Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bookcase Brush Up: Stormwatch/The Authority

Wrote this about a month ago but decided I'd hang onto it given the new STORMWATCH title that was coming with this New 52 stuff. I don't bother to link the two up in this because I want to give that book more than an issue to build up steam, especially since so much is different now, but maybe eventually. But still, this was a fun one to revisit.

One of the things I plan on doing, both for recreation purposes and for bloggy purposes, is going through a good bit of my collection, be it floppies or TPBs, and, well, talking about shit I like. More often than not, it will be my rereading stuff like this, material I haven't gone through in a good couple of years and examining it with new eyes. Sometimes I imagine I'll gain a new appreciation for this stuff, maybe not realizing how good and/or important it was the first/last time I read it. Maybe I'll just realize how rough and "childish" some of this stuff I once thought was "cool" when I read it before. Who knows. I have a crapton of comics and, honestly, there's stuff I have I read once a decade ago when I was still getting hammered five nights a week in college, so who knows what my real feelings are on it. So let the dissecting begin.

THE AUTHORITY was one of the superhero comics that convinced me that superheroes had moved slightly beyond the nonsense that populated most mainstream superhero comics when I quit in the mid-90's. Yes, the violence and slight glorification of it carried over into this book, but it made sense. I'll get back to this later, but I just wanted to point out that it was The Authority that was both the first thing I read of the two series and pretty much my first exposure to Warren Ellis that I knew about (I had read some of his DOOM 2099 and EXCALIBUR issues, but had no idea it was him at the time. Given how he seems to feel about his work-for-hire days, I'd imagine the man would be happy about this).

STORMWATCH I believe was important because it kind of gave a new stake and skew for superheroes at the time. While stuff like Morrison and Waid's JLA and the revival of JSA was giving the genre the big and bold revamp it sorely needed - going off and fighting some fucking god-level shit or playing up the longevity and heritage of the superhero respectively - STORMWATCH was the one toying with the ideal of superheroes actually DOING something socially relevant with superpowers. Or at least putting a bit of a political slant on these high-powered personnel. Instead of donning the tights and going off and fighting the latest being with despotic machinations like the mainstream heroes, the Stormwatch crew were going after bastards and terrorists and toying with the idea of CHANGING the world instead of just saving it. At least it did a good job of laying the groundwork for the build up of that theme which THE AUTHORITY would realize. For that, I remembered Ellis's STORMWATCH fondly from when I last read it probably seven years or so ago.

Rereading it again, I have to admit, it's kind of rough. All that stuff I just said above still applies of course, but the actual execution and quality is a bit sketchy. The dialogue gets a bit expository or - which happens with Ellis - tries a little to hard to be edgy. Also, the art which is predominantly Tom Raney is not what the man has become today. The lines are a little more "warped" when it comes to body features and whatnot. The execution is not what these two have become and I think that's fair to say because they were fairly early into their careers when they go the shot at this I would say. I do appreciate some of the stuff they came up with. Particularly the Jenny Sparks origin issue which gets pretty referential to the eras it covers in comic book terms; like how the 1980's part was done "Watchmen style" and so on. Still though, it played with genre conventions and did its best to pump up the idea of the superhero beyond guys and gals in fetish gear who beat on the same twelve people in a nice rotation of story arcs.

Now, THE AUTHORITY, that was a comic. Everything that superheroes could and should play for, I'd argue, took place in the twelve pages Ellis put out of this wondrous book for us. Sure, it was overly brutal and tried a little too hard to be "edgy" but, y'know what, it all worked. The world is not a pretty place and the book reflected it. If in our real lives people with superpowers and unlimited wealth and futuristic science existed, I'd like to think maybe you'd get a Kaizen Gamorra. Maybe not as James Bondian villain as he, but some terrorist with an army of bastards carving up the major population areas of the globe I could see. The brutality, when taken in context, worked on a level more than just being cool and show-offy, even those were obvious intents behind them.

But it was the love of being a superhero that drove that book and that I think is almost lost today. You think of these feats and you take them in a context of "this book is trying to depict the existence of superheroes and villains in REAL life" and I'd like to think an "OMG! This is teh rulzors" reaction is kind of warranted from someone who can use liquid machinery in their blood to go to the moon. I'm rereading some Morrison JLA right now as part of this refresher course of this type of material around that time period and that's one of the best things about it is seeing the team through the eyes of Kyle and how he's basically become a "god" while working with other higher beings that have been there and done that and become kind of jaded by the feats they accomplish. Perspective, I think we lack a bit of it these days as these books pretend to be all high stakes and grounded but just come off as villain of the week as the big "ground-shaking" experiences happen on a yearly rotation.

