What Is Really Challenging: Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi

The Rise Of Skywalker, supposedly the last of the mainline Star Wars saga is coming soon. And even so, people are still talking about Rian Johnson, and The Last Jedi. Even me. There is something about the eighth Star Wars film, and Rian Johnson’s own responses to fans that I’ve tried to explain, and put into words.

I mean, I even wrote an article for Sequart on The Last Jedi itself, and while it isn’t perfect, I knew the moment I saw it, it was going to become a classic: if only because of how controversial it was, how final it felt, and jarring, and experimental in some ways, while being conventional in others.

Then, I came across this article from IndieWire. It’s title is practically a thesis statement, and it doesn’t hide what it is: Rian Johnson Says Catering to Fans, Rather Than Challenging Them, Is a ‘Mistake.’ This title, combined with the subheading “I want to be shocked, I want to be surprised, I want to be thrown off-guard,” left me with quite a few strong thoughts on the matter, and I want to attempt to communicate them as clearly, and lucidly — as both a writer with critical background, and as a Star Wars fan myself — as much as possible.

A lot of what I am going to write is something that has already been written, or talked about, before. After reading the article, which derives its points from an interview Johnson made, and then states that some critics apparently believe The Rise of Skywalker is “disrespectful” to Johnson, his work, and the originality of what he was attempting to do, I was reminded of something.

In 2015, I took took classes in Ty Templeton’s Comic Book Bootcamp. And, in those classes, we learned many lessons not just about comics writing, but writing, world-building, and even franchise-making and supporting fandoms around it. It wasn’t completely indepth, but there was something Ty mentioned about “supporting a fan club.” Let me try to explain it as best I can recall.

Everyone likes to feel like they belong somewhere. Everyone, to some extent, also likes to feel smart, and informed, and included. Ty taught us about creating emblems, and certain recurring phrases, and the value of “always bringing a character home” each time for each new story or episode: figuratively, and literally. I don’t think about forty or so years, I need to explain how that concept particularly applies to a franchise like Star Wars. But there is something in particular about this that I want to make clear.

A lot of the time, fans will speculate on a work, or details within it. And, sometimes, they will come up with an idea of where something is going to go … and they will actually be either close to it — or completely right. And especially in this Age of Information, these speculations and their conclusions are more accessible and widespread: along with the means of more rapid and open communication.

There is nothing quite like figuring something out, and realizing that you were right. And, while some fans or audience members might be like Rian Johnson and say something like: “‘oh, okay,’ it might make me smile and make me feel neutral about the thing and I won’t really think about it afterwards, but that’s not really going to satisfy me,” there is another contingent that will feel pleased, and enlightened. They might even feel a sense of belonging to that fan club. Of course, you can take that too far as well into the pedantic and condescending, but I think every story has a common source: especially human stories like mythology. Like Star Wars.

Back in ancient times, if you look at Greece, you have plays being created. And everyone knew about Oedipus Rex, Agamemnon, Lysistrata and the like from oral tales but they still watched the plays. The point I’m trying to make is that even if someone does predict a story, or they want something to happen, you can still give it to them … in the way that you want to give it to them. You focus on the details, on the buildup, the pacing of the narrative, on especially the character development. You don’t do it to give the fans what they want when and how they want it. Likewise, you don’t change the story, or the way something is going to happen just to “subvert expectations.” You do it to make a point, or make an interesting twist: to focus on the story itself.

There are a lot of interesting elements in The Last Jedi that I appreciate, such as Johnson’s critique of the cycle of violence in Star Wars itself. There is a bit of preaching and condescension, and the mess that is Canto Bight but there is also the meditations on the Force itself, the stop motion illustrating an ecosystem and circle of life and death, some words about self-actualization, and even a metaphysical look on how to break out of the cycle. Then you have the milking creature, and Luke Skywalker not learning anything after the lessons of thirty years ago when dealing with his nephew.

But all the Star Wars films are flawed in some way. I mean, I don’t even have to go into the Prequels now, do I? Or even some of the questionable decisions about clunkily revamping character origins like Ventress’ or Maul’s in The Clone Wars cartoons.

I can see, for instance, that The Last Jedi was meant to be an Empire Strikes Back as Johnson put it in the article. You have a story and even advertising build up to make you think A New Hope was going to lead to the enemy being defeated in the next film, but then you get that bombshell: only Johnson attempted to do this by subverting tropes and themes in a very heavy-handed, but clever manner.

The problem is, to imagine Yoda stating this point as I did in my other article, cleverness does not always for good storytelling make. And sometimes what some might see as challenging, can also be perceived as condescending.

This is especially true when you consider all the build up and hype towards Rey’s origins, Snoke’s and then … nothing. It’s supposed to show that those expectations are irrelevant and it is the current adventure and the concepts of overcoming war and hatred that matter more, as well as friendship and love being ascendant. But they are particularly abstract concepts. So is the cycle between good and evil, of course, but then we have the other issue.

What changed as a result of The Last Jedi?

Did the concept of war get challenged? Did the Light and the Dark Sides of the Force get scrutinized and be seen beyond a simple binary good verses evil dichotomy? Did Rey and Kylo Ren realize they didn’t have to be enemies and go into a Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis Hegelian dialectic: two opposites meeting to make something new, and challenging for the next film. According to the Indiewire article, as I mentioned critics are annoyed that Johnson’s innovations are seemingly being downplayed to “pander” to fan and fandom expectations for Star Wars in The Rise of Skywalker. However, it was Johnson himself who kept Rey and Kylo Ren on different sides. Rey is still on the Light Side. Kylo Ren is still motivated by the Dark Side. Perhaps they are challenged, as fans are supposedly challenged, but in the end their resolve is more or less the same: except for the regret in Kylo, which doesn’t matter as he continues on from that point until, presumably, the next movie by J.J. Abrams.

I could make a compelling case that Johnson uses the aesthetic or the seeming of innovation and subversion, but really just makes opposite, contrary trope choices that ultimately lead right back to the status quo. And this seeming of change or challenge, doesn’t really change anything. And it wouldn’t if it were simply a standalone film with its own story, but the issue is that it is supposed to be part of a nine film saga arc in which seven of those films said something else entirely. It’s jarring. And it does sometimes feel like he is subverting tropes to make it look clever, instead of actually focusing on character development and working with what came before, and making something cohesive after.

It reminds me of those creators that imitated the style and edginess of Frank Miller and Alan Moore’s comics works, but didn’t really look at the content or spirit of them. I’m also reminded of something EA Games apparently did where, apparently, when some fans figured out a major plot point in the Mass Effect series, the creators went out of the way to change it so as not to seem “unoriginal” or to have people guess their story, and not want to play their game. But they forgot the lesson: that the fandom, in solving that puzzle, would only make it more interesting because even they couldn’t realize all of the details, and it’s one thing to know something — like an ancient Greek tragic story — but it is a whole other thing to see it play out, even with that knowledge or good guessing.

I don’t know. Sometimes, I think that Rian Johnson in how he has dealt with the criticism of his work can be as condescending as some of the fans who also have a tremendous sense of self-entitlement.

Either way, it is all right to like The Last Jedi or this Sequel Trilogy. It is also valid to dislike it. But I do think that if it is ridiculous to think one is insulting a fandom over the change in a film in a forty year old franchise, it is just as silly to believe a writer is being slighted when something else is being written in a different tone from his own work: which is what he did to begin with, and even then he ultimately went right back to where it all started despite that finality of a child with a broom sweeping away the past, readying for the next words to be shown on a screen.

It’s Always Halloween At Five Nights At Freddy’s

“And under this carnival disguise the heart of an old youngster who is still waiting to give his all. But how to be recognized under this mask? This is what they call a fine career.”
— Jean Anouilh, The Waltz of the Toreadors

Freddy Fazbear

My first disclaimer, right off the bat, is that I haven’t played any of Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s games. However I have been following them and, specifically, the overall story line.

The reason that the story behind Five Nights intrigues me so much is due to my own particular interests. Some of you who have been following Mythic Bios for a while know that I am absolutely fascinated with a special kind of creepypasta. You know the one: a short story told through different forms of media that become viral memes which proliferate through the Internet and user imaginations in the most strange and disturbingly wonderful ways. At the same time, I am a very nostalgic child of the 1980s and 1990s: especially when it comes to 8-bit and 16-bit video games.

In addition to all of this, for a while now I’ve been following the work of Kris Straub: the creator of Ichor Falls, Broodhollow, and the infamous Candle Cove. And, frankly, if I didn’t know any better I would say that in a lot of ways Scott Cawthon’s Five Nights at Freddy’s feels like stories that Kris Straub would create if he were working in the medium of video games and playing with late twentieth century children’s nostalgia and urban legends eroded by adult decay and a wickedly self-aware sense of humour. At the very least, it taps into a similar place of childhood nightmare fuel from which Straub’s horror work and Christopher Howard Wolf’s (SlimeBeast)’s Abandoned by Disney series also spring.

FNAF Gameplay

As it is, Cawthon takes a multimedia approach to his interactive storytelling. For the most part, each Five Nights game is a point-and-click endoskeleton requiring exacting precision tempered by a slow-burning sense of paranoia and and an ever increasing level of danger: all an attempt to survive long enough before faulty spring-traps snap down in a jump-scare that will leave your peace of mind — in pieces — for at least a night or two.

But then there is the rest of the game’s material — its costume — to consider. There are, after all,  the masks that you’re forced to wear, and those that stare at you right in the face before the long dark.

You have the newspaper clippings on the corners of your office. There are the children’s drawings on the walls of the pizzeria which you have to watch through faulty security cameras. You have an answering machine from your supervisor telling you about the dangers of walking animatronics in the night, and then more ominous references such as “The Bite of ’87.”

