Writing research – atomic bomb test film declassified

For science fiction writers, and screen writers, and fiction writers, knowing a bit more about the facts behind explosions can be of use. For example, a writer could be thinking of an action sequence where a character sees an atomic bomb blast from far away (like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull but better).

A writer might need to see different kinds of weapons detonating, not just the documentary footage of the bombing of Hiroshima or Nagisaki.

A science writer might need to know more about the impact and lasting damage of these weapons.

A team of scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have put their preservation skills to the test, and tracked down declassified filmed footage of American nuclear weapons tested between 1945 – 1962.

So far, team lead Greg Spriggs says they have restored somewhere between 400 to 500 individual weapons tests. Somewhere about 750 have been declassified. In total, there are 10,000 weapons tests filmed that the team hope to restore.

How this effort helps science writers and fiction writers is that the LLNL have released many of these films on their YouTube channel for public viewing.

Watching some of this footage can be confronting. The sheer power involved is almost unbelievable. After watching films that use the mass destruction of Nuclear Weapons as an essential narrative component, or part of the themes (Akira, Watchman, Terminator 2: Judgement Day), it is at once hard to believe what I am watching actually took place, and that these weapons have been used in actual warfare. It’s truly devastating.

Writers can make use of the valuable resource for research.

“I think that if we capture the history of this and show what the force of these weapons are and how much devastation they can wreak, then maybe people will be reluctant to use them.”
-Greg Spriggs, Weapon physicist at LLNL.

The LLNL YouTube Channel has the complete playlist. You can read more about the project at the LLNL news page.


Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD Season Four Episode One The Ghost recap and predictions

Spoilers for Season Four, Episode one of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD follow – This information may be classified.

Science and magic are usually in opposition to each other, and agents of SHIELD is bringing opposites together for season four. I’m predicting new villains arriving in season four, and artificial intelligence resurgent

Episode one of season four The Ghost has a burned-out and cagey Daisy still running from the organisation that built up her life, brought her new friends, and put her through more than one struggle for her life and family. And now she has a ghost to deal with.

Leo Fitz’s relationship with Jemma might be stronger, and he may now have a new friend he can related to intellectually, but a new secret is stepping into his life again. Life Decoy Models (LMDs) are designed to protect SHIELD’s agents, but is there a shade of something like Ultron within the program?

Regardless, it’s clear Daisy and Fitz seem to be carrying the greatest emotional weight.

Magic and science collide.

Fitz works ebulliently, yet he is heavy-hearted with a new secret to hold onto, which might distance his relationship with Jemma Simmons.

Holden Radcliffe has a new invention. AIDA stands waiting for orders in Radcliffe’s living room. Fitz has to avert his eyes, since Radcliffe has left her naked, and undressed. It’s a shock to have stepped out of his high-tech, ethical lab working with his partner Simmons, and into a “Weird-science” naked robot lady story.

What’s most interesting about this scene, however, is AIDA’s observation skills.

Switched off, she has her eyes downcast to the floor. There is something alert in her gaze, however. Radcliffe aimed to cross the “Uncanny Valley”, and he seems to have done it. There is  a sadness to AIDA, as she waits to have her voice and agency returned. Something about her is very human.

I predict AIDA might have an issue with Radcliffe and Fitz discussing her fate without her opinion.

Daisy has slipped into the rebillious persona “Quake”, and she is deeply impacted and grieving, still working through the anger of her loss from last season. Can her scientific, serial way of thinking handle a ghost?

Daisy’s pathway through life has involved a lot of serial, procedural, and analytical thinking.

She worked as a compute scientist, a hacker, and a video editor.

She learned about the ritual and procedures of the Inhumans. Terrigen has to be applied in a certain way, and metamorphosis follows a strict process. If Inhuman, grant abilities, and if else, reduce to ashes and dust. Definitely a tough and almost machine-like brutal efficiency.

So when faced with an actual shapeshifter in Ghost Rider, will daisy be able to handle this threat? She thinks procedurally, and serially. Ghost rider seems to shift randomly. Is his power motivated by a concept as nebulous as justice? Or as emotional as vengeance?

