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Announcing CRISIS VECTOR

I’m pleased to announce my next comic project- CRISIS VECTOR: Eternal Flow of the Quantum River. More to come in early 2018. Stay tuned.

Logo design my the ever-excellent Micah Myers. Follow him here.

Blade Runner 2049 Reflections

Interesting. That’s the word stuck in my mind after taking in Blade Runner 2049. Not good. Not bad. Interesting. 2049 is not Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and quickly shirks off any notion that it could be. It takes its own tone immediately, albeit a subservient one. Scott’s film is the Big Bang, 2049 simply another chapter. Some portions of the nearly 3-hour sequel are unique in its own right, many are little more than watered-down echoes of the original, and yet more aspects unfortunately play out like any standard modern Hollywood action movie. The strongest comparison between the original Blade Runner and this sequel is that both are mixed bags, difficult to define and challenging to process, somehow inspiring and disappointing all at once.

There are parts of 2049 that I really liked. The director, cinematographer, and cast all make substantial contributions, but at its core the bulk of 2049’s success feels like it belongs to screenwriter Hampton Fancher. In its best moments the movie is dominated by his engaging story and highlights his penchant for cloistered, moody set pieces, with characters coming into intense and intimate contact in segments that feel almost like scenes from an off-broadway stageplay. Fancher took a similar approach with his first draft of the original Blade Runner movie, setting the action (or lack thereof) in just a few rooms, and there is a good bulk of 2049’s running time spent in this territory. It’s cool to see things go full circle, and for me these “one room” character-focused moments were the most compelling.

The main flow of the story bears Fancher’s signature detective-style twists and turns, several with clear answers but more than a few without. Some viewers will find the character arcs in 2049 easier to follow and perhaps more satisfying than those in the original Blade Runner, but that’s not to say that the sequel entirely shies away from dishing up some of that ol’ Blade Runner ambiguity. That’s sort of the thinly-laced master thesis connecting the two Blade Runner movies- what’s “real” is ultimately open to interpretation, both by the characters onscreen and the audience itself.

Here’s what I didn’t like: For all 2049’s efforts to be something special and original- the Fancher-infused noir showdowns, exquisite shots of weird landscapes draped in light by cinematographer Roger Deakins, and intense, thoughtful performances coached by director Denis Villeneuve, there is a whole lot of painfully conventional 2017 Hollywood fare that feels as mass produced and soulless as the film’s Replicants. Things go boom, people run, there are extended fist fights and well-orchestrated kickboxing dances, all seemingly plopped in as if required by movie-making law. It’s the “superherofication” of film in full effect, with many scenes fitting seamlessly into the latest Avengers entry as into this movie. The most chilling thing to me were the hints at a broader world (ie, more sequels) depicted in scenes that fly dangerously close to Matrix Reloaded territory. I’m not sure the world needs a Blade Runner cinematic universe (actually, I’m certain it doesn’t), and seeing iconic images and props from the first film thrown around like X-Wings or Tolkien orcs kind of made me cringe.

The biggest missing element is without a doubt the distinctive touch of original director Ridley Scott. The layers and teeming energy of his 2019 L.A. is never close to being touched in the sequel, and in fact any effort to emulate it at all is very much absent from 2049. Villeneuve shows us the world from high above, rarely venturing down into it with the same gusto that Scott did. When we are on ground level, it’s mostly in spartan corporate lobbies and clean police offices. The chaotic crowds of the supposedly super-populated future are really nowhere to be found. The few glimpses of the trademark Blade Runner cyberpunk world feels like b-roll from the first film. There is one exception- when Villeneuve takes us to San Diego, now an extended garbage dump, in what is his movie’s most original sequence. I wish we had seen more of that- less flying cars, more feet on the ground.