Then we get into the second disclaimer of this article: namely spoilers. You play this game from a second-person perspective: working six hours at night a week in a pizzeria to keep an eye on the place, but aside from seeing your character’s name on a pay cheque — should you survive to the end of at least two games — you never see your face. In fact, you don’t see any human faces in any of the three games. The only faces you get to see are those of the animatronics, the walking large, cuddly, worn, and mouldering robotic children’s mascots at night as they try to stuff your sad naked flesh “endoskeleton” into an empty suit full of pistons and wires.

FNAF Gameover

Even your supposed ally, Phone Guy, is just a voice on an answering machine: and the person who is responsible for all of this is a loathsome 8-bit purple sprite.

And here is where I think Cawthon’s genius truly shines. In the second and third games of the series, Cawthon institutes a platform game element. These mini-games are often considered reminiscent of those created for the 8-bit Atari 2600. You would totally think that with their blocky graphics and crude sound effects couldn’t be taken seriously. Of course, even if you somehow disregarded the resurgence and adoption of the 8-bit aesthetic by contemporary independent game designers, you would still be dead wrong.

FNAF Death Mini-Game 2

Between the “Death Mini-Games” of Five Nights 2 and the hidden mini-games akin to easter-eggs in Five Nights 3 — morbidly reminiscent of Warren Robinett’s Adventure and the Pac-Man level 256 perfect score glitch respectively — the mythos of Five Nights becomes more fleshed out.

While the animatronics in the point-and-click parts of the games come from a grim place where neoteny — child-like traits often incorporated into exaggerated cartoons — is combined with the uncanny valley — the notion of discomfort caused by an object that unsuccessfully tries to imitate a living being are terrifying because of how realistic they are made to look, they are creepy in a different way when rendered into pixel form. They are like 8-bit hieroglyphics, allowing you to explore the horror with a detached and almost dream-like manner. There is just something incredibly archetypal and gloomy about the graphics of the games that brings out its dark subject matter: especially when you consider that they are traditionally from a child’s medium of entertainment.

FNAF Death Mini-Game

The Death Mini-Games of Five Nights 2 introduce you to the Purple Man and his role in what might be wrong with the animatronics that are attempting to kill you while, at the same time, giving you a little more background into the development of Freddy’s pizzeria and the animatronic characters therein. And in Five Nights 3, instead of having to die in order to gain random access to mini-games, you can voluntarily search for the other mini-games to perhaps change the fate of certain characters in question.

FNAF Game

I think there are two elements that I truly appreciate from the combination of mini-games, newspaper articles, and answering machine information. First, there is what Cawthon is not telling you. There is what he implies and what he leads you, as the player and viewer, to put together. Cawthon even goes further in the advertisements for his games: implanting secret codes and clues into his messages. He makes you do all the work and all of the speculating: somehow making the dread and horror that much worse.

After all, there is a particularly challenge in another form containing the horror genre: how can you keep building up tension in the story when you reveal what the monsters look like? In addition, you certainly don’t want to reveal everything about the horror in the story or it becomes expository and rote. You have to keep a little bit of mystery in horror so that you always ask yourself why: while a part of you is always at least partially afraid of the possible answers.

These are the kinds of elements that inspire fans: that made this series into something of a viral meme on par with creepypastas. There are fan-made stories, games, animations, art, and trailers based on the archetypes that Cawthon creates. A Five Nights at Freddy’s movie is in the works and there is even speculation that Freddy’s is a real restaurant somewhere: probably based off Chuck E. Cheese’s. Certainly the mascot costumes, pizza, and arcade games taps into a resonance in me as a child of the eighties and nineties: a nostalgic feeling that Cawthon is trying to invoke and distort.

The fact of the matter is that, for the most part, the three Five Nights at Freddy’s that exist right now can stand by themselves. There didn’t need to be another game after these. However, I had my suspicions. Perhaps it was because of the empty product page he kept for some time with the discarded top hat. Maybe it was his silence about whether or not there was going to be another game.

But sure enough, come October 31, the fourth and final Five Nights at Freddy’s will arrive. And if you look at the graphic on Cawthon’s page, it is extremely appropriate if you think about it. I think it actually sums up a lot of the second element that has been on my mind, in some form, when I think about this game.

FNAF 4

I mean, of course it makes sense for the last chapter of a horror survival game to come out on Halloween, but here’s what gets to me. Imagine Freddy’s Pizzeria is like Chuck E. Cheese’s or even Disney World or Land. Certainly, a place for children would celebrate Halloween in some fashion: or at least take advantage of it commercially. Maybe “The Bite of ’87” might not come into it as many fans are speculating, but imagine how freaky it would be to be in a haunted children’s restaurant on Halloween of all days: perhaps even during the day this time around. Perhaps there are actual Nightmare toy versions or animatronics for such a lovely occasion.

But all speculation on my part aside, take this a step further. Remember what I said earlier about faces? How you never see any human faces in any of the Five Nights games? There are always costumes involved. There are always roles to consider. You arguably wear a uniform as a security guard. A murderer might have worn a animatronic suit. In Five Nights 2 you have to hide your face under a Freddy Fazbear Head in order to survive an animatronic intrusion. And children might be hiding — or hidden — in other inside the darnedest places. Even Phone Guy, the former security guard who showed you the ropes of your new job and was your only ally for the most part, tells you that he is curious to see what is inside those animatronic suits.

Freddy Fazbear Mask

The fact is: it’s always Halloween at Freddy’s, and I suspect that it’s always been. No one is as they seem, everyone wears masks, no one rests, and everyone wants to play. Sometimes nostalgia is an illusion of the fabled “good old days” that can, when stripped away, becomes a dark, ravenous thing in the late hours of the night. Sometimes you lose track of time when you so desperately want to keep living, and you don’t always want to see what’s under that costume. After all, some seemingly innocent dreams are, at their core, rotting nightmares.

And just when you think its safe to take that mask off, to forget the night time, to mistake the performer taking off his top hat with a flourish and a bow as the end: the story only continues at an elegant pace … and the suspense will kill you.

Freddy Toreador March

Chasing Amy And Reviewing The Laurel Leaves

I wasn’t originally going to watch this film. In fact, my plan was to avoid it into the unforeseeable future. In the beginning, back in 1997 when Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy was first released, I just wasn’t interested. At the time my interest in comics and superheroes was waning and I was in the phase in my life before I went into any conventions, panels, geek communities, or had any relationships. Later, after I got back into comics and saw them for all the adult potential they could contain, I still didn’t watch this film because I’d heard about the messiness of the relationships between them and, at the time, I didn’t understand and I wasn’t interested in subtexts of other sexualities, geek subcultures, the minutiae of romantic comedy and failed relationships beyond the theoretical, and I felt safer in my own head.

Much later, after opening myself up to more life experiences, the reason I avoided Chasing Amy was out of fear. In retrospect, it was always out of fear. It’s only know that I’ve realized that by avoiding Chasing Amy that I’ve actually been running towards it. And tonight, for the first time, I decided to actively run towards what I can see of its heart.

If you don’t want Spoilers to a 1997 movie, please don’t read any further.

I think there are two reasons I kept away from this film. The first was that I knew how it was going to end. Knowing how a work is going to end before you experience it definitely affects how you might react to it.

And the second reason is that I knew its setting — at a convention amongst comics geeks and creators — would hit close to home. Holden and Banky’s introduction in signing their ridiculous superhero parody comic Bluntman and Chronic (modelled after the in-movie and in-Smith universe Jay and Silent Bob characters), with Holden’s high-brow intelligence and Banky’s sarcastic and hair-trigger irate temper — along with how they dealt with and understood their fandom — already threatened to draw me in. Even Hooper X and his ludicrously over-the-top Black Power White Man hating persona — to the point of claiming Darth Vader to be an icon for Black slavery and repression — got me to smile when I realized it was all a clever subversive act to keep up his image.

Then there is Alyssa Jones. She is the creator of what seems to be an even more subversive take on the Archie comics genre through the creation of Idiosyncratic Routine: a comic with what seems to be lesbian or queer oriented relationships story. I really appreciated some of the subtext here: that throughout the interactions in the beginning of the film towards the end we are seeing the difference between generic superhero comics and the personal stories of which they are capable of telling.

Idiosyncratic Routine

To be honest, I didn’t want to like anyone in this film. To be fair, it would have been worse when I was younger: back when I hated crudity and was taught to think it was wrong. Even now, the fact that all four characters had — at times — had superficial relationships with people. However, I also know there is a difference between casual talk at a bar and a character’s actions: as well as context.

The thing is, I can understand why each character does what they do and Kevin Smith takes pains to show us little details along the way. You can see Banky’s over-insistence that he isn’t gay, his homophobic comments, and his need to carry around an excessive amount of porn magazines as a major source of emotional compensation. He likes, at least his long-time homosocial friendship and creative partnership, with Holden and doesn’t want it disrupted in any way.

You can even understand Holden: at least in the beginning. Imagine being in a small bubble of society and only hearing about other things beyond it through spectacle and fiction. Then imagine you meet someone and you totally hit it off with them, or so you think — even getting invited to event by this person — only for them to begin making out with their partner right in front of you for an extended period of time. When I saw Holden sitting at that bar table with Banky, and watching — or trying not to watch Alyssa and her girlfriend of that time — I could see that for every time he told Banky to shut up, he was really venting his disappointment and discomfort: all the way to the point where he just wanted to straight out leave the bar.

Of course, there is Alyssa herself. As you get to know her, you realize she is a woman of some extremes. Sometimes, she genuinely seems to act like a very perceptive brat: knowing that she’s doing some shit-disturbing but entertaining herself in the process. And I say this with some fondness. She is witty, clever, and awkward in a way in which she can laugh at herself. At the same time, when she gets angry: she gets … angry. I’ll admit, Joey Lauren Adams’ voice has an extremely high-pitch and it can be off-putting: especially when drawing on the self-righteous fury of her character. But often, when she gets angry, it’s because Holden manages to trigger a place of hurt inside of her and she reacts accordingly.

