When One Door Closes…

It’s all coming together…

Saul Fore wouldn’t take me in, so I had to find my own lodging. The good news is that I still had the dog tags he gave me. The bad news is that I could only afford lodging in the mutant part of town. It might be a while before the cash rolls in, so I’ve got to stretch these tags for as long as possible. I hope things pick up soon; my new Undying neighbors don’t trust me and are extremely sick.

I was trying to stay away from the apartment as much as possible. I started with a tour of the BLVD. It’s a big place, probably two or three thousand people. I can’t believe how many businesses there are around here. Aside from the blacksmiths, there’s cooks, doctors, tattoo artists, and even a dentist! All those are nice, but I had my own concerns. If I was going to produce a list of all the BLVD’s laws, I’d need some paper or maybe a printing press.

As fate would have it, I bumped into the weasel who writes the local news rag. He was a short guy in a grimy blue suit tearing at the shoulders. An ugly straw hat hid his red hair. He was so preoccupied writing onto his notepad that he bumped right into me.

“Hey! I recognize you. You’re that guy who got caught after curfew.” The pressman said with a sideways smile. “Care for an interview?”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“Oh. How rude of me!” the suited man cried, raising his hat “Mr. McGavin at your service. I’m the best journalist in town, let me tell you, and it’s not just because I’m the only journalist in town.”

I didn’t smile, but the sides of my mouth pulled tight. “Joe Junkman” I replied.

I noticed that the pressman had something hanging around his neck. It was one of those old cameras that spits out the pictures. I was surprised that he could find enough film to use it.

Mr. McGavin must have caught me staring because he immediately raised his camera and said “How bout a photo?” He paused “Only ten…er…only 15 dog tags! It’s a steal!”

“Oh it’s a steal alright.” I replied. “It’s highway robbery!”

Mr. McGavin and I both had a good chuckle.

I think we’ll get along just fine…

-Joe Junkman

On the Road Again

On the road again…

A week has passed since I’ve been in the hospital. With Saul’s dog-tags, I was able to get my arm fixed and receive anti-radiation medicine. Saul Fore is up and about. His skin looks like melted plastic and his fingers are fused together, but otherwise he’s doing fine.

This morning, Saul told me that he has to get back to the Boulevard and invited me to accompany him. The way I see it, going back to that horrible place can’t be any worse than being stuck in this dustbowl. I just hope I don’t get imprisoned, again.

After receiving our discharge papers, we made a pit stop at the fortress armory. I got a canteen, a pistol, and a new backpack, complete with a sleeping bag. Hopefully I won’t have to use the last two.

I thought we were just going to charge into the wasteland. Instead, we waited by a crumbling overpass for hours. I don’t know if you’ve ever stared out into a barren desert for hours at a time, but it’s really really boring.

Finally, a caravan pulled up. The cart was drawn by a handful of strange armadillo creature with trunk noses. Each of these beasts the size of a dog. Accompanying the cart was a handful of guards dressed in maroon fatigues and reflective black armor. I guess Saul wasn’t taking any chances this time.

We set out just when the sun was directly overhead. This should be a smooth ride. Our guards are armed to the teeth.

I just hope that the Boulevard is kind to me.

-Joe Junkman

Creature Catalog: NECROPLASM

Every soldier who survived the war fears the biological superweapon nicknamed “necroplasm”. Toward the end of the war, American scientists had developed a virulent biocide capable of liquefying living tissue within a matter of seconds. The addition of chemical cannons on tanks and man-sized chemical throwers left toxic puddles of necroplasm all across the American west.

Although there is no living person who fully understands the chemical makeup of necroplasm, one thing is clear: for reasons unknown, radiation bonds to the biocide causing post-war necroplasm to function as a powerful mutagen. Some have even theorized that necroplasm itself has transformed into a living organism.

It is well known that the majority of humanoid mutants are created from direct exposure to necroplasm. However, scientific expeditions led by the Guilds of Academia suggest that prolonged exposure to necroplasmic particles in the air cause reproductive mutations in plants and animals. Luckily, a sealed chemical suit is all that is necessary to keep the biocide at bay. Unfortunately, few wastelanders have access to such a luxury.

As a result of vocal opposition from General Morris Kass, mutants are typically frowned upon in human settlements. In response, the mutant races of the Mo-Javi have formed their own tribes and civilizations, often in close proximity to pockets of radiation. Maps of the wasteland often include known locations of necroplasmic puddles and radioactive hotspots. These areas are known as the “rad-lands.”

Because humans overwhelmingly avoid the rad-lands, these sections of the desert have seen a sort of Cambrian explosion. Life is abundant in these regions and constantly adapting to new threats. It is rumored that a tribe of nomadic shepherds nurture and feed the creatures of the Mo-Javi, though such claims are often dismissed.

