Archive for May, 2013


Bigger Than The Government: How We Look At Hip-Hop

May 17th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

“Rap is the CNN of the streets.”
–Chuck D, more or less

Rap music is real.

We treat white people and white culture as the default culture in America. As a result, non-white voices are often marginalized and left out of the conversation. The various History Months and Pride Days — those are a way to correct our collective course and encourage the addition and recognition of other voices in our culture. It’s educational for outsiders and aspirational or inspirational for those who are a part of that culture.

In a lot of ways, rap music is like that. It’s an education. The art we create is a reflection of ourselves and the culture we live in. When dude from dead prez says, “The violence in me reflect the violence that surround me,” or when Kendrick Lamar says “I got the blunt in my mouth; usually I’m drug-free… but shit, I’m with the homies,” they’re speaking a truth. You are a product of your environment. You are influenced, and those influences are on display when you create something, whether that creation is your life or your art.

The violence, misogyny, and homophobia in rap are a reflection of the environments the rappers live in, from the crib to the block to the hood to the city to the state to the country. The joy, money-chasing, happiness, and pride in rap are a reflection of those same things, as well. The entire spectrum of content is a reflection, really.

When Chuck D said that rap music was the CNN of the streets — a statement repeated and remixed so often that I actually can’t figure out when or where he actually said it beyond “twenty years ago” — that’s what he was referring to. He was referring specifically to the way that rap lyrics reflect the lives of the rappers, and through the rappers, black people. Not all black people, obviously, but an important subset of the black community.

People say write what you know as advice to newbie writers, but the truth is that you can only write what you know. You’re drawing from your experience, be they direct or indirect. You’re spilling the contents of your brain, and in doing so, educating someone else.

Chuck D wasn’t saying that rap is non-fictional. He was saying that rap has non-fictional roots and that examining those roots is something that should be encouraged, not dismissed. Kanye rapping about trying to get a friend to hook him up with girls and that friend telling him to pump his brakes and drive slow — that’s real. 50 Cent saying that he’ll say anything to make his girl laugh, including “I love you like a fat kid loves cake” — that’s real. Killer Mike and NWA rapping about police brutality, Snoop and Kurupt slathering misogyny over funked out beats, Jean Grae kicking punchlines that make your head nod, Eminem talking about his relationship with his mother — those are all real, no matter how fictionalized they may be.

“Salt all in my wounds/ Hear my tears all in my tunes/ Let my life loose in this booth/ Just for you, muhfucker/ Hope y’all amused”
-Gunplay, 2012

Rap is real, but the meaning of real began to drift as time passed. Instead of representing the idea of emotional or intellectual honesty sitting inside a fictional construct, it began to mean something closer to “be a thug or else you’re fake.” “Keep it real” is a common refrain, or was at one point. It was the rallying cry for a certain type of rapper. Real in that sense meant a specific type of black masculinity and femininity. Real had been whittled down until it meant guns and drugs and bottles in the club. This happened for a variety of reasons — record labels love money, rappers love money, and it turns out white teens LOVE gutter raps — but it is what it is and we have to live with it.

A weird thing about rap is that it feels more “true” to me than most other genres. Part of it is the “CNN of the streets” aspect of things. I can hear myself and my experiences in Jay-Z, Nas, Weezy, and hundreds of other rappers. Kendrick Lamar talking about being lost, Joe Budden talking about awkward love, Killer Mike talking about anger, Devin the Dude talking about weed — I recognize and empathize.

Rap is real, but it’s fake at the same time. The line between the two is often blurred, as rappers draw from real life experiences, movies, other songs, and the rest of our culture to create their rhymes. Lupe Fiasco’s “Kick, Push” and “Kick, Push II” aren’t true stories, to my knowledge, but they are real. The same is true of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” which is partly real and partly fake.

Rap is real, but rap is fictional. But sometimes people get it twisted.

“They said I can’t rap about being broke no more… they ain’t say I can’t rap about coke no more!”
-Eminem, 2000

Earlier this year, Rick Ross kicked this rhyme on Rocko’s UOENO: “Put molly all in her champagne/ she ain’t even know it/ I took her home and enjoyed that/ she ain’t even know it.” It set off a firestorm of essays, complaints, and discussion. Eventually, Reebok dropped Ross from a sponsorship deal. The first petition I saw was this one, Lolia Etomi, though I think that this one was the biggest. Etomi’s petition has a passage that made my head turn:

If what he is saying is true, not just meaningless lyrics he has just publicly admitted to drugging and raping a woman. This should be investigated further and he should be prosecuted. If it is not true and they are just lyrics, he has still just glorified rape and this should not be ignored.

“If what he is saying is true.”

Rick Ross is an entertainer who has co-opted the identity of an infamous drug dealer. Put differently — Rick Ross is a liar. I don’t say that to be insulting, either. He’s a liar like Brad Pitt is a liar, like Denzel Washington is a liar. Brad Pitt has never beaten a man half to death for no reason and Denzel Washington was never Malcolm X. It’s obvious in movies. We know they’re fake. The idea of prosecuting someone in case their lyrics are true is laughable to me, but as I poked around, I realized that it actually happens. Which is a problem, and one that has its roots in the idea that rap is real.

Rap is fake, is the thing, but part of the mystique of rap is that you’re peeking in on another world that’s real to varying degrees. The verisimilitude of rap music blurs the line between real and fake. No one would think that Britney Spears actually did it again or that The Beatles lived everything they talked about, but it’s different with rap. Rap has “CNN of the streets” and “Keep it real” in its past, and that’s led to where we are today, when someone can honestly suspect that a rapper would actually brag about crimes they committed on a song geared toward being a smash hit and played nationwide. I figure how I feel about that is how heavy metal fans felt about the Satanism scares? It’s a possibility.

