Sunday, October 14, 2018

Venom: Funeral Pyre

Coming as a complete surprise to me, Venom's the talk of the town! After the recent film, which I didn't think was super great, and a few new series Marvel is putting out, one of which put the symbiote back on Brock, people actually know who he is again. Who would've guessed anyone would still care about a giant buff goo-man with sharp fangs and a slobbery tongue? Well, anyone aside from me. I always cared. Even when he was stupid. Especially when he's stupid. Like this.

Comic Review: Venom: Funeral Pyre

Funeral Pyre is yet another of the Venom limited series that took place after Lethal Protector. These were a bit of a mixed bag. Obviously I love Lethal Protector, but you get stuff like The Madness as well, which... you know. Funeral Pyre falls along the latter side of the spectrum, though it still holds a special place in my heart.

We begin on the rough and tumble streets of Oakland, near Venom's current stomping grounds, as a gang called the... Jadoo are terrorizing people for no reason at all. One of their prospective members seems less than thrilled with the situation.

After they go chasing some old guy and his nephew with no aim in sight, the new guy saves the kid and sends him for help. Who else does the kid go to but somebody no one should ever ask for guidance.

Turns out the new member is actually a journalist, investigating old HYDRA labs in California, one of which happens to be the base of Jadoo. Gray, the journalist, decided to join in order to check out the old lab, but now he needs to kill someone to be initiated, or be killed himself. You know, boilerplate gang stuff. Rescuing him is easily within Venom's purview, as long as someone even more unhinged doesn't show up and ruin everything.


So instead of everyone fleeing to their homes and calling their mothers, the Punisher's arrival somehow sparks a gang war. In the first of many distractions, Venom briefly fights the Punisher before he remembers he has shit to do. Back with JADOO, Gray explores the hideout and finds the old lab, still operational after all this time.

No time for that though, because there's a gang war on! Back with Venom, he's had no luck finding Gray, but he does find Punisher, who quickly hits him with a sonic beam and traps him in a jail cell. In the next issue, using a tendril of the symbiote, he breaks free and starts punching Punisher's van.

Gray, however, is having a poor go of it.

Having committed murder, Gray falls into despair. But now Venom's free, and with the skills he garnered as an investigative journalist, I'm sure he'll be right on Gray's trail in no time!

So his strategy is to talk to everyone still alive in town and just ask them who has a birthmark. Or just grab people at random and see if they have a birthmark or not.

Given that this is not the best canvassing method, Venom takes longer than the Punisher to find the Jadoo HQ. The Punisher slaughters his way through, forcing Gray into the HYDRA lab, specifically the testing chamber.

He pops out glowing red and real mad. Last at the finish line, Venom finally arrives at the lab, but not to a warm welcome.

As the final issue begins, Pyre, as he's now referring to himself, zaps Venom and Punisher with microwave blasts, which cook Venom like a frozen mac and cheese. They fight for a bit, with Pyre being a little bit unreasonable assigning blame. I mean, he did join a gang with no plan. It's not Venom's fault he's an idiot. The Punisher tries to nullify Pyre's power with "anti-waves" but it doesn't work.

After Venom pins him down with some equipment from the ceiling, Pyre decides to just burn the whole place down. Long story short, Venom and Punisher escape and Gray, after having committed murder and mutated into a superpowered red guy with 80's hair, probably dies. What's Venom's takeaway from all of this?

I think I'd call it more an endless stream of incompetence from everyone involved, but you do you. What's important is: dozens of people have died and nobody is ever going to be held accountable. And Pyre will never be seen again. Great job, Venom!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Venom (2018)

Venom sure was... a movie.

I'm almost unsure what to say about it. Going in, I was sure it would be the second coming of Catwoman, some weird, zany, tonally dissonant film where I would laugh the whole time. That's only, maybe, half true?

