Friday, October 20, 2017

DEATH COUNT






[I was going to post this during my week of shameless self-promotion, but it fell between the cracks, and I forgot all about it. This was written during the latest US election for president. I was very angry upon hearing all of the crazy shit that was going down in my own country. As a result, I wrote this from a place of rage. That’s always a mistake for me, because when I’m in that frame of mind I’m very heavy handed. While this story might be funny, it is very heavy handed. I like to balance out a story’s purpose with subtlety. I write mostly to entertain, but if you’re looking for deeper meaning, you’ll find that, too. This does not live up to my self-imposed standard. Still, it’s an interesting piece. You may remember a while ago I complained that I had to change a story I was writing because I thought it was unthinkable that Trump would win. I fully expected us to have another President Clinton. This story is the same, one way or the other, but I had to do some light rewriting. This is not a part of the John Bruni Museum of Mediocre (At Best) Shit because I think it is better than that. Not ideal, but close.]


“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen and all genders in between. Welcome to the 25th Annual Death Count Slaughterama! I’m your host Mean Gene Okerlund.”


“And I’m Bob Uecker.”


“We’re live in New York City ready to cover another coast-to-coast event.”


“This is my last year, Gene. Sorry to say, but retirement’s calling my name. Next year we’ll have Ryan Seacrest covering in my place.”


“Sorry to hear, Bob. It’s my last year, too. I’ll be replaced next year with Fred Willard playing the role of Dick Clark.”


“That sounds like a shit show.”


“Nobody gives a fuck, Bob. They just want to see a lot of people die violently.”


“You’ve got that right, Gene. Do you have the list of contestants for this year’s show?”


“You bet. First up we have fan favorite Brock Tennyson Smith. Best known for shooting up movie theaters, he has a career total of one hundred and fifty-seven dead. He’s only been arrested three times.”


“White privilege, Gene.”


“Number one with a bullet, Bob. We also have Nestor Wilson Nevins, and can you believe it? He’s only fifteen, and he has sixty-two confirmed kills.”


“Shooting first graders is like shooting fish in a barrel, Gene.”


“Too true, Bob. Next up is the heel of the bunch, Abdul bin Laden, son of the famed 9/11 contestant who murdered thousands with two airplanes.”


“A tough act to follow, Gene.”


“Donald Trump is volunteering for his first Slaughterama. He’s ruined a lot of lives, but he hasn’t outright taken them yet. He promises that his performance tonight is going to be huge.”
“Should be interesting to see. I’ll bet he gets all his supporters to do his dirty work.”


“After he won the presidency, they’re chomping at the bit to kill something. The judges are uncertain if they’ll count proxy killings.”


“Sounds spineless to me, Gene.”


“Should be interesting, nonetheless. Our final contestant is a dark horse. No one saw it coming. Mark David Chapman has been released from prison and set loose in Hollywood.”


“Wow! That sure is something!”


“Aside from that we have all the country’s police officers standing by to try to stop our contestants for this year’s . . . Slaughterama!”


“I can’t wait, Gene. Got any bourbon?”


“No, but I do have a prerecorded interview with Trump. We’ve got about a minute to go before the start time, so let’s play it.”


*cut to tape*


“There’s some bad hombres out there. Bad hombres. These Black Lives Matter thugs. Terrorists. The guy that killed John Lennon. John Lennon was a terrific musician. I have no doubt that he would have loved me. Just loved me. But I’m telling you, tomorrow night is the night. I’m going to finally make America great again . . . by killing all of the bad hombres. It’s going to be huge.”


*cut to live feed*


“Powerful stuff, Gene.”


“I’ll say. We’re just about ready to start. Anything to add before we get to the countdown, Bob?”


“Not a thing.”


“Aaaaaand we’re ready to begin in five! Four! Three! Two! One! Gooooooo!”


“Wow! Gene! Would you look at that?! Chapman’s off to a killer start! He has just executed Justin Bieber with three shots to the chest!”


