BEFORE THERE WAS TIME, THERE WAS…
That’s how Photon opens. Well, that and a massive pulsing space cock.
Brockway: Photon was the name of the very first laser tag game back in the early ‘80s. Photon was also the name of the tie-in TV show, which explained and promoted laser tag in the least effective way possible. The concept of the game was “children can now shoot each other without need for a half-size coffin and a special sermon from Pastor Ted.” The concept for the show was “there’s a crystal energy force which creates and sustains life in our universe… and we use it to play laser tag.” There was, of course, an evil warlord that wanted to corrupt our precious laser tag mako. What a sinister fiend! What a dire creature!
He kind of looked like somebody strangling a muppet.
Seanbaby: He looks like something that would pop out of Robocop’s chest in a Saturday Night Live Robocop vs. Aliens sketch to say, “Where is the beef, creep.” And then the actual Where’s the Beef lady would walk out in full tactical gear, wait for the applause to die and deliver, “H-hey. robot… Hey, robo-alien. That’s my line.” Then she would fire a prop shotgun at it two seconds before a gun sound effect. “There’s the beef, you bitch,” would scream Jon Lovitz before host Sigourney Weaver walked on to add, “Hey, that’s my line. Ladies and gentlemen… Kenny Loggins!” Hold on, I’m accidentally making this really good. I’m going to go get some of these ideas down, Brockway. I’ll be back in two lazer tag guys!
Brockway: Don’t bring up Kenny Loggins! We’re in the middle of doing a thi-
Yeah, fine. We’re gonna need to give him some Loggins time. Let’s all pretend we don’t know exactly what that means.
All right, well, here are a few of the Warmuppet’s evil henchmen, looking like references I don’t get in the bathroom line at Comic Con.
Brockway: The temptation is toward pity here. Whoever sets out to fight Cybergoth Adam Ant and Reanimated Magikarp better hand out a lot of free swings or they’re going to look like a war criminal. But it’s actually a pretty even battlefield, because here’s our protagonist.
Brockway: Bodhi Li looks like an inspirational story segment in a very special episode of American Gladiators. He fights like he’s joking but he’s worried that your mom is watching and might think he’s serious. He will take every opportunity to do a somersault but he will take zero opportunities to learn how to somersault.
And he is the very best of our squad.
The rest of the hero roll call does not get better. We’ve got…
Pile of Shit in a Hardhat.
Seanbaby: “Ah, thank you for coming in. This is a very wet resume… it says here you’re currently employed as ‘ME FIX THE HOLES IN THE POTTY ON YUGOSLAVIA’S #9 KID’S SHOW.’ What if, Pile of Shit in a Hardhat, I could offer you a position as an assistant laser master? Gassy poop sound? Is that a yes? It is? Great, congratulations!”
Brockway: Yes, this is definitely a Wrong Universe children’s icon. This is what would come back if Bob the Builder went on the Event Horizon ship. He’s the mascot Troom Troom doesn’t know it needs yet.
Next up on our roster of heroes: A Make-A-Wish Kid just now realizing he could have asked for a ride in KITT instead.
Seanbaby: I knew going into this they were going to have a character whose superpower was Being Nine. I don’t know if it’s worth getting to know a character so obviously about to die, and besides, I’m still thinking about Pile of Shit in a Hardhat. His full, wide lips and gentle eyes… I’m wondering if he’s very handsome for a poop monster, or do his people have a grotesque, alien standard of beauty? He’s probably hideous to his own kind. Rising to the very top of a lazer toy game is not a thing you do when you’re a poop monster who fucks.
Brockway: This is crazy. This is pure free association. I can’t even point you to why I think this, much less any kind of evidence this is true. But…
Doesn’t Pile of Shit in a Hardhat kind of look like Rob Lowe?
Like if Rob Lowe banged a caricature artist’s wife and the man’s only impotent path to revenge was through his art?
I don’t mean Rob Lowe looks like a Pile of Shit in a Hardhat! He’s a beautiful man. I just mean that maybe there’s an outside chance that Pile of Shit in a Hardhat is his sewage planet’s Rob Lowe.
Seanbaby: Honestly, I’m glad you disagree because I had no confidence in my take on this. My gut told me this was a poop hunk, but my head told me even in space, you don’t find Rob Lowe playing laser tag.
Brockway: Continuing the roll call, we’ve got some kind of… papier-mache hunchback crocodile pilot?
Brockway: This is a classic case of a failure of imagination meeting one too many things. You wanted to make a cool alien but you started from a boring ‘crocodile man’ point and then just kept fucking him up until you wound up with this Swamp Thing Skeksis. This Michael Bay reboot of a beloved Ninja Turtles villain.