I am glad I've started this because all my consumption over the years, especially in recent ones, I can kind of feel some of these memories and experiences slipping out of the ol' brainspace as I cram new ones in. One, it's helping me with some rose-tinted issues as I definitely have been longing for books that are not really as good as I remember them. STORMWATCH especially. I loved the gist and appreciated the groundwork it laid, especially for when THE AUTHORITY came by and ramped it to a way higher gear, but it really lacked in polish on both ends of the spectrum. But there's a lot of good memories in here and there's lessons to be learned and ideas to be appreciated and that should not be forgotten. With the big push that is being made now to get readers in - and chances are they'll be lapsed readers that were too apathetic to look beyond the same old that these companies were pumping out that disenfranchised them in the first place - maybe we'll get back to the stuff that made these books so good a decade ago, and that's just stories being told by people who really have one to tell. Cheers...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fall Nostalgia...

The coming two months of September and October have always seemed to be the periods where my geekdom thrives. I can only assume this runs back to younger days (that I have mostly blocked out) and how those were always the months where I had an excuse to stay inside and indulge in all those geeky pursuits. While during the summer for as long as I can remember I always had a job or the parental pressure to get out and do something, anything, the back to school time is when I was given the go ahead to sit around and, school work permitting, start feeding the young geek that I was. And at least one of those hobbies did, and still does, indulge that was video games, which is why fall still kind of kicks this off for me.

Like I said, I don't remember really remember much about my youth - there's really not much worth mentioning - but I remember the fun I had and that fun usually came in video or panel grid form. I remember the first time I experienced the death of Aeris on FFVII, and the subsequent times I relived that moment as I aspired for Master Materia for my entire party. I remember trying to get the "Master of Unlocking" through a zombie (and giant fucking snake!) infested mansion. And I remember September of '99, my first year of college, when my main geek focus was hoarding as many Magic cards I could and that pursuit leading me to a new comic shop that opened locally in my hometown (which had a very sad and minute history with such places of business) and it reinvigorating a love of comics I had lost because, well, the 90's sucked for someone like me who was growing up enough to realize the mainstream stuff was becoming ridiculous but wasn't mature enough to enjoy the REALLY good stuff that was coming out then or had missed out on before.

So, as the leaves have fallen my fondness for certain media and dorky pursuits grew. I leveled up, I put together variants of Stompy decks, and I read my favorite comic of all time, THE SANDMAN, for the first time... and the second... and the third. Needless to say, these months tend to mean more to me and, honestly, just feel right to me. Anyone that knows me knows that I'm not exactly a lazy person, but by god do I love an excuse to laze about for the day. In the summer I feel kind of like a jackass in that regard because, c'mon, it's nice out and since I've always lived in the Easter Ohio/Western PA regions you do need to take advantage of the few (mostly) sunny months we get (even if they are getting longer and hotter and hey, we may be scum as far as our relationship with the planet goes).

But then it hits. Football, both in its physical and digital forms, kind of ushers in the layabout in me. Not that I indulge in Madden anymore now that I'm not a dorm dweller, but it is the harbinger of digital delights to come, and boy do they ever after Labor Day comes and goes. And as for that excuse to laze about? What better than the background noise of greedy, overpaid borderline illiterates who can't shut their mouth about "gettin paid" smacking the hell out of each other and bringing karma down on themselves (and their knees) to make for something to read a nice book or comic run to? And it gets better! The beer, oh, the beer. The best beer comes out in fall. Pumpkin Ales, Oktoberfests, and a cooling weather to enjoy a nice stout to. Yeah, that's not something I really did in those fall months when I was of the more impressionable age, but you grow a bit and you develop some new hobbies.

Needless to say I tend to focus more on those things that influenced me and made me who I am when this nostalgic time comes. I used to do yearly rereads of my favorite comics and that was always a great way to settle in on a Sunday afternoon of football and food, getting through a few volumes of PREACHER. I've read some of those titles a bit much now and have given them a breather on my shelf, but that nostalgic period is calling to me again and, quite frankly, I could use a reminder of comics in a time when I honestly, genuinely enjoyed them more than I do now. Not to get into that discussion and, of course, there's plenty of great comics out there now that I truly enjoy, but the industry/medium really does not feel the same as it did just ten years ago. Or at least the mainstream side of it and even I still really want to read and enjoy some of my favorite capes and tights books or some of the more creative jaunts the Big Two produce via their imprints. Let's be honest here, ten years ago the best things about comics were pretty much all coming from DC, and that being Vertigo, which was probably at its best ever, and the ABC line of Alan Moore's; two things that are at the VERY forefront of my reminiscing when I think about those growing days.

But even those truly mainstream books were bristling with some energy, and longevity in their runs, and that is what I miss and am jonesing for and am indulging myself in with this September sweep. And they are probably what I will be posting about for the next couple months. I'm already through my first reread of Warren Ellis's STORMWATCH and THE AUTHORITY and they are were the epitome of what nostalgia can do; i.e. make you remember something as better than it probably really was (STORMWATCH) and make you realize that even something you always thought of as brilliant was more brilliant than you knew (THE AUTHORITY). Sure, it's kind of cruel to that younger self of mine that thought he knew everything and was all edgy about it, but it's also a delight to figure out that, hey, maybe I wasn't as stupid and self-important as I thought I was and just knew some fucking great stuff when I saw it and was spot on.

