.”

“Does she wear this in the Suicide Squad comic?”

Lucy raps her fingers on her cat’s side, then says, “Yeah. But it makes no sense.”

“Ooo, is that disdain I hear on your breath?”

“I’ll get to that soon,” Lucy growls. “Addict. Her. Bad times. Do you remember those plasma glass balls? The ones you put your finger on and all the electricity goes to that spot?”2771597629_6aacbfe877_z

“Yeah, and they made your hair go all wild, too.”

“Imagine that Harley’s one of those, and those bolts are her love reaching out everywhere and once one bolt finds someone, they all do. The energy has no choice BUT to, and it’s beautiful when it does. Joker’s the middle finger pressing against her, and it has no problem if the glass tips over and shatters. But the plasma doesn’t care. All it knows is that it has a spot for it to focus on. The finger goes away, the bolts are sent into chaos. The finger comes back, serenity. That’s Harley and addiction.”

“That’s kinda touching,” Willa warmly admits. Then she makes a face and says, “Ugh, sorry, bad pun.”

“Heh, it’s fine.” Lucy’s face turns slightly sorrowful. “I know that Joker and Harley have an abusive relationship. It’s the part of her I wish I could erase, but at the same time, it’s one of the most important parts of her. Especially now, it shows how strong she is because she’s able to finally walk away from it. Her getting pushed out a window is pretty dark, but I felt that the story was leading to that point. Being a Harley fan means that you see different interpretations of her. Sometimes, it’s handled with a beautiful tragedy, like in the issue of GOTHAM CITY SIRENS when Ivy heartbreakingly finds Harley’s obsessive shrine to Joker. And sometimes, it feels like the art team uses Joker and Harley’s relationship as an excuse to abuse women.” Her hand hovers over her phone. “There have been other examples throughout the years… but this is the one that screams in my mind.” She shows Willa this:

Suicide Squad Issue 14 Panel - By Fernando Dagnino

Panel from SUICIDE SQUAD #14 – By Fernando Dagnino

The only thing Willa can say is “What. The. Fuck.”

Lucy quietly sets down her phone and says, “Joker is supposed to be jealous because she has a life outside of him. She beats him up afterwards, even bites off a bit of his tongue, then escapes his dungeon to show she ‘was more than just one of his broken toys to throw away.'”

“But the guys behind the issue you showed me didn’t have to go as far as they did in that panel,” Willa protests. “Maybe if it was a Lars von Trier film.”

“Yeah… The editor should’ve stepped in. Alan Moore wished his did when he wanted Joker to shoot Barbara Gordon and… do things to her in KILLING JOKE. Do I think that Harley promotes victim culture? In the wrong hands, maybe. In the right hands, she’s more of a cautionary tale.”

“Whose hands are the right ones?”

“Paul Dini’s are one,” Lucy lists, “Karl Kesel, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti are others.”

“Who are those other three?”

“Kesel wrote the first Harley series back in the early aughts. Up until his last few issues, they were drawn by Terry and Rachel Dodson.” Lucy happily swaps the previous pic on her phone with a new one.

e8d338cfab58fe9ace197e376beeab91

HARLEY QUINN #17 cover – By Terry and Rachel Dodson

Willa practically squeals. “That’s so fucking cheesecake! I want it!”

“Tough, it’s mine,” Lucy declares. “It was a fun run. Everything you loved about Harley in the animated series got cranked up. She even ditched Joker in the first few issues. The guy who followed, A.J. Lieberman… I understood what he wanted to do, which was everything Kesel and the Dodsons didn’t do. He made her a more realistic character, and I appreciated that a lot and I liked how he handled her. But during his run, I saw that Harley works best when she’s a flashing neon sign.”

“Is that what Conner and Palmiotti do?” Willa asks.

“OH, HOW–” Lucy agitates her bladder again and rushes off to the bathroom.

Even though the faucet runs… even though it’s buried under a few pounds of leather a few feet away… Willa still hears her phone ring a tune she hoped to never hear again. Metallica’s cover of “Loverman.” Before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s already answered the phone and kneeling by her jacket. She can’t help herself. Love was so hard for her to get that she’d leap at any opportunity to have it back. Even with him. Even after what he did. He tells her what she wants to hear, and her monster is pleased. It grows fat with each hollow syllable and greedy with each empty promise.

“Fuck off, we’re talking Harley!”

Willa didn’t hear Lucy get close or notice that she took the phone, but she was so happy to have her as a friend after hearing her say those words, then hang up and toss the phone on the couch. “Thank you,” Willa whimpers. She repeats herself as she looks at the floor, ashamed at how easily she almost fell back into his arms. Lucy kneels next to her and holds her. “Shh… You’re still Willa,” her friend reminds her. They stay like that for a song or two, until Willa gets into a more comfortable position and says, “What about Conner and Palmiotti?”