But one thing I like about Alyssa is that even when she is an angry manic pixie girl, she still possesses enough self-consciousness to admit her faults and, honestly, has some painful moments of eloquence.

This is a woman who has spent a good portion of her life discovering who she is: experimenting with what she likes, who she relates to, and going to places that sometimes cause her pain. Unlike Holden and Banky, she’s a lot more aware of who she is and what she wants due to the struggles in getting there.

You have to figure Alyssa has gone through a lot. She experimented with her sexuality when she was younger and less mature. Boys took advantage of her and spread rumours and video tapes depicting her acts with them. By the time where Chasing Amy starts she has already dealt with having to come out of the closet and deal with her sexuality in college, fully identifying herself as a lesbian.

And then she and Holden meet each other.

Alyssa’s sexual orientation is not primarily where the tragedy begins in this dynamic. Imagine coming out of the closet: to yourself, to your family, and friends. You have a group of friends that orient their group and political identity around a particular sexual orientation. Then imagine meeting someone, a person, who challenges all of those preconceived notions. Holden, who seems to be a straight man, can’t begin to understand just what the implications of their attraction actually might mean for her. Alyssa could, and seemingly does, get exiled from her group of lesbian friends. And while I’m sure this doesn’t always happen, this phenomenon is definitely known to occur. In fact, what Alyssa seems to go through, at least in that one brief scene around the table with her friends, is reminiscent of works such as Gaming Pixie’s What’s In A Name? in which some gay-identified people consider bisexuality to be a fake designation: a cover for someone pretending to be gay but who is secretly straight.

It’s tempting to say that just as Banky’s internalized homophobia might be the result of repressed homosexual feelings towards Holden, Alyssa runs — and arguably succumbs — to the danger of dealing with some internalized and externalized biphobia. However, as I said Alyssa has done the work before and gradually accepts Holden as the person that she loves beyond sexual orientation, social structuring and despite — even because — of his messiness as a human being.

Holden, unfortunately, can’t seem to afford her the same courtesy. He has never had to deal with figuring out who he is to this regard. Moreover, he is still hung-up on power dynamics and hierarchy: on needing to feel equal to Alyssa in terms of experience. He ignores the fact that she loves him as an individual and not for the “prestige” of being “the first man” she’s slept with.

Chasing Amy Breakup Scene

One sad element about Holden is that there are points in the film where you can see him beginning to change. You see him calling out Banky on his homophobia and questioning just what kind of creative work and legacy he wants to undertake instead of the shallow superhero story of Bluntman and Chronic.

You see just all the time Holden and Alyssa spend together: even before they know they are developing romantic feelings for one another. Hell, there are points when Alyssa and Banky seem to get along. You’d think that she would get incredibly offended by Banky’s homophobic statements, but the way I see it to her they are a lot like Archie Bunker’s comments and she can at least respect the honesty of them if nothing else.

Alyssa and Banky

Certainly, Banky’s prejudices are a whole lot more open than Holden’s internalized ones: ones that he thinks he can overcome by virtue of being with Alyssa. Also, the characters themselves are crude and open about matters generally: though Holden himself due to his more reserved and conservative nature does this a lot less.

For me, Chasing Amy is less a romantic comedy and more of a tragedy: especially as you get this horrible mounting dread as the film moves towards its end. Holden just can’t shake off the taboos and power-structures in his head in time to save his relationships. In a horrible mangle, he tries to create a threesome between him, Banky, and Alyssa: after vehemently rejecting Alyssa for her sexual past with other men. This is a breakdown of communication and the terminal phase of a relationship gone dysfunctional. From my perspective, Alyssa should have told him about this past but, really, Holden should have been the one to ask her in a direct and respectful manner, outside of a hockey game, and with time put aside. Of course, Holden also should have borne in mind that many of the qualities he admires in Alyssa comes from all the experiences, mistakes, and work that she had undertaken.

Banky could have looked at himself and realized his feelings for Holden: or at least communicated just why Alyssa bothered him so much. I really noticed that the three of them could have easily been friends if nothing else.

Holden, Alyssa, and Banky

And then there is the fascinating element of Alyssa herself. When I was watching this spectacle unravel and she was explaining to Holden just why it wouldn’t work, I realized that Alyssa wasn’t just talking about the threesomes and play that she had done in the past. Even in her lesbian relationships, I strongly suspect she and previous partners attempted polyamory: or at least some kind of non-monogamy. As she states, there are many permutations of how it might not work out, and Alyssa herself saw those earlier relationships as experiments that she went through before finding what and who she wanted.

Alyssa, at least at this point, is monogamous and wants to be so with Holden. But Holden’s arrogance and insecurity poisons and destroys what they had: or could have had. Certainly, Holden’s fever-logic idea of creating a threesome to eliminate insecurities would, by Alyssa’s own words, have only made things worse. Perhaps with time, effort, patience, and actual talking — maybe even experimentation on Holden’s part and Alyssa’s understanding — all of this could have been salvaged. Instead, Holden loses Alyssa and Banky. Due to his own actions, he is essentially left with nothing.

The end of the film reminds me of the ancient Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo. The god Apollo seeks the naiad Daphne and she is not interested in his romantic overtures. He ends up pursuing her: chasing her to the point where she asks her river god father to change her into a tree to escape the god. Daphne became the first laurel tree. Apollo, in his grief, takes on her laurel leaves as his new crown. Laurel leaf crowns were awarded to ancient Greek athletes and victorious Roman warriors: perhaps reminding them of that kernel of defeat and loss at the centre of triumph.

Apollo and Daphne

Silent Bob tells Holden the story about a girl he knew named Amy who, because of her previous experience with multiple men, he couldn’t accept: leaving her and realizing, only too late, that she loved him just for who he was. Hence we have the title of the film: Chasing Amy.

A person is not an ideal even if they can, by their presence and loss, inspire creation. Holden ends up creating a new, personal comic sharing the title of the film. He gives a copy to Alyssa a year after their relationship ended. It is a comic book whose pages are laurel leaves and whose panels are lost moments of time. It is made up of the beauty, maturity, and understanding that he gained after losing the woman he loved by chasing an impossible ideal and, in doing so, chased away the flawed, vulnerable, and ultimately human person that she is.

And Alyssa? She ends up dating women again and doesn’t even acknowledge what Holden was to her newest partner. Even though he still clearly means much to her, he is part of her past now: the same past that she hid from him and so many others in order to psychologically protect herself. I’m even tempted to say, in a very less than qualified way, that she buries down what might have been a delving into bisexuality to embrace the relatively easier notion of homosexuality once more, leaving us with perhaps an example of bisexual self-erasure. Or, again sexuality doesn’t come into it. This was just about people relating to one another: and failing.

I am not in the LGBTQ spectrum and I know this film has been written about many times and probably in better ways, so hopefully you’ll understand when I say that I hope you take everything I’ve written with a grain of salt. After seeing the movie, I kind of wish that we could see another one: not from Holden’s perspective in gaining his laurel leaves, but Alyssa’s, or Amy’s — or even Daphne’s — defiance of that trope.

Chasing Amy Comic Cover

As such I hope it goes without saying that women, obviously, do not exist so that they can “be lost” by men in order to gain them a certain level of maturity and humility. But there is a trope here — a Western and Classic idea in which love is a “forbidden knowledge” that you must fall into, and that only through loss can you begin to understand who you are — and it is tragic in that it exists at all. The truth is, I didn’t want to like Chasing Amy: a personal enlightenment tragedy wearing the layers of romance, comedy, geekdom, comics arts and meta-fiction that it is. And I realize the reason I was so afraid of it was because there were many times in my life that I almost became Holden. Sometimes I’m afraid it still might happen.

Fear of loss is reason is why I didn’t want to get attached to the characters: to become affected by their loss and their pain of loss. But by not becoming attached to something, you attempt to hold off relating to it — and by not relating to it you can let an opportunity pass you by, develop a dysfunctional relationship with it, or let a part of yourself become mangled and ruined before it can grow. And I can’t do that any more.

I’d like to think that, in watching Chasing Amy I took a chance and looked at the forces that shaped it. As I have attempted to do in my own relationships, I accepted the experiences it had — and has with others — and realized that they only made it all the richer for me to learn from and relate to in my own right.

Connecting the Doughnuts: Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking

Even though I’m not a musician, or even a complete music literate (whatever that ultimately means), I had been looking forward to Amanda Palmer’s first book for quite some time. And now that I finally finished reading it a few days ago, I’m now in a place where I can actually say something about it.

Amanda Palmer

It wasn’t easy and, to some extent, it’s still very challenging. The Art of Asking is something like what might happen if you take a blender, to borrow one of Amanda’s creative sayings, put it on a low setting, and introduce autobiographical anecdotes, self-help philosophy, social media excerpts, a few literary quotes, and of course musical lyrics, to the blade and mix. Chronological events are sometimes parallel with each other in the narrative, but these instances are often separated by philosophical musings and personal moments.

Whatever else, The Art of Asking is, it’s definitely not an ordinary book: as if something that’s a fusion of the creative and the personal can ever be ordinary.

I’ll also admit that it took me a while to get into the book, and sometimes I had trouble actually staying inside it. I mean, I knew that — even based on the title — that Amanda’s book would have some significant roots in her TED Talk of the same name, but it is both fascinating and sometimes off-putting to consider that there is a fair amount of her book that you can already find to some extent in her Blog and even in her introduction to Anthony Martignetti’s Lunatic Heroes.

The intertextuality, the way her book relates to the narratives and circumstances behind Anthony’s Lunatic Heroes and Beloved Demons, as well as to Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane really does intrigue me and it puts some elements into perspective. I’d argue that The Art of Asking has details that can give you something of a holistic approach to looking at all four narratives upon risk of falling into the authorial fallacy: of looking at the people behind the works instead of the works themselves on their own merits.