Seanbaby: If I built puppet men, this is how you would know I wasn’t handling my divorce well. I bet they had to re-record the first episode because you could hear the father of this costume’s designer screaming “YOU ARE NOT MY SON!” This looks like a courtroom drawing of an alligator on trial for diarrhea crimes. Are there any guys on this team who fuck?
Brockway: A single finger curls on a monkey’s paw. Meet… Robot Lionel Richie.
Seanbaby: “Photon Master Bodhi Li! Emergency! Emergency! I got too many panties in my intake filter, baby! Bodhi Li, I need your tiny Earth fingers, baby.” I have no notes on Robot Lionel Richie. He’s fantastic, and he proves my theory that “far too much” is the exact right amount of human hair on a robot.
Brockway: See, this is what that shitty crocodile puppet needs to learn: You only need one amazing hook for an iconic character. Lionel Richie plus one other thing is the secret to making an infinite army of badasses. Lionel Richie plus a robot: Lionel Robotchie rules. Lionel Richie plus a jetpack: Flyionel Richie jams. Lionel Richie plus a luchadore: Luchionel Richadore dominates. Lionel Richie plus a lion: Lionel Richie fucks.
In no way equipped to follow Lionel Robotchie is our mandatory strong, competent woman… who is in constant need of rescuing.
Meet — no shit — Tivia, Princess of Nivia.
Seanbaby: Here’s some trivia: Tivia, Princess of Nivia, suffers from basophilia caught via a pizzeria in space Bolivia.
Brockway: Tivia, Princess of Nivia prefers AMD over Nvidia for the way it renders Geralt of Rivia. She’s off sugar and onto Stevia but she still can’t poop without Activia.
Seanbaby: I don’t know enough about Nivia to know how dumb this name is, but it seems like the king of Luxembourg naming his daughter Truxembourg or the deputy mayor of Hackensack naming his daughter Lenny Hackysack. But maybe it’s a testament to the peaceful rule of Nivia where the king’s royal advisers felt comfortable telling him, “Your majesty, you can’t name our goddamn princess Lenny Hackysack. What about a dumb sound that rhymes with our planet? Like Splbbivia… Tivia? Nevermind, Lenny Hackysack is better.”
Brockway: Lets burn through one of Photon’s typical 15-minute episodes: Deadly Thorns.
We’ll jump to one minute in, and Tivia already needs rescuing because the team landed on the flower planet Zakoo and were immediately beaten into submission by large roses. I am not kidding. I am not skipping anything.
Seanbaby: Can you imagine the black heart of the bastard who could have picked anything as the villain and they chose big flowers? This is a universe where a robot can grow a mustache; where a crocodile mother can drink through her entire pregnancy and still raise a certified lazer pilot; and the writer went with roses. What could have inspired it? Did he walk by a romantic dinner and squeal, “What’s that!? That, you fools! That fucking thing on the table between your loving gazes! It’s perfect! I’ve found my show’s villain!”
Brockway: And they get absolutely savaged by these roses. It is not close. All of their weapons are useless against mean plants. Thirty seconds into the battle our main character, Bodhi Li, panics so hard he just fucking takes off.
Seanbaby: Ha ha Bodhi Li sucks. Just blasting lasers blindly in the direction of his friend before abandoning them and falling down. And if I’m understanding his helmet’s visor correctly, it doesn’t protect his face from rose mist? I’ve never seen anyone fuck up anything this hard and I’m an American.
Brockway: I’m going to assume that’s some kind of deadly pollen, which means Bodhi just got fucking wrecked by weaponized plant jizz. He leaves the woman and child for dead and tries to run off into the forest, but it’s too late. He’s going to die how he lived: Being a pussy on several metaphorical levels.
It’s important that you understand I’m not fucking with you while describing this next part. It all happens exactly like this: While Tivia is lying there unconscious, all the sound cuts out and Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” starts absolutely blasting. The camera slowly pans over her prone body for and then smash cuts to this guy:
Seanbaby: This is impossible. There’s no way this didn’t occur to everyone reading, but licensing a Stevie Wonder hit had to have cost 70 times more than Photon‘s talent and costume budget combined. This is like hiring Bryan Adams to serenade your masturbation.
Brockway: And that’s why they use all of the song. We just listen to Stevie Wonder for several minutes while a pervert dryad contemplates which level of sexual assault this counts as. Then “Isn’t She Lovely” cuts out. An ominous bass line plays. And he makes this face.
Seanbaby: Was the beautiful song meant to soften this sex crime or add menace? Was it added because test audiences saw the grinning pervert tying up the young girl and weren’t sure if he thought she was pretty? And the best they could come up with was “Isn’t She Lovely?” I mean, I guess I’m glad no one has written a top 40 hit about coming upon an unconscious wom– wait. “Sussudio.” Nevermind.
