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Comics Roundup

All You Need Is Kill comic Judge Dredd vol 2 Dear Creature

  • All You Need is Kill adapted from Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novel by Nick Matamas and Lee Ferguson – Comics have a remarkable facility for telling stories quickly — a few panels can do the work it took pages to do in a novel.  That said, All You Need is Kill feels like the poor ripoff of the novel by the same name.  Its very brief story goes by very quickly, and adds little to the tale.  I’d recommend the novel or the film instead.
  • Judge Dredd, Vol 1 by Duane Swierczynski and Nelson Daniel -Something’s gone wrong in Mega-City one, and Judge Dredd is going to figure out what.  A good recapture of the Dredd sensibility and an amusing new tale of cloning, kidnapping, and bioengineering.  Worth a read if you already like Dredd tales.
  • Dear Creature by Jonathan Case – Probably a winner for the weirdest comic I’ve read this year, this tale of a creature from the deep who loves Shakespeare will surprise you with its wit, its odd story, and its unpredictability.  Also, there are snarky talking crabs and lots of hilarious murder of lusty teenagers.

Captain Stupendous Lady Snow Blood vol 1 Judge Dredd Vol 1

  • Captain Stupendous by Zach Weiner and Chris Jones – Like Married, with Children meets The Incredibles.  The title character and his family are all appalling people who happen to have superpowers, which they don’t use well or nobly.  And it’s very funny.
  • Lady SnowBlood vol 1 by Kazuo Koike & Kazuo Kamimura – A tale of an assassin in 1880s Japan who works for 1,000 yen (which the book tells us is roughly equivalent to 980k yen in 1971).  She was born to a mission of vengeance, and cuts a bloody swath across Japan while she does it.  Dramatic tales of assassination with a dollop of justice and the cleverness we enjoy seeing killers use in these stories.  A lot more nudity than is necessary, but it’s probably par for the course for 1971.
  • Judge Dredd, Vol 2 by Duane Swierczynski and Nelson DanielThe events of the last volume come to a head in this one, with the machine revolution in full swing and the judges under siege from every quarter.  The story picks up steam here and gives the overall book a bit more weight.  Interspersed with the tales of Dredd’s adventures are brief snapshots of life in the awful future.  Particularly great is the tale of the loyal robot butler who was shut down when the machine uprising began, and wakes to find the robots around him murdering everyone.

See also: All You Need is Kill (novel), A few thoughts on re-watching Judge Dredd (film)

Tingle Bells

tingle the bell

3 anecdotes that shape my thoughts on #GamerGate – Boy Scouts, a Cat in the Trash, and a Clockwork Orange

If you don’t know what #GamerGate is, you should be glad.  It’s awful.  Here’s a summary if you don’t know.

Here’s my TL;DR for you:

1. Over the last couple years, a few feminists have been pointing out that many video games perpetuate sexist stereotypes about women, and make little room for women in their stories and gameplay.  The locus of this conversation has been Anita Sarkeesian and her Feminist Frequency video channel.  When Sarkeesian decided to make a series of videos about women in games a couple years ago, some members of the “gamer” community lost its mind, and many members of it began harassing her relentlessly, triggering the Streisand effect and getting Sarkeesian far more money than she would have gotten originally (full disclosure, I pitched in $10 specifically because of this harassment).  The abuse and harassment has not stopped for Sarkeesian in the time since her project began.

2. Sometime recently, the ex-boyfriend of a game developer named Zoe Quinn posted a long rant about what an awful person he thought she was, and she suddenly became the object of all sorts of viciousness and abuse from the net’s most visible denizen of ne’er-do-wells, 4chan’s /b/ forum.  As part of this vitriol, accusations were made that Quinn used sex to advance her games and/or get favorable reviews from game journalists.

3. Hence, #GamerGate, a scandal about games journalism and corruption in game reviewing.  Supposedly.  Except that the hate, vitriol, harassment, abuse, and threats against women are inextricably linked with the people mad about how game reviews are written.  And the loci from which the discussions of the scandal spring are the same, so there’s no way an outsider could understand or see how the individuals inside those groups imagine them to be different.