I mean, it’s no secret that Amanda encouraged Anthony to hone and publish his personal stories — many of which he’d already told her before during their time together — and that Neil’s Ocean was the result of a story that he actually wanted to tell her while she was in the middle of her own solitary creative struggles. When you look at how those narratives talk to each other, like the people that made them and talked to each other in turn, The Art of Asking is almost something of a bridge between three different and creative spaces. It is my opinion that they all belong together.

The downside was that sometimes these references felt like filler. I think what really confused me was something that Amanda said which, ironically, I truly appreciated. It was a reference to another part of her creative process. After a fascinating look at different types of creative processes from her perspective, Amanda mentions that to create something is to “connect the dots” between things that you gather or experience. This, for me, pretty much sums up how creativity happens. As a creator, you take things that don’t seem to relate to each on the surface and you find or make connections between these elements. This thought particularly jived with me.

Unfortunately, at least from my perspective as a reader, I couldn’t always see how Amanda connected the dots of her ideas and anecdotes or even her musical lyric interludes within the structure of The Art of Asking itself. Perhaps I just don’t have a good eye for it, or for that matter even a good ear. Maybe, as Amanda herself isn’t generally a book writer — this being her first one — she writes prose much in the way her mind generates rhythm and lyric: through music. This is just a thought that I’m throwing out there myself. However, maybe the narrative is a lot like Amanda herself in that her art and her performance seems to be a 24/7 deal where you cannot particularly separate them: even in another medium.

The Art of Asking, to me, felt like a balancing act: much like the way I reacted to it. The tone of it got to me sometimes. On one hand it sometimes felt like it was rather self-involved, but on the other hand it is to some extent a memoir and of course Amanda would be talking about her experiences and her feelings. At times I felt a self-help vibe from the book and I had a personal reaction to whenever Amanda would talk about giving herself to trust and love as, in my own experience, most people who expose surrendering themselves to absolute abstracts of benevolence, revolution, peace, and love often want something from you and are anything but the ideals that they claim to represent. Something about Koolaid comes to mind.

Then again, these very sentiments on Amanda’s part are tied into some considerably shrewd business and people sense. The Art of Asking specifically outlines how love and trust are relational. What I mean is that by opening yourself up to other people, by interacting with them, by actually relating to them as fellow human beings you create a bond — at least on some level — and they will become more willing to actually help you. Amanda very correctly identifies this precept in why some crowdfunding campaigns excel and why others fail completely.

In asking for help without shame and taking what is offered you without forced expectations or, again, humiliation, you are attempting to embrace a different mindset. I can personally respect and even understand this idea. Amanda even applies it well to just why her former label and the music industry are simply failing to understand their customers: as they only relate to people as customers, artists as commodities, and not as people.

Really, what I learned from this as a potential crowdfunder artist myself, is that I have a long way to go — in building relationships of some kind with my readers, in networking, and in relating to others — before I can even begin to approach the place where others can support me: and where I can provide consistent content for their support. It’s actually very humbling, and sometimes discouraging as I am not a natural extrovert and I don’t have access to the support that I need to get there, or a coherent and stable vision to attract others. Yet.

In this sense, it’s not about connecting the dots per see.  It isn’t even about giving out “the flower,” a metaphor and literal fact from Amanda’s time as a living bride statue in her early busking years that can be accepted or rejected in an attempt at staring someone in the eye and relating to them.

To me, it’s about doughnuts.

In late November 2014, I actually attended the last part of Amanda’s Book Circus Tour in Toronto. As we waited in line outside of Lee’s Palace, a volunteer kept handing out Timbits: small, round, balls of assorted doughnuts. During the event itself Amanda actually read us a part of her book in which apparently David Thoreau, during the time he wrote Walden, accepted free food from his family as help in completing his work. And Eric Alper, Amanda’s guest and interviewer bought us all tons of Timbits to hit home the point that it is okay to “Take the doughnuts.”

The way I ultimately see it, The Art of Asking is a collection of Timbits: a collection of little doughnuts of many kinds. Some might prefer specific flavours of Timbit, or all of them, or none at all. Yet all of them are doughnuts and all of them are offered to the reader.

As for me, I took my favourite doughnuts from Amanda. Some of them were crisp and instrumental. Some were multiple flavours that branched into different places, that reminded me of other things, and gave me insight about my favourite people behind the scenes. I know I ate one or two confections that Amanda had never offered before outside of her book: and the flavours hit me hard and without mercy: that were real. At least one was a moment that touched me to the core.

But all of them, even the ones I don’t always like or require an acquired taste, are in the same box of words: a bread and circuses on paper thanking everyone that it asks.

Interviews and More Writing

I’m still doing my writing, but I just thought I’d go into a little more detail about what I was talking about in my last post.

If you remember I talked about an interview I did for GEEKPR0N. That interview was actually with Larry Wilson: the co-writer and co-producer of Beetlejuice, The Addams Family, and the writer and director of Tales From the Crypt for six seasons. Our interview centred around his current project the web series Cindy: a twenty-first century retelling of Cinderella with elements of Reality TV parody, dark humour, and just plain weirdness.

To be honest, I never dreamed that I would be talking to one of the people integral in creating a large feature of my childhood. I first got to know Beetlejuice through the cartoons and it goes without saying that while I knew about The Addams Family before the film, I recall spending a recess in the corner of my elementary school reading its novelization. And I’m not even going into the time where I would to sneak up late and watch some Tales From the Crypt on Fox.

And I will tell you right now that if I had the money and even basic screenwriting experience, I would definitely take up Larry’s script consultation reward. I honestly hope that if I can’t, someone else does.

I’ve also written a little something for Clive Barker. Yes: that’s right. You read that correctly. Basically he has put a challenge out there to write a story for an image he painted and posted on Deviantart. I will link to the image and I’ll post what I wrote here: because one requirement was placing the narrative in the Comments section.

ON WHOSE DREAMS

They built cities to keep them out.

People will tell you all manner of more pragmatic reasons for the creation of cities. They will mention the intersection of culture and trade, of the need for propaganda art to cow enemies and citizens alike, of a place to better house the billions of human beings being born every day.

But some will tell you something else. They’ll inform you, secretly where they think no one else can hear, that all of that art and architecture, the arrangement of the paths, streets, and buildings, and even the placement of certain homes and peoples were arranged as a pattern: to ward them off.

Yet ultimately it is the enclosures that are the thing.

They are no new innovation. It’s well known that ancient humans and their predecessors would hide in their caves during the night after saying farewell to their loved ones, their friends, and their enemies. And even now they would like to forget the howling outside, the scraping against the rock walls and their paintings of animal blood,  the hunger deeper than the tunnels in which they hid and the pleading: to be accepted back among their people.

However, all of them are wrong. They remember it all wrong. Cities weren’t made for the living to hide and hoard their food against the seasons and the predators. The lost weren’t put outside to roam around for eternity. No. The tribes often placed their lost in their homes: sealing them up and painstakingly maintaining them. They would bring them food, tools, and the results of trade. Over time they bargained with them, prayed to them … worshipped their memory and what yet remained.

Caves like wombs became camps. Camps became villages. Villages towns and towns cities. The monuments grew higher each day: growing from the foundation of countless generations and those that tended their ground: which they still do to this very day.

So now do you understand? Do you know why sometimes you feel so tired: so drained? Even as the symbols lengthen like shadows into the sky and expand across the land, nothing truly changes. It is amazing how, simultaneously, you are cramped and alone: like you are the one living in the coffin. You are the one that’s trapped here.

No. Cities were not built to keep them out, but to keep them in.

For cities are not built for the living, but for the dead: in which everything within truly belongs.

So to say I’ve been busy would be something of an understatement. I’ve already told you about the fact that I’m going to be covering the Toronto After Dark. I actually tried to do this last year with Mythic Bios and for my efforts I got an invitation to view and write a review of their opening night. This time, however, I’m attending on behalf of GEEKPR0N. Expect to see me there for the Sunday and Thursday showings.

And I am going to be interviewing someone else. Again, I’m not going to go into any details as of yet but I will say that it will be my first in-person interview ever and I’m both cautious and excited over that prospect.

I remember once being the person that never even dreamed of having these opportunities or being this person as immersed in geek culture as I am now: even when people encouraged me to do so. And well … here we are.

Don’t worry. I will take time to peer in here and update all of you. I just thought you’d like to know about this. And please, read my articles and tell me what you think. It means a lot to me. Yet again, take care everyone. 🙂

Star Wars: Preludes and Interludes Of A Space Opera

I think that if I were a Time Lord, I’d be a unique one that specializes in travelling to alternate timelines: not because I originally intended to, but due to the fact that these are places to which my senses are attuned.

Lately, not to mix metaphors, I’ve been thinking about Star Wars. I mean, when aren’t I? But bear with me. Imagine, in that period between 1980 and 1983, when The Empire Strikes Back made people truly want to know what happened next, George Lucas came up with a plan: a long-term plan.

We already know and suspect that by Return of The Jedi, Lucas was planning on heavily merchandising the hell out of his universe. Some people even think the addition of Ewoks in the last film was an attempt to particularly appeal to children and their love for toys. Even after the sixth film, we had cartoons like Ewoks and Droids.

But what if it didn’t stop there? What if aside from the made-to-TV Ewoks films George Lucas had wanted even more merchandising. At the time, LucasFilm was in the process of developing its special effects technology that would be utilized not just by itself, but by other companies and film productions as well. Even so, by the time of the cartoons it had only been a few years since Return of The Jedi and people — particularly children — were still fresh off of a galaxy far, far away and wanted more. More than that, and I can speak for myself here, fans had questions: about the Jedi, about the Republic before the Empire, and the Clone Wars themselves.

