Archive for December, 2012


This Week in Panels: Week 171

December 30th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

Welcome to a peculiar edition of ThWiP. You see, barely anything came out this week in terms of American comics. That means that for once, Gaijin Dan is the star of the show, dominating the floor with all of his manga offerings. Jody and I each have one panel to share while Space Jawa has something from last week that I’m including for the hell of it.

Aquaman #15
Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier

Avenging Spider-Man #15.1
Chris Yost and Paco Medina

Bleach #519
Tite Kubo

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The Character Assassination of Ivan Drago by the Coward Apollo Creed

December 29th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

I wanted to write a Rocky article on December 26th because of it being Boxing Day and all, but then I got in a rotten blizzard-based car accident and that ruined my last couple of days. Luckily, nobody was hurt, but my wallet’s taking a hit. Feeling a bit down, I figured to hell with it. Writing about Dolph Lundgren might cheer me up a little.

I love the Rocky series. The first one is a genuinely great film and what follows is an excessive tour through the 80’s. It loses its inspiration for Rocky II, becomes cartoony fun in Rocky III and Rocky IV, becomes a complete shell of itself in Rocky V (though let’s be fair, “Get up, you son of a bitch! Because Mickey loves you…” redeemed it ever so slightly) and Stallone went out of his way to make Rocky Balboa happen, thereby leaving the series on a critical high note. Despite my unhealthy love for Mr. T and the way Rocky III is responsible for helping shape the landscape of mainstream professional wrestling, my favorite of the series has always been Rocky IV.

Rocky IV is so enjoyable in its simplicity. It’s a movie with two plot points: Drago kills Apollo and Rocky defeats Drago. Also, there’s a robot in it for no reason. There’s a robot and Rocky’s brother-in-law reprograms it to have a sexy lady voice.

The thing the movie is mostly remembered for is the antagonist, Ivan Drago. Of all the Rocky opponents, Drago gets the least screen time. He’s mostly spoken for by the Soviet representatives and his wife. When he does speak (he has a total of nine lines), he usually comes off as a cold monster, devoid of any humanity. That’s on the surface, though. On the surface, Rocky IV is the story of the Soviets coming to America to smugly show off their boxing superman, leading to Rocky Balboa watching his good friend Apollo Creed die in an attempt to defend his country’s honor. Rocky then avenges his friend by taking down the big Russian and gives a rallying speech that wins over the commies.

I’ve watched the movie enough to notice that there’s more to it and especially more to Drago. You see, while Rocky is indeed a pawn in a Cold War battle, he doesn’t appear to understand the true nature of what’s going on around him. What I’m saying is that as far as I see it, Ivan Drago is the true protagonist of Rocky IV.

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A Brief Note On Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen

December 26th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The exact moment the atomic bomb stopped being abstract, a symbol of America’s cultural and military superiority, was partway through my first and — so far — only viewing of the anime adaptation of Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen. I don’t remember exactly when I saw it, but I googled around and it was probably around 1994 or 1995. I’d have been a pre-teen at the time, old enough to rent movies but not old enough to have my own money to rent those. I cajoled my mom into bringing that one home because the other options were probably some Masami Obari flicks with sexy girls on the cover. Barefoot Gen was the safest choice, I guess because it looked like a movie for kids. It had a little boy running on the cover, right?

It’s about Gen, a young child living in Hiroshima, and it chronicles his life before and after Little Boy was dropped on the town. It’s really good, but I’ve only ever watched it once. I dubbed it off onto a tape after, and I later bought it on DVD, because I feel like it’s a movie that I need to own. It feels important.

It feels important because it devastated me as a kid. It’s been long enough that I don’t remember every little detail, or even how it ended. But I do remember the shots of the plane flying over the town, the way the map of the town snapped from color to black and white with a bright orange cloud once the bomb went off, and the horrors that followed. Humans flashing to dust, melting in the heat, and dying slowly in their own homes while begging and praying for someone to help their children.