The Negotiator

That was close,

Witnessing the great cave lake behind me, I turned back to the hulking horror and asked him if we could make a deal. I would start a caravan: taking water from the cave, bringing it to Abundance, and then paying Urmit with some dog-tags on my return. The mutant did not like that.

“Eh, I’ve got no use for tags.” Urmit replied. He licked his lips, “It’s been awfully hot. I’ve been dryin out, losin a lotta mass. Need me some protein to get back to full size.”

At that moment, I realized why I was in the cage. He had planned on eating me, at least initially. However, I could tell from the modern comforts of his home that Urmit was educated. That meant he could be reasoned with. I just had to lead him to my way of thinking.

“Tell ya what, big guy,” I began. “You let me go, I’ll bring you some protein. As much as you want. Maybe a nice plump chicken?”

The horror snorted “Heh, there hasn’t been no real chickens in da Mo-Javi for a long time. Just tacultia these days.” His gaze narrowed. “What game are you playin, boy?”

Mentally, I slapped my forehead, but kept a calm expression. One farmer at the bar in Abundance had offered me tacultia meat if I brought him water. Turns out I really did have the advantage.

“You haven’t seen the tacultia I get. Not from Abundance at all.” I lied. “They taste just like the real thing.”

The mutant licked his lips, but his eyes winced. He could tell I was lying, but a small part of him believed me.

“Look, I’m in the caravan business, see?” I said, only partially lying this time. “You let me leave with some water and I’ll send my boys up here with two tacultia per shipment of water. Sound fair?”

Although it was true that I didn’t have a caravan yet, I would be able to hire as many people as I wanted once I controlled the water. I stuck my hand through the cage to make a deal.

The horror inhaled deeply through his piggish nose. His eyes stared off into the darkness. Finally, his mouth opened slightly. He had an idea.

“Tell ya what?” Urmit began. “I cripple you. Break onna your arms, maybe a hand. You come back, I use my…gifts to heal you, good as new. It’ll be like it never ‘appened.”

I’m no expert in mutants, but I didn’t believe this creature could heal broken bones. This prompted the horror to give me a show of force. Urmit gripped my extended pinky finger and jammed it to the side as hard as he could. A sharp pain shot out from the base of my finger to the end of my wrist. I was almost laughing in pain as the mutant let me observe my broken hand.

With a grotesque squish, like a wet towel smacking into tile, the horror’s own hand turned into an indistinct mass of glowing mucus. The mound opened up like a toothless mouth and Urmit guided my hand into the maw. The mouth closed on my wrist. It was unpleasant and warm. My hand felt like it was submerged in a bowl of gelatin. The good news is that the pain in my finger instantly vanished. After a minute or so, the horror released my hand and molded his own to a more familiar humanoid shape.

I held my wrist in awe. It was a bit slimy, but otherwise miraculously repaired.

“So…” Urmit said, breaking the silence. “I’ll break ‘ur arm, letcha go, and then fix ya up when you come back.” He smiled ear to ear, exposing a mouthful of needle-like teeth. “Whadda shay?”

“Could we do something a bit less painful?” I asked. “I still need to defend myself on the way back to town.”

“Alrighty, which hand do you write with? I’ll leave that one intact.”

This is going to hurt….

 

-Joe Junkman.

Judge Minty: A Judge Dredd Fan Film

Previously, we looked at Judge Dredd: Superfiend, a fan film that had a lot of comic influence, but put a wacky twist on the story and sound design. Inversely, the Judge Minty fan film stays true to the comics, but gives it a realistic twist similar to Dredd 3D. Fitting with The Rad-Land’s theme of post-nuclear fiction, the majority of the film takes place in the radioactive wastelands of the Cursed Earth.

Story: The film concerns Bill Minty, an aging Judge who was severely wounded in the line of duty. Minty rejects a teaching position at the Academy of Law and instead decides to take the Long Walk, exiling himself to the Cursed Earth to bring law to the lawless. What’s interesting about this film is that Judge Minty was actually a character who briefly appeared in Judge Dredd (and was recalled just before Necropolis). The film knows this and mirrors the story exactly as it occurred in the comics. The camera angles and dialogue match up perfectly. The film’s opening act is truly a Judge Dredd comic come to life. Once Minty has entered the Cursed Earth, the story picks up speed as he is hunted by a war party of mutants led by Aquila, an extremely powerful psyker.

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The establishing shots in Judge Minty are great wallpapers!