Many of these questions had been answered with the new CGI Clone Wars cartoons and the Prequel films — albeit with some gaps even now — but there was a gap of at least, what, seventeen years or so, between the films: where many of us waited after the re-release of the Old Trilogy to find our answers and immerse ourselves into new Star Wars.

Yet what if during that time, we had something else to tide us over during near two decades of waiting?

Indulge me and imagine this. After the last film and the initial cartoons, LucasFilm decides to release oncoming series that takes place during The Clone Wars. Perhaps Lucas calls them, collectively, Interludes. During this time, we get to essentially see the Republic and the Separatist Crisis, and the Jedi Knights. We get to see a young Obi-Wan and Anakin actually growing together but, more importantly, we get to see something else as well.

Jedi Team

We are witness to other characters — other Jedi and galactic denizens — and we get to watch them grow. We are introduced to the clone troopers early and see them as individuals: while always wondering why they look so like and unlike stormtroopers. And there are hints of Anakin’s back story and how he met Padme. At this stage, perhaps a few seasons or an interrelated series of cartoons (perhaps aided in the 90s by one young Genndy Tartakovsky) and live-action programs: space opera serials not unlike the material from which their structure was derived. Can you imagine that? Coming home from school to watch your Star Wars show?

And yes, the intervening years between the early 1980s and the late 90s might not have much in the way of advanced graphics or special effects by our contemporary standards but imaginary worlds have been built on much less and with more attention to detail. I mean, look at some anime from that period, or even the Old Trilogy and how immersive it was for looking all run-down, and world-weary and real: letting our minds fill in the rest. I could have seen LucasFilm making a lot of money during this time. I mean, think of an Interlude series of Star Wars: Clone Commandos playing alongside G.I. Joe. Don’t tell me that wouldn’t be bad-ass.

Clone troopers

So during this whole time, you have all these background characters getting built up, living, and dying. You get immersed in their lives. Shaak-Ti, Aayla Secura, Kit Fisto, Plo Koon and the other Jedi have many adventures and you get attached to them. You see the Jedi Initiates as children and you want to be a Jedi: relating more to you directly as a child than even Luke does in the movies. Hell, you might even want to be Clone Troopers, have their special armour and play Clones Verses Droids along with Rebels Verses Imperials in the playground.

Of course, there would be comics and books as per usual. And then periods where there are no cartoons or shows. It makes the audience wait with anticipation. You build on the culture that you have already cultivated and created. The important thing is that you leave the questions. You have Anakin refer to his time on Tatooine and being a slave and you never know everything that happened. He has moments of darkness and you don’t know what caused them. You can tell Palpatine is doing something, but you don’t know where it all began or what even started the Clone Wars at all. Then there are the other questions about what will happen to the Jedi: particularly your favourite Jedi and their friends and comrades in the clones.

1999 comes around. Perhaps there has been some intervening years where the Interludes — The Clone Wars cartoons and live-action serials — have died down. Everyone is waiting. Now take the movies know from our timeline. If you want, imagine that the ideas created by George Lucas were written out by other writers: as he had those in the Original Trilogy. Maybe he even has others giving direction to the actors: those who can relate to them and have them react in believable and human ways. Scene-sequencing is interspersed with equal amounts of dialogue and action. CGI is cut down considerably and used sparingly: with a greater reliance on prop development and real world scenery.

The Phantom Menace reveals Anakin’s origins and just why the Jedi think he is so important. Attack of The Clones, three years later, shows us how The Clone Wars began. And, finally and heartbreakingly, we have Revenge of The Sith: where not only do we see Anakin fall, but all those Jedi characters that survived up until this point are mercilessly cut down by the clone troopers that we have, despite our better judgement as adults and adoration as children, grown to love.

Think of the impact of this alternate timeline. Think of how much we could relate to the death of Aayla Secura if we had seen her in various shows fighting for worlds and having her private moments with Kit Fisto. Think about Plo Koon and his time being a part-time mentor for Ahsoka Tano — perhaps even tutoring her in piloting — only to have his ship blown apart by one of his own clones. And the Younglings, those children you saw becoming Jedi … think about the horror in that.

How would you have viewed even the Prequels that we have now if there was all that build-up to the tragedy — a well-written tragedy — that was their Trilogy and the beginning of The Empire.

So now the Prequels are over. You know what happens. And yet … there are still some mysteries. Some Jedi are still alive or unaccounted for. A Rebellion has yet to form. LucasFilm, and perhaps Lucas Arts as it might still be around this alternate timeline can play with that. The fans are devastated by the impact of the Rebellion and Luke Skywalker is felt even more keenly. You watch the films again to know that the Empire fails.

Perhaps Star Wars cartoons and shows are divided into the Preludes — those dealing with the events before the Empire — and Interludes — those focusing on events during the Empire. Maybe some of these shows happen after the Prequels in real-time and others during the 80s and 90s. This is all you have to go on so far.

But everyone wants to know what happens next. They want to know what Luke and Leia do after the Empire falls. They have only had their appetite whet with the Clone Wars and the origins of the Empire. They want more.

And then, after 2005, ten years later after more shows and merchandising — and perhaps with the aid of Disney’s resources — we have: the Sequel Trilogy. The New Trilogy.

Of course, many people might have their own alternate ideal Star Wars watching timeline. Maybe there were no Clone Wars or Prequels. Perhaps the Sequel Trilogy happened right away. But there is something else to consider and it took me a while to personally understand and accept this.

It was Tony Pacitti in his pop culture memoir My Best Friend is a Wookiee that made me consider it. Perhaps one day, if not right now, there will be a new generation of children born. These children might watch The Phantom Menace and Attack of The Clones. Then they might watch The Clone Wars. Then Revenge of The Sith. Then the Old Trilogy. And the New Trilogy. They will see all the standalone films. And right now, it is all open to them. It isn’t perfect and there are gaps and questions, but they have mysteries to explore and wonder to consume.

It would be like us discovering the magic of Star Wars for the first time and their experiences would be different but similar to our own. They have so much more to see and know. They get to do what we can only dream of doing: living a life of imagination inundated by a variety of Star Wars: decades of Star Wars. And no matter way you look at it, this will be their first step into a much larger world.

What If Comics Had Been a Place Without Codes? Would We Live as Air?

I’ve been having some technical issues these past few days and time hasn’t really been my friend but what I’m going to write here past most reasonable people’s sense of sleep is another down and dirty, and therefore ad hoc, article on comics.  So if anyone out there is an expert or has done their homework, by all means, please correct me if need be.

As some of you already know Sequart created and is now in the process of editing, a Kickstarter called She Makes Comics: a documentary on women in the comics industry and the culture surrounding it. One element in particular that it has focused on is the fact that long ago there were more female readers of comics than they were male. Now, I wrote a short article on what will soon be called GeekPron in which I found some of my own assumptions to the question, well, questioned.

I believed that it was the Comics Code Authority, inspired by the fear of McCarthyism “witch-hunting,” blacklisting, the detrimental testimonials by psychological experts such as Frederic Wertham, and a loss of business that had comics publishers eliminate most of their different genres of comics and focus mainly on watered-down stories about superheroes. All the horror, revenge, gore, westerns, romances, and sexuality all went the way of the dodo at the time because of fear. Anything that challenged the rules of the Comics Code, of authority always being right and just for starters, could not exist in mainstream corporations that published for money.

But the comic book editor Janelle Asselin also mentioned that this female readership of 55% over 45% of male readers changed as the superhero genre became more mainstream. Think about that: the idea that after a time the superhero not only reduced a female readership, but also eliminated or greatly marginalized a whole body of stories and genres that made the medium different. I realize now, looking back on what I wrote earlier, that these two statements are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

I mean, if you are afraid of losing your business and your liberty in telling stories for which you want a certain pay cheque and livelihood then eliminating anything that could be construed as an overt challenge to your culture’s status quo or even subversive to it, it unfortunately makes a horrible kind of sense.

The godfather of manga Tezuka Osamu once said that “Now we are living in the age of comics as air.” And while he was most likely referring to the influence of manga in Japan as becoming more widespread, its connotations can be applied to the comics medium in general. According to Paul Gravett, in Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, Tezuka believed that comics without passion or originality can become damaging and even create pollution. It took me a long time to figure out what this meant. When I first encountered the quote and the explanation, I thought that it referred to the potential damage to the morality of the reader but now I realize that the quote can definitely apply to comics as a medium and what occurred during the heyday of the Comics Code Authority.

The age-old notion of the superhero ghetto that we are so used to hearing about with regards to the comics medium: the notion of an immature all-boys club with shallow depictions of sexuality and simplistic violence with no consequences is damaging not only society’s concept of the medium but also that of its readers and future creators.

I’m not, by any means, saying that the comics that existed before the Code and its predecessors were the fonts of enlightenment for gender or, really, humankind. But there was a lot more experimentation before the Code and it just makes you wonder: what would have happened if these vigilantes and superhuman beings in tights had just remained one of many genres and there had been no Code?

I mean, there is always the scenario that Alan Moore presented in Watchmen: that if masked heroes and one a superhero had been in existence then no one would have paid attention to Wertham and the horror comics of Bill Gaines and friends would have dominated the medium from the fifties all the way into the eighties: becoming darker and more grotesque with time while also innovating itself much like our comics have done.

But that is just one creative interpretation. Who knows? Maybe a flat period of unoriginal and recycled stories would have followed regardless. Perhaps female readership demographics would have changed or something else would have challenged the “morals of comics:” for or against the status quo. Or we could have had another Golden Age: where comics became, earlier on, a widely accepted form of beautiful art and every great artist might have tried their hand at one. Maybe comics could have become widely accepted and mainstream coffee table or instructional as manga has in Japanese society to an almost ubiquitous degree. Instructional comics even had their place in North American society and to some extent they still do.

