Archive for May, 2012


31 Things That Make Me Happy: Part 3

May 31st, 2012 Posted by Gavok

21) Flash vs. Luthiac

Justice League (Unlimited) is to animation what Avengers is to film. Just this perfect chain of world-building that escalates more and more, delivering all the while. While the first season of Unlimited was quite fantastic, it had one glaring flaw: no Flash. Wally only went as far as showing up a couple times with no lines in group shots. It wasn’t until the following season that he even got to do anything.

Everybody stopped being mad about that after the episode “Divided We Fall”, where the core members of the Justice League are taken apart by the hybrid of Lex Luthor and Brainiac. The villain prepares to kill off Flash, a prophecy set up throughout the season. Flash – the comic relief of the team – frees himself and runs off scared.

…or does he?

I don’t even care about anything after he vanishes. It’s the limit-breaking beatdown that I go back to. The beautiful way the score starts to creep in the moment he hits his first surprise punch. The way Luthor seems so taken aback that he doesn’t even try to come up with any plan, which, if you look at it, means that Luthor’s idea of merging with Brainiac is their undoing, since Brainiac wouldn’t have been so distracted by ego. Flash is someone who’s been ignored from episodes because he’s so hard to write and they’ve even nerfed his powers so much that he had a hard time catching up to a van one time, so his existence on the cartoon is vindicated in this moment where he kicks ass with such speed that he vibrates in place, Zoom-style.

22) It’s the YETAY!

When you ask a wrestling fan about the funniest and most absurd concept in the history of the business, they’ll give you one of two answers. One is the Gobbledy Gooker, a much-hyped and mysterious giant egg that finally hatched to reveal a dancing guy in a goofy turkey suit. Then there’s the Shockmaster, a complete failure of a segment where a new wrestler meant to be the next big thing proceeded to trip on live TV, knocking off his mask and causing the entire scene (as well as his career following) to fall apart.

For me, nothing is as gleefully silly as the Yeti.

The Yeti was born from a storyline involving Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage against the Dungeon of Doom, no doubt the silliest of all major factions in wrestling history. It was made up of an old, fat man barking orders at his “son” Kevin Sullivan and a collection of henchmen wrestlers, all goofy as all get out. The whole thing is such a clusterfuck that I’m going to bypass most of it, but the main conflict is Hogan vs. the Dungeon’s biggest and newest threat, the Giant. The Giant is billed as being Andre the Giant’s son, wanting to avenge his father against Hogan. On an episode of Nitro leading up to their big PPV match at Halloween Havoc, they show a huge block of ice. Kevin Sullivan refers to the figure inside as the Yeti, only he insists on pronouncing it “Yeh-tay”.

At the end of the final show before the PPV, Hogan fights off the Giant in the ring and some crazy lights start going off. The crowd is excited and with only a second of airtime left, the ice on the stage explodes to reveal… a seven-foot-tall guy dressed as a mummy.

And if that doesn’t tell you to purchase the PPV, I don’t know what does.

The match itself continued its clusterfuck ways and by the end, Randy Savage and Lex Luger come to Hogan’s rescue. Soon after, the Yeti follows, accompanied by Tony Schiavone on commentary screaming, “And the YETAAAAY!” Yes, even he’s insisting that not only is this giant mummy a yeti, but it’s pronounced exactly the way Sullivan insisted. Somehow, it’s that little detail that acts as the lynchpin to why this is so wonderfully ridiculous. Hell, they’re so focused on the YETAY! that it’s a footnote that Luger has already turned on Hogan and Savage in the ring. During this beating, the Yeti and Giant bearhug Hogan from each side and Yeti moves his hips back and forth in a way that makes him look like he’s raping Hogan. When he isn’t attacking anyone, he wanders the ring with his arms out like Frankenstein. Despite being in the ring for only two minutes, his bandages have already torn a bunch and we can see plenty of his skin, showing how flimsy a concept the mummy wrestler idea was to begin with.

As far as I know, there was no follow-up to Yeti fighting Hogan. Instead, he faded rather oddly into obscurity with no fanfare. First he started dressing like a ninja instead of a mummy. Then he kept that look and changed his name to Super Giant Ninja. He immediately lost to the One Man Gang and was repackaged for another day.


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“John Prophet is awake” is a puzzle piece.

May 31st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’ve been enjoying Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Ed Brisson, Joseph Bergin III, and Giannis Milonogiannis’s Prophet. And like everything else I enjoy, I’ve been trying to pull it apart to see how it works. There’s a lot to chew on, but one of the many things that’s captivated me is this, from issue 24:

“John Prophet is awake.” Something about that stuck with me, to the point where I went back and reread the series, looking for similarly gripping statements. It made me re-examine and really pay attention to the narration in the book.

Graham’s really blunt style in Prophet works for me. It’s pointed, too, if I can mix meanings for a minute. “John Prophet is awake.” “The Earth Empire is here.” These are statements that sound like threats. They sound like something is lurking around behind the words, or around the edges of the phrase, that’s waiting to jump out and ruin your day. Funnybook Babylon‘s Pedro Tejeda described it as foreboding. He’s right.

Part of why these little phrases keep catching my eye is that I’ve been reading James Ellroy’s Blood’s A Rover for the past two weeks, and thinking about the other two books in the Underworld USA series for a couple years now. Here’s a sample of Ellroy’s prose from Blood’s A Rover:

The boss type looks pissed. The guys fan out. One guy scopes the Brylcreem, three guys walk to the rear. The boss type turns his back and tidies the candy shelf. The Brylcreem guy pulls a silencered revolver and walks straight up. The boss type turns around and goes “Oh.” The Brylcreem guy sticks the barrel in his mouth and blows off the top of his head. Silencer thud, brain and skull spray. No crash—the boss type just slides down the shelf row and dies.

Ellroy’s got a similarly blunt style, and as a result of how the books shake out, that bluntness is harrowing. It’s an indication that danger’s right around the corner, that life is short and mean, and that there’s no safe spaces, not really. It’s the perfect tone for Ellroy’s secret history of the ’50s and ’60s, because the prose crawls up underneath your skin and settles in. Even peaceful scenes are fraught with tension because of this. You’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Ellroy’s books are only ever five short words away from brutal, life-changing violence. (More on Rover later, I figure.)

These two books aren’t connected at all. I asked Brandon if he had read any Ellroy and he said nah. But, that doesn’t stop them from working in concert and feeding off each other inside my head. Both of the books are in my orbit, and they feed off each other accordingly. One work enhances or alters my perception of the other, even though the two books are incredibly different from each other. I mean, it’s Space Conan vs Sleazy History — not a lot of points of comparison there.

But: “The Earth Empire is here.” “One guy scopes the Brylcreem, three guys walk to the rear.” Both of these statements foretell doom. They deliver a shiver before everyone gets down to business. There’s a connection.

This phenomenon isn’t unique to comics, obviously. It’s a product of taking part in any type of culture. But I like when these sorts of things happen, when I find a connection between works I enjoy. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and picking up on parallel paths in books or similar techniques is always interesting. Sometimes all you need to figure something out is to see someone else do something similar, and then you can apply that new knowledge to the problem you’re trying to solve.

I’m going to solve Prophet at some point. Ellroy just provided another tool for the toolbox.

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Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Commodity Culture (or, “Watch out now, they’ll chew you up”)

May 30th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Here’s the video for Jay-Z & Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” off their Watch The Throne album. This joint features Frank Ocean and The-Dream.

Within about thirty seconds of starting this video, I was reminded of one of my favorite bits from Grant Morrison & Phil Jimenez’s The Invisibles. This page:

More specifically, this quote: “The most pernicious image of all is the anarchist-hero figure. A creation of commodity culture, he allows us to buy into an inauthentic simulation of revolutionary praxis. The hero encourages passive spectating and revolt becomes another product to be consumed.”

