I spent most of this month thinking about what to eat. Actually there’s few waking moments where my mind’s not occupied by food. Many a time I consider changing POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION into CULINARY ANNIHILATION.
Japanese cartoon (if not Thing from the Television) of the year 2014 KILL LA KILL just ended! Seriously, I watched the final episode while uploading this here post. Review next month, but here’s a spoiler – it is awesome.
Here’s a new trailer to X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, aka the film that adds that one true X-Men stalwart to that franchise – time travel-based fuckery! Truly nothing says X-Men more like continuity failing to make sense. That and large purple robots.
Here’s a rad looking Metroid tribute comic by Corey “Rey” Lewis (SHARKNIFE DOUBLE Z). Sorry, NOT-Metroid, what with those pesky copyright issues.
Filed under Relevant to My Interests: Takeshi Koike (REDLINE) is making a Lupin III movie.
Music! Stan Getz’s 1961 jazz classic FOCUS was my discovery for the month.
I love this gif created from the trailer to the garbage-looking HERCULES film (directed by Brett Ratner!) so much. Look how happy The Rock is!
By the time you read this Schlock co-editor Teodor will have launched his debut novel, TWO. No review because a) the guy is too skint to provide me with a review copy b) I’ll be accused of bias whatever I say about it, be it the negative (“oh haha that Marco, all mocking his pal’s novel!”) or the positive (“oh haha that Marco, of course he’ll say nice things about his pal’s novel!”) c) I’m certainly not promoting anything involving THAT guy and (YOU’RE FIRED – T)
ROBOCOP (José Padilha, 2014)
In the reviewing of a remaking of any pop cultural ephemera I believe any critic worth their salt should refrain from comparisons of the “original” vs “new” variety, since any remake should be afforded the dignity of standing on own merits. However, when it comes to ROBOCOP I’m no mere pop culture critic. Hell, I am beyond Pop Culture Destroyer. No, in this case I am High Priest of the First Church of Robocop, and as such this man of the cloth is here to say that Nu-ROBOCOP is actually a decent enough film about the Cop Turned Robo. In the least it’s better than ROBOCOP 2, or ROBOCOP 3 or (spare us) the live action and animated TV serials. That said, it’s not as much a Robocop film as a film about Robocop. There’s a subtle yet important distinction there.
You see, a Robocop film demands scenery chewing and horrifically bloody violence of the people getting turned into paste variety together with straight to the point storytelling and deeply black satire. On the other hand a film about Robocop tries to overtly explore the effects of such a character and the technology behind him on the world at large in the name of “theme.” Thus Nu-ROBOCOP spends far more time building Alex Murphy and his family (still the honest cop resurrected as a robot, you know the drill), as well as the Victor Frankenstein of the piece (Gary Oldman) and the general futuristic world of 2028 Detroit. Does it work? Somewhat, even if it all takes way too long – Verhoeven took all of 25 minutes to do all these preliminaries.
One merit to director Padilha is the action sequences. That’s his strength after all (as seen in the POLICE SQUAD films), and his Robocop is a far more capable protagonist, thanks to today’s special effects allowing for far more flexible and exciting violence. Too bad it’s all bloodless, shackled as it is by the demands of a PG-13 rating, although one particular sequence set in a darkened warehouse is genuinely interesting. Replacing the violence are all too brief elements of body horror – we see what’s left of Murphy sans-robot body (a brain, a face, a hand, a couple of organs), and one actually affecting scene sees him locking the camera firmly on his face in preparation for a Skype call with his wife. It’s interesting but superficial, a fine addition that’s just… there.
That said, it’s also the product of a far more cynical age. In Padilha’s world view does not allow for Clarence Boddicker, only various levels of murk. Thus, barring Murphy and his closest associates everyone is either corrupt, a shit, or both, be it the police chief, the gang leader or the charismatic CEO. The only overt satire is attempted by Samuel L. Jackson’s right-wing pundit, but in a world graced by the likes of Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, where can one go beyond that?