Lucy replies, smiling, “You remember that Eddie Murphy bit about crackers? How when you’re starving, a regular cracker tastes like a Ritz? That’s how I felt about Harley in the first few issues of the Suicide Squad comic. Then when Ritz came along by way of her Conner/Palmiotti-penned self-titled book, I realized I’d been eating regular crackers. Harley stories work best as character pieces instead of story pieces. They understood that, as did Kesel.”

“Do they do anything with her and Ivy?”

“Heh, lots. It was established a few years ago that they’re friends because they see similar wounds in each other.”

“How so?” Willa asks.

“Both were damaged goods because of assholes. In Ivy’s case, she was literally changed by hers. Back when she was Dr. Pamela Isley, she worked on plants with her unrequited love, Jason Woodrue. He forced her into an experiment, changing her into a human plant. He tinkered with the formula, then turned himself into Floronic Man.”

“Those two and Jessica Jones should form a club.”

“Heh, yeah.” Lucy continues, “Since teaming up, there’s been this ‘are they/aren’t they’ subtext that Conner and Palmiotti make text in an issue. Essentially, they’re friends with benefits in an open relationship. I don’t think it matters, though. What I was always drawn to was their friendship. Whether they kiss or not isn’t important to me.” She takes down her pigtails and says, “Harley must be crazy for having these up all they time, they fucking hurt.”

“I guess I’d be remiss,” Willa says, “if I didn’t ask the obvious question. How do you feel about Harley in the Suicide Squad film that’s a-coming?”

“Harley made a big-budget action movie in a comic once,” Lucy replies.

Harley & Ivy Issue 3 Cover - By Bruce Timm

HARLEY & IVY #3 cover – By Bruce Timm

She continues, “Her director name was ‘Alice Smithee’ and she kept killing Batman. Ivy kept jacking up the budget to fund their future crimes. Then Harley went mad with power…”

“What a great non-answer,” Willa quips.

“I know, right? I’ve gone on a media blackout with the trailers because I wanna be as surprised as possible. It’s been damn hard, in case you were curious. I saw what she looks like and heard who’s playing her, and I loved Margot Robbie in Z FOR ZACHARIAH.”

“Who’s your Harley?” Willa asks.

Without hesitation, Lucy replies, “Every Harley who enjoys life.”

-last pic- Harley Quinn - By Alan Scampos

Harley Quinn – By Alex Scampos

Miseria Sanguinis

Posted in Fiction, Poem with tags , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

Bliss is in the foolish hearts that still throb
Dull drums suspended in wet cages
Baiting those anarchic to nature’s demands
To slumber
To wane
To hunger for normalcy

I was such as them once… the blissful
Before my Day of Dying
Death implies finality
And I madly dance on its cusp
Serenaded by fleshy percussions
Rhythms I cannot ignore or enjoy
All I can do is listen
Dance
Taste

As my fingers trace the Dying Marks upon my neck
While I soar above mortality, above morality
And below the billowing vapor
My mind wanders
Like the vulture lustful for carrion
To when I was a desperate bride
When I was loved
And so full of bliss
I expect the halcyon-stained vision
To bring warmth from inside
Stillness.. shivers… sorrow
I want to rend the hail within me
But that would bring finality
I spitefully tear at the sacs on my chest
Those relics of femininity
I can hear the red slivers slap sickly miles below
Soon, my relics erupt from me
Snapshots before my Day of Dying
My weakness churns my abstract hunger
My fangs thirst eagerly
Children are oh, so blissful
And all are slumbering unprotected

Do not hate me for this
Do not love or pity me
Emotions make the drums tremble louder
You might find me dancing at your window

black-woman-watercolor-painting-christina2

Music Box

Posted in Fiction, Poem with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 10, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

I could let it die
As the music crawls to deafness
I could let it die
My fingertips, calloused from refrains, hover over the key
It knows my touch so well
Polished by hope and disappointments
I could let it die
Before I can stop myself, I twist the brass
Before I can hate myself, the melody ensnares me

The machinations start their heartache routine
And the tin figure moves down the twisted, turning track
It always begins with a bow towards me
To acknowledge that I’m here?
Or to greet my shame?
It never waits for me to return the gesture
To see how foolish I can be
Instead, the gears of longing work their magic
Sending it down a pristine, familiar road
Its tiny feet dangle helplessly

Which will it take?
The path will soon split into many branches
Like a tree waiting with disillusionment
The melody is sweet
I can almost taste the promises waiting to be broken
About me
About “you”
Click, click, click, click
The tin figure chooses the second one from the left
As always, I see my reflection in the dome

An automaton raises portenteously
As my avatar approaches without a choice
Its branchmates admire the show
With cotton popcorn and waxen tea
This is when they meet, when the branches begin to bud
This is when I fall, when the branches begin to bloom
This is when they kiss, when the blooms begin to rot
This is when tragedy returns, when the rot begins to choke
This is when tragedy remains, when the world begins to fade
The automaton stabs what could be me
And stabs, and stabs, and stabs, and stabs
The heart, the head, repeat, ad nauseum
Blood was spent years ago
What lurches out is a stream of consciousness
Onto pages with penstrokes
The tin figure returns to its home
As I wait for the music to end
But then, it’s all in my mind