“And what a chiseled chest it was, Bob. I can hear preteen girls crying their eyes out as we speak.”


“And that’s it? Gene, it looks like Chapman’s moving on. Why isn’t he killing the others at the concert?”


“Maybe he’s only going to kill popular musicians, Bob.”


“If that’s the case, he’ll never get a good body count.”


“He is in Hollywood, Bob.”


“True.”


“Let’s check in with bin Laden. It doesn’t look like he’s doing much. Is he . . . he’s at a gas station?”


“It’s the only gas station in downtown Chicago, so there are a lot of people around. He might—”


“He’s paying twenty bucks for gas? What could his plan be?”


“He’s going to a pump and . . . no! Genius!”


“He’s pumping gas out into the open air! And he’s putting a lighter up to it! He’s screaming something. I can’t tell what. There’s a jet of flames! It’s a flamethrower! And the gas station is exploding! Holy shit! I’ve never seen anything like it!”


“Me, neither. Look at how effective it was. Buildings are collapsing all around that terrible mushroom cloud. The death toll is rising. In one action bin Laden has murdered hundreds!”


“But at what cost, Bob? Bin Laden is our first contestant casualty. And he did not top his father.”


“Check it out, Gene. Smith has entered a theater showing the new Star Wars. He’s gunned down twenty-two people and counting.”


“It pales in comparison to bin Laden’s explosion. It’s almost boring, Bob.”


“Maybe this will pick you up. Trump has rallied his supporters, and they are marching into Manhattan where a Black Lives Matter group has been protesting the police killing of African American Michael Porter.”


“Nothing like a good race riot to get your blood pumping.”


“Black Lives Matter are ready! They’ve come armed! A shootout has started! Everyone is dropping like flies! It’s a madhouse!”


“The cops are not joining, Bob. In fact they’ve turned their backs on the riot! Literally! This has never happened in the history of Slaughterama!”


“The judges made the call. Those deaths are going to count for Trump. If they didn’t, it would be like saying Hitler didn’t kill any Jews.”


“And those numbers are soaring up to sixty-seven. Do we have a final count for bin Laden?”


“Five hundred and forty-seven and counting. A lot of wounded are still dying, Gene. It’s too soon to say for now.”


“It’s already an impressive number, but Trump could beat him. He could do it.”


“Gene, we have a translation of bin Laden’s last words. He said, ‘I kill these infidels in the name of Allah.’ Not very inspired, is it?”


“No, Bob. I’m not impressed.”


“What’s this over here? A New York City gay bar has broken out into gunfire! It looks like we have a rogue shooter! He’s got an AK-47, and he’s fanning bullets through the club! Bodies are dropping!”


“We get one every year, Bob. There’s always someone trying to sneak a shooting into Slaughterama. It’s best not to mention it. Don’t want to encourage him.”


“Thanks to Trump, we can move on. Another group of his supporters has appeared in North Dakota, and they’re overtaking the Native Americans protesting the pipeline. Dear God! They’re using tomahawks on the Native Americans!”


“I don’t know if that’s racist or not.”


“It’s racist, Gene.”


“Trump’s known for controversial statements.”


“I’ve never seen anyone get scalped before!”


“Gruesome, Bob. Whoa! St. Patrick’s in Boston just erupted! There must have been a hundred and fifty people in there! Who did it?!”


“Judging from the Cheshire cat grin on his face, I’m guessing it was Nevins.”


“Good to see he’s expanding his horizons, Bob.”


“Chapman certainly isn’t. He just lobbed a brick of C4 at Brian Setzer and just took out his entire orchestra. Now he’s thinking big!”


“Let’s check in with our score so far. Bin Laden is creeping up on six hundred and twenty-three. Trump has two hundred and forty-two. Nevins is climbing to a hundred and ninety-two. Smith is lagging at eighty-six. And bringing up the rear we have Chapman at twenty-three.”
“But we still have a long night. Anything could happen.”


“And is happening. Another group of Trump supporters has invaded the Clinton compound! They have Hillary Clinton’s head on a spike!”