Actually the best best remake/sequel ROBOCOP never got is “The Man Who Bites His Tongue,” the third episode of BUBBLEGUM CRISIS spinoff A.D. POLICE FILES. It tells the all too familiar story of Billy, a police captain resurrected as a robot following a close encounter of the violent cyborg type. Beyond the all important brain, all the organic matter left of Billy is the tongue, thus the episode title (biting the tongue reminds him of his fleshy origins). Eventually the lack of bodily sensation and reminders thereof drive Not-Robocop to insanity, before he ends up pleading to his former collegues for the relief of death. It’s all very violent and sexed up, making it the one true companion piece the 1987 original can get. Bless 90’s Japanese animation, eh?
LUFTRAUSERS is a game of alternate histories. Two, to be precise.
One is suggested by the setting, a dieselpunk WW2 set across an endless ocean where a single rocket-propelled self-healing super weapon takes on fighters, kamikaze jets, ships, battleships, submarines, zeppelins and even more exotic craft, forever.
The other has videogames with graphics failing to advance beyond the monochrome crudity of the Gameboy and audio reduced to midi screeches, even if the hardware is still capable of handling dozens of on-screen objects and tasty soundtracks. In this reality, developers have long given up the quest for any level of fidelity with reality, instead concentrating on arcade titles of surprising depth and sophistication.
Of course, this is all mere conjecture. First and foremost this latest from PCD favourites Vlambeer (RIDICULOUS FISHING) is a fiercely focused slice of arcade gaming, if one imbued with a modern sensibility. Exemplifying this is the control scheme – in a declaration on games not needing to adhere to realism, your craft handles like nothing from the real world. Instead it controls like the spaceship from ASTEROIDS, with the UP button pushing the thrusters on. However your craft lacks weightlessness, as an exaggerated gravity continually pulls it towards the ground. Add the unusual strength of the craft, and you don’t so much as “fly” as fling across the sky in parabolic arcs, at times diving in the (damaging, unless equipped with a particular engine) water or crashing into enemy craft (not lethal, this) all while twisting and turning in the name of killing as many bads as possible.
Then there’s the healing system. It’s very simple – your craft is not unusually tough, but can repair itself when not shooting. However this gets in the way of the scoring system, which multiplies your points (up to a factor of 20) according to kills done within a short timeframe. Thus, complications arise. Will you stop shooting in order to heal yourself, or risk it all for a potentially bigger score? It’s perhaps not as sophisticated as IKARUGA and its bullet-hell ilk, but never not rewarding and exhilarating.
This being a 21st century game subtleties also abound. The visuals are always perfectly readable despite being composed of monochrome carnage (initially sepia-toned before the unlocking of increasingly lurid alternate colour schemes), the soundtrack changes according to your choice of craft part, the perfectly judged use of Vlambeer’s trademark screen shake. There’s also the addition of missions (kill x of y, get z points), although these are less essential to such a confident core. Can a game be described as delicious? That’s what LUFTRAUSERS feels like.
ANNIHILATION (Jeff Vandermeer, 2014)
Beyond the border lies Area X, an immense stretch of seeming unspoilt nature. A governmental entity called Southern Reach regularly sends scientific expeditions there, and all (but one) happen to end in rather distressing fasion. ANNIHILATION is the story of the twelfth such expedition, one told from the perspective of a woman known only as “The Biologist.” She is joined by The Psychologist, The Linguist and The Surveyors, characters reduced to literal ciphers since, we’re told, “names belonged to where we had come from, not to who we were while embedded in Area X.” Indeed.
This latest from Jeff Vandemeer adopts a very Lovecraftian theme – after all, what more says “Lovecraft” than “scientific expedition goes to fucked up place, ends horribly”? However Vandemeer manages to sidestep further comparison with the granddaddy of the Weird by exercising far more control on his prose. This makes sense, since a scientist is telling the tale. Strangeness still occurs, of course, but it’s of the subtly unsettling kind rather than the overtly weird, making it more effective within the almost peaceful ecologies of Area X. As mentioned earlier characters are annihilated (ah-ha!) into nameless ciphers, their equipment appears dated and ill-suited for the task at hand, even hypnosis appears to be involved in the very entry in Area X. Early on a dilemma arises over what a particular structure actually is – the Biologist says it’s a Tower, while the others insist it’s a Tunnel. Or is a Throat? Who can tell? As the expedition progresses, the narrator’s psyche appears to fragment, struggle as it does to process Area X, before she herself transforms (and with it her narration style) to actually become part of the place. And that’s before one factors her earlier history with Area X…
At 200-ish pages ANNIHILATION is a slim, tight read. Thankfully it works well as a standalone volume, telling a whole story despite being but the the first part of a trilogy (THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY, to be precise). Where will it go next? No idea, frankly. Just like all those expeditions had no idea what they were getting into with their stepping beyond the border towards Area X.