And, god, I miss those days. When an Ed Brubaker could write CATWOMAN and just have his way with a title and then end it, or he and Greg Rucka could make a GOTHAM CENTRAL and, by fuck, it actually lasted three years. Imagine that. Or a relative newbie by the name of Geoff Johns could say "I have all these plans for the JSA" and get the blessing of editorial and James Robinson and run with that for half a decade and it could be *shock* its own book. Christopher Priest could write a BLACK PANTHER, HITMAN could exist, etc. Not that these are absolute rarities these days, but dodging cancellation after ten issues or not getting arbitrarily thrown into yet another yearly event (fuck me, there was a time for about six years when you only got an event or two back then!!) does not seem to happen much these days. My only regret is not reading more of these gems back then or having neglected to read them at all still (oh my how I need to read PAD's CAPTAIN MARVEL) or read them since.

So that's what I'm doing now. With some tasty beer and delicious bourbon. With a HD football in front of me (and making way for hockey in just 44 days), a smartphone and fantasy football updates to a side, and an alcoholic beverage to the other. And a stack of comics and/or TPBs in front of me that take me back to, not a better place (I do genuinely enjoy what my life offers me today, for the most part), but a less jaded one at the least. And a quality RPG that I can waste away weeks of my life on as the leaves get covered with snow. Shit, I may even go on a Joss Whedon binge of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly I'm so ready to indulge in that era of my life. That is my place and this is about to be my time. So glorious. Cheers...

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Month Without...

Since I've failed to get something truly "new" up recently, figured I'd posted this as I work on other stuff I want to talk about, mainly old back issues and runs I've been reading through. But this went up on AICN about two weeks ago so I figured I'd put it up on more places on the internets. Cheers...

A Month Without…

Tragedy has happened in Humphrey Lee land my friends, and I am sad. My beloved 2001 Dodge Intrepid – my first car that I bought eight years ago to begin my senior college year – hit 200,000 miles (yay!) and then promptly died (boo!). On the “insult to injury” side, the ensuing shenanigans of car replacement (which, I just found, is actually pretty simply when your credit is pushing for 800) left me unable to get to my growing comic book stack at my usual store of choice given that it is 60 miles away (because I am insanely loyal and still go to the town I moved away from seven years ago). And while this doesn’t seem like a terribly big deal, I’d imagine, to most, it was kind of a “revelation” - to get all hyperbolic - about comics, or at least how I perceive them, that I thought might be fun, maybe even helpful to share as I’m about to do now as I sip a Troegs Brothers beer.

The first thing I learned was that two-thirds of it doesn’t fucking matter. Let’s be real here, and if anything that four-week drought taught me was being honest with myself, but most of the comics we buy don’t “matter.” What I mean by that is that they’re comfort purchases. Throughout our years of comic book reading we come to identify ourselves with certain creations and story types and gain loyalty to writers, artists, companies, etc. It’s only natural and we all do that and there is nothing wrong with that outside of, I’d argue, it sets an ugly precedent. But as I sat down with roughly fifty books this past Wednesday, I realized how many comics I get out of habit or just wanting to stay in the loop on some of my favorite characters. Obviously I enjoy them still; I am not the kind of person that just continues to buy and buy and buy a book I hate just because “I <3 Batman” that much. Quality matters, but I think we are willing to make concessions on quality just because we want a fix, and to that end a B- grade Batman book is better than nothing because, well, I <3 Batman.

The thing is, on a weekly basis, it’s easy to not really notice. It’s all a matter of perspective. Like I alluded to a second ago, I’m probably good for fifty books a month or so. So you figure twelve comics a week and break it down that eight of them are comfort books and four of them are the “really good stuff” – your SCALPED, LOCKE & KEY, and UNWRITTEN’s of the industry. I go down to my store, I drop $50 for my stack, and it all tiers so well doesn’t it? I organize my books based on perceived quality (the other thing I noticed once I got this behemoth pile in my hands, that being my god are we a retentive bunch of bastards aren’t we that we all have our “reading orders”) and spend about an hour playing catch-up with my favorite characters. And its fun and its comfortable because we know what we’re getting into and we’ve been getting into it for years. These are old friends and memories after all; comforts from days past and distractions from the things that are weighing on us now (like having to add a car payment to the onslaught of bills you are already facing).

But try reading 40 of those things in a row and see how lenient you are on the quality then. Again, it’s easy to just breeze through those books when you have a half dozen or so in front of you at a time; read a slew of them at once and I think you’ll come to the same realization as I did and that is, honestly and truly, we could probably do away with half our stacks if we were being real with ourselves. And they certainly not that important that people need to be doing silly things like, oh I don’t know, protesting at Comic Con a line of them re-launching itself. At the least, some patience on the matter could be called for in order to just play catch-up via the dollar bins at a convention every six months or so. I actually just did that not too long ago with about three years worth of X-titles I abandoned back when crossover fever was heating up again. Not only does it save you a significant amount of funds but it also makes for a fun day’s hunt at the convention and a week or two’s reading when you haul it all home.