Keeping your Rap World believable and — maybe more importantly — profitable is tough. I was reading a Complex piece on Ghostface’s favorite songs and came across this:

“I even like ‘Spot Rusherz.’ Rae was saying some fly shit on there. And I was going in on the intro. But I remember when I said, ‘Yo Rae, come here,’ at the end, and he’s like, ‘Yo, chill Ghost.’ And I’m like, ‘Yo Rae, I’m ‘bout to scrape her.’ But I said ‘rape’ at first. ‘Yo Rae, I’m ‘bout to rape her.’ He was like, ‘Nah, we can’t say that.’ [Laughs.] It was too much. He said, ‘No, just say ‘scrape her.’’ And it became ‘scrape.’ I was just thinking about that the other day.

It stuck out to me because the standards for violence and rape in rap has been on my mind for a while now, but also because the implications are fascinating. Some artists have made careers while incorporating rape lyrics. Eminem’s “Who Knew”, for example, includes the lines “You want me to fix up lyrics while the President gets his dick sucked?/ Fuck that! Take drugs, rape sluts/ Make fun of gay clubs, men who wear make-up.” DMX told a faceless enemy that he’d rape his teenaged daughter and Biggie has friends who rape children and throw them off bridges.

At the same time, Eminem’s hit single “My Name Is” included the lines “Extraterrestrial, runnin’ over pedestrians/ in a spaceship while they screamin’ at me ‘Let’s just be friends!'” on the Slim Shady LP. On the original version, those lines were “Extra-terrestrial, killin’ pedestrians/ Rapin’ lesbians while they’re screamin’ at me, ‘Let’s just be friends!'”

Where’s the line for “too far”? Is there a line? Should there be a line? In the case of Rae and Ghost, an off-hand mention of rape was too far. The rest of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is about dealing drugs, mafioso aspirations, and how ill Clarks Wallabees are. The violence and other misogyny were acceptable, but a direct rape reference — in the song he makes a woman strip down to her Claibornes and then changes his mind — was not.

The line may be tied to fame. Before Slim Shady LP, Eminem was an underground emcee. He had cosigns from Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine, but he wasn’t anybody yet. He was far from a household name. His first album was softened up — unevenly, if you know it well — probably for the sake of mass appeal. But his Marshall Mathers LP opens with a verse containing these lines:

“Oh, now he’s raping his own mother, abusing a whore, snorting coke, and we gave him the Rolling Stone cover?”
You god damn right, bitch, and now it’s too late
I’m triple platinum and tragedies happen in two states

In what is in hindsight a amazingly self-aware move, a skit on Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP features a skit with Paul Rosenberg, co-founder of Eminem’s Shady Records. Paul, being the liaison between Em and Interscope, is in charge of making sure the ship runs smoothly and the album gets cleared for release. On the skit, Rosenberg says “Dre gave me a copy of the new album… and I just… [sigh] …fuck it.” It’s another essay, but I think Eminem might be one of the most self-aware/self-conscious rappers in recent memory.

By the time Marshall Mathers LP dropped, Eminem was a Name. He made his label millions, he was well on the way to making himself millions, and his videos probably played on MTV more often than he had hot meals. Being a Name brings a certain level of power. When you’re a young guy trying to take advantage of your big break, do you have to sand down your rough edges? But if you’ve already made that break, if you’re established and in a position to defend your art, are you more free to say whatever you want, as long as it’s in a creative context?

Necro, Ill Bill (as a solo artist), and Non-Phixion provide a counterpoint. They’re not going for major label sales or acceptance. They don’t care if somebody’s mama in Minnesota gets offended at their lyrics, so creating songs like “I Need Drugs” and “How to Kill A Cop,” both of which are flips of other popular rap songs, is no skin off their back. Their underground status gives them the same freedom that Eminem’s “made man” status awards him. If you’re not trying to be big, or if you’ve already made it, you have benefits people who haven’t made it yet don’t have.

(Biggie’s another case, one I haven’t quite figured out yet. But, off the top of my head, I have the feeling that he kept his really gutter material segregated from his R&B crossover lyrics. They were on the same album, but aimed at different audiences, much like Eminem’s emotional, violent, and pop songs were serving varied masters.)

Ross is a third situation. He got big, but made himself beholden to non-creative corporate interests at the same time. He became a spokesman for Reebok, as Reebok wanted to use his brand to extend their influence amongst men. The Ross brand is extravagant, suave, and wealthy. He’s selling a lifestyle. But, as pointed out by my friend Cheryl Lynn Eaton, one of Reebok’s primary audiences is women. So a rape line in raps doesn’t play. I spent a lot of time thinking about this aloud on tumblr a while back, and I was struck when a reader said that “It’s easy to feel like a protagonist, “I am the guy doing the rad violence and Whatever He Wants”, but when the power trip is date rape it gets REALLY hard for me to see myself as macho hero instead of ‘date-raped anonymous girl’.”

I was struck because it’s so plainly true. It’s one of the simplest explanations of the downsides of the One Man To Make Things Right scenario. When Ross said what he said, he immediately alienated a significant part of Reebok’s audience in a way that the drug raps and violence don’t, and was punished financially for it. He’s free to say whatever he wants, but free speech has a price.

“Music… reality… sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference. But we as entertainers have a responsibility to these kids… psyche!”
–Bizarre, 2002

The context between 2013 and 2000, when Eminem was blowing up, is different now, too. There was no Twitter, no Tumblr, no Facebook. Blogs weren’t what they are now. If you wanted to make a stink, you had to either get on TV, write a book, or get into a magazine. Nowadays? I can just type in “” and go buck wild with a three thousand word essay on how we view rap.

