Archive for June, 2012


Do you want a new interview podcast?

June 18th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I have an idea. The short version is a conversation with me and comics pros, delivered like a podcast but also transcribed for easy reading. It would be something separate from 4l!, but related. A side project, I guess.

The long version goes: comics industry interviews are kind of a bummer. They never seem to go as in-depth as I’d like on any subject, interviewers handcuff themselves to prevent accidental controversy or maintain relationships, creators are guarded and focused just on the one thing, and worst of all, there’s no room for digression. Interviews tend to hit the release date, something “best work of his career” something, how it relates to other comics if it’s a crossover book, and out. Even John Siuntres’s Word Balloon podcast has kind of a guarded “I don’t want to say the wrong thing” feel to it sometimes.

This really bugs me, because most comics folks I’ve met are pretty garrulous and engaging. The best panels at any con are the creator spotlights or creators in conversation with each other, where they’re allowed to digress, talk trash, and generally run the show. Same with bar-con after the con — I’ve talked comics, movies, porno tumblrs, bar etiquette, romance, basketball, and who knows what else with these folks, and they were always really friendly, wide-ranging conversations. They were also divorced from the stress of being at a con and having to continually pimp your wares and be upbeat.

My idea is to basically bring some of that flavor to comics internet, because I think it’s sorely missing. You can get news about so-and-so’s new run on whatever anywhere, and that doesn’t really interest me right now. I want to talk to comics people about everything. I know a little bit about a lot of things. I’d like to be educated, share jokes, argue opinions, and more. Here’s what I’m contemplating:

Concept: A one-on-one conversation between me and a comics professional (of whatever stripe or type) on a specific subject, with that conversation being allowed to go wherever it leads.
Format: Ideally, a 30-45 minute mp3 and accompanying annotated/hyperlinked transcription, delivered once a week or (much more likely) bi-weekly.
Tone: Informal. Funny. Friendly. Straight talk. I’m a friendly guy, and I’d like to get people who would be willing to open up and have some fun. And that’s not code for “being willing to rake muck with me” or anything, I just like it when people are like “You like WHAT? Why?!” and it ends up being an enlightening conversation instead of an awkward bludgeoning.
Method: I’d trade emails with the pro before we record, of course, and try and check out where their interests and mine intersect. This won’t be “David talks to somebody about stuff he already knows” so much as “David talks to someone about stuff that he has at least the bare minimum of knowledge on in order to keep up.” I want to be educated, I want to be thrilled, I want a chance to be like “Are you serious right now?” when someone is explaining old ’70s underground comix.
Subjects: Anything. If someone wants to talk about ’70s Marvels, sure. If they want to do a heavy post-mortem or analysis of their own work (I guess I’d be doing the analysis, but whatevs), we can do that. If they want to talk about how amazing the lighting is in Ridley Scott movies? Let’s get it. ’90s Britpop vs ’90s rap? Sure, that’s weird, but okay. Anything goes.

I have a couple caveats/rules to keep this thing interesting to me. Hopefully they aren’t deal breakers. I want to do it outside of the Big Two PR machine, if I’m talking to a Big Two creator. I want to do it outside of the usual marketing calendar, too. I’m up for interviewing someone around when their book comes out, but I don’t want pimping the new ish to be the focus. I just want a cool conversation and to learn something new. I’d also like to somehow make money off this, because I’m going to need to buy a Skype/phone recording app and a decent USB headset. Plus, transcription is excruciating, and if I’m putting that much work in, then I should definitely be getting paid for it. I’ve thought about pitching it to a few different sites, but I’m pretty sure doing it solo is the way to go, just for the control, freedom, and lack of hassle. Except lack of hassle means lack of cash soooooooo… I’ll work this out maybe.

I don’t know exactly how to get high-quality Skype recordings, and I’m definitely lost when it comes to recording a phone call in a way that doesn’t sound like total crap. I have a mixer I could probably use to make sure the volume sounds balanced, since I always come up low on mics. Anyway, all of that just takes time, research, and money, though. Friends have suggested a Kickstarter to get quality equipment, if needed. But I figure even if I buy the nicest things ever, it’d just cost like 100, 200 bucks, and hosting isn’t a big deal at all, unless it somehow blows up bigger than everything I’ve ever done to date. As far as problems to solve go, the logistics pale in the face of getting creators on the show, transcribing, etc.

My question to you: is this something you’d be interested in? Do you think it has a place or could find an audience in comics internet? Does it sound like a worthwhile endeavor?

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This Week in Panels: Week 143

June 17th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Hey there. Massive week of panels for This Week in Panels, though there’s a lot of overlap from different contributors. I’m joined by Gaijin Dan, Jody, Was Taters and Space Jawa. Jody continues to read Amazing Spider-Man, which gives me an excuse to post a link to Chris Eckert’s take on the latest issue.

While I emptied my wallet quite a bit this week, it looks like I’ll be saving in the long run. Incorruptible gave us its final issue, which is a lot more straightforward than what we got in Irredeemable. Also, DC announced the cancellations of three comics I read: Justice League International, Captain Atom and Resurrection Man. It sucks that Captain Atom is going especially, but the writing’s been on the wall and I’m nowhere near surprised.

What also sucks is that I was tricked into reading a Jeph Loeb comic. Damn it!