My intent in writing this piece is not to argue the merits of game journalism corruption, nor to condemn the harassment of women in the gaming industry (which I do hereby condemn) but rather to think about the way the denizens of #GamerGate have handled the accusations that it’s a front for women-harassing assholes.  I have three anecdotes and a thought to share.

1. I was a Boy Scout as a kid, and I have a lot of fond memories of the organization.  But in the last twenty years, a conservative arm of the group has taken over leadership of it and made a number of terrible policies excluding gay leaders and scouts.  I find these decisions appalling, and not in keeping with either the spirit of inclusiveness that is supposed to be at the heart of scouts, nor with the non-demoninational morality the group claims to have.  Hence, because I disagree with these prominent choices associated with the group, I’ve withdrawn my support of it, and won’t be involved with it.

2. In 2010, when a lady was caught on video throwing a cat in a trash can, 4chan found and published her identifying information in less than 24 hours.  Apparently they sent threats and other horrible things her way while they were at it, but my point here is that when they’re angry, this roving group of nuclear id can bring powerful pain down on people they don’t like.  If they really cared about the individuals harassing women in the name of #GamerGate, they would self-police.  Send a threatening tweet? Feel the fury of 4chan.  They have shown themselves to be resourceful, active detectives of the digital sphere.  Failure to act against bad actors in their midst speaks volumes.

3. Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange features a third act (or fifth?  I can never tell which is which) that Stanley Kubrick left out of the film.  The narrator serves his time in prison and tries to return to his old ways, only to find that he’s outgrown them.  He finds that uncivilized behavior, while appealing to youth, creates a false present-hedonism that hampered his ability to be a human being as he grew.  It’s a moment of growth that’s missing from the film.  We learn that groups of young men are particularly good at getting one another to do awful things, but in the long run, those awful things undermine society and the very humanity of the people committing them.

But then I saw this comic (via @granitetide), and it sums up much of what the casual observer will think about #GamerGate.


A final thought:

As Ken White at Popehat has often written, the answer to speech we don’t like is more speech.  Individuals who use their power to try to stop other people from speaking should be opposed with all the strength we can muster, as hampering free and open dialogue cuts to the core of what makes America great.  But the constitutional right to say whatever you like does not mean such statements are ethical or moral. Words have meaning, and have an effect on the people at whom they’re directed.  To associate with people who are acting unconscionably is to endorse that behavior.  The #GamerGate label has been poisoned from the beginning.  It was always-already infused with women-hating harassment, and any attempt to claim a higher ethical purpose cannot be extricated from these roots.If you don’t like how games journalism works, write about games journalism.  If you don’t like the tale that Sarkeesian is telling about how games work, critique that tale.  But to threaten her and her supporters, to harass and frighten opposition across the web, and to demand that people join your worldview or face terror is to forego freedom for tyranny.

A few thoughts on Android: Netrunner (part 1)

netrunnerFirst off, it’s awesome.  I played the original version of the game a couple times with Andrew “Bird in a Pump” Kozma back in ol’ Gainesville.  I still have those three starter decks hanging out in my game box.  (I wonder if anyone would notice me mixing those cards in?)  But we never got into the game the way we did Jyhad (another buttload of cards I have squirreled away in a box downstairs).  So those starters are just curiosities now.

But after playing the amazing LCG Game of Thrones with Paul and Kate and realizing that it made no sense for me to buy my own copy of that game (I can play with them if I want), I recalled with fondness the Netrunner games of yore.  Then, I saw an episode of Shut up and Sit Down (also recommended by Kozma, I believe) in which Quinns went on and on about how much he liked Netrunner.  And I felt the bug.  It festered for about a week before I bought the game, and then it took a bit longer before Avery and I got to play it.  But now that we have, whooo doggies, is it fun.

What the heck is this thing?

ffg_noise-coreNetrunner is a two player game played with cards.  One person represents a corporation, trying to accomplish its businessy agendas.  If it manages to score seven points worth of agendas (which are usually worth 1-3 points each), it wins.  It scores the agendas by placing them in “servers” protected by “Ice,” nasty computer programs designed to stop and sometimes harm intruders.  The other player represents a hacker, someone looking to steal these agendas from the corporation.  The hacker uses a variety of “icebreaker” programs to slip past the protective defenses and steal the agenda cards from the corporation.  There are plenty of other nuances, but that’s the general gist of it.