That changes the conversation. Voices that weren’t originally in that conversation are now free to join it, and have a platform that lets them explain their position in a detailed and well-reasoned manner. These voices often lack the legitimacy that’s awarded to people who use traditional channels, but Twitter has a way of turning small things into big ones. If you’re good, the tiniest blog can become the site of an enormous conversation.

You can see this change in conversation in the backlash against Ross, the discussion surrounding Chief Keef, the controversy about Lil Wayne using an Emmett Till metaphor, and the annoying conversations around Lana Del Rey’s “realness.” You can see it when Maura Johnston writes about how not to write about female musicians.

These new voices, like the Months and Days, serve as, if not a corrective, then something else to consider when creating your art or judging someone else’s art. I’ve personally been enriched by this. My thoughts about Ross were crystallized most through talking with white women who are mostly (as near as I can tell) outsiders to rap and black culture on Tumblr. Being around Cheryl Lynn for the past few years has shown me that some of the things I truly love treat black women like trash.

I like every part of rap. I can listen to Curren$y & Juvenile’s “Bitch Get Up” and Blu & Nia Andrews’s “My Sunshine” and recognize the pros and cons of both tracks. (Both of them go, personally.) That doesn’t make me a bad person or a hypocrite. There’s a time and place for everything, whether it’s Eminem’s “Kim” or Tupac’s “Dear Mama.”

(There’s something about how most of the controversy I’ve talked about has been specifically about misogyny or rape instead of violence, drug dealing, and everything else in rap, but I’d need a whole other uncomfortable essay to untangle that knot.)

When it comes to rap and reality, it’s like something David Simon once said. “We know more about human pride, purpose, and obsession from Moby-Dick than from any contemporaneous account of the Nantucket whaler that was actually struck and sunk by a whale in the nineteenth-century incident on which Melville based his book.”

In other words, if you want to know the human cost of the Vietnam War, you can google it and get numbers and data. If you want to know the emotional cost, you should listen to Freda Payne’s “Bring the Boys Home” instead. If you want to know the after-effects of Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president on the black community, read a book. If you want to know what catharsis and guilt sounds like, listen to Killer Mike’s “Reagan.”

Listen to rap.

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The Top 200 Fighting Game Endings: Part One

May 16th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

For the past twenty-plus years, my favorite genre of video game has always been the one-on-one fighter. Ever since seeing Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in an arcade, I was hooked. Throughout the years, I always paid attention to its many spinoffs and sequels, as well as the countless games that jumped onto its success. The Mortal Kombats and Tekkens and Fatal Furies and, hell, even the Clay Fighters.

Naturally, the emphasis on these games is the multiplayer, especially now with the increasing popularity of online play and the tournament scene. While I enjoy checking out the competitive stuff from time to time, I’ve never been good enough to be part of that, nor have I felt the drive to reach that level. Really, for me, I’ve always had a strange obsession with the single-player experience.

Growing up, that was always the ritual with these games. When there was nobody to play against, you had to complete the game with every single character, which was like the programmer’s way of making sure you took advantage of every piece of effort they put in every character. It was a rewards system that gave you an excuse to play as the characters you weren’t even much of a fan of. Getting that thirty seconds of text and 16-bit cutscene made spending an hour on that super cheap final boss worth it.

Not to mention, it’s fun for the character study aspects, silly as it sounds. Fighting games universally have a B-movie landscape to them that are extremely fun, filled with characters who are half-realized. Since the days of Street Fighter II, someone like Blanka was represented by some animated gestures, attacks, a handful of quotes and maybe a paragraph of backstory. But despite not being the hero of the game, he was just as viable a winner of the game’s tournament as Ryu and Chun-Li. By beating Bison, you get to see his existence sketched out more by seeing him reconnect with his long-lost mother.

Even when there’s a clear-cut main character, all the supporting characters still get to be important enough that we’re able to see them come out on top, whether they’re on the hunt for justice, power, money, fame, revenge, a challenge, adventure, answers or love. With so many competitors in each game, there are so many alternate paths on where things can go. Sometimes they’re funny. Sometimes they’re badass. Sometimes they’re genuinely compelling. Sometimes they simply act as a strong ending to a character arc.

I decided to do a lot of research, going through hundreds of games to look at thousands of endings. Everything from Soul Calibur to Brutal: Paws of Fury to Marvel Superheroes to Avengers in Galactic Storm. What was meant to be a list of the best 100 has turned into a list of the best 150, expanding even more into this list of 200 because as much as the typing is going to kill me, I can’t stop myself from shutting up about a lot of these and you’ll have to pay the price. You and my carpel tunnel.

Thanks to the long-dormant VG Museum for making the research process much easier.

So here we go. Heaven or Hell? Duel one. Let’s rock.

200) Street Fighter X Tekken – HEIHACHI MISHIMA AND KUMA

The story of Street Fighter X Tekken is that a magical box from space labeled Pandora has crashed into Antarctica. With so many interested in what kind of power is inside it, various Street Fighter and Tekken characters pair up and it becomes a martial arts version of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. As for what’s really in the box? That maguffin changes from ending to ending.

Elderly, ousted crime lord Heihachi Mishima makes a go for Pandora with his somewhat loyal, karate-fighting bear Kuma. After defeating Akuma, Heihachi nears the box. Afraid for him, Kuma frantically claws at Heihachi’s back, growling in his understandable bear language that it might be dangerous. Heihachi is cool about it and explains that Kuma will get 10% of what’s in there. Kuma’s smacks become angrier due to Heihachi’s cheapness and he says that if there’s poison gas in there, Heihachi can have his 10%.

The box opens up and a white light shoots out. Heihachi ducks out of the way and Kuma accidentally looks right down into the light. Once it dies out, Heihachi laughs off what a close call that was. He turns to Kuma only to find this adorable bear cub.