And of course, The Invisibles is guilty of this critique. Grant Morrison wrote it and DC Comics, the comic book wing of Warner Bros. published it. It sells anarchy to the masses. It is a book that is meant to make money, no matter the ink on the page, and as such supports our capitalist system and all the exploitation and misery that is part and parcel of that system.

But it’s apt, I think. Morrison is a good writer, and he nails a phenomenon that I think is fascinating. Our culture — maybe as a result of capitalism, maybe just because that’s how culture works — chews up and spits out everything, even things that are theoretically counter-culture.

One of the vilest concepts in American culture is the fear of the black man’s penis and hatred for the black woman’s body. Black women were considered animalistic and savage, to the point where raping them didn’t even really count as rape. Black men were savage, too, and the myth of black dudes being better hung than any other race derives from this idea. They’ve got bigger dicks because they’re closer to apes and savages. It’s not a compliment. They’re calling you a monkey. Black people were considered hypersexed. Interracial love was miscegenation, a corruption of white women’s virtue. White men who raped black women were safe, I guess, because the screwer tends to have power over the screwed.

Gross, right? No right-thinking person still believes in that stuff. But have you looked at interracial porn lately? At how many videos are based around a black guy deflowering a white girl with his huge penis, how many feature white girls actually saying the words “giant nigger dick” aloud, how many videos feature black women in all-white gangbangs featuring dudes with Klan robes or Confederate flags… none of that is rare. Our culture will take in anything and everything, including the worst of us, and spit it back in a format that you can spend dollars on. Racism as fetish, 29.99 a month. Malcolm X hats, conscious rap, drag queens, black nationalism, all of it will eventually fall prey to commodity culture. That’s just the way it is.

Which brings me back around to this Jay and Ye video. What is it about? It isn’t about anything. It depicts protests, sure, but what are the people protesting? What are Jay and Kanye protesting? Nothing. The video is message-less and meaningless. Jay-Z’s verse is borderline incoherent, a loose suggestion of sadness and distrust. Kanye’s verse is about his issues with love. The video depicts revolt for revolt’s sake.

Revolution is cool now. There’s even a catchphrase: “We are the 99%!” Protesting is cool, man. Protests are sexy. Occupy Wall Street is protesting economic exploitation, at least nominally. But what is this video protesting? There’s no message, and no signs. There’s just protestors and cops and police brutality. It encourages an us vs them mentality, which I think is poisonous to begin with, and takes advantage of the fact that protesting is cool these days to get a neat video out of it.

It’s exploitation, basically. An exploitation of Occupy Wall Street and protests in general. A protest without a point, without a goal, is not a protest at all. It is not civil disobedience. It is not revolt. It’s just mindless, empty violence. It’s the exact opposite of what protests are supposed to accomplish.

What makes this video even worse is that Watch the Throne is an album about consumption to the point of excess. It’s about how awesome and rich Jay and Kanye are, and how much stuff they have. It’s an album about being the 1%, though Jay and Ye are both small fish in that pond. To an extent, most rap albums are about being awesome, but Watch the Throne felt like a step far beyond the conspicuous consumption I’ve grown used to. It was too much.

Put the two together. The most commercial and capitalist rap album in a long time, one that’s almost overwhelmingly and off-puttingly about material wealth. A music video that co-opts revolutionary concepts to illustrate a song about Jay-Z creating a loose idea of sadness and Kanye working out his issues with love. There’s no connection, beyond maybe a loose sense of unrest. There’s just two mildly rich dudes jacking the imagery of people who have legitimate grievances with authority and furthering the story that protests must turn violent, or are violent by their nature.

Violence, or the threat of violence, has a very important and essential place in revolutionary acts. That is true, I think anyone who has read a book will agree with that. But this is not it. This is counter-revolutionary. This is the culture chewing up and recycling protesting. This is culture as commodity.

Jay-Z is actually a great example of this phenomenon. He’s made a career out of jocking fads, and even other rappers. He stepped into Christopher Wallace’s shoes after Big died and couldn’t keep Big’s lyrics out his mouth. Remember “The Death of Auto-Tune?” He delivered a hilariously sub-par verse on Juvenile’s “Ha” remix. He rode UGK to success off the back of “Big Pimpin.” He dallied with the Neptunes, Just Blaze, and more. He finds what’s hot and joins in. Which is fine. That’s how you stay relevant, and he’s managed to turn “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man” from a hot line into a hot life. He knows how commodity culture works, and the “No Church In The Wild” video is just another example of that fact. Everything gets recycled, remixed, and sold, even things that are already for sale.

I don’t think commodity culture is a bad thing, necessarily, but I do think it is important to be able to recognize it when you see it in action. There’s nothing wrong with digging this video, as long as you’re conscious of exactly what it represents. This isn’t a realistic representation of revolutionary action or any type of revolutionary statement. It is exploitation, from top to bottom, and paints an inaccurate picture of civil unrest.

“No Church In The Wild” looks even dumber when you look at Yasiin Bey, fka Mos Def, and his song “Niggas In Poorest,” a direct answer to Jay & Ye’s smash hit “Niggas In Paris.” Video:

This song has a very clear message and it’s reflected throughout the lyrics, video, and even the awfully clunky title. See here for example:

Poor so hard, this shit crazy
Walk outside the whole world hate me
Nervous stares at the thoroughfare
Surveillance cameras, police tracing
Poor so hard, this shit weird
We be home and still be scared
There’s grief here, there’s peace here
Easy and hard to be here
Psycho: liable to turn Michael
Take your pick:
Myers, Myers, Myers, same shit

and here:

Fake Gucci, my nigga. Fake Louis, my killer.
Real drugs, my dealer. Who the fuck is Margiela?
Doctors say I’m the illest, I ain’t got no insurance
It’s them niggas in poorest, be them rebel guerillas, huh

These statements are clear as day. Being poor sucks. It’ll make you do things that people describe as unthinkable. It makes going to the doctor an expensive dream. People watch you. Nowhere is safe, not even home. It’s easy to become poor and hard to be poor.

It’s not perfect, but there’s a message. There’s a point. It’s a rebuke to the excess that Jay and Ye displayed on Watch the Throne, and it is pointed. It puts the lie to Jay and Ye’s fake revolutionary video, too. It’s sympathetic without being exploitative. The violence that Bey suggests is a result of a specific thing, not just “well it’s a protest so I guess people gotta fight?” “Niggas In Poorest” is a product, too, but it’s much more sound, politically, than “No Church In The Wild” or any of Jay’s stabs at political relevance. He’s a businessman, and his choices reflect that. But that doesn’t make “No Church In the Wild” any more authentic.

Recognize commodity culture when you see it. Don’t fall for these people’s lies. Don’t get caught up in no throne. They’re never gonna let you sit on it.

(It’s worth noting that Romain Gavras, director of “No Church In The Wild,” also directed MIA’s obnoxious and incoherent video for “Born Free.”)

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31 Things That Make Me Happy: Part 2

May 30th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

11) And Now Mark Briscoe with the Weather

I don’t watch nearly enough Ring of Honor as I should, but I am damn certain that one of the highlights of it is Jay and Mark Briscoe. The two are violent rednecks who are far more realistic than your usual over-the-top redneck wrestling character. Not only are they really good in the ring, but they could make a DVD of them just talking up their upcoming matches and I’d buy one for me and a handful for the holidays.

Recently, Mark got to do a local weather forecast while wearing his tag title belt. What makes this for me is how the background isn’t mic’d at all, but you can still just slightly hear the crew laughing their asses off. It’s infectious.