Brockway: Tivia struggles awake to find out she’s been tied up, while the camera frames her terrified expression against his moldy yay nail.
Seanbaby: Jesus fuck. You know, it just occurred to me no one is going to believe this, but we picked this episode of Photon at random. We said, “This looks like a fun kind of dumb,” and the very first one we watch opens w-with… cocaine rape? Are they all like this? They can’t all be like this.
Brockway: I am unwilling to watch another until I work through my complicated feelings about this one. Anyway, the very strong implication isn’t explicitly followed up on, because this was a children’s show in the 1980s and you could only coyly hint at druidic molestation back then. But playing the song Stevie Wonder wrote for his newborn daughter as a woods pervert vinebangs an unconscious woman offscreen is a level of vicious soundtrack irony that Quentin Tarantino would call “fucking savage my n*****! I can say it with the hard “R”! Sam Jackson told me I can say it with the hard “R” after Jackie Brown!”
Seanbaby: To demonstrate his power and increase the stakes, the star pervert commands one of his flowers to lean down and eat a rabbit. There’s something almost innocent about a children’s show writer who looks at the current situation and thinks, “I need to add a bunny crushing so people know this is serious.”
Brockway: The children might think an implied sexual assault is all in good fun. But when a sketchy adult has a woman tied up and makes a bunny disappear? Kids, that’s when you know it’s time to start punching groin and screaming for the police. Sure it might ruin the magic show at your 9th birthday party, but at least you’ll live to see a 10th.
Luckily the Runners Up Cosplay Army jumps in to break the tension, and we get a fight scene choreographed by out of shape children who got too fired up during a Power Rangers commercial break.
Seanbaby: If police found a group of costumed men in the park holding a bound woman hostage next to the smashed remains of a bunny, they might ask, “What’s going on here?” And those men might say, “Shit! I mean, hi, officer! We’re filming a… kid’s show?” And then the cops might say, “Okay, great! Well, don’t let us stop you; go ahead.” If those precise circumstances happened, this, exactly this, is what their panicked improvisation would look like. To which the cops might say, “Looks like a pretty fun show. Do us a favor and put that bunny back together before you go, and have a great day. Great acting, ma’am. Very believable.”
Brockway: Speaking of acting, there is either none here or way too much. Never in between. An example: The bad guys realize they’re losing and start hucking hand grenades into the flowers, so Yay Nail Druid screams “My roses! Nooo!”
I didn’t actually have to transcribe that, because he acts every line like he’s putting on a play for deaf children with bad seats:
Seanbaby: It was a bold acting decision to deliver this line like his dick was stuck in a gopher hole. When this actor signs autographs at conventions he probably whispers, “You want to hear a secret? The director of my most well-known episode of Photon told me to stand up when I delivered the famous line ‘MY ROSES! NOOO!’ But I refused. I laid there, pumping my pelvis into the ground– because I knew The Caretaker of Zaku, even in his moment of greatest defeat, would make sure his garden received its seed. Want to hear another secret? I’m not Dabney Coleman. You’re in terrible danger.”
Brockway: The Photon team stops the flower massacre and it turns out the Yay Nail Druid was just misunderstood all along. I guess vine penetration is how his culture says hello. The good guys win, the flower planet is saved, and you should play laser tag for some reason? The laser tag equipment is barely used and never made to look cool. It loses – so badly – to large flowers in the first scene. Everybody lost their dignity, some their virginity, and we are all worse for having witnessed it. Photon was given fifteen free minutes to sell toy guns to children, the easiest thing to sell to the easiest demographic, and they wrote a morality play about why you should give forest perverts a second chance and how space lasers are no match for big roses.
Not even in their desperate pleas to the affiliates could Photon explain why it was supposed to be awesome:
Seanbaby: What are they going for here with Bhodi Li’s distinguishing characteristics? “SHOULDERS:BROAD?” “EYES: BROWN (AND PENETRATING)?” Are you trying to sell me a toy gun or moisten my grandmother? This ad had to explain what laser tag was to a world without laser tag and it spent literally the entire time talking about how yummy its barely legal teen boy mascot was. If I’m a 1982 arcade owner, I am 99% sure “Photon” is a service that sends escorts over to suck my wife’s toes.
Brockway: It is so important to explain what laser tag is here, too, because without that knowledge it looks like Bodhi Li got lost in a vacuum cleaner. You have to at least explain that the show is plugging this specific equipment, otherwise it looks like you bounced your last check to the costume designer. This whole ad is trying to sell a weird sci-fi show with no information about plot, other characters, or setting — only talk about how badass the hero is. And then they include a Sears photo of him wielding mom’s curling iron and wearing half a British post box.