I predict Daisy might have encountered something she won’t be able to take on with her current methods and state of mind.

A gaseous woman also appears in the opening episode – could this woman be the villain Vapour AKA Ann Darnell?

Trapped in a box, a mysterious woman who seems to manifest in a gaseous state arrives at the end of the episode to menace Agent May, and her strike team of elite SHIELD agents.

Is this Ann Darnell, of the villain team the U-Foes? Based on teaser information from the next episode, It seems unlikely. Particularly since this character might be wrapped into Fantastic Four copyright, and not available to Marvel Studios.

I predict this character might be a reference to the U-foes, at least, with poisonous gas that can cause hallucinations

Do any of these predictions strike a chord with you? Let me know in the comments where you think Season Four of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is going.

Gotham Academy #7 – Comic Review

Maps Mizoguchi swings over Gotham Academy campus, and sorts through tough gothic literature and dark magic.Gotham Academy #7 tells a mystery story about magical artefacts and scientific acumen.

Gotham Academy #7 offers:

  • Expressive, bright, and vibrant artwork that balances light and shade
  • A mystery with high stakes to solve
  • Themes of magic versus science

The comic builds a gothic world with expressive and vibrant characters, and a strong sense of light and shade that highlights or mutes characters and actions. Artwork also creates some humorous scenes involving a grappling gun.

Quotes from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven build a suitable gothic setting, alongside artwork depicting The Batman standing on the parapets of a Gothic castle – specifically a Scottish castle in a place called Inishtree.

Characters who inhabit the gothic setting of Gotham Academy have highly expressive and vibrant faces. The artwork has a strong sense of light and shade, which it recruits to mute or highlight actions and objects.

Maps reacts romantically to using a grappling gun. Damian Wayne carries the abseiling and climibing device with him. The pair make use of Batman Inc. technology to make an escape across the academy campus. When she sees the grappling gun, the panel changes dramatically. Maps is a prince, and the grapple gun draped in a wedding veil and pearls. It’s an overly exaggerated, romantic reaction to the technology. Soft, pink colours contrast with the black, mechanical shape of the gun. An unusual and hilarious scene.

There’s a mystery to solve, which has high stakes, and helpful and unhelpful teachers. Damian Wayne adds weight to the comic, while Maps leads the way.

Damian Wayne and Maps Mizoguchi become attached to each other. Literally, their hands become bound together by some unseen, magical force. Solving the mystery of why their hands are tied becomes the narrative force. There’s a lot at stake here. What cold be worse than magically holding hands with the new boy at high school?

While they recruit the help of the experienced teacher, Professor Macpherson, a less helpful teacher named “Mr.Scarlet” enjoys having power over students. He is smug and delighted to have found a student not paying attention. For a man who says that “books are very delicate creatures”, it’s unusual for him to slam a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry onto Maps’ desk with such force.

The character clearly has no problems in being inauthentic and lying if it means he can control or take advantage of others. Damian Wayne comments that the inauthentic “Mr.Scarlet” is teaching useless drivel to the class. An indictment from Robin holds weight.

Science and magic themes appear here, and different explanations – both scientific and magical – are brought up to explain what the Inishtree Quill is, and how it affects reality off the page.

There is a constant back and forth between scientific information and magical lore. The comic plays out a science and magic theme, similar to how other DC comics have explored a sorcery versus technology theme.

The big discussion involves the use of a specific quill – the Inishtree quill. The feather seems to come from an enchanted bird. Writing with the quill casts spells, causing the writers thoughts to become somewhat real. Another explanation is that the quill contains a specific train of avian flu native to the British isles, and the quill has infected several students of Gotham Academy.

The large question remains afterward – is the quill magic?