I still don’t really cry at movies, but I sobbed my guts out watching Barefoot Gen and probably would if I watched it again. The last movie to give me that reaction was Spike Lee’s When The Levees Broke. I got so mad and sad at the utterly pointless loss of life and needless trauma that I just couldn’t take it. I bought the sequel, God Willing And Da Creek Don’t Rise, like 18 months ago and still haven’t watched it, because I figure I’ll react the same way again.

Barefoot Gen is an important movie to me because it turned an abstract idea concrete. “The atomic bomb is awe-inspiring and amazing, a true triumph for America!” turned into “The atomic bomb is awful. We murdered innocent people and the effects are still being felt today.” I’ve spent most of my life on or around air force bases, and as a kid, war was exciting. Fighter pilots, right? Glamorous. Awesome. But I didn’t understand the cost. I didn’t understand collateral damage, acceptable losses, and war crimes.

I was a kid then. I’m glad I learned better.

Keiji Nakazawa died of lung cancer on 12/19/2012. He was born on 03/14/1939, and was in Hiroshima when Little Boy was dropped out of the Enola Gay at 0815 on 08/06/1945. He survived, but many of his family members didn’t. His baby sister survived the bombing, but died later.

Barefoot Gen is on DVD, but it looks like prices have skyrocketed since Nakazawa died. If you can find it at a price that works for you, give it a watch.

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Merry Chrimuh

December 25th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Merry Christmas, you filthy animals. Service will resume at a later date.

(this is piracy, so if it makes you laugh until you cry like I know it’s going to, pay what you owe and cop those boxed sets. this show is a+.)

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The Ghost of Christmas Past Comes Back to Bite Me

December 24th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

First off, merry Christmas. Hope you’re having a great holiday. I myself have been blessed with some nice gifts like a Superman bathrobe, a broken Mr. T boxing puppet, a Duff Beer wallet and a La Parka mask.

Look at that style. Is it just me or does this look like it was taken in the 70’s?

Anyway, that’s not why I’m posting.

I’ve been hanging around the internet for many years. David and I have known each other for, what, 12 years at this point? Fact is, I’ve been around and I’ve moved around. Like back in the day, I was a writer on a site called Higher Voltage that’s long gone. It was a middle-ranking but funny site about fighting games, which were everywhere during the late 90’s/early 2000’s. On the forums, I wrote up a poem as a goof of a writing exercise where I retold the story of the Grinch with Akuma from Street Fighter. Under the gag name “Vokter Seuss”, I entitled it “How Akuma Kicked Christmas’ Ass”.

Some people liked the poem and it got reposted onto the forum of, the top fighting game community site, which, unlike Higher Voltage, hasn’t fallen into internet obscurity so many years later. I don’t recall when I wrote it, but it’s about ten or eleven years ago. Definitely college time. It got brought up again every few years and it’s even been retold through some really impressive animated gifs, which I sadly cannot find a link to at this moment.

As the years continued, it was pretty much forgotten. I, for one, had forgotten I wrote it. A brief Google search shows that some forums still repost it every couple years, which is really nice. The real shock came when an old internet acquaintance from the Higher Voltage days NeoChaosX found me on Twitter to tell me that the story has been revitalized once more. This time by Maximilian, a big name in the fighting game community who is known as a pretty good mind when it comes to the game genre.

Renamed “How Akuma Stole Christmas”, the thing absolutely made my day.

For a little context, I was really big into obscure Capcom game Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure at this time and there are a handful of references to it in here. From Iggi the dog in the Max role to the head-shaking namedrop of Death 13 (just pretend he says “Freddy Krueger” and it’ll make more sense). The knowledge that only three people will know what I’m talking about there is pretty embarrassing, but that’s not on Maximilian. Everything else is wonderful and I can’t thank him enough. That was a great Christmas gift.

I feel like Honey in that old Tiny Toon Adventures episode where Babs Bunny is showing those old Bosko and Honey cartoons and– see, there I go again. None of you have any idea what I’m talking about.