12) Xavier and Magneto Take on Master Mold

The X-Men cartoon in the 90’s was pretty damn good and a lot of it holds up. Not to say it wasn’t completely maddening how strict they were about the roster’s status quo.

“Hey, Colossus/Nightcrawler/Archangel/Iceman. Now that we’ve beaten the bad guys, I wanted to offer you a spot on the X-Men.”

“That sounds great. Maybe one day, but not now. I’m going to just stand over there instead.”

“Oh. Okay.”

*roll credits*

Other than that and a couple other flaws (Storm’s voice actress, oh God), the show did a great job. Other than Apocalypse’s tendency to say the most chilling shit in the most ominous voice, my favorite thing on that show was the first season’s finale. Magneto gets decimated by an army of Sentinels and the X-Men give him medical care. They go off to save Senator Kelly and defeat the Sentinels, despite Magneto’s warning that they’re “brave fools”. He ultimately decides to man up (mutant up?) and help out. The final act is filled with a lot of strong character moments with Sentinels being torn apart and blown up all over the place.

When things look to be going mutantkind’s way, a mountain explodes and Master Mold – the lead robot that dwarfs its fellow Sentinels – stands up, swearing, “I CANNOT BE DESTROYED.”

All of the sudden, Xavier shows up in the Blackbird, with a cockpit filled with dozens of boxes of explosives and drums of oil. As he rants, you can quickly see a bandaged Magneto fly by unseen by Xavier.

“You are the living embodiment of all that is evil and unjust in humankind. You must be destroyed!”

Magneto bodysurfs on the top of the plane and turns on his force field just as Master Mold blasts in what would have been a direct hit. At the last second, Xavier presses the eject button and Master Mold goes up in one hell of an explosion. Sweet.

I always found it weird how despite being the X-Men’s #1 bad guy and leading the villain army in the intro, Magneto did shockingly little in the villainy department on that show. He fought them in the third episode (where Xavier defeated him by MAKING HIM RELIVE THE HOLOCAUST, which is extremely fucked for a kid show), but all his subsequent appearances had him fighting alongside the X-Men in some fashion. Granted, there was a lot of reluctance from both sides, but he was there.

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31 Things That Make Me Happy: Part 1

May 29th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Kind of a scattershot article this time around, so bear with me.

Things are overall pretty swell for me these days and I thought I’d take a couple days to sit back and talk about positivity. More specifically, as you can see in the big letters above, 31 things that make me happy. The kind of stuff that I can look at, think about or just plain talk about and I’ll turn my frown into a smile. This isn’t really a countdown, as there’s no actual order. In fact, it’s just a bunch of random crap meant to reach that number. The neat stuff I don’t talk about, I’ll save for next year when I discuss 32 things that make me happy.

Why 31? Because I’m becoming increasingly grizzled in the next couple days. I suggest other bloggers give this a try when their time comes. It’s fun.

1) That What If Story Where Galactus Turns into Elvis

I wrote about this last year, so you can read my lengthier review here. The short of it is that Galactus is magically transformed into Elvis Presley and shot to Earth, where he finds family and a new meaning to his life. More importantly, he redeems the names of Galactus and Elvis Presley by assuming the throne of King of Rock and Roll.

Yeah, comic books are sweet.

2) “Learn to Fly” by the Foo Fighters

I can’t say that I have a favorite song, but I’m sure “Learn to Fly” is in my top five. It’s a beautiful tune that gets me pepped up to do whatever it is I’m preparing myself to do. For me, this is one of those songs that you listen to a million times, only listen to half of the words and get this image in your mind of what the song is really about, which is completely off-base. I can’t be the only one who does that.

For me, I always imagined the song as being about a World War I pilot in a nasty dogfight whose side is getting cut down by the enemy. He’s trying to get out of there with a handful of enemy fighters on his tail. He prays that his luck and worth as a pilot will let him live one more day to the point that he even considers selling his soul to the Devil. In the end, he maneuvers his way to safety to the point that he thinks his survival was caused purely by divine intervention.

Apparently the real meaning of the song is that it’s Grohl explaining the mental desperation of trying to write a good song under pressure. That’s pretty cool too, I guess.

3) Whenever Somebody Awesome Beats Up Superman When They Really Shouldn’t

When you ask the average man on the street who the strongest superhero character is, they’ll say Superman. Sure, a comic geek could say that Superman is nothing compared to the might of the Spectre and you’re always going to have that one guy desperately jumping through hoops to come up with a scenario where Batman makes a fool out of the guy. At the end of the day, Superman is considered one of the most unbeatable dudes in comics.

So it’s always a blast when he loses a fight to someone who isn’t even in his weight class. Sure, there’s always an explanation, but it doesn’t change the fact that Superman got his ass kicked by someone like Evil Spider-Man.

Yep. Back in All-Access #1, Venom showed up in the DC Universe and was quick to getting in a couple fights with Superman. He absolutely thrashed him again and again. And this was written by Ron Marz, a DC guy! Even when Spider-Man showed up, Venom kicked both their asses until the lame-oid Access showed up with a giant sonic cannon to save the day.

Some fans will explain it away that this was after Final Night, meaning that Superman wasn’t fully cooked up by the sun’s rays and was at a disadvantage. Too bad. My guy beat up your guy, so ha!

There are other examples. In one of my all-time favorite comics, Superman boxes against Muhammad Ali on a planet with a red sun, so naturally, Ali beats him down. Even though Superman has no chance in his vulnerable form, he still proves himself a badass by taking a beating and not falling down until the bell rings.

There was a crossover from when DC had the rights to Masters of the Universe and Superman ends up in Eternia. Despite having been thwarted by He-Man at every turn for years, Skeletor is able to pretty easily take down Superman without breaking a sweat. He just slices him in the chest with his magic sword and then zaps him with it until he stops moving. The dude beat up Superman, saved Christmas one time AND has a skull for a head. He’s the best.

Slightly related, but that JLA/Avengers crossover had a scene where Superman and Captain America are at each other’s throats to the point that the other heroes are pulling them apart. I’ve always thought this scene was great in its own flawed way because, really, what is Captain America going to do? His powers are that he’s good at doing crunches and talking. Superman can turn a mountain into glass by looking at it. It’s one of those cool little moments where Captain America is so in over his head but doesn’t care because he’s so determined that you believe he has a chance.

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Mr. Brothers Goes To Fanime

May 28th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I’d never been to a proper anime convention before this weekend. But, a few months back I was feeling terrible about everything and wanting to get out more, so I agreed to go to Fanime, in San Jose, with a few friends. It says it’s “by fans, for fans,” and I’m a fan, so why not? Suddenly, months later, I caught a train to San Jose. Here’s a few stray thoughts about the weekend:

My first impression was that Fanime is pretty poorly run. There was only an online-only tentative schedule available going into the con weekend, and that schedule went up on Wednesday, one day before the con got going. I’m used to being able to check out the panels and coordinate meetings with friends weeks before the con. It gives me something to look forward to and helps make sure I see everything I gotta see. I’m not really sure where the difficulty would come from in assigning panels times and rooms, either. When I got the program book, all the panels were listed in alphabetical order… and that’s it. That’s pretty near useless, isn’t it?

I ended up catching one panel, the Shonen Jump one on Saturday, and I only knew when and where it was because manga super-blogger Deb Aoki let me know. Sorta sucks that I couldn’t depend on the program to get around.

The registration was similarly harder than it had to be. I walked into the convention center and got in line to register. This meant that I wrote my name and address on a computer, ignored the request for an email address, and then hit save. Then I had to write my name and a number from the computer on a piece of paper. Then I was told to go around the corner, past the sign that said no admittance, and line up again. I did that, and they let me pay. Then I was supposed to go to another table, in a sea of tables, to get my actual badge.