Which brings me to another observation I made, which is that there’s just too many fucking books.  Again, that’s a pros and cons type of thing in that, hey, chances are if there’s a character you like, no matter their popularity level, they are probably in a book these days. Fucking Iron Fist is in three last I checked, so even if you absolutely love, I dunno, Starfox, you’ll probably find him. I say there are too many books though because I don’t believe we really have the talent to work with in the industry to keep these things afloat with quality. More directly though, what is really happening is that we really are overwhelming entire aspects of comics, at least in the mainstream sense of the word.

There can never be such a thing as “too many comics.” The more comics the better because that just means maybe we are turning things around and readers are starting to get interested again, hopefully in the market share not controlled by Marvel and DC. Simply because as the market grows, so will they too because they are really the gateway to the industry because of how well-established their properties are in pop culture, and they don’t need any damned help. I want there to still be Batman, but I also want more BUTCHER BAKER’S goddammit. In fact, its their antics that raise that perception of “there’s too much going on” as the constant events and gimmicks exacerbate, as I watched unfold as I was presented with a stack of fifty comics I actually want to buy and a wall of stuff I either wouldn’t mind trying, begrudgingly need to read to keep up-to-date, or long ago decided to avoid like plague. Sometimes the lines blur between those segments though.

I’ll wrap this up because I know it’s getting a little “state of the union” while stemming out of an anecdote, but I wanted to leave with this. While I was gone, Bucky died (again). I assumed it was a FEAR ITSELF issue, but considering his place in CAP proper the past few years assumed he got a send off there. Checked that and no. So I checked the newest FI (#4) and nope, no dead Bucky. So I figured it might be in one of the three AVENGERS books. Nope. Eventually I just asked my LCS owner and he pointed me at FI3 which came out the first week I was unable to do my Wednesday rounds. I pick it up, flip through it and put it back down with a “well that happened.” Because it really meant nothing. One – again - I knew it happened without even having been to a shop for a month. Hell, the company promoted it. And then it took a good ten minutes of hunting through a half dozen books to find it out and it was, of course, anti-climatic because it happened in an event that is, per usual, way bigger than it should be (though entertaining enough) to a character arbitrarily pumped up to “Big Bad” status because, eh, someone had to be. I also spent the summer on that X-title catch-up which put me up-to-date to AGE OF X and I look at those books right now and already don’t know what it going on again. And I’m a near-twenty-year vet of this shit. If I can’t keep up, how are we expecting newly interested parties to go to the store and just “hop in” to the mix? And then we bitch that one of the biggest perpetrators of this is going to try, for better or worse, to make their line “more accessible” with a slew of new number one’s? Please.

But alas, because I am a comic fan and an @$$hole, I will be there buying, trying, and bitching like everyone else, loading up my stack with more books I could probably do without. And I’ll also be there singing the praises of the 33.3% of my stack that really gets my juices going, that I hope become the standard to which we hold our comics to and that I hope is what REALLY brings in the new readers. Because I love my fucking comics and I don’t want them going anywhere but upward to better things spaced over fifty-two Wednesdays a year, as I would hope you do too. Cheers…

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Friday Night Lights

Dammit, didn't realize it had been this long between updates. I was hoping to hit a nice clip of roughly three "pieces" every two weeks since I figured that's about how often I take down a videogame or a movie of some note or knock down some TV. Also throw in the occasional article like the previous waste of bandwidth I put up and... well, yeah. Issue was, I spent the last two weeks catching up on weekly comics due to my car situation and the piece I did out of that is going up on the AICN and... yeah, again. So this time, it's going to be something I wrapped up last week (and because the Captain America movie will be another AICN thing), and that was the final season of Friday Night Lights, a show that I've really, really liked for three years now and still have yet to establish if it was a guilty pleasure or not. Well, at least until I had watched the show, sadly, go away on us.

FNL, to me, has been one of the best exercises in character investment I have seen in all of my television binging. Does it get way too melodramatic in and of itself? Yes, of course. Did some of the character and dramatic arcs wander into "tried and true" territory for something in its "genre" I guess is actually apt? Yeppers, and it was expected. And it didn't matter, because the reason I loved that show was enhanced by that stuff, either because the writing held up or because the actors sold all the terrible/absurd shit that was happening to their characters. Just because the plot may not have always been terribly original or exciting on paper does not mean it did not turn into riveting stuff when put in front of a camera. Hell, look at Mad Men. Like FNL, you could boil it down to "genre soap opera" if you wanted to, but at the end of the day I usually have no investment in Mad Men's characters and what they are doing because it's just people misbehaving. FNL's character threads, while often typical, hit home for that reason, because I can see them happening and I want to see how those characters deal with them and how they grow for them.