Amazing Spider-Man #687
Dan Slott and Stefano Caselli

Avengers vs. X-Men: Versus #3 (Jody’s pick)
Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness, Christopher Yost and Terry Dodson

Avengers vs. X-Men: Versus #3 (Gavin’s pick)
Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuinness, Christopher Yost and Terry Dodson

Read the rest of this entry �

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Thinking Through Exploitation

June 15th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

When I think of exploitation entertainment, my thoughts immediately go to the ’70s, specifically blaxploitation, sexploitation, and rape&revenge films. I usually lump kung fu movies in there, too, but that wasn’t exploitation entertainment so much as exploitation of how cheap it was to buy and translate kung fu flicks. There are a few exploitative kung fu flicks, but the general thrust of those movies is different. But blaxploitation and sexploitation? Absolutely at the top of my list.

I think of stuff like I Spit on Your Grave, Shaft, Foxy Brown, and The Mack. They’re all varying levels of sleazy or offensive, but it’s interesting how long they’ve survived in our collective consciousness since then. Why did we latch onto them? Part of it is the shocking subject matter, but that can’t be the entire story. Plenty of things are shocking and aren’t half as revered as these exploitation flicks. So there must be some purpose or theme that’s made these movies indelible.

Purpose makes me think of “serving a purpose,” which makes me look at what niche those movies serve. When I think of the stars of exploitation flicks, I think of two groups in particular: black people and women. Sometimes black dudes, sometimes black ladies, sometimes white ladies. I also think of aggressive roles (black dudes knocking the man down a peg, a trio of ladies machinegunning huts full of soldiers in the “jungle”) and sexy situations (sex scenes in soft focus, women in prison taking showers, unbridled masculinity laying waste to everything in sight).

So there’s definitely a sensational interest. People getting their whole head blown off or Pam Grier running around topless is pretty entertaining, I think we all agree. But at the same time, it can’t just be the booze, broads, and bullets. Exploitation flicks served an audience that clearly wasn’t being served by mainstream cinema, which I think is a big reason why the idea of Shaft and Pam Grier are such icons now. They are icons because they blazed trails and opened doors, even if they did it with a lot of violence and sex.

It follows from there that exploitation isn’t just empty, salacious entertainment. It speaks to something inside us that square movies don’t, besides the titillation aspect. For me personally, seeing black men and women fighting back against the man went a long way. It’s sort of a time-shifted revenge thing, I guess, and an example that life isn’t just misery. Learning that there are strong black people who do good and bad things is vital, but the glee you get from seeing a sleazy slumlord get it in the neck is thrilling. It’s catharsis.

Catharsis: My mom sat me down to watch Running Scared, a so-so Paul Walker movie, a few years back. I thought it was wack, but there was one part that was fantastic. This kid gets kidnapped by pedophiles (no, stay with me, the ending is great), and a lady comes to get him. The pedophiles talk her and try to talk her into leaving. She pulls a gun on them. She forces them to talk. They tell her where the kid is. She finds him wrapped in plastic. The lady looks around. She discovers some terrible things. She discovers proof of past sins. She thinks. She looks at the pedophiles. She calls the cops. She reports a shooting at that address. She raises her gun. She ignores their pleas for mercy. She kills both of them. She leaves.

Right after that scene, my mom said, “I wanted to do that every day when I was a social worker.”

Which is a really messed-up thing for a mom to say, I think, yeah? But I’ve seen my mom swing on an old man who pushed my little brother in a store before so it’s not a huge deal. She meant it when she said it, and that’s stuck with me longer than any other detail from that stupid movie has. There’s something deeply true inside that statement. There are rules we have to follow, even when everything inside of us screams for us to break those rules.

We try to be civilized. Don’t drink. Don’t curse. Don’t hit people. Don’t be impolite. But at the same time, there is a significant part of us that is what we’d think of as a baser nature. It’s the part that wants to smash the face of people who disagree with you, the part that wants to light someone on fire because you believe they deserve it. My favorite Richard Pryor bit ties into this feeling:

I wonder how it would be though if niggas was taking over? See, if niggas take over tomorrow, not only would white people be in trouble, a lot of niggas would be in trouble. Be in court for lot different shit, though. A motherfucker’d be in court for…

“What’re you here for?”

“Trying to get someone to murder him.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, he was fucking with me your honor, so I tried to kill the motherfucker.”

“Come here. Why did you make this man angry at you? Twenty years.”

There oughtta be some shit like that, you know? It oughtta be against the law to make a motherfucker want to kill you. I think that would be a good law, ‘cause a lot of people are in jail for killing good people… that needed to die at that particular moment.

That last line is killer, and totally true. I think that exploitation flicks allow us to experience that thrill of seeing someone who deserves it at that particular moment get it, and the thrill is doubled by the taboo nature of what we’re seeing. Nazi and nun fetish movies kinda creep me out, but I get it. There’s this saucy taboo lurking around both of those fetishes that makes it hotter because it’s so forbidden. Sex is great, but sex you aren’t supposed to be having? Fantastic. It’s like — you know how some dudes are really fixated on panties or lingerie or whatever? That’s because panties are hiding something, and the fact that it’s hidden makes it even more valuable. That kind of thing.

The forbidden is really interesting to me, especially in comedy. Lynching is one of those things where the jokes are mostly limited to stupid boasts about how you’d knock the entire Klan flat and wipe your butt with their hoods and escape or whatever. We treat it with a certain reverence, or avoid it altogether, I guess because it’s such a source of pain. But there’s also this, from The Boondocks:

And, yeah, Roscoe Patterson’s lynching was pretty funny up to a point, but the joke is that we don’t joke about lynchings, and it’s one of the best jokes in The Boondocks. It’s forbidden, which made this joke super funny.

I feel like I’m drifting. Statement: Exploitation movies provide a voice to those who may not have one, gives us a chance to indulge our baser natures, and turns the forbidden into entertainment fodder.