The reason that Maps’ and Damian are magically tied to together appears to be Maps writing “Maps Mizoguchi + Damian Wayne” in her notebook with the Inishtree Quill. When the note Maps wrote is crossed out, their hands are untied. This resembles the magical item Deathnote from the anime and manga of the same name, where writing names in the Deathnote itself could affect reality, and prove fatal. Mr. Scarlet says that Maps made a choice, and clung to Damian like a limpet on a rock. We know, however, that Mr.Scarlet is not credible.

Maps may have more challenges approaching, as a message from Professor Macpherson ends the comic book on a cliffhanger.

Gotham Academy #7 is published by DC Entertainment ($2.99USD). Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher (W.) Mingjue Helen Chen (A.) Steve Wands (L.) Cover artwork by Becky Cloonan.

Klarion #5 – Comic Review

The gifted witch boy Klarion fights against what he sees as an undisciplined foe. Klarion himself is not a hero, however, and shuns responsibility when it suits him. Klarion #5 offers:

  • Unorthodox but effective art choices.
  • An interesting central character.
  • A discipline versus easy power theme
  • The message: technology use must be responsible at the very least.

Despite opening with strange dialogue, unorthodox but effective panel arrangements provide strong and colourful images. With clever wordplay, the comic closes with a powerful scene for Klarion.

The comic opens with a flurry of strange new words. The language might be confusing at first. The comic introduces the characters inside Klarion’s pocket universe. Panel arrangements are unorthodox, but well chosen. Space on the page is balanced with small dialogue balloons.

Overall, the layout presentation is strong. Detailed choices, such as the use of dark blue with bright red and yellow contrast well with some neon bright highlights around large, weird shapes in the background of Klarion’s pocket universe.

Other key details contained in the comic include a clever use of wordplay, and hard, harsh lines around panels for scenes with the villain of the comic contrasted with softer, curved lines for scenes with more heroic, magical characters.

As an examples of the wordplay, Klarion digs through data to find information on the villain on the comic – a time traveller named Coal – saying “I need dirt on Coal”.

The final page shows Klarion summoning a flock of ravens. His pre-battle speech brings together all the themes of the comic. Hundreds of black birds engulfed in light fly around him as he summons a bolt of blue lightening.

Technology versus magic makes up the core conflict of the comic. Through Klarion’s fight with Coal, a theme of discipline versus easy power emerges. Consumers who take Coals technology have a strange experience ahead of them.

The narrative conflict of the comic is Klarion choosing to face off against Coal. The villain Coal comes from the future, and is using powerful technology from that time period. His technological gift is eaten, which grants the consumer some useful abilities. Things become strange when the buddy bot system activates, and a tiny, rapidly growing android slips out of the consumers left palm.

It’s interesting to see right down to the core of the comic’s idea. Arthur C. Clarke’s statement that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” is the kernel idea here.

There is a sub-narrative about artificial intelligence, and parenting. It’s this sub-narrative that helps build Klarion as an anti-hero. It’s interesting Klarion would criticise Coal for selling a technology that gives easy power without discipline since he consumes the Buddy Bot system himself for extra power, but walks away from the responsibility and duty of care that comes when his own Buddy Bot emerges.

Technology used irresponsibly without discipline is shown as a dangerous addiction. Useful sorcery is shown as an exact discipline. If the two are not so different, with magic being explained as advanced tech, a message that tech must be used responsibly plays out.

Technology squaring off against magic, in this comic, brings out theme of discipline versus easy power. Klarion’s point of view gives all the information needed to build up this theme. While he is a conflicted anti-hero, and potentially an unreliable narrator, his perspective is consistent.

He compares magic and sorcery to the exactitude and discipline of learning to play an instrument, moreover conduct an orchestra. Magic is put on the same level as forces of nature, and the disciple and industry of Daedulus, the inventor mention in Greek myth concerning the Minotaur, the flight of Icarus.

Technology is compared to Icarus flying to fly to quickly, and burning up from harsh sunlight. Technology  is a drug, and a source of addiction.