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This Week in Panels: Week 170

December 24th, 2012 Posted by Gavok

A fairly late edition of ThWiP, but that couldn’t be helped. I haven’t even had a moment to write a single paragraph of an article over the past week. Plus thanks to crazy holiday retail hours, I got home at 2:30am. So I’m just gonna post this thing and go sleep because closing early for Christmas Eve means waking up earlier for the start of the shift.

Got Jody, Was Taters, Gaijin Dan and Space Jawa backing me up.

All-New X-Men #4
Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen

Avengers #2 (Jody’s pick)
Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena

Avengers #2 (Gavin’s pick)
Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena

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Devil Survivor Overblogged: 1st day

December 21st, 2012 Posted by david brothers

An ongoing series about my time playing Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, divided up according to the stages of the game. Once a week, I think, I’m going to hit a few big topics that have stuck in my head and then a lot of little ones. Fridays. I’m still working out the format.

This is like a Let’s Play, but only I get to play and you’re required by law to read it and like it.

1st day

Story So Far: black power, his dumb nerd friend, and his dumb girly-girl friend (but not his girlfriend!) are trapped within the Yamanote Circle. Demons have begun invading, and black power’s cousin Naoya just ever-so-happened to not only give our threesome the devices they need to battle the demons, but also didn’t bother to let them know that Hell on Earth was coming. What a jerk, right?

The Defense Sciences Office spent the night in a park last night, lost and lonely.

Right now: Today is 1st day, the beginning of the end, and it’s time for the Demonic Schoolfriends Cipher to figure out exactly what’s going on, or maybe just escape. Escape is my main guess actually.

black power Status:
Level: 12
HP: 114
MP: 42
St: 9
Ma: 5
Vi: 7
Ag: 7
Move: 4
Speed: 50
Skills: Agi, Zan, Hero Aid, Mana Bonus, Leader Soul

Demon 1: Pixie (Fairy)
Level: 9
HP: 75
MP: 58
St: 4
Ma: 10
Vi: 6
Ag: 5
Skills: Dia, Zio, Charm

Demon 2: Waira (Wilder)
Level: 10
HP: 106
MP: 47
St: 9
Ma: 9
Vi: 5
Ag: 6
Skills: Zan, Dia, Hero Aid, Life Bonus, Devil Speed

Battle Anybody I Don’t Care: I was tricked! This is only barely a strategy RPG. It’s a meta-strategy RPG that is secretly actually an old, old, old school RPG.

Here’s the deal. You dont walk around on your own. You select locations from a menu. After selecting a location, a sub-menu pops up that gives you a chance to talk to your party members, gab with other people, or take a look around. In certain situations, you can get into a fight.

The fight certainly looks like a strategy RPG should. You have a grid you must follow when moving, your move stat determines how far you can move, and you have a selection of attacks you can use before or after going into battle. When you choose Attack, however, Dead Star Orion betrays you.

The actual battle system is the oldest of old school. The kind that existed before Final Fantasy 7, you know? RPGs with a hand crank and a muzzle loader. Enemy characters don’t animate at all. They just sit there, in all their sprite-based glory, and sometimes shake or turn colors as you battle them. You don’t see your squad at all. Selecting a command from a menu results in a minor animation that is overlaid onto the enemy sprite. After your turn is up, you return to the SRPG portion of things, ready to react again.

You could make a case for this giving you fine control over the details of SRPG battles, but I’m going to reject your case in favor of a different one: this is boring. The boringest. Questionable design choices aside — I want to make a “too much booby in the butt” joke here as a twist on Trina’s “too much booty in the butt” but I can’t make it work without sounding stupid — Dark Skies Onlimited is a pretty solid looking game. The sprites are cute, like Paul Robertson’s work on Scott Pilgrim, but RPGs are the absolute last genre that needs to be simplified visually. They’re already geared around math and intricate relationships between elements — why would you make that more boring? Where’s the flash?