Things that are forbidden are usually forbidden for a reason. They make us uncomfortable, they don’t conform with societal norms, and sometimes we just don’t like it. So we remove these things from our sight and promise to never mention them in polite company.

The lynching thing reminds me that everyone’s got different limits. I think The Boondocks is one of the funniest shows on TV. When it’s on, my grandmom makes that noise she makes when she disapproves of things but doesn’t want to be a buzzkill by telling us to turn it off. We have different limits as a result of being different people who grew up and became people at different times, which is natural.

My line for enjoyable exploitation is probably that point where the violence and sex mix a little too much. I’ve never really been one for rape/revenge movies, but when the villain got pulled in half in Super Ninjas, I cheered. My introduction to anime was Akira and Fist of the North Star, and I love Ninja Scroll, but High School of the Dead creeps me out in a pervert loser sorta way.

I emailed a draft of this to my bro Sean Witzke and he pointed out something interesting. Part of the appeal of exploitation flicks is that they would put things to film that had never, or rarely, been put to film before. This is as true of the authentic black leads as it is of ladies taking gratuitous showers in prison. And all of that bleeds back into the culture. Exploitation laid down a foundation for these things to be acceptable, just by virtue of existing, and aspects of exploitation flicks became normalized, which in turn made exploitation even more extreme.

That normalization also led to things like John Singleton’s Four Brothers, which is a great blaxploitation movie but totally unexceptional today. Human Centipede is the new exploitation, and that was almost immediately diluted by the culture and turned into nothing more than a gross joke. (A Serbian Film probably hasn’t, though. Don’t google that.) It’s not a coarsening of culture so much as a… broadening.

Exploitation: provides a voice to those who may not have one, gives us a chance to indulge our baser natures, turns the forbidden into entertainment fodder, and serves as raw material or cheap R&D for the culture at large.

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Uncanny X-Force #26 has EVERYTHING

June 14th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

This week brought us Uncanny X-Force #26, written by Rick Remender and drawn by Phil Noto. The current arc is a weird one, mixing a vengeful judge with no skin, the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and an organization that creates assassins and programs revenge-fueled backstories into their memories. A couple pages in, we get a scene of Fantomex trying to work through Psylocke giving into his advances and then dumping him.

I had a huge smile on my face when reading this scene, just for the background happenings. It’s here that I realize that while Jean-Phillipe doesn’t seem to keep company with anyone on a regular basis, he definitely has to be an acquaintance of Stefon Zolesky from New York.

Stefon, for those who don’t watch modern Saturday Night Live, is a character played by Bill Hader. This eccentric, gay club kid is always tasked with giving people advice on where to spend their vacation when they hit New York City. He just lacks the ability to keep himself grounded and would rather suggest the strangest clubs. It’s worth noting that although Hader co-writes the material, one of the other writers, John Mulaney, has a tendency to change some of the jokes before they go live, meaning Hader has yet to do a single skit without cracking up.

“So Stefon, some kids might want to get into reading Marvel. What should they check out to start with?”

“Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes… The hottest club in Marvel comics is the Merriment Dungeon. Started on a deadline by comic-writing prostitute Trick Remender, this club has EVERYTHING: gimps, astronauts, lusty mimes, bathrobed Lincolns, urban knitters, pandas betting on pillow fights, that guy with no hands juggling knives with his feet while wearing a diaper and Fantomex.”

“Fantomex? What’s that?”

“It’s… you know… that thing where you mix a mutant with a Sentinel and give him the power to sneeze out his nervous system and turn it into a UFO.”

“Yes, that thing.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we have the Marvel Team-Up story we need to see. I mean, Bill Hader and Seth Meyers wrote Spider-Man: The Short Halloween a few years back and the 70’s gave us that Avengers/SNL crossover, so we have some precedent. A Fantomex/Stefon comic would have EVERYTHING: action, adventure, humor, an old hermaphrodite dressed in a raincoat, Moloids, Bill Cosby cosplayers, Prulls (Puerto Rican Skrulls) and Human Cosmic Cubes. That’s that thing where you get a midget and put him in a cardboard box and have two Nazis play catch with it.

Plus it opens things up for a Deadpool/MacGruber miniseries that I would read the shit out of.

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before Watchmen: Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009

June 13th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009 (ultra-cheap DVD, used book) has one of my favorite concepts for any story ever. Nine humans are kidnapped by the Black Ghost, a terror organization, and turned into combat robots. Each person gets a specific powerset — some can fly, others are telepathic — and a swanky new costume. Instead of being used to wreak havoc all over the world, though, the nine robots manage to escape from the Black Ghost, thanks to a helpful scientist, and decide to fight back against their masters. (The Skull Man is a pretty great look at the origins of the Black Ghost organization.)

It’s a simple concept, but a good one, nonetheless. The cyborgs go up against spies, terrorists, armies, other cyborgs, giant robots, and monsters. Cyborg 009 has a lot of super sentai appeal, but I like how easy it is to update the concept to the modern day. The series dates from the ’60s, of course, and features fears and anxiety that’s rooted in that time period. But the concept is just loose enough that as long as you have the Black Ghost eager to upset the status quo and nine humans who are upset at how they’ve been treated, you can apply it to almost any time period. Later this year, Kenji Kamiyama’s 009 RE:CYBORG drops, which brings the series fully into the modern day. There’s a trailer here, which I think does a great job of showing off how cool these cats are.

Part of the fun of the series is that each cyborg has a certain power. Joe Shimamura, Cyborg 009, is the hero (more or less) and can move at super-speed by activating a circuit. 001, Ivan Whisky, is telepathic, and also a baby. Jet Link is 002, an American that has been given the power of flight. Each of the nine cyborgs has a specialty, so they all have their chances to shine. They’re a team, and they have to figure out how to work together and battle the Black Ghost at the same time.