The big difference between this and most two player games is that the players are on very different footing.  They have different cards and different methods for achieving their goals.  So playing corp and playing runner are distinctly different experiences, a state that makes the game fun.

A few notes about these notes:

1. We’re only using the core deck at this point.  I’m going to limit myself to a very slow ramp up of the expansions, both so we get to learn the cards well and so Jenny doesn’t get too peeved at my profligate game expenditures.

2. So far I haven’t been able or willing to bring myself to play against experienced players yet.  I will probably do that at some point, but for now it’s mostly me and Avery and Paul.

3. We’ve only just dabbled in deckbuilding a very little bit — so far we’re mostly playing the core decks as they come in the box.

So all that aside, I have somewhere around fifteen games under my belt now, with four as runner and eleven as corp.

Early lessons for new players (from a new player, so maybe this is all rubbish):

ffg_project-junebug-core1. It’s all about the Benjamins credits.  No matter how much wicked ICE you have or what awesome icebreakers you have, without the credits to run/rez them, you’re SOL.  So paying attention to your moneymaking cards and really digging those out quickly can pay off big.  I’ve also liked having the “retrieve from your trash” cards that let you go back in and get those money cards out right quick.

2. The CORE decks are good, but as soon as you can, you want to start mixing and matching.  It’s too easy, once you’ve played them apart, to anticipate many of the things your opponent will do.  Jinteki will threaten your life, so hold on to those cards.

3. Information is really valuable.  It’s worth credits and clicks to find it.

Overall, I really like this game so far, and highly recommend that you buy it so we can play some games sometime.  Next time, some beginner thoughts on the corps and hacker factions.

A few more SPOILERY thoughts on [REC]3

I had a few more thoughts to share about [REC]3 that, frankly, stray into cranky rant territory.  Nearly every comment below will also be a spoiler.  Consider yourself fairly warned. (Here’s my original review, if you missed it.)So as to keep your wandering eye from accidentally seeing a spoiler, I now include a photo of one of the best secondary characters in the story SpongeJohn.

Sponge JohnThey explain that his costume is distinct and not at all infringing on another spongy rectangular character.  It’s pretty funny.  Later, during the zombie fighting part, someone asks him why he’s still in the stupid costume, and he admits he’s not wearing clothes underneath. On to the spoilers!

While I liked [REC]3, it suffered from the same flaw many films about fast zombies make — giving the protagonists time to rest or, rather, letting them take time to rest while they’re under the gun.  The worst example of this was when the bride and the groom meet up again and they spend a good 30 seconds kissing and hugging, when just before they reunited, both were worried about zombies bearing down on them.  Infuriating!

I mentioned this a bit before, but this movie is intentionally funny in ways the previous [REC] films have not been.  It’s a little disconcerting to see such a strong tone shift in a series like this.  Three examples: the bride/chainsaw bit, the giggling uncle zombie, and the mean zombie behind the curtain.  This last one is especially silly — Koldo and his friend are sneaking through the wedding reception building when a zombie reaches out from behind a curtain and grabs Koldo’s friend, pulls him behind the curtain, and starts making chowing down noises.  Koldo stands there a minute, in shock, when the shield his friend was carrying shoots out from below the curtain like something out of a cartoon.  He basically shrugs and sneaks away.  Later, when fighting his giggling uncle, Kolko selects a weapon from among the myriad things available in the industrial kitchen: an immersion blender.  He then proceeds to grind the giggling uncle’s face in with the blender, like a tiny version of the lawn-mower from Dead Alive.  Lame.

What a problem the quarantine has caused!  If only the survivors / semi-survivors in these stories could broadcast the fact that reading the Bible will stop these demonic zombies in their tracks.  how helpful that would be!