The film starts with Eddie Brock, investigative journalist, who fucks up really bad and gets fired from his job and dumped by his fiancee. There's no Spider-Man involved, which we all saw coming, but what they did doesn't really add up. It sort of skips right to the part where his life is ruined because I guess you need that to be Venom, but it didn't lead anywhere. If his life had been going fine when he found the symbiote it really wouldn't have been much different. The villain, Carlton Drake, gets symbiotes from space. Somewhere. It doesn't matter. Brock gets ahold of one and doesn't so much become Venom as the symbiote, this time just named Venom, uses his body like a puppet.

I don't really get Brock's character. Through the whole film he doesn't have any agency, he's either being taken somewhere by the evil guys or being puppeted around by the symbiote. He's more or less a bumbling idiot through the entire film, being dragged this way and that without doing much on his own. There's no character arcs to speak of, except for maybe Venom (the name of the symbiote, I must reiterate, not the character of Brock and the symbiote together) who starts out evil and then at the end of the film... isn't.

That's how a lot of things in this movie go. The symbiote is harmful to wear until it isn't. The villainous symbiote just pops out of nowhere for the fight at the end. Venom wants to fight the evil symbiote at the end, despite never having mentioned it. The evil guy has very nebulous reasons, involving global warming and overpopulation, for everything that he does. Does Eddie ever actually get control of the suit? Is host compatibility important for who can wear a symbiote? How did the symbiotes survive in space? The film just doesn't seem interested in answering these questions.

There was a lot of talk earlier this week about how Tom Hardy said his favorite parts of the movie were cut, and I think it's pretty noticeable when you watch it. The bits that had a rapport between Brock and Venom were enjoyable at times, but there just didn't seem to be enough of them. Would it actually have improved the film? I dunno. Once bonded, Brock just acts like a lunatic, which I'll admit was pretty funny whenever it happened. The thing is, I have no idea if the humor was intentional. Nobody else was laughing when Tom Hardy dumped a bag of frozen tater tots on his face, ate chicken from the garbage, and vomited.

The action scenes were okay most of the time, with the symbiote being used in creative ways that I liked, but the final, like so many other superhero films, seemed to come out of nowhere. You never learn about the relationship between Venom and the other symbiotes, and then they fight. It was really hard to follow, when two very similarly colored piles of goo splat across the screen you can't really get a good grasp of who's doing what.

It's just so difficult to call this a Venom movie when it had very little to do with the classic Marvel character. It had nothing to do with Spider-Man, very little of Brock and the symbiote working towards the same ends, and none of the usual hatred and bile Venom usually comes with. Brock had little to no motivation for anything he did, and neither did the symbiote. Most of the movie was them trying not to be blown up by exploding drones.

It's hard to have a strong opinion of this movie, because there wasn't a lot going on. Tom Hardy as Brock is more funny than anything, which is weird when you consider the character he was supposed to portray. Venom, the symbiote, also voiced by Hardy, is evil, but then he's not, and the changes don't have any drive behind them. Venom and Brock never really agree on anything, there's no point where they both work together or become one character, like comics Venom. Things are one way until they aren't anymore. Did they just cut a lot from the middle which would have added these things? I'm not usually a guy who roots for longer movies, but a 190 minute runtime might have been better for this.

I'm not certain this will get a sequel, what with Sony being very tetchy on sequels if the film doesn't do super well, but I can't help but think a sequel could be better. You have all the groundwork laid for the symbiotes so they could actually work on the relationship between Venom and Eddie. Of course, it's been said the plans are for a Symbiote Movie Universe, in which case, please no.

Soooo... was it bad? I dunno. If anything it was just stupid. Things were brought up and dropped without mention, it seemed like nothing happened even though certainly something must have. It wasn't necessarily a mess, but it never came together. I either expected more, or a whole lot less.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Concept Corner: The Near Future

We all like to have control of our projects. Being told what to do by someone with authority over you can be restrictive and interfere with your vision. Aptly, a lot of creatives either reach the point where they become the authority, or try to break out and find their own means. Such an ideal works perfectly for Kickstarter, that crowdfunding site whose projects are now mostly playing cards and wallets. Or pens. Apart from those, musicians have funded albums using the site, and I actually got one!