Heihachi suddenly notices that one side of his head of hair – the one part of him hit by the light – is black. Realizing that he missed out on regaining his precious youth, Heihachi screams to the heavens, “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

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Are you in that mood yet? [Joe Budden & Ill Poetic’s Mood Muzik Third]

May 14th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I like sad raps a lot, so it should come as no surprise that I spent a fair few years feeling like Joe Budden was one of the nicest rappers out. I’ve fallen off the train these days, but I happened to hear the version of “Ventilation” from Mood Muzik Third on shuffle and it all came flooding back. You can stream the entire record here:

“I got another side I never showed to you/ The side where everybody is disposable/ See relationships are never a threat/ ’cause I’ll erase the history and act like we never met”

Mood Muzik Third is the brainchild of producer Ill Poetic. He merged the acapellas from Budden’s Mood Muzik 3 — the third in a series of mixtapes about feeling bad — and musical elements from Portishead’s album Third, and I assume other assorted Portishead songs here and there. I wasn’t particularly familiar with Budden when I heard this album, though I think I’d heard a guest spot here and there on a Fabolous tape or something. I didn’t know Portishead at all, and still don’t, really. But I like this album a lot.

It works because the music and the lyrics are right in line. The music is deep and bassy, and even a traditional-sounding joint like “All of Me” gives way to something that sounds just a little bit darker than you’d think, with chopped vocal and drum samples and Budden’s voice sitting on top of the beat, sounding just ever-so-slightly distant. “All of Me” doubles back in on itself to the point where the vocal samples are just sounds instead of words and Budden’s anger and frustration with himself and others stands out even more than it normally would.

Budden doesn’t really do the sad-sack confessional joints that come with most sad raps. Self-loathing is common, as is self-pity, but Budden ups the ante to self-hate. There’s an idea in most of these songs that Budden orbits around and sometimes tackles explicitly. The idea is that the Joe Budden of today crawled out of the carcass of Joe Budden from yesterday. Yesterday’s Budden was a bastard. Today’s Budden is trying to be something different, but knows that he has bastard tendencies.

“Some niggas wanted to kill me/ Got locked up and never found me/ So my goal is to catch a charge in that same county/ Picture me getting bumped for a silly hand-off/ The bullpen’s fucked up, just ask Willie Randolph/ See, I could pop a few nickel-plated Glocks, too/ It’s easier to kill niggas than it is not to”

But what makes the lyrics work is that Budden is a reforming bastard with savage lyrics. He consistently puts himself and others on blast, but does it in a way that makes you want to dig deeper. The similies and metaphors click intellectually, and as you mull them over, you realize they click emotionally, too. Mood Muzik Third is about being disappointed and frustrated because you’re being held back from what you could be. There’s an ideal, and then there is you, down here with the rest of us.

You can feel the hate in these bars from “Dear Diary”:

I was one long line away from the Tetris
She sent me the L, that sent me to hell
To the point where I was ignoring my son
I don’t see him, don’t talk to him
I don’t greet him, don’t walk with him
But I pay for him like he’s an object
No matter how right I am in court I can’t object
Dear Diary, how could she deny me?
How she go to bed without it fucking with her psyche?
Is she wrong using him so I can come back?
Or am I wrong for wishing I could get my come back?

There’s no bragging in these joints, no hope that things are getting better. It’s about how Budden feels, and Budden feels bad, jack. It’s catharsis on wax, and I figure that’s why I took to it like I did. He has that perfect combo of talent and subject matter to draw me in, and Ill Poetic’s laced the Portishead samples and beats to perfectly fit Budden’s style.

“Saying ‘Jump Off dont sound right’/ Is blashphemous, down right/I astound mics/ Music is just what feelings sound like”

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This Week in Panels: Week 190

May 12th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Hey, hey, hey. It’s a pretty light week, mainly due to there being no issue of Shonen Jump, meaning that Gaijin Dan is powerless from lack of manga. So we’ve got me, Space Jawa, Jody and Matlock.

Strangely enough, Injustice has the most panel entries this week. Yeah, go figure. It’s an interesting issue because writing-wise, it’s really well-done. It’s a touching story about Superman telling Catwoman about Nightwing’s freak death in hopes that she’d be able to comfort Batman. The problem is the art by David Yardin.

Now, for the first half of the issue, Yardin’s art is rather good. Not fantastic, but it looks nice for the most part. You have to remember, though, that this is a weekly comic and even with multiple artists, the deadlines have to be frustrating. Somewhere around the halfway mark, that really starts to kick in and we get some… questionable art.

Dennis Farrell wrote a fun little article at Something Awful about some of the art, where Matlock and I both get namedropped. If you haven’t seen BATFACE yet, be warned.

Now let’s get started, beginning with one of my favorite sequences from this week. Hickman’s Avengers double-run is so great so far.

Avengers #11
Jonathan Hickman and Mike Deodato

Batman #20
Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, James Tynion IV and Alex Maleev

Batman and Red Hood #20
Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason and Cliff Richards

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Still Learning How To Walk: The Following

May 8th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

The Following, created by Scream writer Kevin Williamson, is easily the least defensible show I watch at the moment. It’s trashy, violent, occasionally disgusting, and occasionally forgets about the main gimmick of the big bad guy. But in a way, that’s a strength unto itself. Things happen, and keep happening, on The Following. The usual way I describe the show is that it’s willing to “go there” several times an episode. The exact location of “there” varies from episode to episode, but in a show featuring people getting shot with spear guns, serial killer threesomes, two separate love triangles with one woman, one serial killer telling another serial killer “You’re crazy!” and meaning it, and Kevin Bacon straight-up murdering a couple dozen people.