C’mon man. Registration should be one step. Shell out eight bucks for an extension cord and move the printer to where it should be.

What is with all the Nazis? I saw cosplayers in Nazi uniforms within about two minutes of scaling the stairs to get to the con. There weren’t a lot of them, but seeing three Nazis in, say, a lifetime, is six too many. But what really got me, though, was the dude who was wearing an incredibly accurate full Nazi get-up. It looked like a fairly accurate SS uniform, and sure, they have a neat logo, but they’re actual Nazis. Terrible costume, terrible choice.

But but but, this guy was not a cosplayer. He was a vendor. He wore a red armband, and instead of a swastika, the word YAOI was in the white circle. He was selling dude-on-dude porn for girls by co-opting some of the worst bastards in history. I actually noticed the black SS caps he was selling first. There were three on the table, and I thinking that it was weird, and maybe it was some Hetalia thing, but then I realized that the death’s head on the cap was the symbol of the actual Death’s Head. And then I saw the guy. And then I kept walking before I asked him why he thought his costume was a good idea. I walked by again on Sunday with my friends, and he was wearing a green SS uniform and his armband said SEME.

(I assume it’s because being eye-catching results in sales, but it also makes people want to stomp you out on sight. Did you know it’s legal to slap anybody rocking Nazi gear in the face? True story. Check the Constitution.)

Anyway, you look like a moron when you go outside wearing Nazi gear. Even if it’s your ~beautiful cosplay~.

I came up with some jokes about Herr Moron of the SS. I tweeted some of them while I was at a bar, but here they are again: “This ain’t yaoi manga… this is genocide!”, “Welcome to Heinrich Himmler’s Hentai Hut! May I take your order?”, Pol Pot’s Porn Lot, Josef Stalin’s House of Ballin, Mussolinilingus, etc

I also liked this one from Chris Sims: “I don’t know about you, but MEIN kampf is with these unbeatably low prices!” because I can hear the voice they always give Hitler in my head (whiny, impotent)

I thought it was interesting how there were precious few publishers present at the con. A ton of artists, and plenty of dealers, but I think only Media Blasters and DMP had significant presence. They were the only ones I noticed, anyway, but Funimation, Viz, Vertical, and basically every other anime/manga pub that I can think of weren’t there, except maybe to do a quick panel or show a marathon.

A couple weeks ago, I read David Cabrera‘s “A Dissection of the Media Blasters DVD Table At The Average Dealer’s Room”. I liked it, because he did a great job of illustrating this very specific thing in a funny way. What really, really cracked me up at the con was walking past a table and thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of cartoon porno!” I meant that in terms relative to the rest of the con, too. It was a lot of porno. I kept walking and saw the Asian live action discs, anime faux porno, and then a crappy little box full of movies like Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion (or maybe a remake–it had the same title, but the spine design was very modern) and trashy gorehound stuff. Cabrera nailed it.

Are publishers not really present at Fanime because of the bootlegging? I’m used to bootleg booths at comic conventions. It’s always one or two dudes hawking the Brazilian import of the Gen13 movie or suspiciously affordable boxed sets of awful cape cartoons from the ’60s or ’80s. They’re obvious, and I’m not sure why cons keep letting them in.

But the bootleggery at Fanime was a whole other thing. There was a whole room dedicated to playing fansubs, for one thing. I caught a couple of shows in the nostalgia video room, and between showings, it was very obvious that they were bootlegged off the internet, too. It’s one thing to pirate for yourself, but I feel like if you’re going to pirate on such a painfully obvious scale and doing public showings… you’re kind of a dick? Stealing and stealing while rubbing someone’s face in it is two different things. It was weird sitting in the Shonen Jump panel while they bigged up Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece knowing that later that weekend somebody’s crappy fansub of One Piece: Strong World was going to be played for a hundred people.

The Shonen Jump panel was pretty great. I sat in the front with Deb, who knows everyone there, which was cool. Less cool was the loudmouth (and sorta fragrant) Misty-from-Pokemon cosplayer who kept interrupting the panel to ask about Tite Kubo’s Bleach. Chill out and enjoy the panel. They’ll get to it.

The SJ team were pretty great, despite the constant outbursts from Misty. I somehow managed to forget all of their names because I’m terrible (save for Alexei, because he edits One Piece and I think he gave an interview I read once), but I liked them a lot. The MC was rocking a costume I couldn’t quite figure out (it was bosozoku-y? It put me in mind of Tohru Fujisawa’s GTO), and she was not just funny, but knew how to keep the panel moving. There were a lot of jokes, and the trivia questions were geared toward both emphasizing new announcements and hooking a bunch of fans up with free stuff. A grand ol’ time, basically. I’d see another panel with that crew any day of the week. Probably fun to interview, too.

I didn’t plan to buy a lot of stuff. I basically went because I had no good reason not to. I got out of the city for a weekend, had a fun time, and hung out with good friends. I’m basically on a book-buying freeze anyway, since I’ve got so many left unread, half a dozen of which are 600+ pages. (I’m an idiot, but a literate idiot.)

But with that said, I did want to get a little something. I keep meaning to start Takehiko Inoue’s Slam Dunk, so I wanted volume one of that. I used to own the first couple volumes of Hirohiko Araki’s Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, back before a move, and I keep wanting to check that series out again. Finally, I really dig Dragon Kid from Tiger & Bunny, so if I could get a little statue or toy or something for cheap, I’d go for that.

Everybody had Slam Dunk 4-12 or 3-1X. Only one booth had volume one, and they didn’t have Jojo. So, whatever, six bucks later I got my book and declared the weekend a success. I had a good time, made a few reckless decisions, and got the book I wanted. Pazow. Easy, breezy, beautiful.

Dealers have no idea how to handle shoplifters. The lady I bought the book from didn’t give me a bag. It was no big deal, and she was eating a donut anyway so I felt like I was intruding. I mention the bag thing as foreshadowing. It’ll pay off in a paragraph or so.

I mentioned I didn’t plan to do a lot of shopping. I wasn’t shopping and I wasn’t taking pictures, so I left my bag in the hotel room. Why carry it if I won’t need it? So I walked around with my (shrink-wrapped) book, spinning it between my middle fingers because it’s awkward to walk around with a book that won’t fit in your pocket. My friends were cosplaying Black Butler (which I’ve never read, but they looked nice, so I assume it’s a very fashionable manga). They retreated to the hotel to change out of their cosplay right before I went a-shopping, and we met back up after. We walked back to that booth because 1) I was still on the same aisle/general area (actually pretty close to the Nazi yaoi dude, come to think of it) and 2) 20% off, c’mon.

We were looking at some DVDs (Katanagatari, which has an ill title but is apparently weak) when a guy walks up and asks if that’s my book or theirs. I say mine, and because I’ve worked retail before, I tell him who I bought it from, and even mention her donut. Dude takes my book out of my hands, waves at the lady all the way across the booth (they had several shelves on one side, tables full of cardboard boxed manga next to that, and then smaller tables for DVDs), points at me, does a thumbs up/thumbs down motion, and asks if “he’s okay.” She says yes, I guess, but I can’t see her because someone was in my way. He brings my book back and is like “okay.” I wanted to black out on him, but I also wanted to continue my nice weekend without any stress, so I just walked away with my friends, who made a joke about how awkward that whole situation was.