I love the costumes, too. The giant buttons that Ishinomori gave them are fantastic. They’re straight out of Walt Disney, and lend the whole affair a cartoony, child-like feel. The golden scarves are the perfect example of “too much” actually being “just enough.” The scarves are a great visual, especially when the characters are in motion, and are an iconic touch at this point. A certain class of hero needs a cape to project majesty, and the scarves do that while also being distinctive. The cyborgs look decidedly sci-fi, and actually pretty retro sci-fi. They’re from the future of 1966.

I like all the cyborgs, but 008 has a special place in my heart. He’s the black dude, called Pyunma, and the only actual soldier in the crew. His power is that he’s able to function extremely well underwater, both in terms of surviving indefinitely and deploying sea-based ordnance. Also, he’s drawn like this:


I hate this stuff. It’s racist and ugly, and stupid on top of that. Ebony White and that one Tintin story just make me angry, in part because that sort of racism is inexcusable but mostly because comics scholars are like “oh, listen, Will Eisner was a legend, how can he be racist? It was the ~times~!” Yes, the times when black people were demonized and dehumanized, ha ha, what a time! Mad Men!

But 008 is a little strange. For one, even though Ishinomori is using explicitly racist iconography, he isn’t bringing the same baggage to it that Eisner or others did. 008 isn’t a Stepin Fetchit type, and there’s not a hint of the “yassuh boss, we’s sick!” garbage that makes Ebony White such a Strong Black Character. He’s just a regular dude, and he acts like it. It’s like Ishinomori adopted the art style but missed out on the baggage that goes along with it.

I can’t help but wonder if part of the reason why 008 is more acceptable to me, and more normal than Ebony, is the subtext of Ishinomori’s story. The cyborg team is international, with members from China, France, the UK, the United States, Russia, Germany, and Japan. They vary racially among that mix, too. 009 is half-Japanese and half-American, which suggests that he’s the son of a military man and a Japanese woman to me, considering the time period. 005 is a Native American. Some of them are broad stereotypes, which varies depending on which incarnation of the series you’re reading, but they’re intentionally from all over the world.

Ishinomori’s exploring the idea of weapons run rampant and what it’ll take to put the world on the brink of war. It’s about money, and how chasing money can make people evil. He brings in an international cast, like Hideo Kojima did in Metal Gear Solid 4, because he wants to illustrate that war ruins everyone and everything. No one is safe, no matter whether you’re a rich ballerina in Paris or a poor farmer out in China.

Something about 008 and his attitude made me more willing to accept him than I would Ebony White or whatever that Tintin comic is. There’s a certain tension between 008’s looks, which have evolved over the years toward “actual human being” instead of stereotype, and the fact that Ishinomori is trying to show us how war affects all of us. I’m interested in that intersection. I don’t know how much contact Ishinomori had with black people, or where he first saw the racist iconography he employed. But I do think it is fair to assume that he employed that same iconography without the same cultural baggage as Eisner or Herge, who did it while reinforcing a very poisonous power structure. It looks like a duck but it quacks like a goose — what is it? It’s infuriating and interesting all at once, and if anything, makes me want to know more about the origins of the series and why Ishinomori made the choices he did. In a later series, produced after Ishinomori died, reinvented 008 as a guerilla soldier, instead of a refugee, which fits in even better with Ishinomori’s simultaneously global and personal focus.

I can see that Ishinomori was trying to tell a story that’s still progressive to this day, one that incorporates warmongering, weapons dealing, and the effects of war on a society. It’s about how war screws over all of us, from the people getting blown up on the front line to the people who don’t realize how often war is used in support of business interests. It’s about weapons possibly being used to prevent that outcome, and the importance of making humane decisions, rather than business-oriented ones, during the course of war. The cyborgs are weapons with free will and minds, and they make choices according to their own morality. That’s impossible with a nuclear bomb or drone. There’s a point there about where warfare and personal actions meet, but I can’t quite grasp it. Are the cyborgs us? Are they the leaders of the world? Just a cool superhero team? Something else?

It sorta bums me out to read a kids’ comic from the ’60s that gets that fact better than a lot of modern pop culture. The new Splinter Cell demo opens with Sam Fisher, American black-ops expert, torturing and murdering a terrorist on the Iraq/Iran border. Sam, if you aren’t familiar with the series, is a hero. The new Call of Duty features Oliver North as an advisor. Ollie North, the same man who funneled weapons to death squads and was involved in narcotics trafficking in order to fund his little hit squads and operations. You know where those drugs ended up? The inner city. He’s the guy consulting on a series that is increasingly less interested in showing the horrors of war, which it kinda sorta almost did at one point, and more interested in showing “AW YEAH!” moments. I mean, the news out of Iraq right now is that they’re pumping out enough oil to possibly make sanctioning Iran in the future easier without disrupting oil markets. I realize that holding up a children’s comic as a great example of social consciousness is stupid… but Ishinomori got it. It’s about money, and then men who control that money and want more of it, no matter what the cost.

It is what it is, I guess. Cyborg 009 is great, and I think Ishinomori has a strong message at the heart of the series. I hope the upcoming movie lives up to it, and I hope people keep reinventing it as time goes on. It’s a timeless idea, which is kind of sad, actually.