Again, at nearly 3 hours there’s a whole lot to take in from Blade Runner 2049. I liked a lot of its ambitions, disliked a lot of its seemingly corporate-mandated tropes, but overall kind of loved the experience as a whole. 2049 takes a lot of swings during its long runtime- a few are whiffs, but the ones that connect do so convincingly. In true Blade Runner fashion, the exact elements that hit or miss are likely to be wildly different between viewers. Although it flies close to absurdity at time, the cast and story manages to steer things solidly back to interesting. And I’ll gladly take interesting from a popcorn movie in 2017.

Len Wein and the Most Important Comic of All Time

Len Wein! His contributions to comics are too vast to fully comprehend. Wein played a disproportionately huge role in pivoting comics into the modern era.

There’s definitely an argument to be made for Giant Size X-Men #1 being the most important comic book of all time. It certainly marked the beginning of my emotional investment in comic universes. “Second Genesis” was a cultural Big Bang, from which all the hype of the ’80s and ’90s sprung forth. It took comics from “then” to “now” in a big, big way. For me, that single issue (discovered via reprints, mind you) served as both a portal to the future and a gateway to the past. Like some kind of newsprint Mother Box, it contained universes of possibilities.

Aside from that ONE SINGLE ISSUE (and his role in the creation of Wolverine, Storm, Colossus, and Nightcrawler) Wein also co-created Swamp Thing, The Human Target, and Lucius Fox of the Batman universe (famously played by Morgan Freeman). He also edited Camelot 3000 and Watchmen. And that’s just scratching the surface. A legend!!

Installing Doom

As a nerdy reclusive teenager from Massachusetts I made for a strange transplant to the wilds of Central Florida. Where I ended up on the outskirts of Orlando in the early ‘90s was more Dixie than Disney, and a level of raw violence permeated the humid air. The kids in my neighborhood were a curious blend of fellow transplants, mostly from places like Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. White, Black, Asian, native, immigrants all cruised the sun-worn pavement stretching from subdivision cul-de-sacs to clustered trailer parks. The popping and clacking of nail guns on plywood provided a constant ambient soundtrack of new construction, mixing in with the droning of frogs and palmetto bugs from the nearby swamps.

I was weird, into comics and role playing games and computers, northern hobbies fostered during long snow storms and icy springs. But Florida was infinitely weirder. It struck me almost immediately as inhospitable, and I couldn’t really understand how humans had come to live in such a place. It all felt so obviously doomed, with fire ants on every stretch of manicured lawn and a sun that acted more like a death ray than a life-giver. It seemed like a mistake for anyone to be there.

The kids in the neighborhood welcomed me with a blend of cold indifference and white-hot scorn. In today’s language I guess you’d say I was “bullied”, but really it was just humanity laying itself bare for what it is. People not being horrible is more of an aspiration than a reality, and that’s what I encountered. I very much dreaded the time at the bus stop, and very much relished the moment the door home shut behind me in the afternoon, the cold rush of A/C telling me “You made it.”

The kid across the street from me, Daryl*, was the son of an Iranian immigrant and an American mom. His parents were so soft spoken and kind. Daryl was the complete opposite, dark and full of rage, constantly saying and doing the worst things possible. I suffered his taunts and insults daily, until they became just more noise alongside the construction and prehistoric bugs and low-riders with house speakers in the back.

One day the kid Daryl hung around with most unexpectedly complained to the school administration that Daryl was, well, Daryl, and lodged a report of “harassment.” For some reason Daryl sought me out with this news. I may have been a lot of things- a dork, a bad dresser, no athletic ability, no social graces- but I sure as hell wasn’t a rat. Based on that alone we fell into a groove of hanging out together in that weird way created by proximity and shared living experiences. I never felt like he liked me, and I never felt like I liked him. But there we were. Friends.

