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Merry Christmas, Professor Nemesis

Apex glided through the sky at subsonic speed toward Professor Nemesis’ mountain lair. No need to rattle any windows on a holiday, after all.

As the thought crossed his mind, infrared lasers from the foothills tracked onto him. Subterranean launch platforms spat missiles in swarms. The roar drowned out his super-hearing. He dove and swerved to avoid the first wave—not too good a turn radius on these models—only to see them arc around to follow him. Guided by the lasers, no doubt.

Apex squinted, and electromagnetic waves flowed in a torrent from his eyes, then narrowed and focused to a specific frequency. Sure enough, the missiles veered to follow Apex’s signal and slammed back into their own launchers.

Apex touched down at Professor Nemesis’ front door.

The gargantuan titanium skull rising out of the mountain was crushed in places. One eye lit up a sickly green. Apex turned up toward it and arched an eyebrow. “Missiles?” he said for the benefit of the camera no doubt tunneling data back to the professor. “Those haven’t been effective against me for fifty years. You might as well come out and talk, Nemesis.”

The mouth of the skull yawned open.A shrunken, greying scientist in badly oversized lab clothes decorated in a green skull motif shuffled out to meet Apex. “A mad scientist’s budget doesn’t stretch like it used to,” he coughed.

Apex reached out a hand toward Professor Nemesis. “You kept your word. Every dollar spent trying to kill me matched by a charitable donation. And no innocents endangered.”

Nemesis slapped Apex’s hand away. “As if I would endanger the innocent. My quarrel is with you, you monkey.” He gave a wet, wracking cough and doubled over. “No using—“ he started. “No using your micro vision to diagnose me. You promised.”

“I wish you would let me—“

“I let you do enough.” Nemesis’ eyes watered. “Every year, I let you condescend to me, and you get stronger, and I get older.”

Apex offered his hand again. This time, Nemesis took it without looking. They were silent together.

“I will kill you,” Nemesis said finally.

“Merry Christmas, Professor Nemesis.”

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The Scene of the Crime

Content warning: body horror
They raised the yellow tape over my head and let me onto the scene. The air thickened with the smells of copper, metallurgy, leftover scrap, paint, thinner. Blood, of course.

“Nobody touch nothing,” I said. Flatfoots gave me the evil eye and got out of my way. I thumbed my camera drone to life and let it flit and snap.

Three-point lighting flooded the scene with washes of pink and blue. The chalk circle was there, centered, again. Somewhere in the fumes of acetylene there was probably incense.

The vic’s head and neck rose out of the body of an old Triumph Rocket III motorbike, one of the old wheeled ones. A gas guzzler. The face froze in a roar of rage or terror, chrome horns riveted onto its head. The blood mixed with oil and rust and pooled down below. I checked the fuel gauge—empty. It had run all night before it was found.

“We know who did this,” said one of the buzzcuts.

“Shut up,” I told him.

“It was broadcast.”

“Of course it was.”

He scowled. “Why do we need you to to solve this murder?”

“Murder?” I looked back at the Triumph. Not a centaur—two wheels made this a satyr. Symbolic of wild excess and temptation. The motorbike usually meant freedom, but the empty gas gauge told a different story. The victim was no doubt alive at the beginning. This was the end of the road, as it were. The broadcast made it a performance. A sacrifice to a dying god of a dead culture.

“I guess it is a murder,” I said, finally. “But is it a crime? Or is it art?…”

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Christmas C.E. Twenty-thirtysomething

The Familiar came today. One for us all to share. We were so excited when we first saw the big pine crate. Mother cracked open the seal and read the directions while Father started pulling out limbs and tried to make sense of its tiny printed labels.

It needed assembly, charging, and a firmware update. We played with our other gifts, but this was the big one, a plastic, rubber, and carbon fiber servant of our very own.

When it was ready, Mother, Father, Sis, and I gathered around to watch it switch on. It gave a simulated yawning sound, shook gently, and blinked its friendly, oversized LED displays. It said good morning and happy holidays, and sang the jingle we’d memorized from ads all year, then asked if we’d like to name it. Sis called out, “Stupid!” It winked and said it knew she didn’t mean that.

