Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lovecraft Country

As you might know, I'm a pretty big fan of H.P. Lovecraft, and that Cthulhu Mythos brand of supernatural horror in general. But if I ever bring Lovecraft up in a conversation, there's usually two things people know about him. One of them being, of course, a cursory knowledge of Cthulhu, and the other being his overt racism.

There's really no way around it, even if one can enjoy his writing style or ideas of horror, a lot of his stories have racist undertones, and he even wrote a poem called On the Creation of Niggers. All in all it's pretty damning for his character, so most of the time you need to specify that though you may be a fan of Lovecraft's ideas, you're not so much for the man. In short, it's difficult. And if it's difficult for me, and I'm a bland white guy, how hard must it be for someone that likes supernatural fiction who's black? This is the starting point of Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

Lovecraft Country is essentially a Lovecraft-era weird tale starring the very people H.P. Lovecraft would analogize as scary fish monsters, i.e. black people. Set during the heyday of Jim Crow, our protagonists have to face not only the obscure and arcane realm of semi-scientific magical monsters, but the much more mundane but just as terrifying world of everyday racism. One where a cop could pull you over and you could only count on luck to get by without a mishap. One where, pulling into a restaurant, there was a fair chance you wouldn't even be welcomed in. Hell, at least the nameless terrors don't distinguish by skin color.

So it's here we meet our cast of characters, including, but not limited to: Atticus Turner, recently released from the Army, an avid fan of science fiction books and possessor of a dark destiny; George Berry, Atticus' uncle and publisher of the Safe Negro Travel Guide; Letitia Dandridge, daughter of a shoddy psychic and Atticus' old friend; and so on. Each chapter is told with a different character's perspective, and Ruff has forgone typical chapter numberings in lieu of chapter titles like: Abdullah's Book, The Narrow House, and The Mark of Cain. This serves to give the book a feeling of a short story collection, the way you'd read most Ray Bradbury or Lovecraft stories. The twist is though each of these chapters works as a self-contained story, they all build to the final chapter, which wraps the whole thing up.

The plots contain a nice mix of supernatural horror elements, from science-fiction oriented like a dimensional gate, to more gothic horror, like a familial curse. They all meld pretty well, most of it explained by some magic-but-not-quite system that they introduce. It eschews the usual Lovecraft formula by featuring a regular villain, who, as it turns out, is just a dude. He's a little supernaturally oriented, but he's no cosmic horror from beyond our comprehension. It works better for the setting, since mind-shattering alien beings aren't so much the problem here as the small-mindedness of men.

Lovecraft Country is a great read, with much of the same threats written of by Lovecraft and company, but with very different sensibilities. It's much more human-oriented than the supernatural horror genre usually tends towards. Humanity is the focus, and humans, in the end, are the threat. It does what books of this type seldom do, which is provide a new perspective into someone else's experiences, which remains tangible despite the fantastical elements. If you're a fan of cosmic or supernatural horror, or if you're looking to get into those genres, Lovecraft Country is an excellent addition to your library, and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Let's Watch Barbie Video Game Hero

We all carry with us the weight of our sins. Each of us has the secret knowledge of our regrets and misdeeds, and we all have different ways of serving penance for our mistakes. Some people deny themselves the comforts of life, like the simple extravagances we take for granted. Others subdue their needs in service of a greater cause.

I watch Barbie movies.

It was a cold, dark day when I saw it. Coat slick with freezing rain, hair matted to my forehead, I stumbled unknowingly into my bleak, impassive destiny. From the corner of my eye, burning like the ruins of Gomorrah, lay a neon pink display, housing what I wish I had never seen.

Barbie, Video Game Hero.

Get ready to power up! When Barbie™ magically gets pulled into her favorite video game, she is excited to see she's transformed into a fun roller-skating character. In the game, she meets Cutie, the lovable cloud-shaped friend, and Bella, the roller-skating princess. Together, they soon discover a mischievous emoji is trying to take control of the game. As they travel from level to level, Barbie™ must rely on her amazing gaming skills and out-of-the-box thinking to save her team and beat the game!

My hands, operating beyond my control, brought the DVD case to the counter. Face rigid with shame, I noted the cashier's befuddlement wordlessly. Driving home I felt the film's presence, like a baleful revenant, sitting beside me. Carrying it inside, the case seemed to grow heavier with each step, but I found myself unable to lessen my hold on it. I placed it on my desk, a watchful eye that refused to break its gaze. Now, the time has come, and I can avert my fate no longer. May God help us all.