Because Clara and Koldo (the bride and groom) are the main characters, the other people with them are in far more danger of getting chomped by a zombie than they themselves are.  Thus, the traveling parties turn into clusters of red shirts to provide plot moments throughout.

The biggest “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” moment for me was when Clara was walking with two dudes, SpongeJohn and one of the groomsmen, and they get to a decision point.  “Stay here,” they say, and off they go, looking for a place to hide.  Of course, while they’re gone, Clara gets menaced and nearly chomped by her mom.  She gets saved, but in the time it takes her to recover from seeing her mom shot, other zombies gather and they get SpongeJohn.  If they had just stuck together, when they found the entrance to the sewers, they could have gone in together and none of that would have happened. ARGH.

What these ranty moments highlight for me is the way the filmmakers missed their opportunity to really continue the media-panopticon aspect of the [REC] series that made it so special.  Major bummer.

Thanks for your restraint, Stan Lee

Dr Strange hides his spell

I love this panel.  Stan Lee had to hold off from revealing the words of Dr. Strange’s invocation so that his readers wouldn’t use this spell to wreak havoc across the nation.  One wonders if this was already a problem.  Kids were standing up to bullies by waving their hands and calling on the “hoary hordes of Hoggoth!”

Tweets from 2014-10-05 to 2014-10-11

Movies you missed me not missing – one-ish sentence reviews (part 1)

hobbit-smaug American_Hustle_2013_poster The_Secret_Life_of_Walter_Mitty_poster Muppets_Most_Wanted Vernoica Mars

During my hiatus from blogging, I saw a bunch of movies.  And I didn’t review or mention them here.  I know, you’re crushed.  So here I begin a series of one sentence reviews of most of the movies I watched between 2 December 2013 and 5 September 2014.

  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Better than the first Hobbit, but still feels bloated.  Should have been just two movies.
  • American Hustle – I recognize the good acting, but hated the movie for its despicable characters and unpleasant story.
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Heartwarming and lovely, this film is a great pick-me-up.
  • Muppets Most Wanted – I liked this, but it falls much more into the niche of movies liked by people who like Muppet movies, rather than as part of a larger Muppet resurgence.
  • Veronica Mars – A great movie of the week — and a pitch for a network like AMC to bring back that idea.  I bet Rob Thomas and the other VM folks would get together once a year to make a movie in this series.  Please?

The LEGO Movie – A great children’s movie that far exceeds expectations (which, given the crassly commercial nature of the endeavor, were low).



FEED – zombies and blogs in the future

Feed-by-Mira-GrantI’ve had Mira Grant’s Feed on my shelf for a long time, just lurking there, waiting for me to read it.  The novel’s premise is that cancer and the common cold have both been cured, but the disease that cured them also, in strong enough numbers, becomes “live” and turns its host into a zombie.  To add insult to injury, when the live virus encounters someone with the dormant virus, it activates their dormant virus.  And then you have chaos.

Now take that and fast-forward twenty years, and you have the world of Feed, where people hide in relative safety and the CDC has near dictatorial control of the country.  Blood tests are de-rigeur for going in and out of pretty much anywhere, and people have a variety of licenses that allow them to venture into areas of more or less danger.  Grant’s novel follows the journey of a team of bloggers as they follow a presidential hopeful during the primaries, and things get, well, scary.

A few thoughts:

  • Like Scott Kenemore’s novels, Grant never assumes that things would get so out of hand that the world would fall into complete anarchy.  She imagines a world where people band together and do the hard stuff to get by.  I could see Feed existing in a world that extends forward from one (or all, if they’re connected) of Kenemore’s Zombie, State books.
  • The protagonists are just a little bit too great.  I understand that this is the way it has to be, but they’re depicted at the top of their journalistic field and we never see any sense of the people with whom they compete.  The same goes for their computer whiz, who is just the best ever!  It works okay, but also makes for relatively shallow arcs dependent entirely on the plot.
  • Speaking of the plot, SPOIILERS AHEAD, I thought the person who turned out to be the villain was too obvious.  In fact, it was so obvious that I spent much of the novel disbelieving that it could be the person it turned out to be, as that would have been too obvious.
  • The world Grant has imagined for Z-day + 20 years is excellent.  It’s well-thought out, with believable cultural developments and the ideas of the way society would react to these troubles.  The rise of the internet as a continuing force shaping the world is believable as well, as are the technological developments (though they seem awfully expensive for the rate at which they’re used).
  • The theme of freedom vs. fear as a shaping factor in society resonates throughout the book, as the politics being covered by the protagonists often turn on questions of how to keep people safe, and how much freedom people need to sacrifice to maintain that safety.