The weekend’s over now, though, so: that is not how you deal with customers. I’ve worked retail and dealt with shoplifters. That’s not how you do it. What that guy did is called being a dick. I don’t mind being asked if I bought a book, and I was making it a point to stay away from the books just to avoid that type of confusion. But you don’t get to take it out of my hands, you don’t get to point at me like I’m a sucker, and you don’t get to treat me like a criminal. Never. I wish I remembered that booth’s name, because that guy was such a huge dick that I wanted to get my money back for my little six dollar book and just retreat to Amazon.

Put differently: what kind of thief would steal the first volume of a twenty-two year old manga that is still widely available elsewhere, leave it in the shrinkwrap, and then loiter around that same area, spinning it around his thumbs and looking for attention? Answer: no kind of thief, because that series of events doesn’t even remotely make sense. That’s a terrible master plan.

And if I was going to steal, the entire front of the booth was unprotected, two girls were guarding six shelves, and dropping a book in a plastic bag held below eye level is awfully easy.

You should think before leaping to the thief card. Otherwise you just look like a sucker.

The cosplay was bomb. I saw ill Weskers, a couple nice Dragon Kids (casual and caped up), a Male Shepard/Female Shepard couple from Mass Effect, a lot of Korras (a lot a lot, actually), and a couple Ramonas from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim. There were also a lot of Homestuck characters I’m not familiar with, a couple Hellsing characters, and even a few Ikki Tousen girls (I think) who definitely got a lot of semi-surreptitious looks from the staff when they went to the hotel bar. All the costumes that caught my attention were high quality or clever in some way. Very cool to see. Oh, and no Slave Leias. Wait, hang on:

No Slave Leias. You go, anime. Good work. I’m proud of you.

Cosplay still screws up travel, though. Hordes of people clogging up an aisle to take a photo… dang, man. Annoying each and every time.

The video marathon rooms were a very cool idea. I don’t usually like to go to a con just to do stuff I could do at home (like drugs, drinks, anime, books… huh.), but I thought it’d be neat to drop in on the nostalgia anime room for both a rest and to see what was up. I saw a few old episodes of Voltron (or whatever it used to be called, it had the dang lions) with some truly atrocious dubbing and eps of a more recent Giant Robo series. I was a little disappointed — I’ve never seen the ’60s series — but it was still some pretty decent giant robot action. It had a similar visual style to Batman: The Animated Series, which had me trying to figure out a Giant Robo/Batman: The Animated Series/The Big O timeline. (I was wrong, by the way. Giant Robo and Batman started the same year, much too close for either to influence the other.)

I’d like to see more marathon rooms at cons, or one dedicated room of nicely curated content. I think with a strong panel line-up, a marathon room would be a huge bonus to curious people. “Here’s a 45 minute presentation about classic tokusatsu and mecha shows, and tonight, I’m doing a two hour set in the video room.” They should definitely ease back on the AC, though. The nostalgia room was freezing cold. Positively sleep-inducing.

I had pound cake and two shots of whiskey for breakfast on Sunday. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Turns out it was a fantastic idea. I wasn’t drunk, obviously, but it made the weekend feel more like a vacation. You have to make dumb decisions for good reasons on vacation, right? I’ve never been on a vacation, I dunno.

I bailed out of the con on Sunday to catch the Thunder/Spurs game. I hit the hotel bar, Affinity, and had a good time. The bartenders and staff were funny and split about 75/25 Thunder/Spurs fans. Told a lot of jokes, had a lot of laffs. The staff took the con and costumes well in stride. A dude dressed as the bad guy from Rumiko Takahashi’s Inu-Yasha watched the first quarter of the game before leaving, and other costumes came and went. That’s where I saw the Shepards, too.

Real quick: the guy in the green Lupin costume was on point, sideburns and everything. He ruled.

The staff only cracked when somebody stole a table from the bar’s outside area. Me and the manager (he seemed managerial, at least) were talking about how dope the Thunder are when a waiter came over and whispered in his ear. They stormed outside, and then I could hear the gossip making its way to the front of the bar via the staff. It was this weird mix of anger, shock, confusion, and good humor. I mean, how are you supposed to react when somebody yaps a table from a restaurant? Who does that? The table was secretly returned an hour and change later, and the staff laughed about it some.

I was surprised at the total lack of bar-con. Comic-cons finish and you go to the bar to try and rub shoulders with comics creators. Anime cons and… no? You do something else? Affinity was never even remotely full, and the bar was only full for maybe thirty minutes while I was there. Very strange.

I think a side effect of there being no established bar-con etiquette is that people suddenly had an excuse to be doggone terrible at the bar. Coming up and asking for water and then micromanaging the amount of water you get (no joke: at least 15 people over the course of the game, sometimes in groups), whispering to the waiter to see if they serve just coke with no alcohol, and just blowing past the “Please wait to be seated” sign and bogarting a booth… c’mon, y’all.

The one that got me the most, that turned me from observer to participant, was a guy who rolled up with his friend and stood past the bar and toward the restaurant, well away from any bar seats. Which, sure, rookie mistake, that’s cool. But the bartender was working solo, and he was handling several orders at once, so the guys start talking about how long it takes. Also fair, though rude: he maybe should’ve had a barback. But then the one guy who ordered alcohol (his friend ordered water in a “to-go glass”) was like “Oh, you just gotta wave them down with money” and started waving his wallet at the bartender. It was super rude, and the bartender was a couple people down, so I dunno if he even saw it or not. But I caught that guy’s eye, looked at his wallet, and looked him right in his eyes and he quit it. I was appalled, man. Who taught you how to order drinks?

But whatever. My burger was good, I had several Stellas, and had a great time watching the game and shooting the breeze.

There were like nine tables full of advertisements and cards. As a result, there were cards and ads for you to slip on all up and down the entrance to the con. Seemed like overkill.

Fanime reminds me of Artist’s Alley at a comic convention. The lack of publishers contributed to this, and maybe the floors at the San Jose Convention Center are the same shade at the Javitz or something, but that was my first thought when I hit the dealer’s room. It’s not a big press affair, nor a big publisher event, so the people who show up are artists, fans, and dealers: artist’s alley folks, basically.

It was kind of cool, actually. The con had a tangibly different feel from every comic con I ever went to, and was quieter. Other than a pianist in the dealer’s room, I never noticed one booth’s driving bass making your eardrums shatter. It wasn’t quiet, but it was about as quiet as a room full of a few hundred people can get. You could carry on basic conversations… other than the insane crowding at certain points, it felt like a very intimate con, like you could get away with chit-chat with someone manning a booth without really screwing up their cash flow.

It’s bigger than APE, but smaller than Wondercon. If that helps you figure out the size of the con at all.

The age limits were confusing. There were a lot of kids at the con, probably more than tend to go to comic cons. I didn’t notice many families, but lots of clouds of teenagers. It was a different proportion than what I’d see at comic cons, but still very cool. It’s hard to believe the sky is falling in whatever industry when you’re surrounded by people who are incredibly into it.

Some of the panels at Fanime were 18+, though, which is fine because I guess they also screen porn at these things, but the My Little Pony panel was 16+. The target audience for that cartoon is what, ten years old? What’s up with that? Obviously I didn’t do any investigation and maybe the answer is really simple, but I hope it isn’t “Bronies ruin everything.”

There was a “Broniez Before Hoeniez” shirt on sale. Bronies ruin everything.

There was an enormous diversity of merch. My Little Pony tees abounded, but so did FLCL, Adventure Time, that one cartoon with the blue bird and the raccoon (I think?), Avatar, and your usual anime fare. It was sort of interesting and I’m not sure what it means or if it means anything. But for American cartoons to be shelved and rocked right alongside anime stuff is pretty interesting. I hope it speaks to the diversity of the fanbase for both or something, I dunno. “People like cartoons,” discovers blogger.