Of course, those latter thoughts are just me playing at utopia and I’ve never been really good at that. Maybe if there had been no Code comics would have, earlier, been just another form that challenged conventional morality much like any work of great art or literature should. Of course, again, this also happened in the Western world through the advent of what we understand as Underground Comix defying the establishment during about the late 60s: about that same time frame that Asselin gave when she talked about the female comics readership majority existed from the 1950s to the 1960s. Or perhaps the comics medium would have burned itself out as a fad and amateurs such as myself would be wondering, even then, what if: what if it had been different.

As for me, if you really want my honest opinion I will say this. I think that if there had been no Comics Code or anything like it children would have still been influenced by Tales from the Crypt, and Archie, and The Lone Ranger, The Green Hornet and all of those others. And some girls and women would have had Wonder Woman and Black Fury. Many things would have continued on, but sometimes I think about that idea of all people–young, old, straight, LGBTQ, male, and female, different ethnicities, different classes–making their own comics and showing them to their friends and the world. They would realize how different they and everyone else are but also how many things they have in common.

And when you wipe away my pseudo-utopia of a whole loss of potential for a readership of intensely intelligent men, women, and sentient beings, when it comes down to it I do like the idea that without the Code and the forces behind its development, the medium of comics would have been considered more than just silly laughter and transparently hidden BDSM parodies. Those things would have been a part of the kaleidoscope. I think that many more people might have seen comics as a medium that tells all kinds of stories: a space inside and outside of us that is pictures and words. I think many more people may have been more accepting that the medium of comics as that place of sheer variety, like film, between both art and literature.

There is another way to look at Tezuka’s quote about “comics as air.” If you take the pollution of censorship and unoriginality away, what you might ideally have is a fluid art-form that anyone can learn and use. And if you consider that we all live in the continuing Age of Information and in societies that utilize wireless Internet and you include webcomics into the medium … perhaps we can all fly where only superheroes used to tread: up, up, out of the ghetto and away.

Miracleman Balloons

2 to 3D Games, Strips and Alternative Comics: A Meditation on Perspective

And now for a bit of armchair medium theorizing: with a control of some sort in my hand.

I ran into something a little while ago now that I found really interesting. When I finally caved into the powers of darkness and bought myself a very discounted copy of La-Mulana, for a rainy day where I really want to be more of a masochist than the workaholic that I usually am these days, I came across something that its company NIGORO actually said with regards to the development of video games.

NIGORO states that it creates its games with one question in mind: “What if games had continued to evolve – but stayed in 2D?”

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/b0/La-Mulana_gameplay.png

This is a really interesting question to me on more than a few levels. I looked at the issue, to some extent, in my old post How to Turn a Medium into a Genre: 8 to 16-Bit Video Games but I never quite heard it phrased this way before because, in the end, NIGORO looks at this change from a different perspective. While my original article briefly looked at and defined a medium as something with direct limitations that, when overcome became a genre, this one thematic question on NIGORO’s part not only made me realize that 2D and 3D games can still be considered different mediums based on what they can or can’t do within their own guidelines, there was also a turning point where the emphasis of video games moved away from two-dimensions into the three-dimensional. And this changed things.

I know: that last sentence was very profound in all of its simplicity. 😛 Certainly there were many popular 3D games and attempts at 3D in the past, Doom and Castle Wolfenstein coming to mind, but they were on computers as opposed to consoles. The console systems themselves were becoming dominated by 3D graphics. I’ll admit that my personal exposure to many games was relatively limited growing up and when you add to the fact that I lost interest in many of the new ones after a time–and in video games themselves at a certain point in my life–it certainly showcases some gaps in my own knowledge.

But it’s fascinating to consider that once we used to interact with two-dimensional realities with elemental sprites, always from a distance, and after a while three-dimensional games–successfully or no–attempted to expose us to a more immediate reality. Think about it: 3D games and their approximations allowed us first-person shooter games such as my previous examples and exploration scenarios such as those found in the Myst games. The discovery and approximation of 3D changed many of our gaming experiences and perspectives in various ways. Can you imagine any of these games in two dimensions? As side-scrollers? As platformers?

File:Doom gibs.png

Yet other things changed in the meantime. I do remember playing Mario 64 for the very first time and, while revelling in the advanced polygon graphics of the time, finding the controls extremely difficult to use. Perhaps that early period of adjustment, combined with the reliance of more detailed graphics to wow players, changed some gameplay mechanics. In many ways, these mechanics became more simplistic and remained that way. I do remember the time that Nintendo embraced three dimensions there was also a lot less emphasis on games with storyline, player reflexes and, again, gaming mechanics.

This is of course a generalization and one based on my own limited experiences, but NIGORO’s comment that there was a point where 2D games became very advanced and then all but stopped being created really resonated with me. For a while the 2D game, as a medium of game-play, became associated with “retro” games and recreations of said classic games. NIGORO, however, argues precisely what I just mentioned: that 2D games are not vintage classics, retro-games, or 8-bit dreams of lost nostalgia, but are rather representative of its own art form.

And I agree with this. It still makes me wonder though. It fact, it makes me look at parallels. It is no secret that one day I want to do a creative Comics Vs. Games project with a collaborator. The idea of comics and video games, comparing and contrasting them, has always intrigued me and all the more so ever since I found out about those exhibits. And NIGORO’s question makes me wonder: what would have happened if comics had remained solely in the comic strip form? Or, better yet, what if comics had never moved on from that experimental period very few people ever talk about.

Allow me to elaborate. While the developing comics industry focused on political caricatures, followed by compilations of strips into books and then superheroes and other stories, there were artists that experimented with what the form could actually do. There is a misconception that comics as a medium was inspired by film when, in fact, not only has it sometimes been the other way around but comics itself as a medium has its own unique characteristics. Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 compiled by Dan Nadel is an example of the above and it makes you wonder what would have happened if many of these artists, some of whom didn’t even create traditional or linear panels and plots had been encouraged to continue their work: if, in most cases, their experiments had not been interrupted by financial concerns, industry-trends, and time. Certainly, newspapers used to afford a lot more space for the comic strip (which makes me wonder if 2D games might not, in themselves have space to do other things that 3D ones can’t). And while Underground Comix alternative movements grew to contain some of these ideas and different modes of graphic storytelling, it still makes me wonder “What if?”

Perhaps that isn’t even the best parallel. Of course, we know at least Alan Moore and his Watchmen’s idea of what might have happened if the Comics Code had never been enforced or created in the mid-1950s: specifically with regards to how comics could have evolved at that point. However, in the case of 2D games giving way to 3D it seems to be more a factor of marketing than changing social and political climes. Both mediums remained after these changes, but they were sometimes watered down compared to what they used to be: with some exceptions.

Of course, 2D games never really died out. They remained on computers and now they exist as phone games. And these are not remakes of classics, though they might be based on their designs, but entirely new games in themselves. Even as the Oculus Rift is being developed to take 3D further into virtual reality, perhaps the resurgence of 2D games is motivated by a sense of nostalgia in the 21st century: much in the same way that NIGORO’s decision to create games like La-Mulana was. It is also interesting to note that Stephanie Carmichael in her article Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime takes Chris Ware to outer space, whether he wants to go or not determined that the creators of the Spacetime game had actually been influenced by Chris Ware’s experimental comics art aesthetic with its basic elemental shapes, and a sense of space and loneliness. In fact, if you look at the game itself, it almost subverts the trappings of a 3D aesthetic in a 2D world.

 

But still, I do wonder what kind of world we would have had if only comic strips existed, or there had been no Comics Code, or if comics that told alternative stories and presented its art-forms in non-linear ways had become mainstream far sooner in our history. Oh, and if all we had ever played or known were 2D games: 2D games that didn’t necessarily remain 8 or 16-bit (NIGORO’s decision to remake La-Mulana‘s aesthetics in a manner reminiscent of Super NES graphics in no way takes away from its old-school feel in my opinion) but just kept changing mechanics wise, and story wise alongside of us. It’s really amazing how things turn out when you think of it in that way. It really is all about perspective.

Time Travel and Retconning: Revisionism and Reconstructionism in Doctor Who

Just as the New Year is approaching, so is “The Time of the Doctor.”

Time of The Doctor

I’ve come out of hiatus again, essentially, because this is another thought that just won’t leave me alone. After I was exposed to Julian Darius of Sequart’s distinctions between Revisionism and Reconstructionism with regards to comics, I applied it to my article In a Different Place, a Different Time: Revision and Reconstruction in Comics Without Superheroes? Of course, I should have realized it was not going to end there.

I mean, come on: I already mentioned space and time in the aforementioned article’s title. And after a while of gestation and trying to stave it off, I knew what was going to happen. I was going to provide the distinctions of Revisionism and Reconstructionism, taken from Julian Darius, the latter term apparently coined from Kurt Busiek, to the development of the Doctor Who series. Let’s face it: this was just going to happen and, if we’re going to be honest with each other, it probably has in no so many words and in ways that have been covered far more exhaustively than I am going to be.

So let’s get to the point and quote River Song, as I tend to with a lot of the Doctor Who articles I’ve written, to say, “Spoilers.”

This is really going to be a brief case of looking at parallels between the development of the superhero comics genre and Doctor Who. Like the early comics versions of Batman, Superman and others, The Doctor as a character starts off as a relatively morally ambiguous character: someone who isn’t necessarily evil, but not always good. Certainly, they all have the power to impose their will on others whom they don’t agree with, or are quite willing to let someone destroy themselves as opposed to interceding on their behalf. The Doctor himself, in his very first incarnation was more than willing to abandon people to their deaths if they became “inconvenient” to his or his granddaughter’s own survival.