Overall, Feed tells a good adventure story with journalistic idealism and political intrigue, not to mention zombies.  Great stuff.

[REC]3: Genesis – Not the movie you wanted it to be

Rec3 PosterI really like the [REC] series.  Both the original and its sequel tell provocative, interesting zombie stories using the “found footage” model that prompts a claustrophobic intensity that works really well in zombie movies.  As such, I was primed to like [REC]3: Genesis, which suggested a continuation of the story developed in the first two films.  Sounds good.

And this third movie, which takes place at a wedding reception, is primed to be a great addition to the genre.  Until the filmmakers blow it by giving up the one thing that made these movies really unique — the hand-held camera technique.  Without that, this is a pretty good–but not great–zombie movie.  A few thoughts (spoilers ahead):

  • The story, development, and resolution of this as a standalone zombie movie is really solid.  Had I gone into this without the expectations of its franchise riding on its back, I suspect I would have loved it.
  • I continue to like the distinct zombie pathology and demonic mythology that shapes the creatures in this film.  It provides a continued secondary line of defense that gives the humans who know what they’re doing an edge: most films don’t have anything other than the body of the zombie to contend with.
  • The filmmakers developed one or two new bits of the story this time around.  In particular, I loved that the mirrors reflect not the individuals infected as zombies, but the demons inside them.
  • At the same time, this film continues the utterly bleak aspect of the series, which is that nobody is safe.  But the mobile and relatively insecure nature of the space meant that the main characters kept picking up and losing red-shirts along the way.  For a little while, I thought the children’s entertainer in the “Sponge John” costume might make it, but no such luck for him.
  • This film uses more humor than the other [REC] movies have done, which maybe indicates why I didn’t love it as much as I loved the other films in the series — the tone shift makes the last act of the film too silly to fit my expectations.

There were several striking images in the film.  First, we got a distinct nod to The Shining here:

The Shining here's johnny zombies through the door [rec]3

Then there was the smiling zombie, which giggled a bit before the groom took it out with a hand-held blender:

Smiling uncle Zombie [rec]3

Then, of course, you have the bride on a rampage:

[rec]3 Bride 2 [rec]3 Bride 3 [rec]3 Bride 4

Overall, enjoyable.  If you haven’t seen the other films in the series, I bet you’ll like this a lot.  If you have, give this one plenty of leeway to be its own thing.

See also: [REC] and [REC]2

In which I am cited as yet another bad example

The Journal Courier is a central Illinois newspaper that thinks college classes about popular culture are all about attracting students.  A prime example of this “trendy” move? You guessed it:

A few years ago, universities realized they had to show they were more than just stuffy places with ivory towers and doctors with bow-ties. College-age society was changing and institutions of higher learning had to adapt.

Without that epiphany, we would never have classes like “The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur” (Washington University), “Zombies in Popular Media” (Columbia of Chicago) or “Street Fighting Mathematics” (MIT). (don’t bother reading the article)

They could at least get our college’s name right.

Jailbird Kookaburra is watching you


Jailbird Kookaburra is watching you.

In which I explain why horror fans are visible

Sometimes, when you do an interview with a reporter, you discover afterward that they mangled what you said or pushed and pulled the conversation to get the one quote they wanted.  Fine, I understand how it’s done.  But in this article by Spencer Hall at the award-winning Columbia Chronicle, my comments reflect quite accurately the conversation we had.  How refreshing to see a reporter work the research into the piece rather than twisting it to fit the hole that needed filling.