And it wasn’t stupid, not exactly. Limited, more like. Its vocal software didn’t understand our accents yet, and asked what whether we meant this or that.

Mother had it take out its own recyclable packaging, and Father had it dust the tops of the bookcases, and Sis had it sing and play Rock Paper Scissors and tell stories.

Mother and Father asked if we were surprised, and we said yes, and they asked if we were happy, and we said yes.

But I asked for a puppy.

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The Old Grey Hare

Picture, if you will, the theatre after the show. Sweepers clean the popcorn and candy boxes left by the crowds. A grey rabbit dangles his feet from the stage and crooks a gloved finger at you. You follow the rabbit onto the stage and he puts an arm round your shoulder. He’s shorter than you imagined from your seat in the audience.

He rasps quietly in a smoker’s Brooklynese and tells you a secret.

“Dignity can’t be bought. The sugar-glass replicas the rich and powerful buy and display ain’t the real thing by a long shot.” He opens a cigarette case, lights one, and offers it to you. He smokes it himself.

He continues. “How you respond under pressure, under the hunter’s rifle sights, that’s who you are. And you should always take a swing at the mug holdin’ the gun.”

You cough at his secondhand smoke. You want to tell him it’s unhealthy, but he’s rolling.

“There ain’t nobody,” he says, “but nobody, so big you can’t laugh at ‘em. Go forth and do ye likewise, doc.” He pats you on the back, stands, and clomps away on his big feet.

That’s all, folks.

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I Watch Disney Movies Alone

I watch Disney movies alone. Can’t watch ‘em with most people.

I’m on the autism spectrum, and one of my superpowers is that I have special interests, fixations on certain topics to the point where I learn all I can about it and like to talk about it whenever I can.

At the moment, I’m into 2D animation to the point where I hunted down specialty animation tools like an animation disc and Acme-registered cel transparencies so I could learn to make my own animation cels. I’m reading about layouts, how to paint backgrounds, timing for animation, and I’ve even made a few (very) short animations myself. I am having a great time with it.

Ain’t he a cutie pie?

My special interests sometimes override my conversation limiter and I wind up talking someone’s ear off about something they may not care about. Luckily, I’m surrounded by very kind and understanding people, so it doesn’t come up as a problem that often.

When it does, though, it hurts. My Kryptonite is rejection sensitivity—if someone doesn’t match my level of intensity on a topic, it can feel like a rejection, not only of my interest, but of me. It’s not logical. I’m working on it.

Anyway, 2D animation is a niche interest within a niche interest—the adults who still watch cartoons are rare to find, and those who can tell a Chuck Jones from a Bob McKimson are rarer still. It’s hard to find someone who wants to pause The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride and look up who directed the animation for a certain character because their head moved in a cool way. 

So for now, I watch Disney movies by myself, just to avoid feeling like my enthusiasm may be a turnoff, but I’m going to be brave and branch out. Exposure therapy is a good way to deal with fear, so I’m trying to express my interests more openly, and logically thinking through any possible responses to address the illogical fear of rejection. Worst case scenario is, someone doesn’t want to watch Fantasia with me—I’m not likely to lose friendships over being overly enthusiastic. In fact, I’m more likely to strengthen friendships if we have that in common.

Want to watch Zootopia+ together?

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Batman, and What He Meant to This Robin

Kevin Conroy died.

If you don’t follow voice actors, Kevin Conroy played Batman and Bruce Wayne in Batman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, The Batman-Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Justice League Action, The Killing Joke, the Arkham series of video games, and some other movies I know I missed. 

You know his voice. He was vengeance. He was the night. He was, for many, including me, Batman.

* * *

Batman’s always been a part of my life. He—and I’m not talking about an actor here but the Real Batman—is still one of my heroes, and the Real Batman’s sense of justice and equity still informs mine. I doubt I’ll ever fire a gun. I’ll always try to extend an open hand instead of a closed fist. I’ll always think capes are a necessary fashion accessory.