Establishing Shots: I believe every fan film does at least one thing exceedingly well. For Superfiend it was sound design. For Judge Minty it is establishing shots. Each act of the story opens with an establishing shot: First of Mega-City One, then of the Cursed Earth, and finally the village of Fairville. The film opens with the voice of a lone dispatcher, but quickly builds up to dozens of voices reporting crimes at the same time. Immediately, the audience gets a sense for the chaos of Mega-City One, which juxtaposes well with the lawless Cursed Earth. The wasteland itself is given a lengthy introduction, but one that serves to better the tone, establishing that the Cursed Earth is a nearly lifeless place where only near-human mutants and other monstrosities remain.

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The costumes are exactly as they are in the comics

Characters: Although the set design in Judge Minty is top-notch, the characters themselves are lacking a bit. Judge Dredd characters are generally straight forward lawful neutral archetypes, but after the first act, Judge Minty is essentially one long action scene with less characterization than Dredd 3D. The main villain doesn’t speak. Any change in Minty’s character is internal, without dialogue. Unfortunately, although the film excels in many areas, the acting is the weakest link. Some of Aquila’s soldiers are borderline cringey.

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Aquila the Psyker

Mutant antagonists with visible faces more often look silly than intimidating. Luckily, the mutant leader conceals his face and acts only with body. That having been said, the actor playing Aquila (the mutant leader), does a good job of appearing both intimidating and mysterious as he uses only his hands and a wide eyed expression. The mutant’s costume design is excellent and his war party invokes a variety of Mad Max-esque marauders, each of which has a costume cobbled together from scrap. The antagonists’ costumes look properly wastelandish while the framing and editing creates a tone similar to The Purge.

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Dredd’s brief appearance

The Judge costumes are also true to the source material: black zip-up jumpsuits. green padding, and gold pauldrons. Even the famous Cursed Earth cloak makes an appearance.  The actor playing Minty is effective at being stern and gritty, but I couldn’t help noticing that the Judge helmet flattens his nose. Judge Dredd briefly appears (as he does in the comics), but he doesn’t feel quite right. His gruff voice feels forced and his jaw line doesn’t live up to the nickname of “old stony face”. However, these are nitpicky and ultimately shouldn’t distract from the action scenes and impressive tone setting.

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Attention to Detail: Like Superfiend, Judge Minty’s background static is heavily influenced by comic references. In an interesting story telling decision, Mega-City One’s radio is heard throughout the first act and is shown to be originating from Minty’s helmet. The exposition fades properly when the Judge removes his headgear. Background radio chatter references Otto Sump’s first appearance, the banning of Umpty candy, Robot Wars, skysurfing, and much more. What’s most impressive is that the film is consistent with the comic’s timeline. Minty’s Long Walk was relatively early in the Judge Dredd story line, but the references to the Robot Wars and Otto Sump are well placed within the context of the story. Someone did their homework.

Despite its length, the film is surprisingly dense, full of inside references, good set design, internal consistency, backstories, a fun villain, and a fair amount of set up and pay off. Plus, it explores the often underappreciated Cursed Earth and does so beautifully. Overall, Judge Minty is another half hour fan film that is a must see for any Judge Dredd fan.

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Mad Minty: Beyond Cursed Earth

How A Boy and His Dog Established a Genre

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Like science, fiction is often built on the shoulders of those who came before.  That is to say, most images from our imagination comes from putting a twist on what we’ve already seen. In horror, we can see a very clear progression from Poe->Lovecraft->Kolchak: the Night Stalker->X-Files. Though it seems odd to say it, building on the work of others is the surest way to come up with new ideas.

In the 1970s, post-nuclear fiction had been developing into a small (but growing) genre for nearly 20 years. Many nuclear holocaust films in the 50s and 60s were about the start (and end) of WWIII rather than survival in the radioactive wastelands to follow. Dr. Strangelove, for example, is counted as a nuclear holocaust film.

In 1975, something happened to solidify the tone of a desert wasteland. Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog provided audiences with a visual medium to express the post-atomic world. The little details in storytelling, set design, and costumes would inevitably shape the Mad Max franchise, the Fallout franchise, and much more.

A Boy and His Dog would define the tone of the post-nuclear genre in 4 ways:

  1. The Wasteland
  2. Settlements
  3. Clothing
  4. Mutants

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 The Wasteland: A Boy and His Dog portrays the world as an endless post-apocalyptic desert. This would set the backdrop for the entire genre as even Fallout 3 (a game set in Washington D.C.) was comprised of desert. However, A Boy and His Dog redefined the post-nuclear landscape by setting the entire thing in the deserts of Arizona. From a storytelling perspective, this puts the audience in the mindset that life is hard, water is scarce, food is hard to come by, and the survivors are more than likely to be desperate bandits (creating a sci-fi wild west motif). Years later, Mad Max and Fallout would use the concept of endless radioactive desert to build their own universes.