The series feels like a Batman pitch in a lot of ways. Ryan Hardy, a retired FBI agent, is an alcoholic and burnt out. Years ago, he captured Joe Carroll, a serial killer, professor, and novelist with an Edgar Allen Poe fetish. Carroll went to jail, Hardy wrote a book, Carroll languished in jail, Hardy had a brief relationship with Carroll’s ex-wife Claire, and life went on. The series kicks off when Carroll escapes from jail a short time before his execution, murders a lady he considered unfinished business, gets captured again, and then sets about unveiling his “sequel.”

You see, while he was locked up, Carroll met a few fellow travelers that he quickly turned into minions. Imagine a serial killer sleeper cell full of people with specific instructions who are hiding in plain sight and utterly, terminally dedicated to the worship of Joe Carroll and death. He bestows his adoration of Poe upon them, and they take to the streets in Poe masks, with Poe-themed crimes, or with Poe’s work on their lips. Carroll wants Hardy — dead, alive, or in his bed, I’m not sure which — and his followers want to show their lord and master how dedicated they are. Hardy and Claire want to both stop Carroll and retrieve Joey, Claire and Carroll’s son. I want to see what comes out of this meat grinder.

The glue that kept the show together for me was Emma, who was played to the hilt by Valorie Curry. She’s by far the most interesting part of the show on almost every level. Ryan Hardy is depthless, and every attempt at giving him depth was more bathos than pathos as a general rule. Joe Carroll ranges from tedious to incredibly tedious on average, though he has his moments. Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy, who play Hardy and Carroll, are talented, and perform well, but don’t have much to work with that you haven’t seen before. Claire, played by the fantastic Natalie Zea, is crucial, and I think a solid #2 for the show.

Emma has a lot going on. She’s part of a surprise love triangle between herself, her boyfriend Jacob, and her boyfriend’s accidental boyfriend Paul. (They had to pretend to be gay for a couple years so Carroll could spy on Claire. Paul was and is gay. Jacob was not, but might be bisexual now.) She’s in love with Carroll, the prototypical powerful male mentor. She doesn’t hate Claire, which I thought was a nice touch, but that doesn’t mean she’s totally fine with Claire being in the picture, either.

But what really clicked for me was that Emma is both ruthless and intelligent. She’ll cut you open from ear to ear if you give her a chance, but she also knows when to cut her losses and run. She struggles with her love, but she knows what she has to do. She has dueling commitments, and the bulk of her drama derives from how those commitments conflict with each other. When she finally chooses, it’s cold-blooded and sad, but appropriate and logical.

Claire, on the other hand, has one goal: her ex-husband does not get to ruin her son like he ruined their marriage. Everything she does in the show can be traced back to that motivation. Zea is a solid enough actress that you believe it, especially when she does something unbelievable. We’re privy to the thoughts of Hardy, Carroll, and Emma, by virtue of their mountains of screentime. But Claire is often left to react to what the other characters do, instead of doing things on her own, so she remains a slight cipher until she picks up a gun and makes a decision.

That makes her exciting in a way that Ryan Hardy, who is all Guilt and Shame and Anger, is definitively not. We know how Hardy’s story plays out, but Claire? She’s in a position to do something new and different, and she does. Repeatedly. The gun, the knife, the fight in the hallway, the screams, the submission, the betrayals — she works. Claire & Joey vs The World plays better, and more honestly, than Hardy vs Carroll ever could. Their conflict is a game of wits, a conflict between two men who are determined to prove that their way is the right way. Hers is simple: “Not my son.”

Carroll wants his family back, Joey and Claire included. He wants to live with them in his serial killer paradise, and he wants Ryan Hardy to die or submit to him. He’s playing the “I’m smarter than you, de-tec-tive” game, in addition to fetishizing death and murder. He’s a cult leader, and full of that pompous swagger that makes these dudes so boring. He’s all about how important he is, how remarkable his ideas are, when the opposite is true. It’s not Carroll that matters. Carroll is tedious. He wants sex and power, but he dresses it up with words like “family” and “literary” and pretensions of following in Poe’s footsteps. His big hideout is a light house. Why? ’cause his hero wrote a story about one.

His big revenge plan is not a scheme or outline. It is a novel, that he is writing, about exactly what’s going to happen. He is, when you break it down, writing fanfic about himself and Ryan Hardy with a smug omniscient narrator telling the tale. At one point, Hardy gets a copy of the manuscript and begins reading aloud… a passage about him finding the manuscript and reading it aloud!


Hardy’s not much better. Kevin Bacon plays him well, but believing in Ryan Hardy means believing in a whole bunch of nonsense. He’s retired FBI, and deputized at one point in the series, but not before he catches five or six bodies. By the end of the season, he’s killed so many cult members that the cult has to kill a bunch of people semi-offscreen just to balance the scales for the viewers. He’s an old and tired character type, and the writers refrain from doing anything new with him. The revelation of his sad past is more of an eye-roller than tear-jerker, and by the time he gets to the point where he tortures and then murders a defenseless cult member… well. You’ve probably already checked out by that point.

The Following succeeds when it’s indulging in spectacle (spear guns, threesomes, gaping throat wounds) and well-executed emotional content (Emma and Joey’s relationship, Claire and Emma, Emma/Paul/Jacob). Those parts range from good to great, and satisfy on a very basic sex/violence level. But when the series tries to do anything with Edgar Allen Poe, or Hardy and Carroll’s motivation, it stumbles. There’s not enough to Carroll or Hardy. They’re both sad old men who don’t see people as humans so much as tools.

Hardy is presented as the one man that can stop Carroll, both by Carroll and the show itself, and that isn’t right at all. Hardy is nothing. He’s just a dude, an object of Carroll’s affections and the object of his obsession. But Carroll wants him, and that works to shine a spotlight on him. But just outside of that spotlight, where Emma and Claire live, is where the real action happens. That’s where the heart of the series is, but The Following is so in love with the idea of clever twists and two men battling each other for pride and justice that it misses the mark.