I had trouble finding any non-corny Dragon Kid merch. I looked at statues, model kits, t-shirts, pretty much everything but the body pillows and found basically zilch. She’s such an ill character, too, from design to gimmick to concept. Bummer. Plenty of Tiger, Bunny, and Blue Rose, though. Even the wack ninja dude was better represented than ol’ Dragon Kid.

The Kuwabara (YuYu Hakusho) cosplayer at the Shonen Jump panel was fantastic. He didn’t stop at coming in dressed to the nines, pompadour and all, either. He had the voice down, the old dub voice that’s half-growl and half-roar. He rocked it. He won the impromptu cosplay contest and was given a body pillow of Ichigo from Bleach, another red-haired angry dude. He yelled “What is WRONG with you people?!” after that. A+.

I can’t think of the name Kuwabara without immediately hearing the “Kuwabara, Kuwabara” speech from Metal Gear Solid 3. Sorry if that ruins him for you.

Fanime feels like a two-day con to me at most. If APE is one day and Wondercon is two days (who wants to wake up on a Sunday?), then Fanime is a little under two days. I saw basically everything three times while I was there, and the lack of panel times meant I missed anything else I wanted to see, like Mazinkaiser SKL on a big screen. (I’ve got the blu-ray, but that experience is different, and SKL is just nuts enough to make it worth it.)

But at the same time… I’m not as into anime as most of the con-goers were. My friends had cosplay photoshoots, fan gatherings (I’m still not sure what that is, but I assume like a fanclub thing), two different costumes to wear, a bunch of different friends to meet, and a lot of stuff to do. I got my shopping done in like twenty minutes, half of which were spent walking to the next spot. They did a lot more shopping than I did, saw more, and probably got more out of the whole weekend than I did. They did four days, even.

Which is cool. I like that we can all have different experiences and neither of them is necessarily correct. I had a nice weekend with friends, anime, and basketball. They had all types of costumes and esoterica of their own.

My feelings on cons have been evolving since a couple San Diegos ago. I decided I was only doing local cons this year, barring a jaunt to Emerald City Comic-con. I’ve flown around a lot in a calendar year to take comic book vacations, and I decided to cut back in favor of real vacations. I don’t have as much fun at cons as I used to, especially if I’m actively working the show, so why not cut back and concentrate all that fun in one weekend a year and save some money and stress? I think it worked.

Fanime was a chance to test my boundaries and try something new. It’s not really my thing, but I had fun. More fun than the complaints & jokes up there would suggest, probably? It was a very smooth weekend, not even remotely a rager, and I appreciated that. It was nice to just get out of town and chill out away from the troubles.

Speaking of trying new things, I saw Adventure Time for the first time. The ~entire internet~ was right. That show’s pretty funny. It vibes [adult swim], circa 2003, and now I’m convinced that a good 75% of y’all out there smoke a whole lot of weed. I know stoner shows when I see them. You don’t fool me or your parents.

I was surprised to see how often they said “kill,” too. One episode I watched featured like twelve ghosts getting decapitated and disappearing in a wail of anguish. Wild stuff. I really liked the episode where Marceline convinced the two main guys that they were vampires and then had to stop them from being murdered horribly.

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This Week in Panels: Week 140

May 27th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Aloha. This week I’m joined by Space Jawa, Gaijin Dan, Jody, Was Taters and new fish Brobe. Thanks for the help, guys.

This week marks the end of Irredeemable, Mark Waid’s series about a Superman archetype who snaps and goes on one hell of a killing spree. It was an interesting series, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure I can quite call it good. It had a lot of great elements, for sure, especially with the main character. Unfortunately, it got stretched out so long that we got a bunch of stories that didn’t seem to go anywhere and supporting characters whose only purpose were to steal panel real estate away from the more interesting characters. In a couple weeks, we’ll see how its superior companion piece Incorruptible works out as a full product.

All-Star Western #9
Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Gray, Moritat and Patrick Scherberger

Amazing Spider-Man #686
Dan Slott and Stefano Caselli

Aquaman #9
Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis

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Cartoonishly virile, absurdly smooth: The Crying Freeman Story

May 25th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

It’s sorta interesting to me that cape comics have survived as a juvenile male power fantasy for so long. I don’t mean that in terms of being childish or whatever, but more literally. The love triangles, skimpy costumes, brawny dudes, stunted sexuality, and simplistic morals all read sorta teenaged to me. That’s part of the appeal, I think, because things are much simpler in cape comics than they are in real life. There’s a really boring essay to be written about that fact, I figure, but that’s not the point.

Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami’s Crying Freeman is some type of male power fantasy, but I can’t figure out what type. I decided to read the series whe Dark Horse started putting them up because I have vague memories of enjoying the movie as a kid. Plus, I dig on that whole ’80s Hong Kong aesthetic; the aviators, dusters, revolvers, and all that stuff. The John Woo/Chow Yun-fat steez.

The thing is, Crying Freeman starts as one thing (reluctant hitman who cries when he’s forced to kill) and evolves into another thing entirely when he’s made chief of the 108 Dragons triad. What follows is a lot of naked fighting and some pretty absurd sexual situations. I mean, there’s a bit where a guy attempts to make two body doubles for Freeman. Of course, Freeman is the overman, so they do a lot of work making sure that the doubles know his every movement and twitch so they can be perfect. Then, the lady who lured Freeman into the trap, Kimie, sleeps with Freeman in order to “absorb his every single sexual habit” so that when the doubles sleep with Freeman’s wife, she’ll believe that it’s actually him.

This is already pretty dumb, but it keeps going. They go at it for at least an hour, also known as “something like thirty pages of straight sex while onlookers gawk at his prowess.” Oh, and while all this has been going on, Freeman has been dosed with some type of super aphrodisiac that’s theoretically put him out of his mind with lust. Freeman invents a couple new fetishes for himself to throw off the onlookers (choking, mainly, and everyone Hmm!s and Aah!s over it and briefly psychoanalyzes him), but the rub is insane. He never comes, and that drives Kimie crazy. “You’re making me lose face as a woman!!” crazy. And then, on the night Freeman is due to die, Kimie sleeps with him again and betrays her criminal conspiracy for him. He basically let this lady sex herself into complete and total submission. And this isn’t even the strangest sex scene in the book.

Crying Freeman is incredible, is what I’m saying. I don’t know if it’s actually any good, but the stuff that Koike and Ikegami are putting down on the page is remarkable because it’s both extreme and strange. It’s a great book to read. It’s out there, and it’s out there in a way I hadn’t expected. Freeman, even when he’s hurt, always has the upper hand, having thought a dozen steps ahead and come up with insane reasons for doing things.

It’s the most Koike of Koike’s works, at least that I’ve read. The cartoonish Super Saiyan Level 4 Fusion-ha masculinity, the women who are sexy and dangerous until they meet Freeman and his incredible dick, the absurd criminal plots… all of this stuff I’ve seen elsewhere in Koike’s work, but it’s taken to such a ridiculous level in Crying Freeman that the book becomes as much a slow-motion train wreck as exploitation comic. Takao Saito’s Golgo 13 features some of the most manly manliness ever, and it still never manages to hold a candle to Crying Freeman.

If you’ve ever read anything featuring Golgo 13, whose own prodigious penis got a bio of its own in a volume of the manga, you understand exactly how outlandish Koike and Ikegami’s collabo is. I came in expecting a traditional crime comic, and instead got Crime Comix Plus. Freeman’s outthinking and out-screwing levels are off the charts, to the point where the book regularly shatters your suspension of disbelief.

Por ejemplo, this happens when Freeman returns to the 108 Dragons late in volume 5:

Those are gangsters, by the way, showing high school cheerleaders how to stunt properly.