And, yeah, I understand here that I probably have to defend that last part because, yes, I basically just said I don't care about Mad Men, which is actually kind of true. I care about Mad Men because it's amazingly shot, amazingly acted, and I love the period piece. But let's be honest with ourselves, if anyone deserves that soap opera label I mentioned a second ago it's that show, because the vast majority of plot threads come down to "who's schtuping who" and "who got knocked up" and "who's getting fired?!" and so on. You may argue that FNL isn't much better but I'll still take plots like someone losing a scholarship because of a knee injury or Coach's big decision to go into the college arena or any of all the piles of shit heaped upon Matt Seracen over the first four seasons than someone going to fat camp and office romances.

But again, its those characters and how well the show handled them all. Some obviously stood out more than others - I  personally think Matt Seracen might be one of the best characters to show up in TV Land - but all of them had their time to shine. Especially the bunch that kicked off the show as they got the most play time of course. Tim Riggins and his drunken shenanigans, Jason Street and his tragedy, Smash and his arrogance, etc. And of course there's Coach and his life, as Kyle Chandler was a force on the show for its five years. If there was ever a man that could convince me to pad up and crush the man in front of me, it was Eric Taylor. And, I have to admit, as far as "household drama" arcs go, the Taylor family had some really quality dynamic. But these characters lived and breathed, and outside of the Wire are probably the best ensemble of them I have seen in a television show.

The only real shame, methinks, is that it obviously felt like this season was simultaneously crammed together to finish some plots while at the same time doing threads and character introductions with the hope they might get that sixth season. I just watched this last weekend and I can't even remember the name of the kid who came from the basketball team to play WR, it was so obvious they meant to develop something with him and never bothered. Like they learned the show wasn't coming back as they were writing the third episode he ever existed in. Same thing with the Epic character and her relationship with Tami as she tried to save her. Maybe that was there to promote Tami as what she was and what earned her the promotion at the end of the series, but it seemed like wasted space other than to build to that end, which came on REALLY quick. Seemed obvious they wanted another season to build her to that.

But I loved that show, I really did. Sure, it was absurd and in many ways made me kind of hate a sport I love because Lord help me I can only assume how accurate a lot of the atmosphere around it really is in Tehas. And yeah, some of those characters existed as dramatic lightning rods, but the vast majority of them drew me in. It was one of the best pure character dramas I have ever seen and I doubt there will be a show that handles sports dramatization - despite sports really just being the catalyst here - for years to come. It's the easy way to end this but it really is pretty powerful in light of the show, but "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose!"

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


The DC Universe is "rebooting" or "revamping" or whatever the hell it is doing to itself (Let's go with "renumerating", it absolutely makes no sense, but I like the ring of that) and of course the world is going to end. Probably not, but it's definitely the worst thing since the Holocaust. Geeks are going to protest outside of the Mecca known as Comic Con - where all the world pretends it cares about the industry I/we love for a couple days - so this has to be serious business, right? Or it could just be more overreacting on the behalf of a fanbase that, despite continuing to have to pony up time after time for a product that is showing no sign doing anything but continuing to put rising costs on the back of their dwindling consumer base, wants to keep their little club at all costs? At this point, something has to give, and, corporate driven as it obviously is, this restart is something giving. 

Sure, it could just be a gimmick that fails and gets buried with the punch of Superboy's fist. God knows this industry isn't short on them as my little jab just alluded to. But let's be honest with ourselves, if comics are to survive their current state, and maybe even flourish again, a move like this may be necessary. I know the idea of an industry being in trouble seems absurd when you consider licenses stemming from it literally make their corporate owners billions but look at the numbers. The industry, for some mind-boggling reason, lives or dies off the decisions of two companies that have thrown the idea of artistic merit to the wind for the most part. And that's fine, they do what they do and we (hopefully) understand this and know why we purchase their product. But the concept that comic books will only survive because of two companies parading out decades old properties in any multi-million dollar form is absurd. That those being "leaned on" - which is probably too soft a term to describe the current business model for comic books - are up in arms over this is also somewhat obscene. There might be better alternatives, obviously, but to essentially throw a hissy because a market already too sheltered for its own good is taking a step that has been done before in order to maybe boost sales is about as masochistic as, well, as I've come to expect from comic book readers.

Now, I have my reservations about this thing too, most of them based in rational apprehension. I don't want to go on about it because we covered this move pretty substantially over at the AICN site, but I think the outlay of it has been too obscure while presenting it to the public and I believe that the number of titles is WAY too ambitious given DC's current stable of writing talent. But I get it. Let's be real here, comics have become a top-heavy beast in many ways. Primarily there's the fact I mentioned before, that too much market share has been put into the hands of two companies for their efforts in continuing to play gimmicks like this in regularity. Another aspect is how you can set your calendar to some yearly going on that more or less exists to keep the current establishment coming back for fear of "missing out", whatever that even means when you do these types of storylines so often they don't even mean anything within twelve months of occurring.  Look, I get the idea of the event and understand why one every so often can be a good thing. You shift your status quo a bit, you give your writers and characters a new framework to work within to add some new hindrances and ideas to what these characters already go through. But what you are really doing is making a medium that is already somewhat daunting from the outside look even more inaccessible and, really, let's not pretend people are stupid here. We know a money grab when we see one and, yes, still buy these things out of that curiosity factor because WE are invested. The problem is, you're losing everyone else, and even some of the faithful.