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Let’s Talk About Prometheus

June 11th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I saw and liked Prometheus (directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof). I found a lot of meat on its bones, so I spent a lot of the weekend having discussions with friends about the quality of the movie, some of the script choices, and generally everything about the flick, save for maybe how great all the posing that Rafe Spall’s Millburn was doing for the first half of the movie. (Seriously, go back and look at that guy and his dumb hoodie. Great body language.) Anyway, here’s another loose collection of thoughts masquerading as blog content. Maybe half of these were written the night I saw the movie, and the other half came about over the last couple days. These are cleaned up (hopefully) from what I sent my friends, so let me apologize to them in advance for forcing them to read this twice (or else we are no longer friends). Let’s talk it out:

-The major theme of Prometheus is parenthood. There are several living fathers in the movie (Weyland, the Engineers, Shaw’s father, Charlie, maybe one or two more if you’re willing to stretch), but only one living mother: Shaw. The balance is interesting. It pushes the focus entirely onto the men, but Shaw becomes even more significant, being the only mother, because of that focus.

-Probably goes without saying, but Ellen Ripley/Elizabeth Shaw. ER->ES. Probably nothing, but it’s cute. There’s also probably an interesting contrast to be found between Ripley’s underclothes (t-shirt and panties, no adina howard) and Shaw’s underclothes (more of a medical wrap kind of thing, and bloodstained by the end). Ripley’s represented her safe feeling (which makes the Alien into the intruder in the night, breaker of peace). What’s Shaw’s represent?

-Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw goes through the traditional fears/horrors of pregnancy in fast motion. She has an actual alien parasite, not a technical one, inside her. It will definitely kill her dead unless she acts to save herself. Later on, her progeny attempts to impregnate (and thereby kill) her.

– There’s this running theme of parenthood being a savage, thankless existence wrought with pain. For mothers, it ends in death (see also Shaw’s mother and her unexplained death). For fathers, they deal out the savagery. Other than Shaw’s father, who falls to disease, all the other fathers are corrupt. The Engineers want their children dead for whatever reason.

-There’s an explicit Christian (I’m not sure which specific sect, in part because I can’t place Shaw’s cross, which might just be a regular generic cross with a weird hook) riff in Prometheus. The engineers killed themselves 2000 years ago from 2093,which was the time of Jesus, give or take 60 years. I think Doctor Shaw even says “give or take” during the scene where she dates the corpse.

-Two thousand years prior to Prometheus was also close to the death of John of Patmos, writer of Revelation. “Apocalypse” didn’t always mean “end of the world.” It meant “unveiling,” as in the unveiling of truths, the unveiling of glory, and so on.

-The Engineers created their children and then decided that the children were… corrupt? Fallen? Which leads to another idea: Engineers as Angels? Shaw asks “Who created them?” at one point during the movie. There’s always a higher power. Anyway: the Engineers hate their progeny and abandoned it, which is basically the worst thing for fathers to do.

-The Engineers-as-Angels remark, when combined with the fact that the Engineer DNA “pre-dates” ours, makes me wonder if the Engineers aren’t just intermediaries. God creates the angels, some angels rebel, and then God creates humans. Though I don’t think there’s anything about angels being Humans v1.0 in the Bible, which makes this line of thought partially moot.

-Back on the corrupt fatherhood train: Weyland is a father who sets his children against one another while simultaneously planning for his own immortality. He doesn’t recognize Charlize Theron’s Meredith Vickers at all (Vickers, last name meaning son of the vicar) and he openly mocks David (David, “beloved,” notoriously selfish but still righteous king who also wrote half the Psalms and played music, he also won his kingdom through the death of the rulers by another actor, rather than being born to it) as being less than human, but still the closest thing he has to a son. Weyland rejects his children, both of them, in favor of himself, and for him, “there is nothing.”

-Logan Marshall-Green’s Charlie Holloway, after being infected, is delusional and off-center. I haven’t quite figured him out yet, but he’s got poisonous seed and he’s keeping secrets when he shouldn’t be. He looks before he leaps, but not out of any malicious intent. He wants to know the truth, he desperately wants to believe.

-The last Engineer rejects humanity and is later infected by a giant facehugger–a product of his own creation. Hoist by his own petard, impregnated by his own bastard child.

-David says, “Who doesn’t want to kill their father?” (or something to that effect) to Shaw. Shaw replies, paraphrased, “I didn’t.”

-Shaw consciously rejects fire very early in the movie. “This is a scientific expedition, not a military one,” she says. Metaphorical fire represents knowledge, doubly so in the story of Prometheus, and here it is realized in the form of protection, more specifically, a weapon.

-I’m not sure about the rest of the cast, particularly Janek (a twist on the Hebrew John meaning: God is Good). Janek is assuredly righteous, as he refuses to let the Earth be destroyed no matter the cost, and he attempts to protect his crew/children when he can. He only screws up when he sleeps with Vickers and two of his crew die. He was a cool cat though. Playful father? I dunno. Maybe a reach.

-Meredith Vickers is cold, standoffish, and distant. She’s mirroring her father’s reaction to her. She’s becoming the old man on several different levels, and it’s all because she wants his throne.

-The caesarian section is used when natural childbirth would put the mother or child’s life at risk. Natural here, of course, is the squid bursting through her stomach and destroying her body. It’s also used in certain types of abortions. At first I thought she didn’t destroy the squid, but the contaminant process is almost definitely intended to destroy organic life. She’s broken and in danger and terrified, and man, Rapace sold that scene so well. She got across the fact that fight-or-flight was pinging hard on flight and not at all on fight.

-The Engineers using music as user interface: Lucifer was the angel of music, and angels spend most of their time singing hymns to and about God. Music, to David, is just another language.

-Shaw said the cave paintings were an invitation. They clearly weren’t, so what were they? A warning? Simple homage? Something else? I honestly don’t know. But leaping to an invitation seems very… optimistic? It might’ve just been a family album.