The season finale was the worst episode of TV I’d seen in a while, though the weird and worthless incest double bluff episodes of Sword Art Online I saw this weekend actually beat it. It’s everything that’s awful about The Following, and precious little of the good. Ryan Hardy goes full heel, Joe Carroll becomes even more insufferable, and the focus is on the spectacle and the boring conflict between the men. It makes sense, since that’s where the story was headed anyway, but it feels so empty and tired, like reruns of a story you already know well.


The supporting cast shines, though. I really liked the experience of watching The Following, especially when chatting with #TeamBeloved member David Wolkin and my friend Keri, but I can’t say as I’ll watch it again. Season two might get a glance or three, just to see if it turns into The Following: Emma & Claire, but I don’t have high hopes.

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monday mixtape haterism

May 6th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

monday mixtape haterism from brothers on 8tracks Radio.

Eight songs here, which should play in random order. The list:
-Curren$y – Armoire feat. Young Roddy & Trademark – The Stoned Immaculate
-Aesop Rock – Getaway Car feat. Cage, Breeze Brewin – None Shall Pass
-B-Rock & The Bizz – My Baby Daddy
-Angel Haze – Realest – Reservation
-Copywrite – Light’s Out feat. Catalyst – The Jerk
-Johnson & Jonson – Hold On John – Johnson & Jonson
-The Alchemist – Flight Confirmation feat. Danny Brown & Schoolboy Q – Russian Roulette
-Joell Ortiz – Nissan, Honda, Chevy

I spend a lot of time listening to the same ol’ songs. I have a little iPod Nano I use for music, an eight gig joint, and I tend to keep it stocked with favorites, albums I want to revisit, and new mixtapes or albums. The downside is that after a day or two, I realized I know everything on the iPod by heart, so if my mood changes and I want to hear a certain sound, my choice is to either listen to something hot that I’ve temporarily played out or to just deal with it.

So I changed things up. I made a smart playlist in iTunes, told it to populate randomly, and gave it a size limit of five gigs, so I could still have a few favorites loaded up. I’ve got something like sixteen thousand songs, but only a fraction of that stays in heavy rotation. This is a way to correct my course and rediscover things I forgot.

This mixtape is a semi-random selection of eight songs from my 5 GB playlist. I pretty much flicked down the iTunes list and grabbed the first ten songs that caught my eye, and then pared it down to remove dupes. It’s tilted highly in favor of rap (no surprise), but also toward the past five years, which was a legitimate surprise. I don’t listen to a lot of ’80s rap, but I love joints from the ’90s and early ’00s. That’s not represented here, I don’t think. I am pleased at the diversity of styles, prestige, and content here, though.

Aesop Rock’s “Getaway Car” has one of my most favorite beats ever, and Aes Riggedy Rock, Cage, and Breeze Brewin go in so hard, and the Camp Lo sample is disgusting. It’s ugly, a mean mug of a sample that’s just the best thing ever this morning. I’ll show up for Breeze anyway, but it’s lovely this song is so ill in general.

“My Baby Daddy” was the jam when I was a kid. I guess I was 14 or 15, but that song goes now just as much as it did then. Maybe you had to be there, like with “Ya mama smokes crack rock!” “Mama, please stop, ’cause they pickin’ on me!” Be careful out there, tho — a lot of people think it was JT Money (including my iTunes, for some reason), because of his single “Who Dat.” “My Baby Daddy”‘s music video is super ’90s too.

Here’s the answer song from Anquette:

I always liked answer or sequel songs. “No Scrubs” vs “No Pigeons,” or how Beanie Sigel’s “In The Club” came out of Jay-Z’s “Do It Again.”

Copy’s “Light’s Out,” featuring Catalyst, has one of my favorite aspects of rap music: when the beat drops out at the end and the rapper just keeps going. Copywrite is nice — “if it ain’t MHz or Weathermen it’s a piece of shit!” — but Catalyst getting those extra few seconds is spectacular. I know it’s calculated or whatever, but it feels like just unbridled creativity spilling out. It makes the raps better, even if they’re just aight, and I’ll never stop loving it. I react to it like I reacted to Canibus kicking 100 bars in a row.

Johnson & Jonson (bka Blu & Mainframe)’s “Hold On John” actually has an iller sample than “Getaway Car.” It’s a perfect pairing of sample, tone, and subject matter. It should go without saying, but Joell Ortiz can spit, too.

True story: I had this big plan this year to go full freelance. I’ve been doing freelance since 2003, and it’s mostly been a side gig to a day job, or a way to help pay my student loans. It’s never been enough to live on, and I’m starting to feel like I might have missed that window, thanks to a combination of bad timing, comfort, and… probably pride. Definitely pride.

ComicsAlliance closing caught me by surprise, because it’s one of a couple things I took entirely for granted when drafting this big plan. I sort of assumed that the site, and the money, would be there while I looked for more. I placed a few singular pieces elsewhere around the internet (I placed five pieces at four outlets that were new to me), but nobody’s biting for what I’m best at or a regular gig. And now CA is gone, so I don’t even have the homebase I was hoping to hang onto while I tried to branch out.

I’m pretty discouraged. I hadn’t realized quite how much until late last week, long after the praise online had died down and I had a chance to think about it. I utterly hate when plans bend and warp, especially when I felt like I had a chance to hit the mark. On top of that, I apparently alienated a few close friends by writing about comics, the money was never great (it was more than welcome, don’t get me wrong — I’m still very grateful for the chance and the checks), and my difficulty elsewhere has me thinking like… “Is it worth it?”