And this was in the 1960s. Superhero comics themselves, especially the ones I mentioned, existed from the 30s onward: from that Golden Age period where superheroes were still trying to get past their “might is right” mentality to reveal at least some of the heroism that we recognize. The Doctor, however, had an even more interesting challenge: in that he was a character in a science-fiction program that drew on a tradition of science-fiction programs and stories. He wasn’t exactly a hero then and never quite fit that mould well. He and his Companions were more explorers and, as such, the program was one of exploration that bordered on a weird sort of horror: the kind of horror that, well, basically came from the spectacle of science-fiction B movies, comics, and pulp stories before it. Even the early Doctor Who episodes, from I’m given to understand, have a very pulp and serial feel to them: with constantly interrelated chains if episodes making a story followed by standalone episodes and “monsters of the week.”

Of course, things changed for both superhero comics and Whoniverse respectively. It was the Comics Code Authority that greatly white-washed many of the darker elements away from superhero adventures. Some of them simply didn’t survive and became silly caricatures of their original selves. This wasn’t always the case and some stories managed to be told well even in the midst of not being able to question authority-figures among other things. Towards the sixties, however, there were many campy and downright silly elements amongst this genre of comics: particularly with regards to Batman and such.

Doctor Who, which started in the sixties, always had an element of the uncanny and the weird in itself. It also had elements of camp and strange, tangential adventures. For some time, the BBC had a low budget so they basically had to utilize B movie props and effects to make their monsters and their stories. And The Doctor himself became a lot more of a swashbuckling character or archetype: embodying different ideals but becoming somehow more human as time went on. The humanization of The Doctor, which began with his Companions from his early days, contributed to this and probably in no small part due to the fact that the program began as a children’s show.

But just as there were so many disparate elements and strangeness in the Silver Age of superhero comics, this was definitely the case with the original Doctor Who series. What is interesting to consider with regards to Doctor Who however is that many “silly costumes and props and styles” have become iconic in themselves and even popular in a vintage, classic, nostalgic sort of way among fans. The books and audio dramas also helped to expand many of these elements and add more to the quantum branch of reality that was the Whoniverse.

It was in the 1980s that things began to change for superhero comics. This was when Revisionism came into play. Writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller asked themselves the question of what a superhero would be like, with the powers and abilities they possessed, in a realistic situation. They were also mindful of the pessimism, cynicism, and fear around in this particular time period and wondered how the hero would function in such a world: and what they would do to that world. This is the period in which the superhero really got dissected. Writers in this time and onward seemed to draw on the ancient classical designations of “hero”: of a person of spectacular power and skill that bordered on, or were totally amoral, to reshape the heroes of the 30s and 60s. This allowed much in the way of character development and the creation of truly epic story-lines. Of course, the danger was also created: that the dark grittiness of Revisionism would become a form onto itself and not a vessel to tell a carefully thought out story. Darkness for darkness’ sake, as it were.

With Doctor Who, I argue that its Revisionism came in 2005 with the beginning of the new series. After a gap from 1989, and television movie in 1996, The Doctor returned in 2005 under a very different premise from his earlier adventures. It is almost like producer and screenwriter Russell T. Davies created his own Crisis on Infinite Earths and destroyed much of the quantum and tangential branches of the old Whoniverse in order to create a very centralized, dark, and Byronic reality: as though he and others believed that the only way the program could survive would be to “mature” into this new spirit. It is as though they expected viewers to want something less silly and more “realistic.”

So there was a Time War, the Last Great Time War, that seemed to have obliterated many loose-ends (and cause no small heap of trouble in the loose-ends that did, in fact, continue to exist for the Universe) and leave a Doctor that was more gaunt, more lonely, and far angrier than many of his other incarnations before him. The children’s show origins of program seemed to have been burned away by rage, an attempt at a more serious tone, singular purpose, and Revisionism.

Even the inclusion of David Tennant as the next Doctor, who was a marked contrast to the sullen leather jacket-wearing Doctor who somehow began to lighten up a bit towards the end, only accentuated this kind of Miltonian grandiosity. He might as well, in a ridiculously sublime way, have been an angel from Milton’s Paradise Lost sailing through a perfect clockwork Universe skewed by Original Sin, or perhaps as a far livelier Virgil figure in a kind of Dante’s Inferno of wonders. When Steven Moffat took over as producer and the Matt Smith incarnation of The Doctor came in, the youngest depiction there has ever been (he is about my age), the dark elements were beginning to wear a little thin.

But there is something truly wonderful that was forming with Doctor Who, and its spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Smith Adventures. Despite the darkness and the angst of The Doctor being “the last Time Lord,” there has been a great depiction of wonders. I’m not just talking about the more advanced CGI or sophisticated props and costuming provided to the program. I’m also talking about its embrace of diversity: about its inclusion of different cultures, race and even sexual orientations. And it doesn’t seem to display them as novelties but as givens. As science-fiction that, by its very nature, encompasses the future and its possible sensibilities in addition to all of space and time it is extremely encouraging to see. It might have something to do with the fact that Russell T. Davies is gay himself and wanted to include diversity, but there is also the fact that Doctor Who is the longest running science-fiction show in existence and it changes with the times and the attitudes in each era in which it finds itself.

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But the sense of wonder that is, in the words of the program’s first producer Verity Lambert, “C.S. Lewis meets H.G. Wells meets Father Christmas,” is so much older than this and it wins out over the darkness every time. It is similar to the sense of nobility and kindness from Superman or the sure sense of justice from Batman. You can also call that sense of wonder hope.

By the time of Steve Moffat, whose episodes are strong in a self-contained short story fashion but whose overall structure begins to unravel the strong Miltonian clockwork of Davies with plot holes, much in the way that the Cracks in Time began to appear, or how the Weeping Angels feed off of temporal rifts and die from paradox-poisoning (which is ironic when you consider how Moffat created them in the first place and that his stories have many plot-holes), you may be witnessing a change beginning to happen. From 2005 and onward, most of Doctor Who has taken place on Earth or has focused almost solely on humans and has maintained a relatively linear story line and premise.

But then Moffat did something. By 1995, Julian Darius argues that Revisionism in comics began to change. Writers such as Grant Morrison began to look back on superhero comics before Revisionism and draw on the idealism and hope of those periods. They took the character-writing and plot development of Revisionism and combined it with the light-heartedness of heroes against the darkness. They, arguably, contributed to the creation of Reconstructionism.

And Morrison himself was known to have really liked the strange and wacky DC elements that existed before what he considered to be a cynical Crisis plot: perhaps much in the way that some of The Doctor’s fans might view his present “gritty and realistic” situation.

Now look back at Steve Moffat. In “The Day of the Doctor” he took the premise of The Doctor having destroyed the Time Lords and, in a typical time-travelling fashion, changed and retconned time. He had The Doctor and his previous incarnations save Gallifrey. Now The Doctor has to go and find it. In one stroke, however it was executed, Moffat eliminated the heart of The Doctor’s modern angst. And in the next episode, in the Christmas Special “The Time of the Doctor” we are going to see him fall to his lowest as he is apparently on his “last incarnation” and is going to die. But we know that isn’t going to happen. We know he will survive. We know there will be a new Doctor.

And perhaps, just perhaps, this is Moffat’s attempt to apply Reconstructionism to Doctor Who. Certainly the inclusion of Tom Baker, the former Fourth Doctor that represented The Doctor’s kindliness, affability and wisdom, into “The Day of the Doctor”–representing what could be another future incarnation of the Time Lord–can be interpreted as a sign of that return to some the weird, and wacky adventures that possess no small amount of hope.

But whatever the case, we are going to see Peter Capaldi as an older, but perhaps wilder Doctor: someone who is not a soldier, a traumatized war veteran, a hero with an anguished dream, or a lonely boy but an adventurer and traveler. He is going to look for where he put Gallifrey. He is going to go out again. Perhaps he might even leave Earth in all time lines and we can see how the rest of the Universe has been doing, how other worlds and newer beings live, and how he will interact with them. Maybe after all the time that Davies has reforged the content of the program it will open up back into larger vistas beyond just Earth and the human.

There is just one last Battle of Trenzalore, a Regeneration rule to work around, and then perhaps the potential for some reconstruction, for something new, for something old, and for something new again. Either way, I look forward to the journey.

A Film Festival Double-Billing: We Are What We Are and Bounty Killer

So I am going to be doing something different. Not only am I going to make an early Blog post, but it is going to be a movie review: or more specifically two reviews back-to-back courtesy of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival. I literally got an RSVP after applying for a Press Pass that allowed me to attend the opening gala of the Festival with one other guest–in this case my brother–for free. In exchange, however, I am to review both of the  films that we saw.

This has been a very busy but exciting time with regards to my writing, so let me get this underway: after an obligatory Spoilers Warning. The first film we saw was Jim Mickle’s We Are What We Are. However, I would like to state that the film short–which the Toronto After Dark likes to include before every film–also bears some consideration.

It is an abstract film fittingly enough named Kin: which essentially is about a boy child who is on a quest to help a group of dancing shamans with strange masks summon a giant crow or raven. There is also a knight that was travelling by horse to the hilltop where the boy stands with his own wooden sword and shield. In addition, there is a small waif of a girl with pale blonde hair and a gossamer white gown who seems to have been waiting for the boy: only for him move past her, summon the creature, open his arms, and let the gigantic mythological blackbird either devour him or embrace him. The knight gets there just in time as everything ends and he and the girl just watch the sky where the boy had once been.

For me, it was an excellent segue into We Are What We Are because what we see is a child that, at first, seems to be challenging an ancient tradition or ritual while the adult–who seems to have power–almost helplessly follows him just in time for it to be too late. In fact, every time the boy stumbled, the knight seemed to stumble as well: which makes me wonder if the two of them are linked. Is the knight is an archetype that the boy pictures in his own mind before circumstances make him discard him: or pass him onto the girl? But in any case, and in the end, the boy–faced with the sheer power of mythology hovering in front of him–lets it overcome him on his own terms: leaving the idea of the knight behind to perhaps be born from the girl one day in order to continue a new tradition. This is what I got out of it anyway.