Time: Part of David Stop Obscuring is managing your time. You get an email each morning with a list of horrible things that are going to happen to you or others. Since you’re plucky high schoolers, you’re going to go out and save people because… that is what children do? I’m not entirely clear on why we’re doing any of this instead of panicking, but I figure that’s just the plot.

Anyway, I’m curious to see if I can miss out on things. Will characters leave areas if you don’t visit them fast enough? It doesn’t seem like it thus far, but I’m sure it’ll happen eventually. Maybe I’ll have to choose between Yoohoo and Atsuwrong at the end of the game?

Devil Auction: There’s basically eBay for demons. After you fight them, you can bid on them. It works about as you’d expect.

At one point, though, I beat up a demon and he was all, “aughghg i guess i have to have a contract now.” That was weird, because why would he be surprised that humans and demons have contracts when the Devil Auction exists? Is it some kind of underground slavetrading ring? It doesn’t sound like it, though most of the demons are so dumb that it probably isn’t legal for them to enter into any contracts. I swear this tree-based demon I have is senile.

black power is a lie: This was the chapter where I realized that if you pick the “wrong” answer in a dialogue box, people will tell you what you already know and generally be a real jerk about things. So, while I’m still refining the character, I try to play black power as being the most honest and forthright guy in the team. He’ll tell the truth, even when it seems like a bad decision, just so that no one else will beat him to the punch and make me sit through dialogue that tells me things I already know. Call it antagonistic altruism.

It’s weird, though. It feels like admitting the truth in certain situations, and by that I specifically mean telling my friends that there is no exit from the Yamanote Circle, is a bad decision. There’s been nothing in the game to suggest that saying so would bring the team down, but it would, wouldn’t it? So black power lies, just a little, but always in the service of hope.

Yoohoo: Yuzu talks about her sweaty body like, all the time. I know this is a fetish thing in real life, dirty girls or whatever, but is this a nod to fetishists or some kind of weird attempt at verisimilitude? “All I want is a shower to wash all this sticky sweat off my body and now you’re imagining me naked,” says the teenager, ad nauseam. It’s not weird to want a shower when you can’t shower, but it is weird that she says it so often. Does that make sense? It feels significant, but it isn’t, I don’t think.

つづく: “Oh no! We’re in the exact same situation we were in last night! How will we get out of this one, Yoohoo?”

“I’m so sweatyyyyyy, and it’s just pouring in rivers and rivers down my supple–”

“NEXT TIME, on Devil Survivor Overblogged: Silent Heroes for Quiet Storms! We’re gonna survive this, I promise!”

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Music, 2012: Rocket Juice & The Moon

December 20th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Rocket Juice & The Moon is a collaborative project from Damon Albarn, Tony Allen and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. It’s pointedly African in sound, which is cool. I like Albarn, but Tony Allen is a real cool dude, too. I don’t know how they traded off responsibilities, but I’m thankful they made the album. It’s an aight record, not too exceptional, but one line from it, courtesy of rapper M.anifest, has been stuck in my head for months: “Oh, what a life! Cheat on Death ’til she upset!” It’s from “The Unfadable,” definitely a highlight of the album.

Sometimes you receive wisdom and you don’t even realize it until later. This line, or some mangled version of it, came to mind when I was outside taking a walk one day. It was long after I’d rotated Rocket Juice & The Moon off my iPod, so it wasn’t fresh in my head or anything. It popped into my head out of nowhere — it took me forever to even remember where it was from — and it really struck me as maybe being the realest thing ever wrote.

It’s not deep. It’s just aware of what life is and how we live it. Life sucks. Late night calls never bring good news, your job can be a slog even if you love it, and things are going to go wrong. It’ll make you feel bad, blue, and black and blue, and you won’t be able to do much about it.