“Ooh! And they got Bill Clinton, too! Wow!”


“I’ll miss the funny rapey bastard. Took care of the deficit, though.”


“Holy shit! Gene! Look! Yankee Stadium just blew up! They were playing game seven of the World Series in there! That’s tens of thousands dead! The numbers are climbing! We have fifty-four thousand two hundred and fifty-one people dead! Who did it?! Who gets the credit?!”


“Nevins! Nevins just blew past bin Laden by light years! Not even 9/11 superstar Osama bin Laden did this well!”


“Trump’s going to have to work a lot harder if he’s going to top that!”


“He’s got a lot of supporters, Bob. Let’s not count him out yet.”


“Look, Gene! Chapman is sneaking up on the Staples Center in LA! They’re holding the Grammys tonight!”


“That can’t be good for pop culture. There are about two hundred musicians packed in there. The Top 40 is going to look very weird going forward for the foreseeable future.”


“Bang! Chapman didn’t use a gun! He used explosives yet again! Think about all those dead musicians! Blown to bits!”


“Rest assured, Bob, that Nickleback wasn’t there.”


“Too bad, Gene.”


“This just confirmed: among the dead are Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. God’s Beatles collection is now complete.”


“Not Chapman’s, though. He missed out on George Harrison.”


“No one’s perfect, Bob.”


“Ain’t that the truth.”


“This has been an absolutely crazy Slaughterama this year. So much killing! So much violence. And it’s all weird. Unexpected.”


“It’s about to get weirder. Bernie Sanders has commandeered a tank, and he and his supporters are marching on the White House, killing Trump’s people all the way! He’s trying to take back America!”


“Not bad for a dirty hippy. Too bad he’s not a contender.”


“No, wait! He’s firing his cannon into the White House over and over! He’s not here to take back America! He’s here to destroy America!”


“He’s not very good at it. A Trump supporter just tossed a hand grenade down the hatch. Boom! And that’s all she wrote for that fucking Commie bastard.”


“It’s been a bad night for the Left, Gene.”


“It’s been a rough night for everyone . . . except our audience! They’re going to talk about this one for years to come.”


“Uh-oh. Looks like Smith’s luck ran out. He just ran into one of those good guys with a gun the Right is always talking about. He took two bullets to the head. There’s no coming back from that one. His final death count is being tallied now.”


“Correction, Bob. That’s not a good guy with a gun. That’s George Zimmerman! He was Slaughterama’s champion from three years ago! He’s the reason Black Lives Matter exists!”
“And, presumably, why Trump is killing Black Lives Matter people tonight.”


“True, Bob. The fans have missed him. I wonder if he intends to take to the field for sport.”


“Doesn’t look like it, Gene. A man with SJW tattooed backwards on his forehead  has stabbed Zimmerman in the throat. A dark day for America.”


“I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”


“Our final count for Smith is ninety-two. Peanuts compared to everyone else.”


“It’s tough finishing in last place, Bob. And being dead, to boot.”


“What’s this? The KKK is rising! They’ve got Confederate flags sewn on as capes! This is the biggest mass lynching in US history! This has Trump written all over it!”


“That has been confirmed. It also looks like the US Border Patrol—acting under Trump’s orders—is killing Hispanics in Texas and Arizona. Trump’s numbers are rising like crazy!”


“Bad news for Trump: Jim Brown and Pam Grier have organized Black Lives Matter groups, and they’re slaughtering the KKK!”


“Danny Trejo has taken up the charge against the US Border Patrol! It’s one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen!”


“It doesn’t matter what color you are, Gene. We all bleed red. And there’s a lot of red on America’s streets tonight.”


“Will someone please get Bob some bourbon? He’s starting to get philosophical. I need a savage in the announcers booth.”


“Speaking of alcohol, it’s time for a message from our sponsors.”


*cut to commercial*


“Tonight’s gladiators speak for us all. Mad at your boss? Your wife? That dickhead neighbor of yours? You might not be able to kill them, but cheer up. They might die on Death Count Slaughterama tonight. Drink Budweiser.”