-My first thought was that the 3D didn’t seem that big a deal to me? There were some cool bits, but it was sorta like Tintin where it was so prevalent and well done it didn’t really add to the experience in a noticeable way like it does in more gimmicky movies, if that makes sense/isn’t stupid. But in thinking about it deeper, the 3D was spot-on. It was exactly how 3D should be done. It wasn’t a gimmick, and they did some pretty great depth of field effects with it, on top of all the UI pop-ups. The video streams looked especially good.

-I don’t get the first scene. I’ve seen people suggest that it’s an Engineer seeding life on Earth, but in looking at it, that doesn’t quite track. The black fluid destroyed the Engineer, to the point that it decreated him at the DNA level. He isn’t creating humanity or life at all. He’s killing himself, and I’m not sure why. His very DNA unravels as his body decays, leaving nothing behind, but the fade from the DNA destruction to cell division (death to life, for the record) makes me unsure exactly what happened.

-The black fluid always has a vile effect on organic life. It destroyed the Engineer early on. When the worms in the tomb full of murder urns encountered the liquid, they transformed into aggressive, anti-life variations on their own original form. Fifield did the same after being exposed, actually. He turned ape-like and savage. That beating in the hangar was right out of 2001.

-What causes the black fluid to react? One urn reacts to David, while another doesn’t. Is it proximity to organic life? The worms didn’t activate the leaking, so it takes more than just being alive. My thought is that it has to do with the temperature. The ship was minus 12º inside, and maybe that was for preservation. Therefore, the humans coming in there breathing all hot warmed up the fluid, causing it to leak? I think that tracks. David even freezes a canister to preserve it with no leakage. I liked that two different people were told to not touch the stuff.

-When David sits in the throne-like pilot’s chair, he grins like a child. It’s shot from kind of a distance, but I’m 99% sure I saw that. Then, when the playback begins, he hurriedly gets out of the way like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. David pretends to be cold and emotionless, but he definitely, definitely has emotions.

-The lifeboat, Vickers’s room, is Weyland’s. Vickers is just using it, once again emulating her father and desiring his things. Weyland is just as selfish as she is, since the medical device is set for men only.

-The jokes, and most of the situational humor, are almost all gallows or sarcastic humor, and most of them come from David. “I didn’t know you had it in you.” The way he announced the pregnancy. The dialogue with Charlie Holloway at the pool table. He’s cruel, and he definitely showers humans in scorn. I loved the bit where Millburn and Fifield were like “nah, we’re finna go back to the ship.”

-The only people with real jokes are Charlie (sorta, but I can’t remember what exactly), Janek, Chance, and Ravel. They remind me of Yaphet Kotto as Parker and Harry Dean Stanton as Brett in Alien, in that they were both voices of reason and sources of entertainment, casual dialogue, and the voice of the audience.

-I really liked Rafe Spall’s Millburn, no matter how little screen time he had. There was something about his body language that was unbelievably interesting. He came across as kind of a socially awkward dude who doesn’t think he’s awkward, he thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and the most charming, too. He really sold his role. The fidgeting with the hoodie, the crossed legs and tilt whenever he sits down, that goofy grin… I’m hoping there’s a bunch of deleted scenes with him. “Ship would be good right now” or whatever inside the dome was pretty good, as was the decision to go east instead of west.

-Sean Harris’s Fifield was a nice twist on the usual thing in these flicks, where the rugged looking soldier dude is just another rude jerk. The only actual soldier-type guy we see is Jackson, and he just looks like a regular dude.

-David watching other people’s dreams is super messed up. There’s something very important lurking around there that I can’t quite put my finger on. He’s definitely a malevolent entity in the context of the movie, acting against the wishes of the people we want to stay alive and for the wishes of a selfish old man. Watching someone sleep or resting your hand on their bed is a parental thing to do, but when David does it, it’s like he’s feeding off their dreams.

-The biggest question for me is that yes, a military installation was destroyed by some mysterious factor. But who did it? And more than that, why did no one check up on the Engineers and then go ahead and destroy Earth anyway? That suggests a third party to me, some type of invasion or regime change.

-Best performances in order: Michael Fassbender as David, Rafe Spall as Millburn, Noomi Rapace as Shaw, Charlize Theron as Vickers, Idris Elba as Janek + his two crewdudes, and then Logan Marshall-Green as Charlie Holloway. Theron really surprised me, because I didn’t particularly rate her before, but she kills. So distant but still sypmathetic. Fassbender’s motions were just awkward and mechanical enough to sell that he was a really, really advanced android, but also contemptuous of humans. Something about the precision with which he picked up that mote of dust early in the film…

-And, seriously man, look at Millburn’s posture and body language during that first briefing with Weyland. I don’t know why he tickled me so much, but he did. Rafe Spall is so great. You should watch Shadow Line.

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This Week in Panels: Week 142

June 10th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Good day and welcome to another ThWiP. I swear, one of these days I’ll get around to doing an opening graphic or something. Maybe. Probably not.

I’m joined by Was Taters, Gaijin Dan and Jody.

The Before Watchmen panel is all me. I guess I should nip this in the bud before it melts into the comments, but I’m checking out the comics for the time being. I’m genuinely curious and I can’t bring myself to care about the situation as much as David does, as much as I dig his passion on the subject. In the end, I feel the same about the Moore situation as I do when someone tells me what a hotdog is made of. Yeah, that’s terrible and disgusting, and the JMS stuff will probably give me diarrhea later, but I’m still in the mood to chow down. David gives zero fucks and, as always, lets me do my thing. I only mention this because I don’t want people moaning about how he’s a hypocrite for allowing a panel of Before Watchmen on his site after all his open disgust. That’s all on me, a guy with a difference of opinion.