I'm not saying that comic books need to "dumb themselves down" here. I'm really not. I'm not even saying events need to go away. But the fact remains that too much emphasis inside the medium is put on just one genre within in, and a flexible and applicable that genre can and should be, the way its being... exploited and overloading itself is not going to do us any good. Remember comics in the late 90's/early 00's, right after the last time mainstream comics decided to eat itself by assuming they could convince buyers they should buy all their titles because they were all OH SO important and related to each other? Y'know what? I miss those times. Because what happened there is that comics had to play it "safe" and they did so by going back to what all mediums should do to thrive: Tell stories. Grant Morrison unleashed his JLA on the world. An up-and-comer named Geoff Johns got to bring back the JSA and run with the heritage of that book while also getting a FLASH run that showed why Wally is such a great character. BLACK PANTHER was a freaking critically acclaimed book for Christ's sakes!!! Warren Ellis and PLANETARY/THE AUTHORITY, the Brubaker/Rucka era of BATMAN, DAREDEVIL was being brought back from the brink of hokiness, and y'know what? The Ultimate line was coming into existence and it actually was a breath of fresh air... before just ten years degenerated into the perfect microcosm of why comics today look so daunting from the outside and are starting to overwhelm and/or disenfranchise those already in the building.

And, lastly (for now), there's the idea that we put so much emphasis on just one aspect of a medium that can literally do any kind of storytelling out there and do it as well as any other member of the entertainment industry. I save this for last (and somewhat briefly) because I did not want this to feel like I was playing a "Indie versus Supes" argument. That stuff is behind me - as I've pointed out before in this fledgling blog - and trying to justify one genre over another is somewhat inane. I love superhero comics. They have so much range and the best of them usually play out the gamut from emotion to power to action to humanity. Just like a dedicated story without them can be just as excellent when it hits all the right points; your 100 BULLETS, SCALPED, TRANSMETROPOLITAN, WALKING DEAD, etc. But 95% of them are the same old same old, and when that is what you're presenting to a wider audience you are trying to lure in, your doing yourself and those potential readers an injustice. Not only are you doing yourself a disservice by not putting your best foot forward - that being a medium that can bring you anything - but the product you are showing is needlessly convoluted and aimed at sucking money out of people for completist reasons, not trying to win over dollars through originality, uniqueness, and (hopefully) quality.

There's a lot of goodwill aimed at comic book related stuff right now and I don't want to see it squandered. Thing is, it may be too late already; we've all seen the numbers from this summer's comic movie fanfare and they've been okay so far. Fact of the matter is, if comics are to survive so that, y'know, these properties can be put into other mediums such as these multi-million dollar features, they need to show off all their stuff. We need to get to a point where someone who sees "Captain America" the movie in a couple weeks can hop into CAPTAIN AMERICA the comic and be treated to a book rich in heritage, but that is not going to leave them out in the cold for being new or throttled with confusion because they don't pony up for seven other books a month all dealing with the same crossover Cap is involved in (and yes, I understand the irony in this example being that Cap has actually been 95% its own book the past half decade or so). We also need to get to a point that when people come to, say, a Comic Con (other than to put on a silly show because you don't like what DC is doing with "your" characters instead of, y'know, voting with your wallet) to supposedly appreciate "all things comics" that instead of the only real comics there just being more "This Will Change Everything!!" bullshit that something like Jonathan Hickman announcing a new creator owned title is met with just as much media "push" and fan excitement as Marvel announcing another AVENGERS title. And eventually media crossover projects like THE WALKING DEAD need to start becoming the rule, not the exception with the opposite traction from TV and Movie screen adaptations like that leading back to the comics.

At some point comics need to grow up and out to just be comics, and the first ones to stop pigeon-holing the medium need to be those currently propping it up on its two legs of mediocrity. I firmly believe comics will survive no matter what - the creative drive of those out there wanting to truly make some fucking comics will always be great - but until we are realistic with ourselves they may never thrive like they used to or even enjoy something as taken for granted as having market stability. The tragedy being all the great ideas that will never even get to be just because single-minded guys making decisions from the top and close-minded guys buying at the bottom aren't willing to adapt or concede that things are not working as they are. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shadows of the Damned