Or this bit, which comes after a sexy might-as-well-be-naked eskimo assassin (she wears a fur coat sometimes, but is otherwise nude under it, because… of the arctic? I dunno) attempted to ambush Freeman in the dark while wearing a see-thru wetsuit, because apparently eskimos have great night vision and are built like porn stars:

No one has ever said or thought this. Ever.

Or this, where Freeman eavesdrops on a drug deal and kills three men before they can even draw their weapons:

(In their defense, if some dude in a suit hopped out of a pile of fish, I’d be frozen in awe, too. the only appropriate sound effect for that sight would be a harsh “ZANG!” or something.)

Or this, which I feel sorta speaks for itself:

I still don’t know what type of male fantasy this is. Like, is this how dudes dealt with impotence pre-Viagra? “This has never happened to me before, honest, but luckily I can go home in shame and read about a guy who is not only the most masculine man ever but also sensitive inside despite his magnificent penis and incredible aptitude for killing.” Does this represent some ’80s-era fear that I’m just not in the know on? Or is it just a couple dudes making a ridiculous comic that wears perfectly sensible clothes, as far as adventure comics go? I mean, it looks and quacks like a crime comic, maybe a little more heightened than I usually go for, but then you hit a speedbump that’s outlandishly sexed up (three or four times a volume, I figure) and pause to go “Whoa, wait? Is this supposed to be sexy?” What were Koike and Ikegami going for, here?

I know from male fantasies, too. Budd Root’s Cavewoman or Witchblade. They’re sexy girls with big boobs, and sometimes you get to see them (or parts of them, in Witchblade’s case), often when they’re doing exciting action-y things. Superheroes speak to wanting to impose our will on basically everything ever and be winners/popular, yeah? Righting wrongs and having an amazing life. And the only people who haven’t dreamed of being outlaws, whether that means cowboys or gangsters, are squares, I figure. I’m being flip, but you know what I’m saying: it’s easy to look at a lot of comics and go “Oh, this speaks to this insecurity or fetish that some dudes have and serves as a corrective/object of arousal.” Even something as gonzo as Crank is pretty easy to ID. But Crying Freeman?

Crying Freeman is a trip, is what I’m saying.

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CHIKARA Primer: A Beginner’s Guide to Wrestling’s Funnest Promotion

May 23rd, 2012 Posted by Gavok

With all the wrestling I watch, my favorite company by far is CHIKARA. I’ve talked about it for years and have done posts about their DVD covers and my own experiences at their shows. Every now and then, I get people asking me about where to start or what to expect. With the company celebrating its 10 year anniversary, I thought it would be good to do a write-up of what the world of CHIKARA is all about for beginners.

CHIKARA is a Philadelphia-based independent wrestling company that’s both a promotion and a school known as the CHIKARA Wrestle Factory. The students learn a mix of different wrestling styles from around the world, with a strong emphasis on the Mexican luchador aspects. The shows are locked into a “family friendly” label, meaning no cursing or general lewdness to the point that when something seriously impressive happens, the fans are wont to chant, “HOLY POOP!” The in-ring antics tend to have a real comic book edge to it all, with colorful, masked competitors with over-the-top gimmicks and a share of fourth-wall-breaking comedy. It’s the kind of show where this would happen on a semi-regular basis.

Despite reveling in fun and goofiness, the shows tend to tell strong, long-running stories that any new fan could pick up on. CHIKARA treats every year’s worth of shows as a season, usually giving closure to major arcs by the time they reach the finale. Seeds for future storylines come in various subtle and unique forms, existing sometimes years before they’re brought into action.

While students and graduates are the core of the roster, they also include people from other ends of the indies and tend to include lots of foreign talent for flavor. Everyone tends to be labeled “tecnico” (good guy) or “rudo” (bad guy), with the insinuation that those two groups train exclusively together. They tend to do just over two dozen shows a year, usually with multiple shows over the course of a weekend, and always release them soon after (24 hours to two weeks, depending), available from Smart Mark Video in the form of DVD, online stream or MP4 download. Recently, they’ve started doing internet pay-per-views and have one coming up on Saturday, June 2nd.

They also sponsor YouTube sensation and internet wrestling fan staple Botchamania.

How it Started

In 2002, indy wrestlers “Lightning” Mike Quackenbush and “Reckless Youth” Tom Carter decided to start their own wrestling school, partially based on their distaste for there being no school that catered to anything international. Hence, they started up the CHIKARA Wrestle Factory in Philly. Their first class was made up of five students: Hallowicked, Ichabod Slayne (later Icarus), UltraMantis (later UltraMantis Black), Mr. ZERO and Dragonfly. The question came up of where these guys were supposed to compete. On May 25, 2002, they held their first show for the sake of showcasing the new guys, while including other indy names like CM Punk, Chris Hero and Colt Cabana.

Since then, the school’s been churning out groups of graduates every year or so. Early on, Tom Carter left the fold and Hero took his spot as instructor. The Wrestle Factory occasionally factors into the story, usually in terms of how the wrestler’s mask is something that they had to have earned through paying their dues and completing their training. To remove one’s mask or perform in one without earning the right is considered a prime insult.

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“To be continued…” [Ghostface Killah’s “Shakey Dog”]

May 22nd, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The Damon Albarn Appreciation Society is a series of twenty focused observations, conversations, and thoughts about music. This is the nineteenth. I wanted to write about storytelling rap, and then I wanted to write about Ghostface Killah’s “Shakey Dog” and “Run,” and then I wanted to write about Ghostface’s style, and then I just decided to pick apart “Shakey Dog” to see what I came up with. Hopefully it’s not just me explaining the song.

Minutes from previous meetings of the Society: The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”, Tupac – Makaveli, Blur – 13 (with Graeme McMillan), Blur – Think Tank (with Graeme McMillan), Black Thought x Rakim: “Hip-Hop, you the love of my life”, Wu-Tang Clan – Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), On why I buy vinyl sometimes, on songs about places, Mellowhype’s Blackendwhite, a general post on punk, a snapshot of what I’m listening to, on Black Thought blacking out on “75 Bars”, how I got into The Roots, on Betty Wright and strong songs, on screw music, on Goodie MOb’s “The Experience”, on blvck gxds and recurring ideas, on Killer Mike and political rap

Here’s the first eight bars of Ghostface Killah’s “Shakey Dog” off that Fishscale album. This would be half a verse in any other song:

Yo, making moves back and forth uptown
60 dollars plus toll is the cab fee
Wintertime bubble goose, goose, clouds of smoke
Music blastin’ and the Arab V blunted
Whip smelling like fish from 125th
Throwin’ ketchup on my fries, hitting baseball spliffs
Back seat with my leg all stiff
Push the fuckin’ seat up, tartar sauce on my S Dot kicks

It’s about nothing. It’s about riding in a cab, heading to Harlem, wearing a bubble goose ’cause it’s cold, smoking huge blunts, and how the cab smells like fish. This is the musical equivalent of a novelist writing about seventy-five whole pages about what Jane Eyre had for breakfast, the weird crick in her neck that won’t go away, and how she’s absolutely nuts peanut butter-covered celery before getting down to whatever it was Jane Eyre is actually about. It sets the stage, sure, but it’s not what you traditionally think of as something that a song is about.

But this is Ghost’s greatest strength. This is why he wins over most (95%, if not higher) other rappers. He’s the number one dude in rap at building a mood (save for fight music, where Lil Jon holds the crown, but that’s a special exception). Most rappers just go in from jump, hitting you with punchline after punchline about lyrical spherical miracles and how they pitch cracks kick raps and run traps. It’s direct and to the point, almost to a fault. I love Pusha T, but I know that he’s just going to get elbows deep into whatever song he’s on as soon as his verse starts, whether he’s telling a story or just talking about coke.