Plus it’s payback for the time he put a Jeph Loeb comic panel as a header image. That asshole.

Now for some panels.

Action Comics #10
Grant Morrison, Rags Morales, Sholly Fisch and CAFU

Age of Apocalypse #4
David Lapham, Roberto de la Torre and Renato Arlem

Animal Man #10 (Jody’s pick)
Jeff Lemire and Steve Pugh

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Bendis vs. Johns: Conquering the Big Threat

June 10th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

I’m one of those comic fans who tries not to allow himself to be dragged into the whole Marvel vs. DC argument based purely on the characters and being loyal to them. It’s all about the writers and the quality that comes with it. Sure, there are many times when the scale is skewed immensely, such as pre-Flashpoint when I was only reading a couple DC comics compared to now, but that’s on them. For the past 6-7 years, when you compare Marvel and DC, there’s no better writer sample size than Brian Michael Bendis and Geoff Johns. These two are the butt of a crazy amount of jokes about how they each write 80% of the comics of their respective companies.

Hell, I’m guilty of this myself. If they ever brought back Amalgam Comics, every issue would be written by Geoff Bendis.

They both have their strengths and weaknesses. I dropped all the Bendis Avengers books after growing impatient and realizing that the only reason I was reading them in the first place was because of enjoying what he used to write. At the same time, I’m really loving Ultimate Spider-Man and the whole Miles Morales experiment. With Johns, I lost complete interest in Justice League shortly after the origin arc, yet I eat up his Green Lantern and think his Sinestro is the most compelling character going in DC. Not that that’s hard, considering he has a head start over 95% of the New DC cast.

This isn’t so much a simple Bendis vs. John post, but more a comparison over something Johns does that I’ve always dug about his work and really helps earn him his spot as “that DC Comics guy”. It’s also something that I’ve found Bendis to almost get, only to drop the ball and go the opposite direction.

What I’m talking about is setting up a threat, usually in the first act, that allows the readers to say out loud, “These heroes are absolutely screwed.” This is a lot better as a selling point to a comic than “it’s important.”

I’m going to focus on the event storylines, since these are the ones given more emphasis and put under such a microscope that the two writers have to make extra sure that their threat is something that can’t simply be waved away.

I’m also going to skip over Avengers Disassembled and Green Lantern: Rebirth, since I don’t even really see those as events as just gigantic plot points meant to set up the next several years of storyline. Disassembled is something I read years after the fact and found it to be kind of a mess in terms of storytelling and Green Lantern: Rebirth was a big mess of retcons and reveals meant to pave the way for Johns’ lengthy run on the Lantern corner of the universe.

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Django Is Off The Chain

June 7th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Django Is Off The Chain

Here’s the trailer to Quentin Tarantino flick, starring Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Cristoph Waltz, and a bunch of other folks besides:

Here’s a few loose thoughts on the trailer & culture, which have been fought through to varying levels of coherence:

It ain’t reparations, but it’ll do

My first though on seeing this trailer was that it was the bomb. I go back and forth on Tarantino, but come down pretty steadily on the side of “he’s good.” I hated Inglourious Basterds the first time I saw it, but I got it the second time. Jackie Brown is a delight. For a long time, my biggest beef with Tarantino was that it seemed like we liked all the same things (Silver Surfer, music, blaxploitation, stylized violence, smart writing) but for entirely opposite reasons.

But here, it looks like our tastes coalesce right off the bat. The music choices are perfect and make me hope for a modern score. There’s a lot of little touches I love, like Django’s haircut, DiCaprio’s “rambunctious sort,” the blood on the cotton… anyway, I have some thoughts I’m going to attempt to crystallize. Follow along:

white man’z world

One thing that struck me while watching the trailer was how it makes a point of Django being a victim of white supremacy. It’s littered with racially-charged imagery and dialogue. Waltz refers to Django as “the one I’m looking for,” not “the man.” There’s a shot of Django seen through a noose. He’s being trained by a white man who will give him his freedom. He’s barefoot and being led by a white man on a horse. The slaves are referred to as inventory and specimens.

It’s subtle, but it very clearly paints a picture of Django being subordinate to the white man. It’s an interesting choice, and I think an honest one. It also highlights the fact that the movie is a slave revenge picture. Django’s moments of agency are explicitly about murdering slave owners and traders. He whips one man, he quips about how killing white folks is nice, kills a guy… this is a movie about an underdog, someone who isn’t considered human asserting his humanity through violence.

But it’s still really interesting to me that he doesn’t get his freedom until a white man says so. He’s being used, just like the other slaves. The only difference is that the way he’s being used and his wishes coincide.

(My buddy David Uzumeri pointed out the coincidence between Django and the bounty hunter’s wishes coinciding relates in a way to me and Tarantino’s tastes finally coinciding. He’s right. I’ve got a weakness for these kinds of stories, whether we’re talking “slave revenge” or “black folks doing cool/violent stuff.” Ha.)

don algodon

I love that shot of blood splashing on the cotton. America may have been founded on the blood of patriots, but it was fueled by the blood of slaves. It’s an obvious visual metaphor, but I can’t help but love it.

lady antebellum

I grew up in Georgia, and the south of the 1800s was positively romanticized beyond all belief. Overt stuff like the Confederate flag flying over the Georgia dome, yeah, but also smaller things like mint juleps, landed gentry, balls, and fainting couches. The antebellum south feels like the closest thing we’ve got to American nobility, and people like to cling to it to the point where criticizing it is practically verboten. It was a Golden Age, you see, and if only we could go back to it…

What I’m dancing around is that we tend to dance around when we talk about slaves, the south, and whether or not slave owners needed an axe to the face. There’s a good reason for that. Slave owners are us, meaning Americans and our great-great-great-grandfathers or whatever, in a way that Nazis are not. It’s cool to say that Nazis get what they deserve because they’re way over there across the water, and their story ended cleanly enough that we’re totally okay with using them for cheap pop. When you’re talking about Joey’s great-great-great-grandfather, though, and the source of his family’s money, things are a little different. You want to excuse the past with phrases like “oh it was just the times” or “it was an unenlightened time.”