It’s in these scenes placed through the narrative that themes of discipline versus easy power emerge. If the two are not so different, with magic being explained as advanced tech, a message that tech must be used responsibly plays out

It’s also worth pointing out that the Buddy Bot System that emerges from the consumer can be seen as similar to the Greek god Athena, who sprung forth from her father Zeus. Two references to Greek Myth in one comic appear here. A strange and weird story overall, but with an interesting theme, message, and character.

Klarion #5 is published by DC Comics ($2.99 USD). Ann Nocenti (W.) Trevor McCarthy and Szymon Kudranski (A.) Guy Major (C.) Pat Brosseau (L.) Cover artwork by Raymond Bermudez.

Justice League #37 – Comic Review

In the face of a viral outbreak, most of the Justice League are infected. Superman and Batman search for patient Zero – the infected who could help the League devise a cure. Lex Luthor’s attempt at redemption, and the lives of thousands of people across North America are in danger.

How responsible is Luthor? Justice League #37 offers:

  • Character Development: Lex Luthor struggling with past bad decisions
  • Strong action artwork
  • Themes of infection
  • Science information: Virology history and information

The artwork has weight, and scenes where Wonder Woman battles patient zero have strong sense of space. Heat vision makes for a dazzling distraction early in the comic.

While the comic might have some grim interior scenes, where infected Justice League heroes wait for a cure, dramatic fighting scenes and gothic outdoor scenes add weight to the artwork.

Wonder Woman joins the battle against the infected. Her appearance gives the comics a sense of space and gravity. Patient Zero – Doctor Armen Ikaraus – was a scientist at Lexcorp. In the ruins of the Lexcorp lobby, Wonder Woman leaps from the top left of the page, down onto the monster’s back. The direction indicated by her pose, combined with the movement lines, gives the comic a sense of space.

An earlier scene, where Superman and The Batman first encounter the infected, shows off a flash of bright orange energy. Adaptation has always been a feature of the villain Amazo. The Amazo virus infecting Doctor Ikaraus allows him to analyse the facts of a situation, weigh up the information, and form a path of counter attack. Heat vision and flight, in this case, are the most useful skills to distract and turn away the Man of Steel and The Dark Knight long enough for the infected to escape.

Without a sample of the infected’s blood, the Justice League and Lex Luthor cannot create a cure.

Luthor and his sister Lena have a character defining conversation. Luthor’s path to redemption may be run down by his past, bad decisions.

Lex Luthor has a conversation with his sister Lena that gives an insight into his character. What’s fascinating is Luthor’s lies. Luthor is clearly a character struggling with an anti-social personality; egotistical, arrogant, selfish. Despite this, and his history of bad decisions, Luthor wants redemption. Joining the Justice League was the first step on this new path.

He’s deeply conflicted, and can’t easily face the truth. He designed and stored the Amazo virus. He can’t tell his sister why.

Clearly tired of being labeled the villain, Luthor wants a chance at being seen as a contributing, virtuous person. The truth about why he created this virus carries too much weight, however, and could stifle his second chance. His sister wants to know the truth, but telling her that he designed the virus to kill Superman would effectively damage their relationship. His redemption will not work if reconciliation with his last living family member is damaged beyond repair.

His innner struggle becomes clear when he ends his conversation with Lena, and snaps in anger at Captain Cold after returning to the infirmary to start work on a cure.

The big theme of the comic is infection: Luthor’s presence seems to have infected the Justice League. Scientific information on virology appears early in the comic.

Infection plays out as a central theme in this comic. Luthor joining the Justice League is immediately followed by most of the team members becoming ill. Luthor himself is like an infection. Even the environments that make up the story are dark and gloomy. Light sources are limited. Rain is heavy. All the parts of the comic work together to spread this infected theme.

There is disagreements on whether the League can trust Luthor. Superman thinks in black and white terms, and his default position is distrust of Luthor. He might be right to, however it’s unclear at this stage whether Luthor has the patients to complete his redemptive story arc.

Scientific information appears in the opening pages of the comic. Virology history is listed by the Batman in his opening narration. The World Health Organisation is also named.

With themes of infection, it makes sense that the Amazo virus continues it’s spread: the issue ends on a cliffhanger as another member of the Justice League comes down with viral super powers.