Let's Watch: Barbie Video Game Hero

Monday, February 20, 2017

Spider-Man Reign

Spider-Man: Reign is one of those things I always thought I wanted to read. The idea of a hero who had given up finding new resolve and purpose appealed to me. That was the Dark Knight Returns' entire conceit, and it revitalized Batman in the public eye. The other factor that reeled me in was seeing an ultimately good character pushed to their limits, suffering such trauma that their ideals were tested and sometimes broken. Again, Dark Knight Returns featured that in spades, but my interest was solidified with Spider-Man: Back in Black, where he hunts down the gunman who shot Aunt May.

What I mean to say is, Spider-Man: Reign looked like it had all the right pieces in place to be a classic story you could point to whenever someone commented that Spider-Man was too childish. Unfortunately, in their zeal to create an "adult" Spider-Man story, their result was childishly grim, somber for the sake of it, and seemingly written by someone who had no idea what Spider-Man was about.

Comic Review: Spider-Man Reign

The basic story is that it's the far future, New York is ruled by some techno-facist regime, called, unironically, the Reign. Peter Parker is an old widower who works at flower shop, for some reason. One day J. Jonah Jameson, now the oldest man in the world, comes back to find Peter and convinces him to be Spider-Man again, while the Mayor of New York sets in motion a protective barrier around the city, called The Web. It all ends up with a bunch of old supervillains fighting Spider-Man again, the corpse of Doc Ock digs up the corpse of Mary Jane, and it was all a plan for Venom to eat everyone in the city.

So it's virtually a play-by-play ripoff of the Dark Knight Returns, but with none of the substance. It's easy to say that DKR was needlessly grim, or had stereotypes of the antagonists, but at least it had a point. One of those points, admittedly, was that liberals are bad. Granted! But the big theme that story centered around was that people don't change. Bruce Wayne could never escape being Batman, The Joker would always be a psychopath, Two-Face would forever feel his scars, and Jim Gordon would always be a good man. Despite what those GODDAMN PINKO COMMIES believe, there's something at the core of someone that doesn't go away. Neither time, nor therapy, nor healing can get rid of it.

Spider-Man Reign, however, does not have this kind of theming. Peter Parker isn't just old, he's crazy. He hallucinates the whole time and when he puts on the Spider-Man suit he acts like a man possessed. Is he at any point lucid during the entire story? There's no character development with him, it just reveals that Mary Jane actually died from cancer from Peter's radioactive "body fluids." It wouldn't have been difficult to cobble together something about "Responsibility" or "Power." Instead this was just empty.

In DKR, you had a lot of characters return to show how the progress of time had affected them. Harvey Dent was crazier than ever, Green Arrow became an underground dissident missing an arm, and Superman was a government crony. You could see the steps between the present day and these versions of the characters. Events in the past still affected them greatly, with the superhero ban causing Bruce Wayne to retire and Superman to end up an employee of Ronald Reagan. There was more under the surface of that book, where events you weren't around to witness had altered these people, all you could see was the echo of things that took place.

In Reign, there's none of that. Why are there no other superheros in New York? Why did a fascist regime take hold? Is it just New York? None of these questions are answered, or even really alluded to. Hell, this regime hardly affects Peter Parker at all, the only reason he had to retire was Mary Jane's death, from his... "love"

Nobody else from modern Marvel is around. No Iron Man, no Fantastic 4, and there's not even an excuse to explain their absence. They just stopped existing. Jameson returns, but instead of the brash newspaperman he used to be, he's a raving crackpot who brings kids to an old church and yells at them. Why did he go crazy? I dunno. The Sinister Six returns, only now they're the Sinner Six, and they aren't different at all. They don't even look like they've aged. Why put a story in the future if you're going to ignore the passage of time?!

No bland facsimile for DKR would be complete without the young girl viewpoint character. Dark Knight had Carrie Kelly, who became Robin, that... spunky chick? To be honest, she didn't really have that much agency, she just seemed to be there to show how STUPID her LIBTARD PARENTS are, and provide some hero worship for Batman. I'll give Reign some points here, because the female protagonist here, who's name is... Wait, what's her name?