But at least Photon never lied to you. The show promised that you would look like an utter dipshit while playing it, and they kept their word so hard. Here’s the actual Photon gear.
Seanbaby: A lot of ad copy in the ’80s started this same way.
Brockway: Remember, they wanted this to be a multimedia extravaganza. There weren’t just games, toys, and shows — some poor bastard even had to write full novels around the premise “Laser tag, but 58,998 more words than that!”
Seanbaby: If our fathers, maybe the Ultimate Warrior, was here, I think he’d want us to make the rest of this article about the Photon novels.
Brockway: Okay, listen: I know it sucks that they whitewashed both the male and female leads. In theory. But let’s pause for a moment. Would you really want representation here? Like this? I’d argue that replacing the multi-racial cast of Photon with generic whiteys is actually a form of civil rights protest.
Seanbaby: They centered the entire marketing of this phaser toy system around the brown-haired fuckability of its mascot. This is a blonde guy who looks like he should be named Astro Abstinence. A narrator should be explaining how, “Astro’s purity ray zaps away sinful urges, but it may never be turned on himself! His will alone must resist the allure of the beautiful Tivia of Nivia… the curves of her star bra! The silky penis hair of her robot companion, Robot Lionel Richie!”
Brockway: Tivia, Princess of Nivia? A mask does not hide your royal identity when you make it out of fishnet.
Brockway: Oof, I don’t know. I’m not feeling the “high stakes” here. Orcs lose a little something when you paint them Safety Orange. The ability to ambush, for one. Plus that monster’s wearing quilted slacks and his fingerless glove budget rivals a John Cougar Mellencamp roadie team. If I saw this guy running at me I’d assume he was going to hit me up for gas money because “the IROC is more like just a regular rock now, you get it? You got a cigarette? I’ve got some Rush. Band or drug, your choice.”
Seanbaby: I couldn’t possibly know this about myself for sure, but I think if I was painting the cover for a laser tag book, I wouldn’t have the main character pinned down by a shirtless alien while he gives it a footjob. HIGH STAKES? More like HI, STAKOR-7’S BONER! Seriously, though; I’m sure it makes sense when you get to this part in the book.
Seanbaby: This one feels authentic, like they polled actual laser tag players to find out what challenges they face and the most common answer was, “I lost my mommy.”
Brockway: In this very special Photon adventure, Bodhi Li must go “In Search of Mom” to show young children overstimulated by the many sounds of a laser tag game that they should never feel ashamed to ask for an adult.
I’m going to be a buzzkill here: I looked it up and the real answer is that “MOM” is the Photon team’s Zordon – the name of the computer that gives them missions. That uh… that doesn’t make it any better, does it?
Seanbaby: When your only job is prioritizing laser rescue missions, I’m not sure it’s heroic or even ethical to put “come save me!” at the top of the queue. But it must be exciting because, and this isn’t a joke, this book is currently priced at seven hundred sixty eight dollars and fifty seven cents on Amazon.
Brockway: I could buy half a scalped Playstation 5, or I could buy In Search of Mom twice. This is why we’re never allowed to get more successful than we are. If you gave me a real budget, I would have to explain a $1500 IN SEARCH OF MOM write-off to an auditor quickly running out of pity.
Seanbaby: Oh, dude. I already bought us each a copy.
Brockway: Look closely. See the little green boot by Bodhi’s gun? We’re looking at tasteful blocking here. Tivia is definitely getting powerful head from Pile of Shit in a Hardhat.
Seanbaby: Now I feel like I need to go back and see if I can spot any possible sex stuff we missed in the last Photon cover.
Brockway: Again, this is just good tie-in practice. Much like a real darkened 1982 laser tag arena, people are jerking off in every secret corner of a Photon book.
Brockway: Say what you will about Photon’s dorky, awkward laser tag gear, it sure does lift and separate titties.
Seanbaby: “Yes, yes, I understand your Photon sensor harness is uncomfortable, ma’am. These toys were designed for seven-year-olds. All I’m authorized to offer you is a coupon for a chicken strip appetizer with the purchase of a full entree and this: your tits do look great. Like a full two feet apart, ma’am.”
Brockway: I like my tits like I like my women: Bright orange and painfully distant.
Seanbaby: The title SKIN DEEP is more menacing when you realize Zxorgaxian skin is famously 11 inches thick.
Brockway: This is like that Men in Black test. Exposing our own xenophobia by seeing if we perceive a threat just because the creature looks alien to us. I know a four-armed snuggle when I see one. And god knows I’ve seen it enough times at the roller derby to recognize “naked lust barely concealed by clunky safety helmet.”
Seanbaby: This is why you’re going to die filled with Zxorgaxian skin eggs.