GENESIS (Nathan Edmondson, Alison Sampson, Jason Wordie, 2014)
The name says it all, really. GENESIS is the story of one Adam, a preacher bestowed with the ability to manifest anything he imagines following a failed suicide attempt. Following initial hesitation he embraces the ability, using it to improve the world as he sees fit, before learning such immense power comes with far more risks than he bargained for. Destruction follows creation, allowing it to act as allegory for any number of topics, be it the subconscious and the imagination to absolute power vis-a-vis absolute corruption.
Scripted by Nathan Edmonson, GENESIS adopts a clipped tone akin to a Calvino-esque short story (the format is best described as “graphic novella,” loathe as I do to use such terms), replete with inevitable sharp twist in the end. Meanwhile rendering the “graphic” portion of the equation is Alison Sampson, whose background as an architect is put to good use in this kind of literal world-building story. Sampson’s inks are lovingly loose, lending a hazy, almost dreamlike feel to proceedings when paired with colourist Jason Wordie’s palette of muted pinks, blues and greens. Landscapes and architecture are seen buckling and shifting in reflection of the protagonist’s increasingly tortured psyche, and likewise initially rigid panel grids make way for more angular and irregular page layouts. Populating the landscapes are figures on the slightly stylised side, distorted just enough to remind of work from the likes of Alberta Breccia.
Ultimately this is a smart story told rather well, if lacking in the cleverness seen in other, contemporary independent comics. This is not a complaint – all too often tricks of the multiple perspective and timeline jump variety seen in many overtly ambitious serials only manage to distract from the storytelling supposed to be in place. On the hand GENESIS is almost old school, with its beginning-middle-conclusion structure and single protagonist narration. But such a solid foundation can bear the brunt of the most fantastic of storytelling, and what is seen here is most solid indeed.
MOON KNIGHT #1 (Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire, 2014)
“Moon Knight?” I hear you ask. “Seriously?” Yes, seriously. Also I hear some of you ask who the hell “Moon Knight” actually is, which is not too bad a question! Moon Knight is basically Marvel’s Not Batman, because he dresses in white, has a vague lunar theme and, in evidence of the comics industry’s cavalier attitude towards mental health, is basically crazy due to close encounter with some kind of Egyptian-themed space god. That’s all there is to him, really. So no wonder Marvel did the right thing (for once!) by pressing the MARVEL NOW reboot button.
In Warren Ellis’ hands Moon Knight is definitely not Batman. Now he’s more a weird pulp detective, if anything – still in the bag mask, but the superhero threads are replaced with a sharp 3-piece suit, a look that never goes out in fashion. Oh, and it’s blazing white. As we’re told early on, this Moon Knight literally likes to be seen, confidently stomping towards his quarry with nary a care in the world. To further emphasise this attitude, Jordie Bellaire’s colours adopt a brilliant scheme – while this issue’s world is as murky as a gritty crime comic demands, Moon Knight’s suit is colour-free, turning the character into a literal beacon amidst the muck. Add Shalvey’s crisply rendered artwork, and you have one fine looking comic. Then there’s Ellis’ writing, which is, well, Warren Ellis-lite writing. It’s not as extreme as his non-corporate work, but there’s a high concept mad science bad guy, cheerful acknowledgement of the character’s comic book-y origin and at least a handful of memorable lines (“I’ve died before. It was boring, so I stood up”). Good stuff, basically.
Of course, this is just a first issue, and there’s all the risk of Ellis just losing interest and dropping it in favour of something else. But until then it appears Marvel’s NOW initiative is giving some fruit that’s at least relevant to my interests.
Marco Attard, livin’ at the corner of Dude and Catastrophe, 2014.