Justice League #37 is published by DC Comics ($3.99 USD). Geoff Johns (W.) Jason Fabok (A.), Brad Anderson (C.) Carlos M. Mangual (L.) Cover artwork by Fabok and Anderson.

Batman #36 – Comic Review

Batman #36 marks part two of a new story. After Death of the Family, Endgame stars the Joker in his second story since DC’s New 52 began.
What Batman #36 offers:

  • Bright colours and detailed artwork with forced perspective.
  • A showdown between Batman and Superman
  • Science information
  • Duality Themes

Artwork for the comic uses bright colour, darkness, and forced perspective effectively. Superman and Batman are brought into each others contrasting worlds. Dualities appear in the artwork – things that are opposite and contrast are brought together.

Opening pages of the comic are surprisingly bright and colourful despite the dark storytelling. Themes of dualities run through the comicbook. Things that contrast are brought together. Superman and Batman, Joker and Batman, light and Dark, day and night. Superman flies down into Batman’s dark world – a detailed, dark theatre, and then an underground tunnel. Superman than drags Batman into his world – a bright, clear, blue sky.

Artwork for the Joker’s return has excellent forced perspective, showing small details close to the front of the panel. In this case, flies caught in webs. Later, the links of a chain are shown in similar forced perspective. Webs and chains foreshadow that The Batman has entered a trap. The Joker has indeed set a paralysis trap for Batman. Artwork for these scenes are atmospheric.

Conflict between Superman and Batman results in a showdown between Superman’s abilities versus Batman’s intellect and fortune. The winner is neither of them. The Joker’s re-appearance shows off several hidden meanings: His name, and his choice of clothing specifically.

This opening battle between Superman and Batman showcases Superman’s boundless abilities, and The Batman’s intellect and fortune. The winner, Batman comments, is neither of them. In order for Superman to win, he must become an unstoppable force, ejecting the moral core that makes up his character.

Superman can tear down all of Batman’s defences, with significant collateral damage and no mercy for bystanders.

For Batman, winning would mean depletion of his armory, weapons, and finances, and further forcing himself into isolation – having to live with killing Superman, who is traditionally a good friend.

Joker’s new approach to Batman mirrors his behaviour in the last Joker story. Last time, he describes his actions as a comedy. This time, a tragedy. This is a new step for the character. His clothing choices and his disguises all show off double meanings.

He choses to hide in plain sight as a character called “Eric Border”. Impersonating an Arkham doctor is made simple with the Joker’s new face, surgically attached at some point between stories. There’s an explanation of the hidden meanings behind the name. Eric means “eternal ruler”, and Border is a homphone of “Bourder”, which is an archaic word for “Jester”.

Joker’s black clothes are suitable for a funeral. This is a marked difference from Death of the Family where he wore a mechanics overalls. The clothing choice matches his goals: first trying to “repair” Batman’s life by removing the Bat Family, and now funeral clothes for killing Gotham and the Batman.

Friends are turned into enemies, expanding on a duality theme. The Joker sees himself as a friend to the the Batman, and now, changes himself into an enemy. Scientific information also appears.

Duality themes run through the comic. Contrasting pairs of characters are brought together. Bright colours contrast with Shadows. Superman shifts from a friend into a terrible foe. He becomes both friend and enemy.

The Joker sees himself as a friend who cares about the Batman. Now, he has contempt for the Dark Knight. In his new plan, he sees himself as a true enemy. The Joker’s alias, Eric Border, was also
a friend disguised as a villain, two people at once. Again, friend turned enemy.

Scientific information also appears. Chemistry concepts that Batman and Joker mention include:

  • Nuclear fission versus nuclear Fusion
  • Butadiene-based rubber
  • Magnetised filaments
  • Quinolone – to treat toxins
  • Afamelanotide

Batman #36 is published by DC Comics ($3.99 USD). Scott Snyder (W.) Greg Capullo (P.) Danny Miki (I.) FCO Plascencia (C.) Steve Wands (L.) Cover Artwork by Capullo, Miki, and Plascencia.