*cut to commercial*


“All worn out from killing everybody in sight? You’re probably hungry. Get something from McDonald’s Dollar Menu. Free refills on soft drinks. Ba-da-ba-ba-bah! I’m lovin’ it.”


*cut back to live feed*


“And we’re back. I’m Mean Gene Okerlund.”


“And I’m Bob Uecker.”


“The score so far: Nevins is currently in the lead with a staggering fifty-four thousand five hundred and eighty-six. No one has ever scored higher. Trump is in a distant second with eight thousand two hundred and seventy. In third place is Chapman nearing the five hundred mark at four hundred and ninety-four. Two of our contestants are dead. Bin Laden’s number is still climbing slowly as more victims die, but it’s hovering around six hundred and sixty-one. And Smith topped off at ninety-two.”


“Check that, Gene. Chapman’s out, too. Look.”


“Well, I’ll be! Someone got the drop on Chapman. Oh my God! It’s Pete Best! The forgotten Beatle! He killed Mark David Chapman!”


“I didn’t even know Pete Best was still alive.”


“We are now down to Nevins versus Trump. Both are dangerous and crazy. Nevins has the lead, but Trump is very cunning. Anything can happen!”


“Gene, how are we for time?”


“There is an hour and seventeen minutes left before a new champion is declared.”


“Trump’s going to have to get busy, then. Fifty thousand people to go. That’s a lot of folks to kill.”


“And who knows where Nevins will be by the time Trump gets those numbers?”


“A crowd is building up outside Trump Tower in New York, where his majesty is rumored to be holed up, sending out orders. Security is high there. I don’t see—”


“Look! They’re being led by John McCain and a group of POWs! They’re armed and in uniform! Artillery is going off! They’re trying to detonate Trump Tower!”


“I could be mistaken, Gene, but I think I see Rosie O’Donnell and Michael Moore in that crowd.”


“You’re right, Bob, and they look mean.”


“Meaner than you?”


“Not a chance, Bob.”


“Holy Jesus! Trump’s men are pouring molten pitch down on McCain’s POWs! They’re dropping bombs! It’s crazy!”


“Trump supporters are moving in behind McCain’s troops! It’s a trap! They can’t escape! The building is collapsing! They’re all going to die!”


“The numbers just jumped dramatically! Thousands are dead, and thousands more are dying!”


“Don’t count McCain out yet. He’s moving through Trump supporters like an animal! He’s got a knife in his teeth, and he’s cutting people down with an M16! He’s shooting so many people his barrel is melting!”


“That’s okay. Looks like he has a backup.”


“Rambo has nothing on John McCain right now!”


“Dead Trump supporters are piling up in the ruins of Trump Tower. There is a literal river of blood running down New York. I’ve never seen anything like it!”


“Ten thousand dead and counting!”


“The Trump supporters have surrounded McCain, and they’re pumping everything they have into him! He’s soaking it up! McCain has been shot a dozen times, and he’s still returning fire!”


“Look at him roar! He’s out of ammo, and he’s using two side arms! He’s got about twenty bullets in him, and he’s reloading! They got him in the head, and he’s refusing to die!”


“Gene! My heart! I can’t take it!”


“Your pills! Here. Get that down. Here’s some bourbon. You all right?”


“Wow! Close one, Gene. I’ll be glad when this is all over. I’m too old for this shit.”


“McCain’s down to his knife. He’s cutting throats left and right! Wait! Someone took his knife and stuck it in his back! He’s grappling with them! He’s biting someone’s throat out! With his dentures!”


“Not anymore. Someone just decapitated him with a machete. His body has finally accepted its own death.”


“It’s a pity to lose him. That was great TV!”


“He will be missed. Do we have a final death count on Trump Tower?”


“Twenty thousand three hundred and eighty and counting. This puts Trump up to thirty-one thousand plus.”


“Still not enough to top Nevins.”


“Speaking of which, let’s check in with him.”