But Ghost will set the stage with an establishing shot, pan around to something irrelevant but interesting, and then get to the point when he feels like it. And even then, the point will be obfuscated and enhanced with dense language, new slang, and astute observations that you didn’t expect to see. I feel like Ghost is just like your uncle who has nothing but shaggy dog tales in his repertoire. They’re well-told, yeah, but dang, man, there’s so many extraneous details off in those stories. But when you set it to music, and when you give Ghost a chance to tell a story, you get something way more magical than Ghost’s rhymes seem on paper.

More “Shakey Dog”:

Made my usual gun check, safety off, come on, Frank
The moment is here, take your fuckin’ hood off and tell the driver to stay put
Fuck them niggas on the block, they shook, most of them won’t look
They frontin’, they no crooks and fuck up they own jux
Look out for Jackson 5-0 cause they on foot
Straight ahead is the doorway, see that lady with the shopping cart?
She keep a shottie cocked in the hallway
“Damn, she look pretty old Ghost,” she work for Kevin, she ’bout seventy seven
She paid her dues when she smoked his brother in law at his boss’s wedding
Flew to Venezuela quickly when the big fed stepped in

This is where the song starts to coalesce into a shape. It’s explicit storytelling, Tony Starks talking directly to us and relating what he said to Frank and did on this specific day. It’s part-conversation, part-story. And look, Ghost is keeping up the extra details that build this up into something more than just a heist song. The wannabe corner boys are no threat, but the beat cops might be. The old lady with the shotgun is one of my favorite images, because Ghost hints at this whole history. She shot somebody up at a wedding? She fled to Venezuela, but came back to New York? And now she runs security at a stash spot? I want a song about her, man.


This is the spot, yo son, your burner cocked?
These fuckin’ maricons on the couch watchin’ Sanford and Son
Passin’ they rum, fried plantains and rice
Big round onions on a T-bone steak, my stomach growling, yo I want some

Anybody else, this would’ve gone down differently. They would’ve kicked in the door, waving the .44, and have ’em screaming “Poppa don’t hit me no more.” But Ghost takes another detour. He takes the Cuban guys from faceless goons to people with actual personalities and he turns himself from a stick-up kid to something else. When he said “My stomach growling, yo, I want some” is the exact point I went from digging the song to loving it.

It’s such a beautiful little detail that I can’t help but love it. Sean Witzke and Brandon Graham, two people I love to talk stories with, have talked a lot about how important it is to see people eating and using the bathroom in action movies, and really fiction in general. (Sean on Brandon and BG on eating, turns out I got it from Sean who got it from Brandon) I didn’t realize it before they said so, but they’re absolutely right. It’s something that grounds characters and lets in to their minds and lives more than just watching Rambo tear through eighty thousand dudes does. It humanizes them, even if they’re larger than life, and it does it without sacrificing any of their potency. Ghostface pausing to talk about how hungry he is has the exact same effect. It’s like — “Whoa! Okay, one, he’s painted a picture of a delicious meal, and also, he’s a regular person.”


Off came the latch, Frank pushed me into the door
The door flew open, dude had his mouth open
Frozen, stood still with his heat bulgin’
Told him “Freeze! Lay the fuck down and enjoy the moment”
Frank snatched his gat, slapped him, asked him
“Where’s the cash, coke and the crack? Get to smoking you fast”
His wife stood up speakin’ in Spanish, big titty bitch holdin’ the cannon
Ran in the kitchen, threw a shot, the kick in the four fifth
Broke the bone in her wrist and she dropped the heat
“Give up the coke!” But the bitch wouldn’t listen
I’m on the floor like holy shit! Watchin my man Frank get busy
He zoned out, finished off my man’s wiz
They let the pitbull out, big head Bruno with the little shark’s teeth chargin’
Foamin’ out the mouth, I’m scared
Frank screamin’, blowin’ shots in the air
Missin’ his target off the Frigidare, it grazed my ear
Killed that bullshit pit, ran to the bathroom butt first

And this is where the song would start under anyone else’s pen. Now that we’ve had two minutes and forty-five seconds of introductions in a song that lasts three minutes forty-five, Ghost is getting down to the nitty-gritty. It’s exactly how a heist isn’t supposed to go, but Ghost makes it both weird and incredibly detailed. You can see Cuban the guy’s wife wrecking her wrist ’cause of her .45 while talking Spanish. You know what a squat, ugly, vicious-looking pitbull sprinting across the floor looks like, but Ghost saying that it’s a “big head Bruno” changes the game. I doubt if he’s referring to the dog from Bosko cartoons, but “big head Bruno” is definitely something to spark a mental image. A dog that’s more head than body, shark’s teeth sitting there like potential energy, foam around the mouth… it works.

The craziest part, though, is “I’m on the floor like holy shit!” That’s another one of those touches that makes me love Ghostface and his music. He’s an observer, far from impartial, but even he can’t believe how crazy the day’s going. He’s half-impressed and half-horrified, going by his voice, because Frank is getting busy, but yo… things are crazy.

But the illest part of the entire song is this bit from the very end, after Frank has killed everybody but one guy and then gets killed himself:

To be continued…

It’s the perfect ending, because Ghost is in trouble deep, his connect’s house is a mess, and there’s no way he’s getting away scot-free.

“Shakey Dog” feels like a sprint. There’s no hook. Ghost only varies his voice a couple times, and he doesn’t do it to indicate someone else’s voice. He just does it to indicate distance (like when he’s talking through the door) or his own mood (“My stomach growling”). The conversations don’t break up the rhythm of the story at all. They’re just part of the same mass, that same sprint to “to be continued” and a quick fade. It’s exhausting because it’s so exciting.

Even the music makes it feel like a sprint. A cat named Lewis Parker produced it, and the primary sample is from The Dells’s “I Can Sing A Rainbow/Love Is Blue” (which Blu fans will definitely recognize from Below the Heavens). It’s soulful, but fast-paced, and the stretched out vocal sample (“I” stretched to the point of breaking, looped twice or thrice) builds tension before the distorted “Now I’m without you baby” drops in.

“Shakey Dog” is a genuinely undeniable headnodder. The music sets you up, and then Ghost hits you with a juggernaut flow and you’re lost. It’s an incredibly dense song, and even though only maybe a full sixty seconds are action, it’s still one of my most favorite storytelling joints.

I love all types of rap, from crack to trap to country to crunk to stoner to emo, but storytelling rap is probably my favorite. There’s something about bending a skill that’s usually used to kick clever metaphors and rapid-fire rhymes toward telling a story from start to finish. It enhances a simple or stupid story into something magical like “Shakey Dog.”

“Shakey Dog” is as real to me as Goodfellas or Four Brothers. Maybe even more so, since I built the world of “Shakey Dog” myself, instead of watching someone else act it out. Ghost throws some many details into the story that you can’t help but see it as real life when you watch it. The stairs are wooden and brown, Ghost is on the carpeted part of the apartment while the wife is firing her .45 while standing on linoleum in the kitchen, bullet holes in the white, old-fashioned fridge… the bathroom’s bright white before it turns red.

That’s why I love Ghostface’s style so much, and why I love storytelling rap. It builds up this incredibly vivid picture in your head and then it’s gone. It’s a taste of another world before it fades out. Even the title, “Shakey Dog” — it’s because Frank is acting like one of those annoying little shaky dogs before the jux goes down. But the e makes it seem like a name, rather than just an adjective. There’s flavor there, something to chew on.

When Ghost is on point, he’s giving you more than just a hot song. He’s giving you all these ideas and lines and images that stick to your ribs. Listen to Ghostface.

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