The Flash #35 – Comics Review

Time travel plot threads bring Barry Allen into battle against himself from the future.The Flash #35 offers:

  • Excellent portrayal of Super Speed, and strong use of lettering, colour, and light in the artwork.
  • Insight into Barry’s character: change and potential in his future selfs actions and attitudes.
  • Unusual Time Travel perspectives and broad, science fiction ideas.

Light, electricity, and lightning crackle across the pages of this comic. Super Speed is portrayed through interesting art choices, later in the comic book.

The best art choices arrive late in the comic. It’s the introduction of a second time traveler that brings a interesting change in the art choices. Up until that point, the comic book had show off super speed as blurred fists and feet, and repeated images of The Flash and his future self running.

This character has one particular panel that shows off how super speed can work. Future Barry makes a final move against the present Barry. He tosses pebbles. They fly as fast as bullets.

In one panel the character notices the tine stones, reaches out to stop them, and then activates his powers and outruns them, stopping the pebbles from reaching Barry.

These actions all occur in one panel, representing barely a second of time passing.

Essentially, this hero has caught the pebbles at the same time he has noticed them. The panels effectively captures how quickly a character with super speed moves – faster than sound, arriving before his voice finishes travelling through the air.

While it’s a spoiler to reveal this character’s identity, the portrayal of their speed is effective.

The red clothed Barry Allen of the present, and the electric blue Barry from the future, stage their battle on a desolate plain of white salt flats. Lightning and electricity crackle across all the panels after the opening scenes, and stay for the remainder of the comic. Pages of red, yellow, and blue electricity fly across panels accompanied by giant, electric lettering.

Barry is contrasted with his future self, who has lowered himself into cynicism. Compared to his past self, Future Barry does not respect the criminal justice system, and believes in violence as a solution for his problems.

Before the battle begins, Barry of the present eats cereal for breakfast. He chooses “refined sugars and process grains”. Not a great choice for breakfast – The Flash’s metabolic rate might allow him to eat whatever calories he needs, but it’s not the best example to set. It is an interesting comment that Barry’s future self effectively stops him from eating the sugar-coated cereal.

This raises the question of if time travel were possible, would we stop our past selves eating unhealthy food choices?

Barry and Future Barry also fight over lethal force. Future Barry has concluded that arresting criminals and seeking rehabilitation for them – what he calls “virtue” is not enough. Villains continue to re-offend, and murder. He has reached the extreme point of rejecting the criminal justice system.

Fighting style also receives a comment from Future Barry. He name-drops Deathstroke, Lady Shiva, and The Batman as his martial arts teachers. He comments to his past self:

“Speed. It’s the only weapon you have…a reason to neglect honing your other skills”

The comic book explores large science fiction concepts and perspective more than deeper themes. Speed Force as exotic matter appears alongside an interesting perspective on time travel.

The plot of the comic relies on the exotic matter of the Speed Force. Fixing the broken Speed Force drives Future-Barry’s actions. Repairing the damage involved applying more Speed Force to the Speed Force problem.

Despite the re-use of Speed Force throughout the comic to explain the problems and provide solutions, the comic book provides entertaining science fiction.

Time as portrayed in this comic book does not fit into Back to the Future rules. Barry’s death in the present would not wipe away this future version of himself. Time travel ideas here are difficult to conceptualise. How would a paradox not happen if the younger Barry was killed? Would Future Barry necessarily fade out of existence rapidly?

It’s an interesting perspective – looking at time not as a cause and effect, with a series of linear events, but as a more abstract concept. It’s difficult to see time as a larger, interconnected web, or any shape other than a chain of linked events.

The Flash #35 is published by DC Comics ($2.99USD). Robert Venditti & Van Jensen (W.) Brett Booth (P.) Norm Rapmund (I.) Andrew Dalhouse (C.) Dezi Sienty (L.) Cover artwork by Booth, Rapmund, Dalhouse.