As time went on Florida began to creep into my DNA and change me. I abandoned my Kmart clothes and fell in love with skate-surf brands from hallowed land of the mall like Stussy, 26 Red, Mossimo, and No Fear. I shaved my head. I got a Mongoose Expert BMX bike. Daryl and I rode everywhere, steeling chrome valve stem covers off Mercedes’ parked at church and putting them on our bikes, displaying them like scalps salvaged from a hard-fought war. We played basketball every day. We threw rocks at metal sheds just to hear the bangs and laugh. We rode next to the beleaguered ice cream truck man, kicked the side of his faded van and threw ourselves onto the road, claiming he hit us and that he better give us free ice cream or else we’d sue the shit out of him (it rarely worked). We cut our bikes across four-lane traffic, cars beeping and rednecks screaming out their monster trucks, and us, no hands on the handlebars, whistling. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em all.

The author in 199X.

Daryl’s fixations in life were jetskis and stereo systems, the later of which I also appreciated. He had a badass Pioneer receiver and a nice set of speakers, alongside a CD-changer and an equalizer. We would play music for hours, alternating from his picks to mine- Regulate by Warren G, then Buddy Holly by Weezer. N.W.A., then Offspring. And so on.

Somehow Daryl caught wind of the video game Doom and wanted to play it. Doom was a sensation when it landed in 1993. Kids in school passed around copies on 3.5 inch floppy disks like it was an illicit substance or adult video. I sucked at sports, I was charmless to girls, and I got into dumb fights for no reason but this was something that I had a tangible skill in.

My grandfather was big into personal computers and electronics. He was a retired cable company engineer and always kept busy. We had a dedicated “computer room” in the house, with rows upon rows of computer equipment, caseless and exposed motherboards with wires and cables hanging off racks. Every day was a new challenge- partition this hard drive, figure out why this memory wasn’t working, correct this BIOS issues, replace this battery, etc. We went to computer shows at convention centers and scoured for parts and shareware disks and CD-ROM compilations, we had stacks of phonebook-sized Computer Shopper magazines, piles of drives, baskets of wires and connectors and old processors. I knew computers almost as a natural extension, and spent far more time building and programming them than the average 13 year old.

“Yo, can you get me that Doom?” Daryl asked one morning while we waited for the bus. I was kind of surprised he even knew what it was.

I told him yeah, no problem.

I brought my disk over to his house that afternoon and installed it on his family’s functional but aging 386.

“Damn E, I knew you were smart but I didn’t know you were a fucking genius,” Daryl said, watching me navigate DOS and creating directories for the game’s files.

Somehow I gained a modicum of respect. I was still a dweeb, but I had the computer hookup. And now Daryl had his Doom. I delivered. The game taxed his family’s PC and ran at a stuttering clip, but it was good enough. The chainsaw whirred and slashed into demonic imps, the shotgun choked and blasted with visceral power. Daryl swearing and shouting racial slurs, with each hallway run and surprise attack. Doom was dark and violent and looked great, satisfying the key requirements of Daryl and basically all of ‘90s youth.

Doom, a dark and powerful PC revolution.

I moved back to Massachusetts at the start of high school and was mostly glad to be gone from the place. Daryl wrote me a letter, which was surprising. I saw him again about a year after I moved when I was down in Florida visiting my mom. In youth years that’s something equivalent to a decade. He already seemed much older. He was drinking 40s and hanging with a rougher crowd than our regular hood offered. It was an odd meeting. I went back home feeling relieved not to be in that place anymore. I was happy to free of Florida and focused on my new/old life back north, high school, the future, etc.

As time plodded on and I somehow became an adult (What? How?), that era kept sneaking its way back into my thoughts, until it got to the point where I started to really understand the maelstrom of those times as something completely different from how I originally classified them. I began to smile a lot more thinking back on those days. I began to appreciate it for its unique strangeness, for how completely different everything was from this slow-motion apocalypse we’re now living.

I looked up Daryl’s name late last year in hopes of reconnecting, having a beer, talking about getting older, commiserating and laughing. I was shocked to learn he had passed away. Far, far too young.