I dunno. I’m still processing. I think I was too ambitious, maybe, but also too focused, in terms of what I can write about. But I’ve spent enough of my time feeling bad. Now it’s time to do something else.

Once a week, for as long as I can hold out (months, looking at what I’ve got banked and planned), I’m going to post a new piece at I’m thinking of alternating fiction and non-fiction, but don’t hold me to it. The first story’s about Karen. I hope you dig it and come back on Friday for the next one.

Thanks for reading.

The Following‘s first season ended last week. I’ll have a longer post later, I think, but here’s a short review of the last episode:

Open thread. What’re you reading/watching/hearing/enjoying?

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This Week in Panels: Week 189

May 5th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Great week for me. I just became an uncle for the first time, welcoming Jack Walter Jasper into the world. I don’t want to jinx it, but I’m hoping one day his apathy inadvertently causes my death and drives him to be selfless out of guilt. Then I know I’ve succeeded as an uncle.

I’m helped out by Gaijin Dan, Space Jawa and Matlock. The other regular contributors are off starting their own group, ThWiP East.

Here are some panels. One of them includes an amalgam of Dr. Doom, Loki, Ultron and Red Skull. Another shows how silly Batman looks without black eye makeup under his mask.

Age of Ultron #7
Brian Michael Bendis, Brandon Peterson and Carlos Pacheco

Animal Man #20
Jeff Lemire, John Paul Leon and Timothy Green II

Aquaman #19
Geoff Johns and Paul Pelletier

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Guide to the Injustice Roster: DLC Appendix 2

May 4th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

While we’re just about to finally get that Lobo DLC for Injustice: Gods Among Us, Netherrealm Studios just released confirmation that the second character on that list will be none other than Batgirl. Because the game needed more Batman characters. Regardless, this only supports a rumored list of downloadable characters that’s been making the rounds. I’ll continue these updates for each official reveal. Even if the rumored fourth named isn’t even a DC comic character.


Alias: Barbara Gordon, Oracle
First Appearance: Detective Comics #359 (1967)
Powers: Skilled martial artist and acrobat, super intelligent, world’s greatest hacker
Other Media: A lot of Batman cartoons, the 60’s Batman show and also that one movie that killed Alicia Silverstone’s career

The original, original Batgirl was Betty Kane. Back in the early 60’s, writers decided to fight the claim that Batman and Robin were gay by introducing Batwoman and Bat-Girl. Betty and her aunt Kathy had a thing for Batman and Robin, so they started fighting crime for the sake of tapping that Bat-ass. They made a handful of appearances, but faded into obscurity. Betty came back eventually and found a new identity as Flamebird (much like Nightwing, Flamebird is a name of an old Kryptonian superhero). She was recently seen fighting crime along with the current Batwoman, her cousin Kate Kane. The two had a falling out and Flamebird went off to patrol the streets alone. She received a grave injury and was last seen hospitalized.

Barbara Gordon was the adopted daughter of Commissioner Gordon. A librarian during the day, she felt the need to do something to help her father and ultimately do good. Despite Batman trying to shut her down, she refused to give up her persona as Batgirl. She became a huge hit, due to being a more independent female role model and was popular enough to become a major character in the final season of the 60’s Batman show. A season that occurred a year after her debut.

Batgirl mostly teamed up with Robin and Supergirl, having a romantic relationship with the former. In the late-80’s, writer Alan Moore changed the Batgirl game with his Joker-centric story Killing Joke, where the Joker decided to prove a point by screwing up Commissioner Gordon’s life so hard that he’d make him snap. This included Joker shooting Barbara in the stomach, which shattered her spine. He removed Barbara’s clothes and snapped photos in order to torture her father more, though it’s been insisted by the author that Joker didn’t go further with her. The comic ended with a meaningful scene that involved Batman and Joker laughing together as Batman took Joker into custody. Barbara – paralyzed from the gunshot – wasn’t really pleased with that. Guess you just had to be there.

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Tomb Raider: Watch Your Tone

May 3rd, 2013 Posted by david brothers

It took me a few weeks to work my way through Tomb Raider, the Lara Croft reboot written by Rhianna Pratchett and creative directed by Noah Hughes. I liked it quite a bit, and ended the game somewhere around 81% completion. I think it has the best platforming gameplay since Uncharted 2, and the best sense of spectacle since Uncharted 3. The platforming action/adventure genre is one I like more than just about anything else, though I need a final ruling on whether or not the NBA 2k series is a genre unto itself. I never played a lot of Tomb Raider as a kid, though I wore the original PS1 demo out. But you know, Lara Croft is an institution. She’s like The Simpsons or James Bond. Even if you never watched the show or the movies, you know the deal, and probably think of them at least a little fondly.

I was surprised, but pleased, to see that Tomb Raider‘s tone is dark and desperate, with occasional outbursts of violence. Lara’s proficient with her pistol, rifle, shotgun, and bow, and she uses them to kill. I preferred the bow, feeling that it fit more with the survival-oriented story, and used melee attacks for when things got too close and hectic. I liked the bow because it felt more skillful than the guns. You can spray and pray with any of the weapons. You just look and tap R1 and hope for the best. But it’s not that easy with the bow, especially when taking on multiple dudes at once. When you get into a groove, it’s all about timing, position, and clever use of cover. I liked walking that line when I could, though I definitely relented a few times and used the shotgun for close-range combat.

Camilla Luddington’s performance as Lara was pretty good, too. I’m less keen on the turn toward cliché hardness the character takes toward the end of the game, after yet another dude sacrifices his life for her, but she absolutely sold the lost, wet, and cornered take on the character that is the main thrust of the game. She’s quiet when she needs to be, hard when she needs to be, and I like how she evolved over the course of the game in a general sense. She sounds appropriate for the character and story. That sounds more clinical and less enthusiastic than I want it to, but I mean it. She works, and works well. I hope she sticks around.