What’s interesting about the wasteland of A Boy and His Dog is that most of the world we see is still in one piece. Everything is underground, usually in a somewhat serviceable condition. Early in the film, Vic and Blood come across a slave driver who is mining for cans of food. Vic would eventually take refuge in an underground hospital. 40 years later, the Mad Max video game would expand on this idea with The Dunes, an area of the wasteland which is functionally identical.

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The third act of A Boy and His Dog takes place in an underground bunker/town called Topeka. The American government has survived and upholds a caricature of 1950s America with a powerful metal fist. This seems like a clear jumping point for Fallout to build off of, especially since the tone of 1950’s Americana took greater hold of the series from Fallout 3 onward.

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Settlements: Using the visual medium, A Boy and His Dog was able to craft a living world full of tiny details to express the desperation and restructuring of the post-nuclear world. As all the resources are buried underground, survivors are forced to make their homes out of junk. The opening credits depict a hut made from nothing but discarded tires. Vic begins his adventure in a lean-to made from sheet metal and barrels. The wasteland theater has a wall made of car parts, sheet metal, and other junk, reminiscent of Fallout’s Junktown and The Road Warrior’s refinery.

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These little details show that even decades after the apocalypse, survivors have only done what is necessary to trade with each other and survive. A Boy and His Dog was stuck in the post-apocalyptic mindset, but began the movement toward the post-post-apocalyptic genre, a concept that was fully developed by Fallout. Mad Max 3 and Fallout would later develop towns and settlements with unique cultures, but it all began with A Boy and his Dog.

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Notice how each costume is just a collection of random junk

Clothing: From the savage biker gear of Mad Max to the settler outfits in Fallout, Wasteland attire is generally described as a mixture of whatever you can cobble together. Nowhere is this truer than in A Boy and His Dog. The tone for clothing is set fairly early with the slave driver. His outfit is a mixture of things that look interesting, but have no practical use: a leopard print naval hat, several brightly colored quilts, a crest of feathers, and a handful of gold rings. This shows the breakdown into tribalism and feudalism seen in both Mad Max 2 and Fallout.

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Extravagance over practicality.

It is easy to see how A Boy and His Dog influenced post-nuclear fashion as a cosplay of any character from the film would fit right in at Wasteland Weekend. For 40 years, the manner in which post-nuclear survivors choose their clothes has remained the same.

Mutants: One of the best parts about the post-nuclear genre is the mutants. Post-apocalyptic scenarios with zombies are generally limited to caricatures of humans, with some variation of speed and muscle mass. Nuclear mutants can be (and have been) nearly anything as there is no limit to how familiar creatures can be twisted into something utterly monstrous.

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The burnpit screamer: a creature so mysterious, it has never been seen.

A Boy and His Dog established future use of mutants with Blood the talking dog and followed that with the legendary burnpit screamers.  Although certainly unrealistic, mutants bring danger, fear, and life to the wasteland. The incorporation of mutants portrays a changing world, one that will never be the same and practically puts the audience on another planet. Mutants are critical to the post-nuclear genre as they make the world feel alive. The Fallout, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and Metro franchises owes much of their success to the addition of creatures transformed by radiation.

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Although Mad Max 2 defined the functionality of the post-nuclear genre,  A Boy and His Dog set the tone and feel nearly a decade years before. Despite being 40 years old, Harlan Ellison’s work has become a cult icon of the genre and will continue to inspire, despite its outward simplicity.

A Walk in the Wasteland

I think I’m getting the hang of this.

These tattooed guys are part of some kind of blacksmith guild. They have more guns and ammo than they know what to do with. One of them has really taken me under his wing. Guy by the name of Saul Fore. Apparently we’re heading up north, to the edge of this desert valley they call the Mo-Javi. We’re going to do some trading with Abundance, a farming community.

I’m feeling pretty good. The blacksmiths gave me some cold coffee and crackers as hard as brick, but it’s better than nothing. We’ve been walking across the desert for a day now. This would be a lot easier if we had animals to pull the wagons, but I haven’t seen any animals or bugs since I got kicked out of that last town.

We were walking down a decrepit highway, mostly picked clean of cars, when I asked Saul Fore how this all happened. He was confused at first, but eventually realized that I was dead serious. He explained a great war that swept across the valley, a horrible biological super-weapon, a tyrant named General Kass from the ARE, mushroom clouds rising from the valley’s edge, and mutants that came afterwards.

I didn’t realize things had gotten so bad.

-Joe Junkman