“Not a lot going on with him. It’s like he’s taking his sweet time. He’s actually taking a Taco Bell break.”


“Careful, Bob. They’re not advertisers.”


“Sorry. I meant to say he’s at a McDonald’s, and he’s lovin’ it.”


“He can afford to dilly-dally. He’s ahead of Trump by what? Thirty thousand?”


“Just about.”


“Trump’s going to have to commit some serious crimes against humanity if he’s going to win this. Can he do it in less than one hour?”


“I don’t know, but if I was in a crowded area right now, I’d be very nervous.”


“Things have slowed down a bit, so let’s cut to an interview with last year’s winner, Ann Coulter.”


*cut to video*


“So Ms. Coulter: how does it feel to be the mass-murdering champion of the year?”


“Gene, I can’t express to you how happy I am right now. For years I’ve wanted to kill all these assholes, and to finally be given permission? It set me free. Have you ever killed anyone?”


“No, ma’am.”


“It’s liberating! I wish I could do it every day! Just knowing that I caused someone—lots of someones!—to die . . . I’m wet, Gene. It felt like getting eaten out by Ronald Reagan, it was that good.”


“Careful with that language. This is a family show.”


*cut to live feed*


“And we’re back.”


“She’s a real firecracker, Gene.”


“I thought we’d cut that last part out. I apologize to our viewing audience. No one should have to hear language like that.”


“I agree, Gene.”


“It’s been a wild night, but things are winding down. Thirty-five minutes to go before we crown a new champion. I don’t—”


“What’s this? This is unprecedented! Every Planned Parenthood in the nation has exploded! Thousands are dead! This has Nevins written all over it!”


“No, Bob. The judges are confirming that Trump is behind this. His numbers are soaring! I’m showing forty-five thousand eight hundred and twenty-one! Trump is almost caught up to Nevins!”


“That’s got to chap Nevins’s ass.”


“Unbelievable!”


“Look at Nevins scramble! He’s running for his car! What’s he going to do?”


“He’s driving toward Philly. That’s allegedly where Trump is hiding out now that we know he wasn’t in Trump Tower. Could it be he’s seeking a personal showdown with his final adversary?”


“I hope so. This has been the best Slaughterama I’ve ever been a part of.”


“Trump’s gotta’ be running out of people to kill. Who else does he have a problem with? They’re all dead, right?”


Now they might be. The headquarters of both CNN and Fox News have just exploded simultaneously! The entire buildings! Trump has people everywhere!”


“His numbers are skyrocketing! The scales are tipping! He’s getting closer to Nevins! Closer! We’re at the fifty thousand mark and climbing!”


“They’re tied! They’re tied at fifty-four thousand five hundred and eighty-eight! That’s incredible!”


“Holy shit! Trump cut off Nevins on the road! Trump himself has entered the field! They’re face to face! A literal showdown with five minutes left in the game!”


“Trump’s people have stopped killing! All eyes are on him! This Slaughterama couldn’t have been better if it was scripted!”


“They each have a gun on their hips. They’re watching each other like hawks. The tension is palpable, Bob.”


“You can say that again. We’re down to two minutes. Two minutes, and one of these men will be the new Slaughterama champion.”


“We’re down to one min—the kid makes a move! Trump’s standing still! No! The Trump supporters have all drawn down on Nevins! They’re lighting him up like a Christmas tree! Trump cheated the kid!”


“No surprise there, Gene. He’s a slippery weasel. Not to be trusted.”


“And time’s up! This year’s Death Count Slaughterama is over, and the new champ is Donald J. Trump!”


“He did it without killing a single person himself. There’s just something that isn’t right about this. I don’t like it.”


“You don’t have to like it, Bob. Here is the final score: Trump at fifty-four thousand five hundred and eighty-nine. Nevins with fifty-four thousand five hundred and eighty-eight. Chapman at four hundred and ninety-four. Bin Laden with six hundred and sixty-seven. And lastly Smith with ninety-two.”