Concept Corner: I Fight Dragons - The Near Future

I Fight Dragons, a pop-rock/chiptune band from Chicago, funded their album, initially called Project Atma before being released as The Near Future in 2014. As I was a fan of I Fight Dragons beforehand, I pledged to the Kickstarter, though I will forever regret not having the $500 necessary to get my own theme song. (THAT'S ALL I'VE EVER WANTED) Anyway, it was pretty fascinating to see an album from the planning stages all the way to a full release. They released demos, showed concepts for the album cover, and we figured out pressing vinyl can be tricky sometimes. Oh, did I mention it was a concept album? Well, more like half a concept album.

The Near Future is a rock opera that comprises ten out of the fifteen songs on the album. Though that looks like two thirds, in terms of runtime it's a little more than half. I'll only be covering the section of the album that's actually concept, since that's what this is for. On to it:

The Story

There is Boy. [2. Eighteen] Boy meets Girl. [3. Battle] Girl is gone. Boy looks. [4. Another Week] Boy finds Girl. [5. Meeting] Boy and Girl go to secret government facility to save Grandpa. [6. Rescue] Boy and Girl fight people. [7. Time to Fly] Girl hurt. [8. Requiem] Girl okay! [9. Return] Boy and Girl leave. [10. Fighting On]

Did that seem sparse? Light on detail? Oversimplified? Well the album ain't got much more for you. The main character, Boy, doesn't have a name. Neither does the... uh, love interest? Nothing has a name! Girl and Grandpa come from some far-off world or another dimension that is never explained, named, or expounded upon in any way. What's Boy like? He, er, he wants more out of life. He likes Girl, I guess. Why? Because she gave him glowy hands to fight the bad men. Why do the bad men have Grandpa? I dunno. Why do they have glowy hands? Beats me! Somehow the plot is both overwritten and devoid of details at the same time.

As his adrenaline recedes, he
suddenly realizes that even
though she is battered and
bruised, she is the single
most beautiful girl he
has ever seen.

Just as they are about to reach the exit, four more
dark-suited men and one gigantic man in a white
suit step in and bar their path. If they’re going to
escape, they’ll need to get past these five. After
a tense moment, the suited men charge and the
true battle begins.

Half of the ten concept songs are instrumentals. I don't have anything against instrumentals, they're often necessary for a good concept album once in a while. But fifty percent? A couple I really enjoy, namely "Battle" and "Rescue." The rest seem to be there to add more liner notes to what never amounts to a well fleshed-out story. Maybe if Girl had a part in some songs, or if we find out anything about anybody. Names! Reasons! Give me something more than some trite anime-lite story that props up cardboard cutouts and calls them characters. The song "Jimmy and Sally" from the non-concept portion of the album has a better story, because not only does it name the characters, it describes their personalities! I know what Jimmy and Sally are like! Boy and Girl? Nothing.

Are there recurring themes? Sure, if you can call them that. "Eighteen" is a pretty good introduction song, Boy is your everyman teenager, which isn't a bad place to start. He's poised at the start of his adult life with no real idea of what to do and set upon by other peoples' ideas of how he should be.

Everybody does just what they’re told
Everybody buys just what they’re sold
How do I escape what I can’t see?
How do I replace the broken parts of me?

That's a nice jumping-off point, sort of like Nikki from Operation: mindcrime. Problem is, you have to develop from there somehow. The only real change he makes is that he can give himself glowy hands and fight at the end. And he falls in love with a girl whose name he doesn't even know. It seems they didn't try very hard on the story, like being a concept album was the novelty they wanted, but the story itself was an afterthought. At least the music was good.