Here’s what he wrote about our conversation within his larger article about a horror film poster exhibit:

…Though horror films and television shows like “The Walking Dead” and “American Horror Story” are becoming part of mainstream popular culture, the horror genre tends to stray from the usual devices seen in popular media, according to Brendan Riley, an associate professor in the English Department who teaches the Zombies in Popular Media J-term course.

Riley said horror films differ from other films in that they try to evoke a stronger reaction out of the audience than more mainstream films.

“When you encounter other kinds of storytelling media, often you’re being engaged intellectually or emotionally, but very rarely are you being engaged on a visceral or instinctual level,” Riley said. “Most horror movies have at least some sort of engagement with the uncanny, or the fear of the unknown.”

Horror film enthusiasts, unlike casual television or movie fans, are more visible in terms of fanaticism because horror movie fans have to go out of their way to connect with each other over the genre, according to Riley.

“They don’t have conventions for people who like Monday night sitcoms,” Riley said. “It’s easy to find other people who like [sitcoms]. For people who enjoy strange Japanese horror movies, it’s harder to find those people. Part of the reason that those fan groups are more visible is that they need to be more visible in order to find other people who like the same things they like.”…

(Read the rest at the Columbia Chronicle)

J. Edgar and the Imaginarium

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus J. Edgar

J. Edgar is a complex biopic that shows the multifaceted life led by the egotistical and patriotic J. Edgar Hoover.  The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus tells a fairy tale of an immortal man in a struggle with the devil, a kind-of Dr. Faustus story for the 21st century, but with Heath Ledger.  A few thoughts:

  • Both films follow complex men who’ve done good things and bad, selfish things and stupid ones.  The people around them pay for their actions, and the secrets they keep hurt people.  But where Dr. Parnassus seems to have made his bed for no reason other than his own ego, J. Edgar believes himself driven by patriotism.
  • It’s the people around them who suffer for their egos.  Dr. Parnassus seems unaware or unable to help his cast of goofy players, his daughter, or the strange man with a mysterious past they find hanging under a bridge.  J. Edgar builds up a cadre of allies who love him and respect him, even if his ego leads him down a path of madness later in his life.
  • Both films also use flashback effectively to set the stage for the present, though J. Edgar works in flashback far more than does Dr. Parnassus.
  • But both our protagonists wrestle with demons as well.  Hoover, famously, was haunted by his own homosexual proclivities — something he believed to be a personal failing.  Imagine what a different life he’d have led if he were born today.  Or perhaps he still would have been an egomaniacal control freak, he just would have been able to live openly with his lover.  By contrast, Dr. Parnassus wrestles with the literal devil, a foppish tempter (played brilliantly by Tom Waits) who enjoys the bets they make so much that when he’s on the verge of winning one, he offers a new bet.
  • Both films also feature strong, compelling performances from young actors already known for greatness.  Ledger’s intensity fits Dr. Parnassus well, with both a gleam of glee and of deception in his eye. For his part, DiCaprio plays Hoover brilliantly, capturing both sides of the figure and bringing empathy to the man even as we see him doing awful things.

A nod goes also to Ledger’s co-stars in Imaginarium.  After Ledger’s death, Gilliam re-wrote the remaining script to give the character a mercurial shifting face during his sequences in the fantasy world behind the stage.  The shifts to his other faces (Johnny Depp, Colin Farrel, and Jude Law) in the Imaginarium is so seemless, I nearly wrote about his acting work in those scenes, before remembering that these other men had done those scenes.  Gilliam reported that the post-production sound designer thought the original script had been written with the face-changes in place.  Anyhow, given Ledger’s history, it is a good, if obscure, film for him to ‘go out on.’

Beware the honeyed words of Tom Waits

Beware the honeyed words of Tom Waits

Both movies are what they appear to be and, in that regard, likely do exactly what their audiences expect they will do.  To see The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, one likely knows Gilliam’s work and is willing to dive headlong into his flights of fancy (though I’d say this movie feels more like 1990s-era Jean Paul Jeunet than most of Gilliam’s earlier work). To watch J. Edgar is to dive into classic biopic territory, with the modern nuance of complicated people highlighting the ups and downs of Hoover’s life.

Tweets from 2014-09-28 to 2014-10-04