As part of my "No, really, there's nothing to play until August?" attempt to find, well, stuff to play until August, I got this for some trade-in credit at The Exchange. The Giant Bomb "Quick Look" sold me (amazing how watching someone play a game for a bit will give you the insight you want into it) and I decided it was worth, well, no real money. The game, if you have not caught wind of it yet (easy enough to do considering no marketing behind it whatsoever) comes down to - and am taking this cue too from Giant Bomb - a world of John Constantine meets El Mariachi set in a Rodriguez Grindhouse film. It's a third person shooter from the guys who brought us stuff like "No More Heroes" and "Killer 7" in which our protagonist - Garcia Fucking Hotspur (yes, always with the fucking in there) see's his lover, Paula, murdered and her soul stolen by agents of the Underworld. Combined with his sidekick Johnson - a floating skull who's an escapee from the Underworld - Garcia kicks ass through the Underworld making loads of sexual references and Boner jokes, posturing and taunting through a thick and somewhat cheesy Mexican accent, and in general dealing with fucked up shit.

And I loved it. Well, okay, I really really liked it, as I'll breakdown here. The thing about this game, as it goes with most these Suda 51 joints, is more or less the random crazy that comes with it. The main demon, Fleming, has three skulls stacked on top of each other for a head? Alright. Locked doors are accessible once you give the crying baby demon that is attached to it a strawberry or eyeball to eat? Sure. There's a "light and dark" mechanic whereas the darkness continues to suck the life out of you until you use your "light shot" on a goat's head on the wall to keep it at bay? Fuck it, I'm in. Your gun's name is the Boner anyway since it's formed by your buddy Johnson for god's sakes, if you're on board with that from the get-go, might as well give the rest a try. That remainder includes some fucking gruesome imagery, as well a bit of psychological horror, and a very apparent self-awar attitude. One level involves running from the flesh-hungry form of your Paula chasing you into a cabin in the woods where there's something terrible in the basement. This game knows its influences and its sense of "HA! Bad pun!" humor and revels in them, and it makes the essence of the game very endearing in its craziness and referential manner.

The problem with this game though, is that all the fun stuff is wrapped up in a pretty mediocre third-person shooter. The targeting is twitchy, sometimes the camera gets too up in your face - especially since some of these enemies are pretty damn fast - and it becomes difficult to see freaking anything. The variations of gun Johnson takes up - large barreled pistol, shotgun, and machine gun - have some cool alt-fire stuff going on, but in of themselves are pretty standard. There are some genuinely enjoyable puzzle designs in here, particularly using the light and dark mechanics, but then, and most of the boss fights, boil down to "find and shoot the shiny button" and running around a lot trying to duck things out to rip your head off. There's some really off-the-wall gameplay deviations in the Act 4 section that are nice, but even then they go to well with that stuff probably too soon or too often and lose their novelty quick. For all the greatness I think the environment, characters, and atmosphere reach, I think the actual gameplay is not necessarily "generic" but rough and kind of brings the experience down.

If there's a rub to this game at all, I think that it really is one of those titles that calls in the "what is a game worth?" question. I really liked this game, despite its frustrations. I'll take an okay shooter with great atmosphere like this over a shooter first experience with almost no personality (like a Gears) any time. But the lackluster mechanics have left me unwilling to deal with them again for a replay, especially when you tab on that this game is pretty Platinum Trophy/Gamer Score unfriendly (They don't give you credit for lower difficulty level trophies/achievements when you beat it on a higher one. You want full credit, you're playing this three times through buddy). If I had paid actual money and full $60 of it at that for it, I'd be kind of let down. As is, I think this kind of game is the perfect "wait six months for it to hit half price" item, the addition rub being that with next to no notable releases until late August, impatience may set in on some gaming thumbs.

I'll say this, the day if/when a sequel comes out, I'll be overjoyed that it did and highly anticipate playing it. The whiff I catch on how much the gameplay is "fixed" though, will be the deciding factor on when I get it. For some though, what I've said here and review sites have posted, that might be fully worth the whole sixty clams, and that's great, but some may have mixed feelings like I did about the gameplay and feel a little anxious about that price. I have a feeling this could be this year's "Darksiders" though, a game with great atmosphere and okay enough gameplay that gets it enough "cult" praise to get enough people on board for another. Of course, Darksiders sold well out the gate, so I guess we'll see how this does when NPD's hit.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Just Let It Go...

This posting, or at least the essence of it, is actually one that stuck in my head enough to convince me to start up another blog. Not only is this something I am hoping will set the example of what I am looking to type up here, as well as, honestly, being kind of a reflection of an attitude change I have had over the past couple years not only when it comes to my media consumption habits, but my life in general. I don't mean that as an allusion to this blog getting "personal", lord help me I did enough of that seven, eight years ago, but obviously our personalities reflect our consumption habits and vice versa. And, in that regard, the world affects our personalities and the cycle continues. More to that...

Things are becoming more... "radicalized" is the word I think is the appropriate word. Not just in the world in general, but even down to something as insignificant in the grand scheme as what we consume. Let me put it this way, anyone who follows politics right now (and no, I won't do politics here, been there done that too) knows things are fucked. There's people on both ends that are so determined to bury their heads in the sand of their own crapulence the middle ground might as well be a chasm they don't bother looking into. And when two forces so strongly opposed to each other clash, all that results is their licking their wounds on a farther end of the spectrum while preparing to come at one another even harder. All that results in is less and less, well, results.