But. Life is still amazing. The long rhythms of cars passing through stoplights, the sun setting behind buildings… have you seen the fake stars in cities? The ones that are just antenna or airplane lights? All of that stuff is amazing. “Breathe in: inhale smoke from bright stars that shine. Breathe out: weed smoke retrace the skyline.” We did that. The trick is learning to appreciate it, or letting it pull you out of a black mood.

“Oh, what a life! Cheat on Death ’til she upset” crawled its way up into my brain and came out just when I needed it most.

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Music, 2012: Zola Jesus, “Conatus”

December 19th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

I first heard Zola Jesus when she was singing backup for El-P on Conan O’Brien. They were performing a live version of “Works Every Time” from El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, and I thought it was a pretty great take on the song. Jesus’s voice enhanced the original song to a level I wasn’t quite expecting. It put me in mind of Lissie’s cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” actually. Having female vocals where there were once male vocals was one trigger, but the biggest one was how the texture of the song changes when you change the gender of the vocalist. Jesus made enough of a mark on me that I wanted to see what her solo music was like.

It turns out her music sounds like nothing I’ve ever really sought out before. It’s a strange mix of electronic music, complex orchestration, and a deep-throated vocalist. It sounds like the kind of music that you can only record in a derelict church after midnight, in the secret basement that the founders put into the building 300 years ago. It feels like the soundtrack to a mass in a movie, and that’s real fascinating to me.

I asked around on Tumblr, I think it was, and got some music video recommendations. I backtracked from there to find her album Conatus, and was pleased to find that it was just as good as I was expecting, even though it doesn’t sound like anything I own. It sounds genuinely new to me, and it’s nice to break out of my comfort zone of old punk, ancient pop, your grandparents’ rock, and rap music.

I find myself in a weird situation when listening to Zola Jesus. I grew up with rap, and I’m used to thinking that people who think rappers rap too fast actually just listen too slow. “What do you mean you don’t understand ‘bing, boggledy, dong?'” type of elitism. But there are a few lyrics on this album I can’t quite catch. I could look them up, of course. I’m sure someone online has figured it out. But I like appreciating Jesus without knowing exactly what she’s saying at the same time. It’s weird and sounds kinda art school-y maybe, but it’s all about the way her voice complements or contradicts the music. I like French singer Camille for similar reasons, even though I don’t speak French. It’s that I like how her voice sounds.

It’s not that she sings too fast. It’s the opposite, really. She stretches syllables, bending them around several turns before finishing the sound. It’s not a wail — it’s not as desperate as that — but it is something I don’t come across too often. It’s a marriage of a child hyper-enunciating something (“But Moooooooom!”), a diva vamping as hard as she can, and the extremes that opera sings go to in search of that perfect note.

I think it’s cool that her videos match up with exactly how her music feels like it should look. It’s a little creepy, but never commits to going full horror. Unsettling is the word, maybe. A quiet itch at the back of your head that things aren’t quite as right as you thought they were.

I keep wanting to describe her music as “full,” as if that wasn’t as vague as anything ever. But it kinda fits, too. Jesus isn’t making speaker box music, not any type I’m familiar with, but I feel like her songs would still give your speakers a workout. It probably sounds great in a car with the windows and system turned all the way up.

Half the time I listen to Conatus, I do it one and a half times in a row. A side effect of the lyrics being fuzzy is that I can’t quite recognize when I’ve heard a song twice, so I let the album loop until I realize what I’m doing. That sounds like a complaint, like the album is a blur of same-y material, but it’s more like… I don’t have the ear for this yet. I’m still figuring out how these songs work, versus how rap songs work or whatever, and my own ignorance results in the loop. Or I just like the album enough to where I don’t really pay attention to how long it’s been on. One of the two. Maybe both.

It’s good, though. So I don’t mind the repeats.

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Music, 2012: El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure

December 18th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

The first song about abuse by El-P I ever heard was Company Flow’s “Last Good Sleep.” It was one of my least favorite tracks on the fantastic Funcrusher Plus because it was so weird and uncomfortable. El’s flow is slow and strange, just out of step with what I was used to hearing, and the content was simultaneously intimate and distant. He talks about how the man downstairs must’ve drunk one too many beers and how he beats his wife. It took a long time for me to learn to appreciate that song. It’s halting and tense, and it isn’t what I was expecting from CoFlow. It’s a song that sounds like a nightmare.