My parents maintain that I recognized a cardboard standee of Michael Keaton’s Batman by name in 1989. I was two, maybe. Not much of a talker at that point. Batman ‘89 is the first movie I ever recall seeing on VHS. I got myself in trouble repeating some of the words I learned in that movie at a dinner party once. I still have a Polaroid of myself, my twin brother, and my sister as two Batmans and a Catwoman standing with the ‘89 Batmobile at an auto show that we went to specifically for that.

Then there was the 1949 Batman and Robin movie serial starring Robert Lowery and Johnny Duncan. We had two VHS tapes of that, and there must have been a third out there, because I first saw the ending when it was rereleased on DVD in 2005. Worth the wait? Not exactly, but for completion’s sake, it needed doing.

Let’s not forget Batman ‘66. Dad was almost definitely the one who got us watching those. He can still tell you the date of the premiere, and what date he saw the real Batman and Robin with the Batmobile at Walt Whitman Mall on Long Island. I watched that show with a religious zeal—I never saw the strings until watching it on Blu-ray. Whether that’s due to taping the show off a TV re-run or because I was a True Believer, I’ll never know.

A copy of the children’s novelization of Knightfall wound up in my hands as part of a birthday party goody bag.

The comics, of course; I recall nearly my first comic ever being an early issue of the Contagion crossover, and it scaring the pants off me. Chuck Dixon, Larry Hama, Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, not to mention the countless artists like Neal Adams, Scott McDaniel, Alex Toth… 


But Batman: The Animated Series debuted on Fox Kids on September 5, 1992, airing the first part of “The Cat and the Claw,” a two-part episode featuring Adrienne Barbeau as Catwoman, Kate Mulgrew as Red Claw, and, of course, Kevin Conroy as Batman. This was, and is, my Batman.

Kevin always played his Batman as trying to save everyone, especially his villains. Mercy was as much a hallmark of his character as gadgets, martial arts, and Batarangs. Villains like Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Ventriloquist, and Catwoman—especially Catwoman—he was always trying to bring over to the side of the angels. Even no-namers like Sid the Squid got the benefit of the doubt.

Kevin seemed to be that way in real life as well—I only got to know about him indirectly, through interviews and secondhand stories. He served food to NYC first responders after 9/11, and rekindled their spirits by playing Batman for them. He seemed genuinely gracious to be known as Batman and gave everyone their moment with the Man himself.

One of the most powerful things he ever did was to come out as gay. He even wrote a comic about how being in the closet informed his performance as Batman and Bruce Wayne—about fear, duality, loneliness, rage—and being able to do something positive with it. More than any other actor, Kevin Conroy embodied Batman. He was dealt a tough hand, pushed through it, and used his position to help others. 

“Finding Batman” was written by Kevin Conroy, drawn and colored by J. Bone, lettered by Aditya Bidikar, and edited by Arianna Turturro and Jessica Chen. It was published by DC Comics in DC Pride 2022, available in print and digitally. It’s worth your time.

Kevin, I’ll miss you. Thanks for everything.

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“I Learned My Social Skills On Twitter, Now What”

I had an anxiety attack this week. Not one of my favorite experiences, but it happens every so often. I can usually never tell what causes them, but in this case, I know some of the reason behind it.

Twitter’s collapsing.

I didn’t have strong social skills in high school or college, and when I joined Twitter, I still had some things to learn. I’ve been on Twitter for almost ten years learning how to socialize. It’s been a real education in what I can talk about, with whom, for how long, and still retain an relationship with someone.

It turns out someone will listen to me talk about Animorphs, but I have to do it right. It has to be the proper setting, I have to introduce the topic and offer it as a subject, lay proper foundation so we can discuss on a common level, listen, and read the signals for the proper time to let the conversation go.

Not too bad. It took some practice to figure out what “proper” meant. Many thanks to my friends for their help in that. It wasn’t easy, and isn’t always, but now I get to talk about Animorphs and keep my relationship with my conversational partner. (Jake’s my favorite, then Tobias, then Ax. Ask me about it sometime.)