My only real problem with the game, outside of the unavoidable “Hey! This is a video game!” plot and gameplay elements, is that the death sequences that play when Lara dies in certain situations actually greatly detract from the experience.

The violence when in combat is on par for most games these days. Headshots kill and blood sprays, but you aren’t exactly dismembering or eviscerating people, nine times out of ten. Some of the context-sensitive kills are rough — better to call them executions, honestly — but they’re here and then they’re gone. They’re a blip in your experience, a speed bump on the way to getting Lara to return her bow to her back to signal that you can safely explore again.

The death sequences for Lara, though. Now those stick around. The game dwells on them, and if you die a lot early on — I did! I died often enough to get so good at the game I rarely died at all by the end — then they quickly turn from horrific to tedious. But even horrific feels like too much. Lara doesn’t just die from a bump on the head when she falls in water. She gets bumped, blood floats in the water, and she slumps. She doesn’t get stabbed and die. She gets stabbed and is then lifted into the air on a spear, where she shakes a little. Wolves go for her throat as she struggles, arrows pierce her neck and thigh in quick succession, the screen goes fuzzy and fades as you’re choked to death, and Lara gets a spike through the neck as she fights for her life before dying.

This supercut has a lot of the deaths:

It’s a little misleading in and of itself, because the deaths make sense in context. The game’s not a non-stop slideshow of trauma, so much as a showcase for occasional explosions of trauma when you screw up. I didn’t see most of these, but I did see a few of them a lot of times.

The fatalities are too much for me. They’re not too much because they’re offensive, though I do think they tend to be more gross than dumb. They’re too much because the game already does a great job of positioning Lara as someone who is cornered and almost drowning under the tension. The stealth sections, for example, are legitimately tense, because you have to do them without the creature comforts of a Soliton Radar. It’s just you, your guts, and your quiet prayers that you can make it through quickly enough to not get caught.

The tension is actually somewhat lessened in the combat segments, of all places, but it shines in the scripted platforming sequences. Every instance of Lara running away from explosions, sprinting toward a rapidly-decreasing window of opportunity, or taking a leap of faith across a gorge are fantastic. You have some measure of control in these segments, and I really enjoyed gunning it down hallways or trying to figure out the best way to make a jump while something unlikely was chasing me. While the chase sequences used an implicit, though sometimes absent, time limit to generate tension, the platforming sections generated tension by simply being a do-or-die scenario.

That balance really worked for me, even though I can recognize that the chases tended to be repetitive (Lara escapes a lot of crumbling or exploding structures) and the platforming fundamentally basic. The execution was good enough that simply exploring felt like a worthwhile endeavor. There’s a lot to say for a familiar thing being executed well.

The thing about the fatalities is that they feel like icing on a steak. They feel out of place within the greater context of Tomb Raider, and awkwardly vicious on a smaller level. They go much further than the rest of the game does when it comes to violence, and more than anything else, they feel like a punishment that’s out of proportion to the sin. They don’t add to the Tomb Raider experience for me, either. The tension is already there and properly effective, but the fatalities tip the balance from The Descent toward a cheap direct-to-dvd slasher movie. I’m really interested in seeing how developers portray violence in games, and how that affects the entire experience. Jacking up the tension without going fully exploitative is a tough row to hoe, and Tomb Raider manages to strike a pretty solid balance, but doesn’t quite stick the landing.

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Skits, Stand-Up and Closets

May 1st, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Recently, I finished up taking Improv 401 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Training Center. Before I try it again (I passed, but I need more polish before I can move on), I’m going to switch into Sketch Writing 201. Anyway, during my year-plus of improv study, I’ve met a lot of interesting people. My 401 class was definitely one of the more interesting collections of personalities I’ve crossed swords with. I thought I might as well showcase some of their stuff.

To start off, there’s the ever-so-loveable Jeremy Pinsly, a guy I worked with in both Improv 301 and 401. A man whose optimism is outright contagious, Jeremy currently hosts a biweekly show in New York City called Tuesday Night Comedy at Slightly Oliver. One of these days I swear I will go see it! In the meantime, here’s a snippet of Jeremy’s own stand-up.

Next up is the wonderful Amy Kersten, who writes/produces/stars in a web series called Hot Mess, which is about… actually, the fact that the site is currently under maintenance on the day I link to it is pretty much what the series is about. But really, it’s about humorously disastrous personal stories sent in by viewers being turned into skits. In the meantime, Amy has been releasing an inspired weekly series called Coat Tales. Months back, she worked as a coat-check girl at an unnamed bar. To keep from stabbing herself with rusty scissors, she coped with the job by sneaking off into the closet to film herself trying on various coats while telling stories of the kind of bullshit she’s had to go through. Here’s the latest episode.

Episodes 1 and 2 can be found here and here.

Then there’s the valedictorian of Improv 401, Ted White. When not carrying the rest of our sorry asses, he was hanging out with his own indy improv team Tokyo Boom Boom. And he still does! When not performing shows, they’ve been releasing some skits online, including this new one where Ted promotes a party bus… under unfortunate consequences.

Finally, there’s Greg Stees. I THOUGHT he was my friend, but then he had the audacity to go move to LA. The cad. Anyway, I might as well show off some of his funny (and I say that begrudgingly) material, such as this clip where he appears to be playing me in ten years.

Oh yeah, we also had Kaitlin Monte, a former Miss New York who hosts trivia shows for NBC and spends much of her time and effort promoting anti-bullying, but there’s nothing especially unique or notable about that, now is there?

All good folks, except Greg. Now when NYC does its annual 72-hour non-stop improv marathon in two months, these guys will have to let me crash on their couches. Except Greg.

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