Two songs on Cancer 4 Cure are about explicitly about abuse and they’re feel much more accessible than “Last Good Sleep” was when I was a kid. “The Jig Is Up” is about hating yourself. “For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums the Word)” is about being there for someone else.

I first listened to Cancer 4 Cure on a bike ride to work, and then at work, so I didn’t get the fullness of “For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums the Word)” at first. I misinterpreted the chorus as being about police brutality and the benefits of keeping your eyes shut while working around New York City. I was wrong, obviously. The story’s even better than that.

“For My Upstairs Neighbor (Mums the Word)” begins with El having been called into a police station for questioning. Someone was killed and the cops are checking for witnesses. El’s position is simple: he didn’t see nothing, he didn’t hear nothing, and if something did happen, that sounds like somebody else’s problem, boss. “I spent the day on my New York shit, didn’t even meet them once, and no I’m not upset — I’m just another guy minding his business.”

Verse two is the real story. He ran into his neighbor, an abused woman, in the hall. Rather than sticking to their status quo, which is walking past each other and pretending like he doesn’t hear the noises from the pain her husband inflicts on her, El stops and touches her shoulder and says the first and last thing to her: “Do the thing you have to do and I swear I’ll tell them nothing.”

It’s a song about showing support and being there when somebody or anybody needs it, dig? It’s about letting down the walls that cities build up inside us, looking at someone else, and making sure they know you have their back, no matter what. It doesn’t matter that the solution is a terrible thing. It may have been necessary, it may not, but it’s a solution. It’s a revenge fantasy, but a good one.

The line “The halls are thin and so is skin when bearing witness to the sound you’re generating every day… guess it reminded me of something” screams A Fistful of Dollars to me. There’s that scene where Clint Eastwood rescues a family for no apparent reason, considering this actions thus far. When asked why he did it, he says “Why? Because I knew someone like you once. There was no one there to help.” That sounds like it’s about his own family, right? I don’t know if El-P intended that connection or not, but man, what a detail.

“The Jig Is Up” is about rejecting that same feeling. It’s about looking a pretty girl in the face after she’s explained how much she likes you, calling her a liar, and then demanding to know who put her up to it. It’s about believing that no one could ever love you, and pushing away those that do due to your own insecurity.

El nails this one, too. Even the hook is a flat, high-speed, “I wouldn’t wanna be a part of any club that would have me,” a Groucho Marx joke that rings with finality, instead of humor, in this context. It’s meant to be a funny little turn of phrase, but sometimes funny turns of phrase hit too close for comfort.

El-P will take you on highs and lows. Paranoid and anxious are two words that come to mind when thinking about his music. When he chooses to go low, he hits hard. There’s a bit on “The League of Extraordinary Nobodies” from I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, toward the end, that goes:

I’ve been noticing the fact that nothing glorious can happen anymore
We’ve run the gamut of our filth
But here I am again, pretending spontaneity exists with idiots
All lifted out their little gills
Aren’t you disturbed that everything you did tonight is something else you did already
And its meaning is still nil?
And all the people in your presence are just weapons
It’s as simple as the theory that the dying love to kill

and it’s just the most pathetic thing you ever heard in your life. And then there’s this, from “Request Denied” on Cancer 4 Cure:

I’m a holy fuck what the did he just utter marksman
Orphan, a whore-born, war-torn life for the harvest
A fair-trade target of air raid, starter kit
Used heart plucked from the bargain bin
I don’t give a fraction of fractal of fucks
I’m a Garbage Pail Kid calamity artist

Cancer 4 Cure is about recognizing that you’re the cancer for your cure, and always have been, but not letting that stop you from balling out on your own terms.

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