I look around and see a lot of that same "push and pull" when it come entertainment. There's so much vitriol that tends to fly around at stuff meant to distract, it's almost bordering on the absurd. And yes, I'm willing to address right now the "hypocrisy" of my doing freelance work for a group that calls themselves the @$$holes and tends to lay into comics we deem to be of very low standard. Herein lies the difference, it is rare that I think one of our crew writes something insulting at anyone involved in the process and, despite some material heavy on the "snark" as the kids put it, almost everything we do comes with either humor or a critical nature. I, for one, don't think I've even posted more than an average of a negative review a year over the past three, and that plays to the overall arc of what I want this post to be about.

Who cares? Really, why should you? Yes, I want to see quality product out there, stuff that I find pleasing to myself and think pushes the mediums I enjoy further. I want to see comics rise out of the funk they are in, see even movies that are designated "summer fun" play more to the Inception's and District 9's of the season than the Transformers of them, and the fiery death of reality TV. But, y'know what, my continuing to rail against the stuff I do not like is not going to get us anywhere. I hate the mindless drivel that is Twilight that has been sparkling its way into the theaters every year for the past three, but y'know what? I have better things to do and consume. I even regret using the word 'hate' just two lines ago, I'd much rather remain apathetic. I don't post bad reviews because I like to think I have honed my tastes to know what comic book I like, what is doing what I believe comic books should, and material that I believe deserves a chance. I put my critical hat on and hope that if for some reason that the creative crew catches wind of what I wrote, they take it heart if they think I have a point or, well, shake it off and continue to produce work if they disagree with me.

I used to be one of those "clever boys" who thought of something terrible to say about a piece of media just because it made me feel all big man to do so. Stupid. Why should I even care that the stuff exists? I don't like it, some people do, so whatever, I have better things to do. What I've realized is, much like the political arena, if you start to push on something holds dear, even if it's just a movie or a book or music type and, hell, even if that person admits its not the best of things but a guilty pleasure, they'll eventually push back. The problem is, everything has become so very fanboy. I despised that mentality back when it applied only to comics, now that it applies to computers and video game consoles and movie brands within genres it's gone too far. Should you care that I prefer the Playstation brand for my own reasons as opposed to your preference of the XBox if we both have valid reason? No. Maybe we don't agree with each other's preferences, but we should at least remain brothers in enjoying video games and work from there.

I simply say "Let it go" because it really is easier that it seems to simply disavow this stuff. Why waste time and effort on being drawn into discussing stuff you do not enjoy, even if you really do feel it is that insultingly terrible, when there is so much material out there worth the time and your consumerist dollars? Why should disdain for Twilight or The Jersey Shore or Lady Gaga preoccupy you when you can be putting down money at the theater for Captain America or counting down the days (like I am) for the new season of Breaking Bad or downloading some Mumford and Sons? You want to know how you "win" this? You let people have their media, whatever it is, and instead of being drawn into a "How much Twilight is fucking terrible" argument when someone mentions they like it, why don't you recommend they try True Blood instead? Or that there's this comic book series about vampires call AMERICAN VAMPIRE that is really keen? Bringing the hate is just going to make someone hole up in their opinion more and ensure they resist efforts to be brought to try and enjoy stuff they may like better. There's so much material out there to both build on and, failing that, drown out the "offensive" objects, there's no reason to let the hate roll. It's just counterproductive.

And now, after having just spent six paragraphs discussing understanding and fairness, I'm going to spend my entire day watching The Lord of the Rings Trilogy on Blu-Ray, and you go to hell if you don't love those films...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Well, I used to keep up a blog like this before and that went to hell because, eh, got busy with stuff. I was also a little bit more of a twat than I'd like to admit then too (cut me some slack, I was 26 and still chugging along on booze and righteous fury). But now I have a wife and the best kitty in the world and my temperament has changed just a wee bit, or at least my ability to phase the unimportant shit out has focused a lot better. Either way, it's time for a new approach to things. Little less snark, a bit more poignancy and practicality. That'll be the focus here and hopefully there are people out there who will actually want to read what I say (and tell their friends to read, who are also instructed to tell their friends, ad nauseum).

Content will be coming. Sometimes it'll be my trying to call attention to an issue I see with how we treat our entertainment media and how it treats us in return. And how we treat each other as we consume what we each will. Then there will be the occasional review because, fuck it, those are easy. Been doing those at AICN for years and I cram so much stuff into my brainspace might as well blurt out a couple hundred words here and there on the stuff that deserves attention that I don't give out there. So, yes, words and stuff, stuff and words, maybe this time there'll something worth reading and I'll find a stride that motivates me to keep it coming. If you're still with me after even this little tangent, you have my immortal thanks. Cheers...