“That’s a staggering one hundred and ten thousand four hundred and thirty people killed, Gene. Unbelievable. No other Slaughterama has claimed so many lives.”


“The closest was 2011, and only thirty-five thousand five hundred and seventy-seven people died.”


“It’s breathtaking, Gene.”


“Sure is. Well folks, that’s the end of our show. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you to Budweiser and McDonald’s for sponsoring us. And remember: we’re sorry for your loss, but your loved ones died for a good cause: our entertainment. This is Mean Gene Okerlund.”


“And I’m Bob Uecker.”


“And we’re signing off. Stay tuned for Seinfeld, coming up next. Goodnight.”

THE JOHN BRUNI MUSEUM OF MEDIOCRE (AT BEST) SHIT #11: REVIEW OF FLINCH #1






[This is proof that I should not have been writing comic book reviews back then. My knowledge was limited to what I liked (and hated). I officially take back what I said about Bruce Jones and Richard Corben. I found a lot of their other work, and I was thoroughly impressed. As for Steve Pugh, he has grown on me. I’m sorry to all of you. Also, it’s worth noting that Flinch did get better, especially when it started publishing the likes of Joe R. Lansdale. This is from the Elmhurst College Leader May 11, 1999.]


Anyone who has been in a comic shop recently will no doubt have seen the cover for Flinch, a new horror series in anthology format. Phil Hale, the artist, obviously knows what he’s doing, considering how Flinch nearly jumped off the rack with such demented power that it is impossible to pass up. In a mix of red and shades of gray, it depicts a doctor marking up his own body for surgery. The catch phrase: “Horror gets a facelift.”


If only that were true. Flinch starts out with “Rocket-Man,” a story written by Richard Bruning and drawn by Jim Lee. This is perhaps the most clich├ęd horror gets, aside from the classic revenge story, maybe. Bruning must have been hard up for a story, so he simply did what many others did before him—he ripped off Ambrose Bierce’s “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Man builds jetpack, man launches himself, man thinks he’s succeeded, yet man was really blown up and is dead.


There is only one merit to this story—the relationship between the man and his family. Apparently, he’s been trying to build the jet pack for a while, and to Lee’s credit you can see the exhausted look in the eyes of both mother and son.


Next up is “Nice Neighborhood,” written by Jen Van Meter and drawn by Frank Quitely. This isn’t even horror; it’s just a bunch of laughs.


Unfortunately, Van Meter can’t write comedy. “Nice Neighborhood” runs like a joke told in monotone—it’s a lot of funny stuff with a deadly serious tone. There’s a new drug going around called Rigora (they might as well have called it Viagra), and elderly men are so desperate to get it that they’ve formed gangs with names like the Country Club Kings and the Silver Wolves.


Apparently, a group of old men with canes are extremely dangerous. The funniest moment is seeing an old man with a knife demanding Rigora while wearing a hat that says, “World’s Greatest Grampa.” The older gangs are against the youth in a crazy gang war that gets a lot of people hurt and killed. In true battle tradition, the young warriors wear trophy necklaces—in this case, it’s a string of dentures presumably taken from rivals they’ve killed.


Flinch finishes up with “Wolfe Eats Girl,” written by Bruce Jones and drawn by Richard Corbin. The art isn’t much, a low-rent version of Steve Pugh, who wasn’t that great to begin with—but the story is actually the closest of the three to the promised facelift.

There’s a lot of symbolism in Jones’s story. The town the Reverend and his flock come to is called Angel Falls, reflecting what happens to the Reverend in the end. The narrator’s name is Peter Milkin, for St. Peter and a holy man’s natural affinity to milking people for all they’re worth.


However, Jones doesn’t have a lot of reason to this madness of contradicting terms, and as a result, it’s hard to buy into the plot. This is really more a tale of a reverend’s fall from grace, and those stories are everywhere.


Flinch is off to a bad start. Instead of horror getting a facelift, it gets fingers stuck down its throat in a shameless regurgitation of all that came before. We can only hope future writers know what they’re doing.