Which makes me very happy with how Leonardo DiCaprio is playing his character. He seems like a slime ball. He feels positively decadent, and I imagine that his infatuation with black women will be depicted as aberrant behavior for landed whites, rather than something progressive. There’s also an air of condescension about him, something I associate with people who are so rich that they’re not like us. That line “He is… a rambunctious sort, ain’t he?” and that trailing laughter… there’s a lot in that. He’s not the Nice White Sympathzier Who Is So Progressive He Likes Colored Girls. He’s rich and corrupt.

You can still go on cotton-picking tours in Georgia, last I checked. Probably tour a few plantations, too. I went to Jefferson Davis Middle School in Virginia. Heritage, not hate, baby!

no pigeons

All the ladies in this are black, which is cool, but they’re all also silent and objects of lust (or love, I figure) or victims of anger. I briefly thought that Django’s wife had shacked up with DiCaprio’s character.

It made me think about how Tarantino’s gonna approach women in the movie. Blaxploitation, and the idea of a slave rebellion or getback, is generally testosterone-fueled. Women are usually depicted as wives or conductors on the underground railroad, not the people putting bullets where they need to go.

I saw Zoe Bell on imdb, credited as a tracker, so I know there’ll be at least one protracted fight scene. I’m hoping Kerry Washington gets to get it in, too.

i can’t catch all of ya, but i can make an example out of some of you

“Kill white folks and they pay you for it? What’s there not to like?” is the sort of thing I’ve been waiting to hear in a movie for years. Not out of any deep-seated racism or anything, but because black revenge movies basically died off with the end of blaxploitation. I’ve been hoping for a movie where thinly veiled versions of Ronald Reagan and Ollie North were kidnapped and forced to smoke crack, or like Bernie Madoff getting robbed at gunpoint.

I think those kinds of stories, cultural revenge tales, are important. They’re not healing but they are… comforting? “At least THAT guy didn’t get away scot-free.” The video game industry has made billions avenging World War II over the past thirteen or fourteen years, the comics industry even longer, and we won that war.

Now imagine if a group of people destroyed your entire culture, forced you to work on pain of death, and had no problem obliterating your family structure. The country fights a war that results in your freedom, and the bad guys don’t become the victim of unending scorn. Instead, they’re celebrated in movies like Gone with the Wind and become the prototype of American nobility. Plus, instead of getting pure freedom, you’re given a half-existence, held back by state-sponsored terrorism perpetrated by the exact people who just lost a war and laws that prevent you from exercising your right as a citizen.

Nazis to slave-owners is not a 1:1 comparison, obviously, but roll with me. Can you imagine a romance flick like Gone with the Wind set in Berlin, circa 1941? A sympathetic portrayal like that? We’ve learned about good and sympathetic slave owners. (Hi, Founding Fathers!) There are no good Nazis.

I dunno, but I feel like slavery is a situation that deserves no small measure of fictional getback. It’s a way to wring some cheap joy from something that’s long past. It cannot, and will not, replace actual amends, but I think it makes for fun stories to tell and a good time at the movies. There’s some type of… I can’t find the word right now, but a pleasing feeling deep inside to see oppressors get done in. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Nazis, slum lords, slave owners, aliens, whatever. It strikes a very pleasant switch.

It’s this Malcolm X quote, in other words:

Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it.

This doesn’t quite stack up when faced with the horrors of realpolitik, but as a rallying cry, as something to instill a sense of right and wrong, as a self esteem boost, as something to settle deep in your heart and tell you are worthy of basic justice and equality and honor, it’s amazing.

I think Django Unchained, even down to the title, is going to be about Django taking his freedom. I hope so, anyway. I’ve got high hopes. If I can’t have Grand Theft Auto: The Nat Turner Rebellion, then I’m willing to settle for Django Unchained. Especially with that ill bit where Django shrugs off his cloak to the tune of James Brown. Perfect.

But if Tarantino shoehorns in another dead nigger storage speech, word is bond, our newfound best friends forever status is o-v-e-r like the Bridge.

Other thoughts: Ta-Nehisi Coates, raythedestroyer

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RIP Robert L Washington III

June 6th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I don’t know a lot about Robert Washington III. I do know, though, that he helped bring one of my most important characters to life: Static. Washington (and Dwayne McDuffie and John Paul Leon) created a book that hit me right where I needed it, right when I needed it. I wish I knew more about him.

Twitter’s reporting that he died today, 47 years old.

It really, really bums me out that two out of the three guys who first put Static to paper are dead now. McDuffie died last year, and he was just 49.

Dwayne McDuffie co-wrote Static #1. You can find his work in the sublime Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons. Robert Washington III co-wrote Static #1. You can find his work in the recent Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool reprint, or the first year or so of Static. John Paul Leon penciled Static #1. He drew one of the best comics I’ve ever read in collaboration with Brett Lewis, The Winter Men.

Give some thought to donating to the Hero Initiative. They help out creators in need.

Here’s Washington’s last comic, from Hero Comics 2012 from a week or two ago:

Thanks for the memories.

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