I’ve also brought that practice into my offline life. At this point, sans anxiety, I can talk to anyone about anything and walk away having had a decent conversation. Reading people and situations comes quite a bit easier now. Say hello if you see me in person—I’m always happy to meet you.

But part of me is wondering, if I lose Twitter, will I backslide? Will I lose the social skills I worked hard for and the confidence that came with it? Will I lose the version of me who can be social and charming and unafraid?

Intellectually, I know it’s an irrational worry, but that’s the thing about anxiety. It amplifies irrational worries till they can’t be ignored. It built up. I feel better now that I’ve identified and addressed it.

Anyway, if I’ve been beating the drum on social media the last few weeks, that’s why. Thanks for sticking with me and believing even when I don’t. I’ll continue to see you around, and keep saying hi. I always appreciate it. And if you let me talk about Animorphs, I promise not to talk your ear off.

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“Who Am I Off Twitter?”: Exploring Self in a New Online Age of Decentralization

I think it’s safe to say that Twitter was the most important online forum of the last fourteen years. Twitter succeeded at centralizing online communities in one common forum. You have to have a Twitter if you want to be online and be found.

That’s been a good thing in a lot of ways. Twitter’s been a huge boon to communities looking for each other. Personally, I found furries, comics fans and X-Perts, writers and comedians, queer and fat activists, legal professionals, all of whom added value to my life. I needed to find them, and I did.

Twitter’s been great for creators, too. Some good friends of mine have developed fan communities in the tens of thousands, who help pay their bills every month. Where else can a shitposter do that?

But as I write this, Elon Musk’s purchase of the website has gone through, and some of his policies are going into effect. You’ll have to buy verification to avoid your tweets being suppressed, if things actually go through. This signals a new age for Twitter.

Personally, I think it signals the end of centralization, at least for now. Twitter as it has existed is not likely to continue indefinitely. People are already starting to spread out their online presence to other forums, just in case, and I think that’ll continue for the foreseeable future.

The splintering of online communities will have an apocalyptic effect on creators trying to make a living. Instead of having one central space to market their wares and build audiences, they’ll have to divide their time among multiple different forums, just to keep up.

There is one positive angle, though: people won’t have to flatten their personalities to one dimension to maximize their appearance in an algorithm. In a single centralized forum, people can’t code-switch or explore multiple sides of their identities if they want to be found.

Me, I write worksafe and non-worksafe material. I draw general-audiences cartoons and explore more sexual and adult themes as well. I build model kits, I play music, I get political, I get up in arms about social injustices… I do a lot of stuff. I can’t do it all in one place. I certainly can’t explore NSFW subjects in every forum, nor should I.

If there’s one positive thing about diversifying my online presence, and moving away from solely relying on Twitter, it’ll be that I get to show my whole self online.

And that goes for you too—this is an opportunity to showcase more of yourself than a single forum’s algorithm would have allowed. Try something new.

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The Puppy and the Ape

I’m Buddy. I’m a writer and cartoonist. I have inattentive-type ADHD. I have went a path through my adult life littered with hobbies and pastimes which have come and gone, but I’ve wanted to write since I was a kid. This is one pastime I really don’t want to let go of. 

The problem with writing more than a microblog is that it takes more than one session of concentration to get thoughts clear and concise. It’s not easy with inattentive ADHD. My brain works like a puppy, i.e., it runs around chasing what’s interesting in the moment, instead of planning long-term like the smart ape it is.

I’ve tried blogging before. I did longish-form blogging on legal subjects and some artistic subjects about five years ago; I lasted about a year before I tuckered out, and that includes a few months of flagging attention and posting. I had a few good articles, I thought. I’ll probably post some here.

The new relationship energy with this blog is still strong, so I’m getting a kick out of writing again.  At some point, I’ll have to figure out how to keep going and maintain discipline when the dopamine rush isn’t there anymore. 

Yes, I have a planner, I bullet journal, I break tasks down into digestible chunks and try to get a reasonable number done a day. Those of you with ADHD are nodding your heads right now, I hope!

So, I kick the question to you, friends—what do you do to keep interest in a long-term project?