Okay, so she's never given a name. She's mostly a viewpoint character so you can see what Jameson's doing, but near the end she leads resistence against the symbiotes. Then it's revealed she's Sandman's daughter, and then she's shot and dies. Okay, maybe I'm just cutting her some slack because she's not ruining an old character, they just made a new one that's mediocre.

So yeah, it's derivative of Dark Knight Returns, we all know that, they even marketed it as such. But how does it compare to a similar Spider-Man story, Back In Black?

Back in Black takes place after the first Marvel Civil War, when Spider-Man revealed his identity, but betrayed Iron Man once he found out Tony became a monster. Peter, now a criminal for breaking the Superhero Registration Act, is targeted by a hitman, who ends up missing Peter and shooting Aunt May instead. Spider-Man goes on a rampage, finding out who's responsible while trying to save May's life despite being a wanted man. I love it.

Back In Black is an example of a Spider-Man story that trends towards a darker tone, but doesn't feel childish or stupid. Reign ain't that. In BIB, Peter doesn't joke at anyone. He's pushed to his emotional limit and is willing to do things he's never done before to get revenge. In Reign, he jokes, but not what you're thinking. It's as if Kaare Andrews heard that Spider-Man tells jokes while he's fighting villains, but didn't quite understand what that meant. We all know Spider-Man does little quips and makes fun of his villains, but in Reign he just... tells jokes.

The big difference is, BIB Peter still feels like Peter Parker, in Reign we not only missed the character development in the past, we don't get any during the book itself. It's as if they tried to make it cosmetically similar to Spider-Man, without the heart. At one point, he quotes the old Spider-Man cartoon theme.

It mixes things like a graffiti artist being beaten half to death with somebody quoting the Beverly Hillbillies theme. It's not making some kind of statement about finding light in times of darkness, it's just slapdash writing. It doesn't quite reach the level of puerile cynicism as Millar's stuff, like Kick-Ass, but it's certainly close. There's no subtlety about the drama, it more or less just runs down the laundry list of Peter's dead loved ones, multiple times. They literally shove a dead Mary Jane in your face.

Back in Black took itself very seriously, presenting the things Spider-Man did as skirting the line of morality and absolutely crossing that line legally. Reign doesn't know if it wants to play it seriously or not, trying to show serious drama but breaking the tone a scene later. At least if it were more campy, like the 90's clone stuff, it could be enjoyable in some way.

That's really the sum of it, Spider-Man Reign was never sure about what it wanted to be. It didn't harken back to the old days of Spider-Man, nor did it try to develop the character in a different direction. It's a shame, really. I'm sure they could've done something with this story, instead of this paint-by-numbers ripoff. Was there a vision for this? Did anybody in the process for creating this have an actual inspired moment? Creating a Dark Knight Returns for Spider-Man could be a cool jumping-off point, but you have to do something different! Give it a core of optimism, make the characters seem like real people! As it is, this comic is just aimless, and it seems to me, a huge waste of potential.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Let's Watch Barbie in Princess Power

Have you ever looked out, over the horizon on a clear night and wondered, "What's out there?" Have you ever felt the fringes of something monumental happening just beyond the limits of your perception? Have you ever thought maybe, just maybe, you could attain greatness?

I was visited by these emotions one day, one dramatic day, as I passed a DVD rack in a grocery store. One of the cases caught my eye, on a seemingly inauspicious pink glittery cover. I flipped it over, greeted with the best blurb I shall ever read.

Barbie stars as Kara, a modern-day princess with an everyday life. One day, after being kissed by a magical butterfly, Kara soon discovers she has amazing super powers allowing her to transform into Super Sparkle, her secret, crime-fighting alter ego who flies around the kingdom ready to save the day! But it's not long before her jealous cousin catches the butterfly and also transforms - this time into Dark Sparkle, her nemesis. Their rivalry takes to the skies, but when they discover the kingdom's true enemy, can they put aside their differences to form one super team? Soar to new heights and discover that there's no greater power than the power of friendship!

And I uttered the words that would alter my destiny.

Holy fuck I have got to watch this goddamn movie.

Yes, it’s time for Let’s Question The Author’s Sexuality. Or as I like to call it:

Let's Watch: Barbie In Princess Power