My grandfather’s gone now too. It seems the circle of people who will even understand what I’m talking about, who will even know what it means to slap a floppy disk into a drive and install a shareware game and work to disable a memory stacker so that it runs correctly and re-run setup to get the Ad-Lib to work, that circle grows smaller by the day.

For some reason I’m still here, with these memories, these stories, these shards of time swirling around me like laughing ghosts. I feel compelled to talk about it, unsure if anyone will really get it or even care. I do it for me I guess. To remember.

I still play Doom. Back then we thought it was just the beginning and we endlessly theorized about what the future would bring, but really it never got any better. We had all we needed with a chainsaw and a shotgun and VGA cyberspaces to project our psyches into. Installing Doom was not a one-time thing. It was for life.

 

*Changed name out of respect for the dead and the family.

Plastic City Comic Con 2017 Recap

This past weekend I attended the second Plastic City Comic Con. This year the show made the jump from a small VFW hall in Leominster to the mighty Wallace Civic Center in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. I saw my first concert at the Civic Center, and for decades the venue used to sub as the “Boston” leg for many top-tier band tours. The concerts stopped for some reason and the place became primarily a hockey facility. Plastic City Con knocked out some of the spiritual cobwebs and brought the place back to life for one Saturday afternoon, and that was cool to see.

First – huge props to convention organizers Keith and Amy Gleason. They are truly nice people and fantastic organizers. I’ve known Keith for like 20 years and he’s always been super friendly and down to earth, which is surprisingly rare in the comic book world. Keith and his crew kicked ass and expertly coordinated the logistics of the con. It’s like they were made to do this, and it’s awesome to bear witness to the successful execution of it all.

It was a pretty casual show for me. After doing a slew of cons in 2016, I streamlined my gear and it all fits into two compact milk crates, along with a banner stand, table cloth, and lightweight shelving unit. Setting up my table took like 5 minutes.

I didn’t do any carnival-barker selling this show, I just let people come up and browse the books. To my surprise, I covered expenses before noon.

My grandpa passed away earlier this month and in cycling through the various stages of grief, perspective hasn’t so much been gained as it has been forced upon me. I think one of my main takeaways from the last few weeks has been to stop wasting time and energy trying to appeal to those who don’t get me or completely misjudge me (turns out that’s a great many people) and conversely be more open and about recognizing and appreciating those who do. Basically I have no time for people who take themselves too seriously, especially in the godforsaken world of funny books.

To the comics themselves- Colonial Comics was a big hit! I sold out of copies pretty early on. I’m proud to be part of it, and the local connection really intrigued folks. I enjoyed talking about the research into my Worcester County-based story. Crypt Zero is apparently my “sophomore slump” book. Interest seems low for a one-off black and white sci-fi ghost story, but whatever. I’m glad it exists. Voodoo Bird, an 8 page pamphlet of a comic, somehow still captures the popular imagination, but it was all about the trades and anthology collections this show- Colonial Comics, 27 Club, Shakespeare Shaken.

Con highlights: I wasn’t in much of a networking mood, but it was great to see local author Sean Sweeny (I pointed locals to his table throughout the day, North Central represent!), Dario and the squad from That’s Entertainment, Cody Sousa writer of CROAK was cool and had the table next door, along with Alterna Comics publisher Peter Simeti (thanks for the tote bag!). I have an ad running in several of Alterna’s newsprint titles, so check them out.

Special thanks to everyone who picked up my comics and to all the friends and family who came by to say hi and provide caffeine support. Super appreciated.

Plastic City year 2 was a good day for me and an even better day for Fitchburg and Leominster in general. So often Worcester County folks are forced to drive across multiple zip codes to do anything. If our cities and towns where in Utah they’d have their own broadcast TV stations. But alas, we’re sort of culturally neglected up here in the great northlands, eclipsed by the Boston behemoth. Plastic City adds much to the area and I hope there are many more iterations of it to come.