But in any case, Kin was an appropriate title when you consider what We Are What We Are entails. Just as it was outside the Scotiabank Theatre, so too was it raining at the beginning of this film. I will admit–much to my own eternal frustration–that there was a quote at the very beginning of the film that I can’t remember and it was even repeated verbally at the funeral scene. The reason I didn’t write it down at the time was because I thought it was a literary quote when, in actually, it came from a book that exists only in the film and I have not been able to find it since. I will get to that soon.

Essentially, We Are What We Are is a film about the Parkers: a family of cannibals that live in relative poverty close to a small town near the Catskill Mountains that eat human meat for religious purposes. In addition to this, the town doctor is still searching for his long-lost daughter amid a lot of flooding: flooding that carries strange objects with it in currents of water like flotsam and … old bones, for instance.

This seems pretty straightforward and not very original. However, there is more. The mother of the family drowns at the beginning of the movie: leaving her husband, two daughters, and young son in tremendous grief. And here we see something very interesting. The family patriarch Frank Parker–who is traditionally in charge of procuring their source of meat–could easily be portrayed as a complete and totally cold-hearted and  abusive monster. But he isn’t. He genuinely grieves for his wife’s death. It makes him completely fall apart to the point where his daughters–who love him–take care of him. If anything, it is the disconnect between what this family eats and how they still act as human beings that makes this film even more disturbing because you end up having sympathy for, well, the monsters.

It is no coincidence, when the middle child Rose Parker is reading to young brother Rory Parker about a “happy monster” that he says–after accidentally seeing the “animal” they were keeping in their basement–that the “monster is actually sad.” And the monster–the secret of the family–is sad. We find out that the Parkers’ holiday of Lamb’s Day began in the 1800s when their early settler ancestors ran out of food and nearly died in the wintertime. We find this out as Iris and Rose Parker are reading the book that has been passed down throughout all the generations of their family: detailing how the first patriarch’s two daughters found their father in front of the body of a woman and partook with him of her flesh. This was the beginning of the family spiritual epiphany: of that transgression to live and then ascendance beyond the taboo of eating human meat to find new meaning. This was the beginning of their Lamb’s Day: a man making a decision to undertake it and two girls deciding to carry on the tradition through their line. And, after all, don’t most religions begin with trauma?

There are, however, obvious consequences for eating human flesh: such as the lovely addition of Prion Disease: which includes tremors and tremendous brain damage. At the beginning, when their mother is trembling and essentially dies from the illness at the general store, a man says that the storm outside will “only get worse before it gets better.” And unfortunately for the matriarch of the Parker family, it only just got worse until it finally ended.

Yet the ending … The thing to understand is that the older daughters were thinking of abandoning Lamb’s Day and trying to become normal: hoping to find some way to get past their overbearing religious father. Unfortunately, this did not end well. The father begins to notice that the old bones of their previous feasts are drifting down the river and he begins to understand–even in his Prion-riddled brain–exactly how screwed they truly are. He also kills Iris’ boyfriend as they are about to have sex: as he is right on top of her. And then to add insult to injury, he puts arsenic in their Lamb’s Day stew–yes, that kind of stew–when he realizes they will all be discovered. So not only does Frank hurt his daughters–and you notice he never lays a hand on them, though he is so imposing he doesn’t even have to–but he betrays his oath to protect the family and the tradition.

What happens next is nothing short of watching a terrifying transgressive religious reformation of sorts unfold as his daughters, both dressed like Gothic Lolitas–fulfill their Electra complexes and consume their own father while he is still alive. Meanwhile, the Doctor–who figured out that Frank killed and ate his daughter–watches this all happen and, assuming they spared his life, I’m thinking at if I were him at this point of seeing this Bacchanalian horror unfolding in front of me I would really reconsider that long overdue retirement to Florida: provided a Dr. Lecter wasn’t staying nearby.

The ending was just beautiful to me in all of its gory horror. Iris and Rose manage to consummate their love and hatred for their father: defeating that monster that he is through even greater depravity. I mean, think about it: he and the family over many years at least prepared and cooked their food. These girls are eating him raw: while he is in agony. There is something more honest about this “back to basics” religious approach and also a rebirth. Because if they didn’t eat the Doctor at the end of the film or even kill him, while they are driving away with their baby brother and the ancestral book in hand what we might be seeing is the creation of a whole new kind of familial cult: of the women–who carried out the line–taking it away from the false civilized nature of the patriarchy and making it something new.

What is even more hilarious is this: at the end of the film, we got to ask the film-makers questions and one of the things that came up was that they not only planned a prequel to the film: in which we find out how Frank meets his wife, gets inducted into the Parker family and takes on the role of matriarch–of actually killing and preparing their human food–but there is going to be a sequel as well which takes place, of all places, in Mexico.

Now, let me make something else clear.

We Are What We Are is a revision, not a remake, of Jorge Michel Grau’s Mexican film Somos lo que hay which has all of the gender-roles reversed and a whole different ending. The idea was transplanted from Mexican social commentary into American religious criticism: and now is being transplanted in a weird sort of creative hybrid way back: to the point where the endings almost meet. I can only imagine Iris, Rose, and Rory Parker making a new family tradition: of only killing and eating criminals and otherwise bad people instead of the “shit where you eat” mentality and hypocrisy of their father who made them eat their town doctor’s young daughter. A shameful secret becomes a religious mystery once again and two girls come of age in blood and sacrifice. Perhaps now, when they finish reading their brother his story for the night they can now safely end it with, “And the monster was happy.”

So, after going twenty minutes later over schedule and a bathroom break my brother and I went to see the next film: which was Henry Saine’s Bounty Killer.

I don’t know how much I have to say about this one, but again the short L’Étranger was a nice and fun lead-in: an action sequence with a cowboy who, after killing and maiming everyone in a bar, was simply there to deliver a package on time. It was amusing.

As was this trailer for the following film.

Bounty Killer is a post-apocalyptic comedy action film that was originally taken from a Kick Start Productions comic book which Jason Dodson and Henry Saine also created–the latter of which seems to only be available in the iBooks Store–along with an idea for a 1997 animated series that never happened. So essentially what we are looking at is a film created from action, almost superheroic animation that didn’t completely happen, and a comic that in addition to its own self was made to help storyboard its very existence.

It is a tongue-and-cheek movie that takes place in a world that has suffered from the Corporate Wars: in which corporations eroded the world governments and caused mass chaos and suffering. In the wake of this, there is a Council of Nine formed in the Wastelands that creates the Bounty Killers: celebrity assassins that hunt down the white collar corporate individuals and their Yellow Tie minions as war criminals … though Darth Vader’s age-old admonition of “No disintegrations” seems to apply at least with regards to their heads.

As you can imagine, the violence is exaggerated not only in a stylized way–ala Matrix-level slow motion scenes cut with fast pacing–but it is literally parodied with some snappy one-liners and moments of pure, fun ridiculousness.

What is also really interesting is the way they set up two of the main characters. Mary Death is the former protégé and on again, off again lover of the first Bounty Killer Drifter: who is literally stylized violent sex. Drifter is not so much this, but he is an extremely pragmatic and clever man who used to be the head of a corporation before his company betrayed him by making weapons and he hunted most of his business partners down. As he put it, he was “sick of being behind a desk.”

In a sense, training Mary Death was one of his best decisions: as she unknowingly distracted everyone else from really looking at his celebrity status and into his past as a former Corporate. In fact, as I think about it now, Drifter most likely purposefully botched his kills–such as, well, disintegrating him–so that people wouldn’t pay too much attention to him compared to Mary Death and start hunting him.

Of course, this all changes as a bounty is seemingly placed on him by the Council of Nine: under his true identity.

Mary Death herself is a former member of a raider and infiltration group known as the Gypsies of all things. She approached Drifter ages ago to be trained by him in the arts of Bounty Killing: though how she actually knew what his real skills were like is unknown. She is a dangerous woman. Aside from my previous description of her, it is the best way to sum her up: although she does like to give autographs. She and Drifter a strange relationship in which she exercises independence and love by stabbing him non-fatally in the spleen and leaving him to chase her: at which on two occasions he has said, “She cut me … deep.”

What is really interesting is that Mary Death is set up in a way that makes her look like the protagonist of the film–even the film’s advertising has her as the central aesthetic figure–but the focus isn’t always on her. The film’s perspective alternates between Mary and Drifter: ending with Mary in an iconic sort of way. This film is also inter-dispersed with Heavy Metal-like animation and illustrations: making it not unlike, as others have pointed out, Kill Bill meets Mad Max.

Really, the film is crazy: just plain crazy. But it is crazy in a fun “what the fuck” way. It is also fascinating to consider how the “white collars” and Bounty Killers evolved as their own cultures in this post-apocalyptic future and how when you strip away that veneer of civilization a lot of this 1% to 99% we keep hearing about would become tribes of a different kind and the film definitely reflects the current cultural reaction against the former.

That said, there is one regret that I share with Henry Saine: namely, the exclusion of one aspect of Mary Death’s origin. He told us in the Question and Answer period that originally Mary Death was supposed to have been a child on an airplane during the Corporate Wars and that when the plane was being attacked; she was actually by what was essentially a bad-ass stewardess. Even though Mary Death was taken by the Gypsies after this, she never forgot that woman who defended her to the death–even though she had once worked for a corporation–and modelled her new uniform in her memory.

I did like this movie, but I have to admit that I was put off by the moral of love and independence being a knife in the spleen. But hey, if you are into that sort of thing who am I to judge?

And, after that film based after the Corporate Wars was over, we appropriately stopped off at the After Dark’s event at The Office Pub.

So this has been an ad hoc review of the Toronto After Dark’s opening salvo. I hope you enjoyed this and please, when you get the chance, watch these films. As for me, after seeing the last one I now definitely need to somehow watch Saine’s The Last Lovecraft: which was shown at an After Dark opening gala a few years back.

And I definitely need to do this sometime again.