The Music

If anything else, The Near Future is good as a regular album. I Fight Dragons' big hook is the addition of chiptunes (i.e. 8-bit soundchip music) to a standard pop-rock ensemble. "Battle," one of the instrumentals, is the best example of this mixture on the album. It's used more like a synthesizer on an 80's song than the main event, which works well. You'll get a little bit here and there, though there is one song done entirely in chiptune, "Rescue." It's not exactly Animaniguchi, but it's a fast, boppy track. The video game noises they put in there are a little distracting, but make it sound like an authentic NES background song. The chiptunes are arranged by Brian Mazzaferri, who triples as lead vocals and rhythm guitar.

"Another Day" is one of my favorite tracks on the album, with the blusey guitar riffs, played by Packy Lundholm, and lyrics that probably work better if not part of the concept album. "Battle" has another one of my favorite parts, a fast, heavy bass solo, played by Hari Rad.

There's a leitmotif that runs throughout "Battle," "Rescue," and "Time to Fly," a bombastic little chiptune riff that adds a little cohesiveness the story itself was lacking. In fact, I enjoy the album more when I ignore the official story altogether. It works pretty well in that way, if you skip a couple of the instrumentals.

The lyrics themselves work well on their own, since most of the heavy lifting in service of the story is done by text-only liner notes. They're pretty broad as far as themes go, "Eighteen" about starting life with no direction, but that can be a little freeing sometimes; "Time to Fly" is about unleashing your full potential, finding a reason to prevail in a desperate situation. "Another Day," one of my personal favorites, is as simple as romantic regret, losing your chance at something more and having no idea if you'll have another opportunity. You just want to get over it, but you can't.

Another week goes by
The summer drags on
Turns out the time won't fly
When you're trying to move on
And in the blink of an eye you see her face
Then she's gone and run away
Why can't you find her?
Another day
Another reminder of your place

So, is The Near Future a bad album? I wouldn't say so. I give it a listen now and again, and though there are a couple mandatory skips, the whole story half is pretty enjoyable to listen to. The issue is when you try to get more out of it than just what the music itself provides. Lines don't really take on more meaning when you read the story, the extra details aren't substantial enough to draw you any further in. It's a little sad, really. If they had just gone whole-hog on making a concept album, I think they could've made something really good. Hedging your bets on a project like this doesn't really work. It's hard to get anyone on your side if you don't seem fully committed. If they don't really believe in it, how can I? On first glance, it looks like they've made half a concept album, but on further examination it turns out to be less than that. They put in half the effort, as far as story is concerned, they gave it half the runtime, and it's only half as enjoyable. That doesn't mean it's bad, it's just a fraction of what it could have been.

P.S. I Fight Dragons is currently funding another album on Patreon, in a sort of faux-Kickstarter way. Here's hoping I like it a little more than this one.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Broly: A Life Unlived

We take it as fact that the villains of Dragon Ball Z are not complicated people. They usually have a simple goal in mind, one instantly recognizable as evil. Our characters come up against them, halt their plans, they engage in combat, and the good characters inevitably prevail. Sometimes their defeat eventually turns the villains to the side of good, which allows them more space to develop as characters, such as Piccolo or Vegeta, but otherwise they just die, without much more to define them. When speaking of one-dimensional villains from the Dragon Ball series, there's one name that seems to rise above the rest: Broly.

Out of the shallow villains from DBZ, Broly seems the most so. While Cell was programmed to kill Goku and took joy in facing a strong opponent, or Frieza reveled in conquest and victory, Broly lacked even that much complexity. Broly wanted to kill Goku. Unlike the Androids, he was not programmed to do so by someone with a grudge, unlike Vegeta, it wasn't out of some drive to be stronger. We are meant to believe that as a young child, Broly heard Goku's cries, which etched so deeply in his psyche a hatred for him, that even as an adult, the hatred has only gotten more virulent.

At a cursory glance, this seems one of the weakest reasons for a villain to try and kill Goku. Broly has no other plans, no ambitions. Does he just enjoy destruction for its own sake? However, unlike most of the antagonists Dragon Ball holds, we see Broly's past. We see his family, his origin, and looking deeply, we see something far more tragic than at first glance.